Down Under Day 7: Halfway Hurricanes.
Day 7. The official half way point of a slam when the big names are starting to either hit their strides or hit the nadir of their nosedive.
Justine Henin came dangerously close, once again, to a nosedive. While Kim’s fairy tale run to the US Open title was impressive in its suddenness, Henin’s comeback has been, in many ways, even more enjoyable. There’s a quality in her that’s inspired better tennis in all her opponents since Brisbane.
Yesterday, I witnessed Yanina Wickmayer play the match of her career. For 3 whole sets, Wickmayer blasted whatever ball that came her way, and took strides forward whenever a shot from Henin fell a fraction short of the baseline. It was thrilling, powerful and creative tennis from both women in what I believe to be the best match of the tournament.
And yet, we seemed to be using the phrase “best match of the [insert period]” on Justine Henin more and more these days.
If there’s one thing that sets Justine apart, it’s that she finds a way to win. We saw that against Kleybanova, and we saw that yesterday against Wicky. Yanina had 3 set points at 6-5 in the first set, did absolutely nothing wrong on any of them, and lost all 3. And 5 points later, when the set progressed into a tiebreak, Henin didn’t miss another shot.
While Yanina stayed positive through the second set, completely overpowering Henin with her aggressive groundstrokes, Justine just took it to a whole new level in the third set, breaking Wicky in the first game with the most ridiculous all-court rally. From then on, she delivered, time and time again on serve to maintain her lead. And admirably, Wickmayer went down swinging til the very end, with just a shadow of something reminiscent of Maria Sharapova in her.
Top 10 by Roland Garros.
Magda Szubanski was there to add to the awesomeness.
Also hitting their strides were Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal, as I watched both progress safely through to set up a thunderous quarterfinal.
As much as I hate to admit it, if I had to give out grades for Week 1 performances at the Australian Open, Andy Murray would be top of the class. Isner had his chances in the first set, but the shot selection and execution under pressure just isn’t there, as exhibited by his pathetic excuse for a drop shot in the first set tiebreak. Of course, life was made that much harder by Andy Murray making a grand total of 5 unforced errors in the match.
Photos my own.
Didn’t see the rest of the match – a particular “someone” was practicing out on Court 17 with hot hair.
You see, I’ve got my priorities right.
[Friend: “Look look look! It’s Ro- OOOOHH HAAAIR.” *cross-eyed*]
Yes, Mr Hair has hypnotic powers, y’all!
Excuse the lack of 200 pictures to spam you with, I didn’t managed to get any autographs or photos other than the ones here. It’s not a hyperbole when I say that the girl next to me fainted when she saw Roger, and she stayed fainted.
I thought I was hardcore.
After an intense internal debate with self, I decided that human life was more important than Federporn.
After his practice, Roger signed a few autographs quickly on his way out. The Federer gang had a laugh with Sven Groeneveld, who came in with Caroline Wozniacki.
Meanwhile Doots and her slightly hypnotized friend headed back to Rod Laver Arena, just in time for Rafa v Karlovic.
The crowd, as expected, was predominant pro-Rafa, known affectionately as “Raf”. That’s Aussies and our lazy tongues for ya – by the middle of the first set, the “c’mon Karlovic” cheers from the Croatian fans had turned into a murky “caarrrrn Karlo”.
One little thing about Ivo Karlovic: he’s 10 times more impressive live than on TV. I may roll my eyes whenever I see him in a televised match, but it is only from the court side that you begin to fully appreciating the speed, placement, trajectory, and pop on his serve.
And will we ever give him enough credit for having more to his game than just the serve? Dude’s a pretty nifty volleyer, and did well yesterday to smell an opportunity at the end of the second set and convert it for a set of his own.
As for Rafa, the loss of a set was hardly a reflection of his form, but rather a combination of luck, momentarily loss of focus and the pressure put on by Karlovic at the right time.
During the fourth set of Raf’s match, we headed back to the cooler practice courts to escape the searing sun on Rod Laver Arena, and happened to catch Mr Casa Nova practicing ahead of his match against Davydenko yesterday.
In the thriller match of the day, Marin Cilic defeated Del Potro in 5 sets in 4 and a half hours for his first ever quarterfinal showing. Can’t say I was surprised, since I predicted Cilic to take down Del Potro in 4 sets. The stats were against del Potro – name the last male player to win back-to-back slams off his first slam?
Yeah, keep thinking…
Q. There would have been a lot of extra pressure on you, being a reigning Grand Slam champion. Do you think that weight will be lifted before your next major?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: No, I really enjoyed that pression. The crowd is unbelievable with me. They support me every match, every point. I was down in every match, and they help me to keep fighting, like today. I really like it, that pression.
I get that players don’t always speak perfect English. What I don’t get is why the Australian Open transcribers feel the need to transcribe a mispronunciation.
To add to the ‘pression‘ of being a slam champ, del Potro has had an array of physical niggles all week, very nearly falling to a resilient Blake. Meanwhile, Cilic had been gather steam with his wins against Santoro, Tomic and Wawrinka.
Cilic next faces Andy Roddick, who came through his own 5 set epic against a blazing Fernando Gonzalez. If Andy Roddick needed to fire a warning shot for the tournament, this match did it.
The majority of the second and third sets left me wonder how it’s the laws of physics could allow Fernando Gonzalez to hit the ball with this much gusto and pace and miss so rarely.
Perhaps the only thing more impressive than a firey Gonzo is a Randy on the other side of the court who simply refused to fold. In his maturity, Andy Roddick achieved something that I never saw in him in his earlier years – fight, resilience, heart, guts, or whatever you choose to call a core of steel.
And ain’t he glad he weathered Hurricane Gonzo? Once Roddick squeaked out the fourth set, Gonzo was, in so many ways, Gonzo.
Some people, they never change.