The Australian Open finally has the match that could very well light the fuse on this middling tournament.
Thus far the event has followed a very predictable script—the favorites have almost all managed to stay alive. This ensures a blockbuster of a second week after a timid opening week.
There were expectations of a grand contest between Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport in the second round but, in a straight sets drubbing, the Russian showed the American exactly how much ground Davenport has lost since motherhood and a short-lived retirement.
The rest of the draw has unfolded as expected with the exception of Brit Andy Murray’s demise in the opening round providing the only real shock.
But the third round match between Aussie former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and sweet-hitting Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis promises to be a can’t miss event—a match to stop all the clocks, shut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, as W.H. Auden may well have put it.
Both players enter the match in fine form.
Hewitt, who before the tournament acknowledged he was in the last throes of his career, had rebounded from his abysmal warm-up form and only dropped one set.
His serve, traditionally more water pistol than cannon, has fired 27 aces, making him fifth overall in that department for the tourney. That's more than howitzer-armed American Andy Roddick.
Marcos Baghdatis, seeded 15th and a finalist here just two years ago, comes in with even better form, every ounce of which he needed to overcome 2005 champion Marat Safin in five sets last night.
If the action on the court was a must-see, what of the cheer squads in the stands rooting for the two players? These players' fans could lift the roof of Rod Laver Arena—if they’re not thrown out first.
Baghdatis is beloved here in Melbourne, home to the largest Greek population in the world outside Athens, and will have thousands in his corner.
Those same supporters were involved in controversy just days ago when they were pepper-sprayed by a police officer after complaints of racial chanting.
One of the supporters ejected was Baghdatis’ cousin, who was given the heave-ho for pouring a beer over a police officer’s head but was allowed to re-enter the arena for the Safin match.
Hewitt’s corner will be filled with the green and gold army of Australian sport supporters called the Fanatics, a well-traveled bunch admired and loathed in equal parts in their own country.
The Fanatics are a boorish brigade, to be sure, but at least they have managed to avoid the local constabulary. They enter this match on unfamiliar territory: the moral high ground.
Expect a knock ‘em, sock ‘em four sets, and an atmosphere to match. I predict Baghdatis will prevail.