Day two of AO2011 is certainly unforgettable for me.
I went around a bit, and watched a few matches, and managed to stalk a piece of yummy Swiss cheese, but I’ll delegate all of that into a wrap post tomorrow. For now, I just want to write about the match I just came home from: Lleyton Hewitt v David Nalbandian.
I bet a thousand bucks that when they got the draw, looked at it and saw each other’s names, the first thought that went through their heads would possibly be: FUCK MY LIFE.
Who could forget that epic quarterfinal in AO05? I certainly couldn’t. It was an excellent tennis match and not to mention the bitching that went on after that. There was (is?) no love lost between these two, and not forgetting that Nalbandian was the guy Hewitt beat for his Wimbledon title (although he lost really tamely).
Animosity aside – both guys knew what each other are made of. Nalbandian – massively talented, aggressive and difficult to play. Hewitt – not too shabby on the talent front, and simply does not know what the words GIVE UP AND DIE means.
It’s a pity, a huge huge pity, that this has to be a first round match. Staged on Rod Laver Arena, the match promised to be amazing and it certainly lived up to all the hype, and more (unlike the other supposedly WOWZA RLA match which turned out to be SNOOZE-ZA and EMBARRASMENT-ZA). I managed to attend this match live, I stayed for every minute of it and every second was worth staying for.
Hewitt came out swinging, breaking Nalby to take the lead, and breaking him again for the set. Nalby wasn’t playing shabby, but he wasn’t finding his momentum, netting his balls and overhitting some of them. He came alive in the second set, finding the court better and moving better, breaking Hewitt to ensure the match will at least go to four. Hewitt grinded out another set in the third, and looked to be cruising towards a win when Nalbandian lost his serve early in the fourth set, but Nalbandian broke back almost immediately, and broke again to take the lead. As fate would have it, he was broken while serving for the fourth, but somehow managed to find the fire to burn through the tiebreaker, allowing Hewitt just one point and sending the match into a fifth set.
Throughout the match, the two, both baseliners, were producing some of the best baseline tennis ever. Balls flew fast, sharp and angled. The Nalby backhand is to die for. It can create all sorts of RIDICULOUS angles that just had some of us going NO WAYYYYYY THAT COULD BE DONE. Hewitt, however, does not have a shoddy backhand either. Winner after winner blitzed from both racquets, along with their share of unforced errors (ratio of winners:UE – 65/83 for Nalby, 52/62 for Hewitt). There were points that were unbelievably unbelievable.
The fifth set saw both players upping their play, keeping the level ridiculously high as they battled it out, hitting the CRAP out of the ball. Hewitt, however, was broken early, and it seems like the match was going Nalbandian’s way, until in typical gritty Hewitt COME THE FUCK ON style, he broke Nalbandian just as the guy was serving for the match.
From 5-all onwards, it was a marathon for both guys to hold serve, and with Nalbandian serving to make it 7-all to stay in the match, Hewitt had two match points. Nalbandian saved the first with a most RIDONK drop shot THAT WORKED (unlike someone else’s at first championship point at AO last year, ahem ahem), and then saved another one, and it was 7-all.
Maybe those two lost match points weighed on Hewitt’s mind. Maybe he was thinking just a tad too much about what-could-have-been. Maybe he was thinking about how he had converted only 7 out of 30 break points to gain membership into Federer’s Aversion to BP Conversion Exclusive Members’ Club. But that one lapse was all it took. In the 15th game, Hewitt suddenly couldn’t find his serve, played a couple of loose points and with a double-fault, Nalbandian broke him again to serve for the match. And there was no hesitation this time as Nalbandian converted his match point with a beautiful overhead lob that sailed over Hewitt’s head and landed perfectly in at the back of the court.
Four hours and forty-eight minutes. That was what it took. Two veterans, two gritty players who came back from hip injury, gave us four hours and forty-eight minutes of absolutely jaw-dropping baseline tennis.
I cannot remember the last time I felt this affected about a match that does not involve Roger Federer. But walking home from Rod Laver Arena, I just felt…blah. This is not to say that if Hewitt had won, I would not feel blah. I probably would have, too. How could either of those guys deserve to lose? Neither of them did. But sport is cruel, and that is the way sport is. Someone has to lose.
In Wimbledon and AO05, it was Nalbandian. Today, it was Hewitt. And although it was a first-round match, the determination, the grit, the level of play displayed was as if it could have been a final.
To Nalbandian’s credit, he didn’t turn into a mental headcase (as he is prone to), held it together for a very deserving win. Hewitt, at the end, just didn’t have that little bit more.
Hewitt can be a total dickhead at times, and a douchebag to rather epic proportions (as evidenced by his rudeness to Mr. Pascal “I Am Infinitely More Awesome Than You” Maria last match). Although he was my tennis first love, his utterly gross behaviour and loud mouth tendencies over the years have switched off my loyalty completely. But even as an ass, there is no denying his desire and his love for the game, and the fact that he is one guy that never ever gives up. Today, he is a better person and a more mature player, and his heart for the sport remains the same. Watching him walk off court to a standing ovation, I cannot deny that there is some heartbreak involved, on my part.
Lleyton Hewitt brought me to love this sport. I started watching, and loving tennis, because of him. I guess in the end, I still have a small soft spot for that aggressive, smarmy 21-year-old with his Wimbledon trophy.
Go south, Nalby. Bring this game of yours to every match you play from now onwards, and keep winning. You deserve nothing less.
Day two wrap still to come.
P.S. I’m also kinda RAGE that Hewitt is gone after playing the best Round 1 match, and Bratface Tomic is still in the draw after meeting Chardy who was all kinds of fail. Oh Tennis Gods, your cruelty astounds me.
P.P.S. photos with credit to daylife.com. Too blah to load my own plus they’re all too tiny anyway.