Australian Open Day One: Men Restore Order After Sharapova's Shock Exit

Sudeshna BanerjeeAnalyst IJanuary 18, 2010

You are used to seeing hapless players panting and complaining of dizziness after being fizzled out in the sweltering Melbourne heat.

Players scurrying for cover, intermittent rain breaks leading to postponement of matches or worse still, cancellation of matches altogether can hardly be imagined at Melbourne Park. Yet this was the very scene at the year’s first Grand Slam, giving the illusion of a rain-soaked Wimbledon.

Yes, this was a very different start to the Aussie Open, once famously termed as the "Happy Slam’’ by Roger Federer. But it turned out to be not so happy for the World No. 14 Maria Sharapova, who became the Open’s biggest casualty on Day One, being bundled out 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 by compatriot and friend Maria Kirilenko.

The Russian, who had lifted the Daphne Akhurst trophy in 2008, seemed to have lost her firepower under the cool conditions in a closed Rod Laver Arena, and bowed out after a three hour 22 minute glamfest that surely did enough to raise TRPs all around the world!

In an unprecedented fashion, four Belgian ladies took the court today. For one it was a return to Grand Slam tennis, and for the other one it was merely business. For the third one, it was an act of survival, while the last one was perhaps the most unfortunate.

Battling adverse conditions, six rain delays, and a frustratingly unbreakable opponent, 16th seed Yanina Wickmayer managed to scrape through 1-6, 7-5, 10-8.

After being compelled to play the qualifying stages, the promising Belgian landed in a heavily-loaded quarter headlined by her heavyweight compatriots, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin.

While U.S. Open champion Clijsters played an eloquent and fluid game to overcome Valerie Tetreault 6-0, 6-4, comeback queen and 2004 winner Henin was hardly ruffled in an imposing 6-4, 6-3 victory over her unlucky countrywoman, Kirsten Flipkens.

If a tennis fan was looking for an upset from the men’s side as well, they had to be disappointed, because the men soon restored order in the day which was headlined by shock from the women’s side. Clinical performances, dotted by clean and sublime tennis, were dished out by the top men on Day One.

Brisbane titlist Andy Roddick, who is gunning for his second Grand Slam, had an easy workout 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 against Thiemo De Bakker. In a match interrupted by the closing of the roof at Hisense Arena, Roddick moved and volleyed well, despite tripping over the feet of a linesperson.

Fifth seed Andy Murray hardly broke a sweat, and showed why he is being considered a title hope in his 17th Grand Slam attempt. The incredible angles were there, the astounding backhand crosscourt winners were there, and his fine shot selection continued to flummox his opponent as the Scot dwarfed a 203cm Kevin Anderson 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.

U.S. Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro had a grittier opponent in Michael Russell, who refused to be simply ground by the 6’6’’ Argentine’s booming forehands. The No. 4 seed showed some of the rustiness developed from lack of match-practice, and needed four sets to down the 31-year-old American.

An unfavourable line-call, a boisterous crowd, and a stiff challenge were not enough to snare the 21-year-old, as he hammered down 21 aces and 49 winners in total.

If the Day Session had all these men battling it out, the Evening Session also awaited a delectable feast of tennis. Defending champion and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, whose last official outing at the Rod Laver Arena is remembered vividly by tennis enthusiasts all over the world, took the court in the first match.

If one had expected it to be a one-way traffic from the beginning, he surely had been mistaken. 30-year-old Peter Luczak, the man standing on the opposite side of Rafa’s net, was smart enough, and Rafa needed enough gumption in the first set to put him down.

Refusing to wilt away, the Aussie continued sending down thundering groundstrokes, and trapped and broke Rafa in an epic game that lasted for 13 minutes, and even served for the set.

But knowing it is Rafa, you always have to expect the unexpected. That was a huge wake-up call for him, and before long Rafa brought on his aggressive brand of tennis and the opponent was soon on backfoot.

Rafa ran away with the tiebreak, and immediately it was just a one-man show. The errors decreased, the heavy topspin forehands were doing the damage as expected, the backhands were more polished—it was all clinical from Rafa as he wrapped it up 7-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Tennis was at its glorious best on Day One, and drama was right there coupled with a major upset—all the ingredients needed to crank up the excitement of all tennis aficionados around the globe.

Day Two also promises to be fascinating, with colossal names such as defending champion Serena Williams, the in-form Nikolay Davydenko, 2008 winner Novak Djokovic, former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, and above all, 15-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer all in action.