MELBOURNE, January 24, 2016
The first week of the Australian Open is over and we witnessed some action-packed seven days in Melbourne.
The event started with an upset in the men’s draw when Fernando Verdasco stunned Rafael Nadal in the opening round. Back in 2009 both players met in the semi-finals, playing an epic encounter with Nadal winning in five sets and eventually lifting the trophy down under. This time Nadal was toppled by his compatriot losing 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 2-6, which was the Spaniard’s first loss in an opening round at Melbourne Park and only his second in a Grand Slam tournament (lost to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon 2013). After shaking hands with Verdasco and the chair umpire Nadal strode quickly off the court, barely pausing to acknowledge the crowd with a wave.
Nadal’s defeat has raised questions, in particular if the 29-year-old 14-time-Grand Slam champion can triumph at another major. “It’s one of the biggest disappointments we’ve had,” Toni Nadal, his coach and uncle, said in an interview with Spanish radio. “All losses hurt, or nearly all, but to go out in the first round of a tournament that is so important like the Australian Open and to have come in here playing well for three or four months, that is what is very disappointing.” Toni also said that if his nephew is not playing well in 2016, that another coach could step in to help.
Former world number one Mats Wilander saw the positives from Nadal’s early exit in Melbourne. “He’s going to be so good when the clay court season comes along. He’s got a couple of tournaments now, so he’s got an extra 10 days to practice before he goes to South America, he’s going to go down there, he’s going to win one of those (tournaments), he’s going to get a lot of matches. He’s going to be so dangerous when the clay court season comes along, and if he gets a good clay court season then the confidence comes back,” said Wilander.
Due to summer time in Australia the fashion of the players was a colourful affair. The probably most discussed outfit was worn by Eugenie Bouchard. Although the Canadian made an early exit in the second round, she received a lot of attention by wearing a “kind of a dress”, which could be also seen as a “long shirt”.
In an interview she compared her dress to the US flag. The 21-year-old Canadian described her lightweight tank dress for the Australian Open as having “red and white stripes like an American flag or something.”
Then she paused. “Actually, red and white like Canada, I should say. Whoops!”
On Thursday night it was all about Lleyton Hewitt. The 34-year-old local hero was sent into retirement by David Ferrer, when the Spaniard won his second round match at Rod Laver Arena 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. Afterwards Hewitt, wearing a shirt decorated with the Australian flag, was joined on court by his three children while his wife, former soap opera actress Bec, looked on in tears.
“I gave everything I had, like always, and left nothing in the locker room and that’s something I can always be proud of,” Hewitt told the crowd. “In my whole career I’ve given 100 per cent and I love coming out here and competing.”
With Hewitt saying goodbye from active tennis, only three former or current world number 1 players remain on the ATP World Tour.
Further Read: Farewell of No. 1 players on the ATP World Tour
On Sunday night, world number one Novak Djokovic was force to go the distance against Gilles Simon. It seemed that the Serb struggled more with himself than with his opponent during the 4th round encounter but eventually survived in five sets.
“Playing against a player like Gilles you can expect a lot of rallies,” Djokovic said. “He always makes you play an extra shot. It was physically demanding. He is probably the best counter-puncher we have on tour. He is not overwhelmed by big players. I hope I will be able to decrease my unforced error count against Kei (Nishikori).” Throughout the match, Djokovic produced a colossal 100 unforced errors to gain his 10th victory over Simon in their 11 tour meeting.
“No more drop shots,” shouted a fan afterward on court and the top-seed simply replied, “I hate to say it, but you’re absolutely right!” Djokovic advanced to his 27th Grand Slam quarterfinal and will remain the top favourite for claiming this year’s title again.
And of course there was Daria Gavrilova and her ambiguous on-court interview. After the 21-year-old Australian had beaten Kristina Mladenovic 4-6, 6-4, 11-9 to reach the fourth round, she told that she did not only want to hug the whole stadium, but she also explained that she is “good from behind”.