By: Jane Voigt
Little known fact: No. 2 seed Roger Federer coined the phrase “Happy Slam.” He thought it perfectly captured the atmosphere of the Australian Open, which easy to say for a man who has reached the semifinals or better for the last ten years, winning four times.
But “happy” might not be the best way to describe others’ experiences, at the end of the first round at the first slam of the year:
“I’m not too happy right now,” No. 21 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov told The Weekly Review of Kooyong Saturday, when he injured his left knee. “I’m not sure I’ll be playing the [Australian] Open because it’s feeling much the same as it was before my surgery.” The Ukrainian missed the US Open last fall and subsequently missed nearly three months on tour.
When Dolgopolov lost to 33 year-old Paolo Lorenzi in straight sets today, few wondered why. Alas, reality is hardly a consolation for high-ranking players. With only second-round points to defend, his ranking (No. 23) will likely stay close to where it stands.
The good news for Lorenzi? It’s his first foray beyond round one at this slam.
Speaking of Italians: Fabio Fognini — Ah, Fabio. His name, which should be pronounced “Fog Knee-Knee,” describes him best. The No. 16 seed is his own brand and seemingly unaffected by his career choice. With gallons of talent, charisma – for better or worse – and, most importantly, points to defend, his loss in straight sets to Alejandro Gonzalez of Columbia was surprising…but not really. He was defending fourth-round points — his best at this Major — making his eighth appearance and one would assume, trying to stay in the Top 20.
For now, he’ll be remembered as the one Juan Martin del Potro beat in his first tournament back from an 11-month injury lay-off. Yet, if we look back over the last three years of performances at Grand Slams, his exit from Melbourne Park fits the bill. He has consistently lost early, noticeably before the second week.
Other seeds out include Tommy Robredo, No. 15. The 32-year-old Spaniard has injuries of his own, retiring to Edouard Roger-Vasselin after five games. No one fights like Robredo, so his withdrawal is unfortunate for fans and the tournament at large. Julien Benneteau, No. 25, is dealing with pain and likely a heavy heart after France lost to Switzerland in Davis Cup. His loss to journeyman Benjamin Becker was not expected, though, with a head-to-head record favoring the Frenchman, 2-0. But Becker played aggressively, earning 49 winners to Benneteau’s 34.
The draw was not kind to Ernest Gulbis, No. 11. The Latvian fell under the spell of wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis in a five-set thriller Monday night, which ended with thinning crowds within Show Court 3. Gulbis won 172 points to the Aussie teen’s 164, which is an unfortunate occurrence in tennis, proving point total can often do little more than lend a bit of sympathy to the loser.
Gulbis has one of the bigger and better serves on Tour, too. He served 29 aces to his opponent’s 15, a 3.5 game advantage. His motion is flawless, but stroke production doesn’t matter if you can’t hit the box. He won 81% on first serves in, but only 39% off the second. That lower percentage lends credit to Kokkinakis’s keen return.
Kokkinakis, along with Sam Groth, Bernard Tomic, James Duckworth, and, of course, Nick Kyrgios all landed in the bottom half of the draw, with most of them bunched in one quarter.
It’s a regular Aussie fest.
Unfortunately, Groth and Kokkinakis play Wednesday on Hisense Area, first up at 6 P.M. local time; someone’s going home.
According to the Australian Open, there have been 18 five-set matches thus far, which hasn’t happened since 2007. One five-setter that tugged at the heartstrings of American underdog fans came between Feliciano Lopez (No. 12) and wildcard American, Denis Kudla.
The perennial quali-finalist earned a berth in the main draw when he won the USTA Pro Circuit Australian Open Wildcard Challenge. Kudla’s confidence overflowed as he pressured the Spaniard with consistently deep ground strokes, pinning him to the baseline for much of the match.
Breaking for 6-5 in the fifth, the American stood at the door of victory with three match points. Then, Lopez came to the net and sent a whizzing forehand down the line, discombobulating Kudla enough to even the score 6-games all. Final scoreline? 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 10-8.
A real tennis tragedy.
And what about those young guns? Borna Coric, the ATP’s Newcomer of The Year, lost a brave four-setter to Jeremy Chardy (No. 29). Lucas Pouille, another wildcard from France, lost to Gael Monfils (No. 17) late Tuesday night. Pouille was up two sets with a break in the fifth, but double faulted to hand it back to Monfils. For once, the elder countryman did the right thing and won the match.
And that’s only round one.
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