A Unifying Theme

Australian Open, First Round

The early rounds of last year’s Australian Open were mainly notable for the apocalyptic heat, the main results of which were the emergence of a lot of self-proclaimed experts on elite athlete physiology, very few actual retirements, and the cancellation of plans to relocate the event to the high plains of Africa, where our distant ancestors once played tennis. Pundits suddenly knew all there was to know about the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index (WBGT), and declared it inadequate, since the weather really was actually very hot. Tomic AO 2015 -1(The WBGT index has since been revised, such that its readings can be ignored if enough journalists complain about it, Maria Sharapova takes to Twitter or Ivan Dodig collapses.)

This year’s event sadly lacks such a unifying theme, unless one counts Nike’s attempt to clad all its contracted players in several shades of retina-searing Day-Glo. Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka both turned up dressed as tennis balls. There’s a particularly ambitious pink and yellow ensemble favoured by many of the men. The real shame is that Fernando Verdasco, sponsored by Adidas, missed out. H&M has draped Tomas Berdych in delicate sea foam.

The marquee first round match, obvious the moment the draw was released, was between Juan Martin del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz. Due to chronic health concerns (del Potro – wrist; Janowicz – brain), neither man was seeded. Unfortunately the surgical steel and good wishes holding Delpo’s wrist together failed again, and he withdrew. Honours for most enticing first round thus fell to Grigor Dimitrov and Dustin Brown, assuming Brown could bring the notoriously cavalier attack that can trouble any top player. Alas, he instead brought the erratic mess that saw him lose in the first round of qualifying last year, and ensured he was the first player to exit this year’s main draw. Dimitrov, his countrymen exhorting him with ancient Bulgar war cries (‘Gri-gor Dim-i-trov!’), won in under seventy minutes.

Andreas Seppi and Denis Istomin were delivering a longer and more diverting spectacle on the remote Court 22, a match the Italian eventually took 6/4 in the fifth. Next door, Richard Gasquet was noticeably better than Carlos Berlocq in every aspect of the sport that counted, and won a very entertaining baseline duel in straight sets. Seeded only twenty-fourth this year, I suspect Gasquet will remain largely unnoticed until the fourth round, where he’ll doubtless provide a launching ramp for professional underdog Rafael Nadal.

Even before the official draw was released on Friday, Nadal was working to establish his credentials as a virtual non-starter, notwithstanding how suited the conditions are to his game, and that he typically reaches the final whenever he turns up. Since then he has availed himself of hourly press conferences in which to really drive the message home, lest his supporters harbour any hope that he might somehow prevail. His strenuous objections grew only more ridiculous given the superb thrashing he doled out to Mikhail Youzhny in their opening match. Afterwards, faced with a sceptical press corps, Nadal hired a skywriting plane and proclaimed his underdog status in hundred-foot letters high above Melbourne Park. Undeterred, the betting markets have installed him as third favourite, only slightly behind Federer, although I imagine that will change if they both reach the semifinals. (For his part, Federer appeared untroubled, and occasionally uninterested, against Yen-Hsun Lu.)

Page 1 of 3 | Next page