The last two unseeded players in the draw’s bottom half collided this morning, and it turned out to be the match of the day, although this is not an especially stellar accolade as no other match reached a deciding set. There have been two-set classics, it’s true, but none of them occurred today. Today was one for the fans – the true-believers – especially those of Richard Gasquet, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who were fearsome.
Harrison d. Raonic, 7/6 4/6 6/4
The unseeded players in question were Ryan Harrison, an eighteen-year-old American on the climb to notoriety, and Milos Raonic, who is a pretty big deal already. Raonic’s prematch favouratism owed less to his shiny new ranking – No.34 – than to his power and composure. He has both in buckets. Nonetheless, the younger player was not overwhelmed, and looked quite composed himself in stepping in to take Raonic’s vicious deliveries on the up. To say it was an impressive returning display does the performance scant justice. It was a downright admonition to Raonic’s recent opponents. I’m not mentioning Fernando Verdasco specifically but . . . well, I just did. Once the Canadian’s serve is back in play, it turns out real tennis ensues. The real tennis was excellent, a testament to both guy’s widely overlooked prowess off the ground. Harrison’s go-to play generally involves hurtling netwards, and taking his licks. That said, his baseline endeavours boast variety of the old-fashioned kind, the kind everyone once had before Fabrice Santoro annexed the very concept, and everyone else gave up on it. It’s a long way of saying he’s talented.
Federer d. Chela, 6/0 6/2
Djokovic d. Gulbis, 6/0 6/1
Federer’s first set against Juan Ignacio Chela was vintage stuff, insofar as I imagine it recalled any of the other six times he hasn’t lost to the guy. I won’t pretend to have seen them all. The second set was merely very good. I may be reading it wrong, but Federer seems like a bad match-up for the Argentinian. Meanwhile, Djokovic’s egregious mental lapse in the second set against Ernest Gulbis ruined his chances of dishing up a double bagel. Gulbis for his part was impeccable, posting the sorts of numbers hitherto unseen in professional tennis (see left), at least not since Jimmy Connors once played an exhibition against a standard poodle. Gulbis was more successful on Djokovic’s serve than his own, doubtless because it allowed him to remain still and randomly windmill his racquet about. This tactic payed rich dividends at the net, where his vast wingspan made him a fearsome sight, lustily thrashing about. Judging by this video, Djokovic gave the match about as much preparation as it warranted. Based on the scoreline, who could fault him?