Some very sporadic and arbitrary musings from the second and third day of play at the 2012 Australian Open:
In a first-round clash, Juan Martin Del Potro defeated Adrian Mannarino 2-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 in an enjoyable clash of styles. Both men are strictly baseline operators but have contrasting approaches defined by their physiological differences. The 6’6 Del Potro has long swings on his groundstrokes and hits the ball as hard as anyone else on tour, constantly probing for a short ball on which to unleash his devastating forehand. Mannarino, 6′ tall with a very slight build, is as pure a counterpuncher as one is likely to see. His abbreviated, minute backswings are almost comical to the eye, giving the impression of a louche, very Gallic indifference.
The lower ranked Mannarino was able to take a set off the 2009 US Open champ and competed well throughout, using his compact groundstrokes to redirect Del Potro’s typically fierce but central groundstrokes, totally catching the Argentine off guard. Ultimately though Del Potro was too good for his opponent and prevailed in just under three hours.
Moving on to the second round, Stanislas Wawrinka overcame Marcos Baghdatis in an entertaining encounter, 5-7, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 . Wawrinka deserved the victory – he was the more aggressive of the two, taking up a more offensive position on the baseline and seizing the initiative in rallies with his spectacular backhand down the line. His opponent was curiously feeble in his resistance, only showing fighting spirit when faced with the almighty challenge of demolishing four of his rackets in succession.
For Baghdatis to lose in such passive fashion would have been almost unthinkable five years ago. The Cypriot established himself as one of the game’s most exciting talents when he reached the final of the 2006 Australian Open where he took the first set of Federer and looked like the more likely winner until his inexperience caught up to him. He missed much of the 2008 season with injury and truthfully has never looked the same player. The injury seems to have had just as much a mental effect as it has had physical. He is far more risk-averse now; while he still hits one of the cleanest balls on the tour, he is no longer the unpredicable, gung-ho player who struck fear into his opponens with a sudden, unexpected injection of pace. He now appears more conservative and consistent, happy to play extended rallies further back in the court. It’s unfortunate that he has spent so long injured, as he is far less effective playing this new, patient game – his athletic prowess is falls considerably short of his natural talent on a tennis court, and against a powerful and experienced opponent like Wawrinka his limitations will always be exposed when he is playing defense and not taking the initiative in rallies.
Lastly, in tragic news, TennisNiche golden boy David Nalbandian fell to serving god John Isner in a Eurpidic encounter, the American winning 10-8 in the final set. With Isner serving at 8-8 in the fifth set, Nalbandian suffered from the fatal mixture of inopportune lapses of concentration combined with bad fortune, which could be said rather neatly symbolises his career. Firstly, Nalbandian squandered two break points with backhand unforced errors. Widely considered to be one of the greatest backhands of the past ten years, it is perplexing how he could miss two of these, particularly as his 6’10 opponent is not quick at the best of times, even more so when he is cramping after four hours of play. This was followed by the classic Nalbandian screw job, in which the umpire absurdly did not allow Nalbandian to challenge a dubious ace down the middle by Isner, as he felt the Argentine had taken too long to challenge (in reality, the serve was originally called out and the umpire overruled. Nalbandian went to look at the mark, asked confusedly whether the serve was called in or not, by which time the umpire had decided that the time for a challenge had gone).
The sentient being which is TennisNiche would verbally dismantle this petulant umpire right here and now, were it not for the fact that it has been programmed as an omniscient and benevolent artificial intelligence designed to educate the wider tennis world on the perils of an ATP Tour dominated by generic baseline clones who hit drop volleys with full-western grips. So, the last word will be left the the blonde haired, rally team owning David Nalbandian:
“I asked for Hawk-Eye as he made an overrule. I say ‘okay, I see the mark, I challenge’ – not a big deal, but he didn’t want to do it,” said Nalbandian. “How many times do we check the mark and ask for Hawk-Eye?
“So somebody from the umpires or ATP can explain this situation. I mean, what is this? This is a grand slam. I haven’t seen the video but I don’t think it was too late to call. John said, ‘yeah, ask’.
“It’s ridiculous playing this kind of tournament with this kind of umpire. Eight-all, break point. Can you be that stupid to do that in that moment? What does the umpire need? Press, the name, his picture [in the paper] tomorrow? Incredible.”