I know. It sucks to lose the first round of a tournament. And it sucks JUST THAT MUCH MORE to lose while wearing this pathetic excuse of a design. On camera, under the sun, the thing was so neon it burnt Feliciano Lopez-shaped holes right through my retinas.
First round Sydney is not where you’d expect there to be a rather epic 3 hour long battle between someone ranked outside the Top 200 in the world and … Feliciano Lopez.
But that “someone” happens to be Juan Martin del Potro, and all the while the match was one, you get the sense that they were fighting for something more than just a win. For del Potro, it was the validation that he was indeed on some sort of comeback trail. It’s never really “official” until you’ve won a match.
For Lopez, he was bizarrely emotional in the match – he always is, of course. But there were moments during the third set where he would miss a shot, pause, and give himself the thumbs up in sarcasm and mockery. As if to say “oh great shot, Felix, that only missed the tramlines by about 2 meters. FABULOUS work at losing this match.”
Tennis, and sports in general, can be masochist. Sometimes, we play to prove something to our harshest critics, which for Feliciano Lopez today was unfortunately himself.
For 3 hrs and 20 minutes, these two men battled with a kind of intensity ill-fitting for a first round match in Sydney. Besides an exchange of serves early in the first set, neither man was broken all match.
Del Potro couldn’t find rhythm on serve or his forehand during much of the first set, but settled down and picked up the pace after the second set. It wasn’t just a matter of rust. There were many moments when – as Del Potro whacked an off-forehand so hard the best Lopez could do was to get a frame on it – you exclaim “oh I remember that“. The shots are there. The shot-selection, on the other hand, was not.
Was it due to his lack of match-fitness? His impatience to win? The fact that he has had trouble with Lopez before? Perhaps a bit of all of the above?
(Yo, Mister Photographer. I really didn’t need this good a look at his nostrils, ya know?)
Lopez had his chances, notwithstanding a match point in the second set tiebreak. His slice stayed low. He finished points off at the net better than most male players these days. He played his typical old school, “unspanish” tennis to the best of his abilities. There was a 4 game period in the third set where he held easily on serve and had numerous points to break Del Potro’s serve. As always, the longer a service game goes on for, the more it evolves to become the keystone of the entire match. Del Potro, however inconsistent, however nervy he was, always found a serve when he needed it. He struggled, he blasted his way through. He went down, he came back in Lopez’s face.
It look DelPoopy some 20 minutes to hold two service games, but by the time it came to the tiebreak, he knew he’s done enough to be given one more chance. Lopez on the other hand, looked up forlornly at the skies and berated the heavens, berated himself, his mind still lingering on the chances he didn’t take, the match point he didn’t win.
And that, was all the difference. 67 76 76.