I have not found much to write about in the last six weeks. It was not a case of writer's block, rather a lack of inspiration.
The college bowl season left a lot to be desired for me, the NHL and NBA labor on through their regular seasons, and college basketball is gaining steam with conference games in full swing. The NFL playoffs have been of a good quality, but left little for me to write about.
Enter the Australian Open. More specifically, enter January 19, 2008. While the date may not be ingrained in memory as a sports fan, the matches that comprised them will.
For the American audience, January 19th really began January 18th. Like any good tennis fan, I was ready for action at 7:00 pm Friday night, 11:00 am Saturday morning in Melbourne. After seeing two highly ranked women's players upset in the first two matches, the drama really kicked into gear.
With a steady rain cancelling play at all but the two main courts (Rod Laver Arena and Vodafone Arena come equipped with retractable roofs), James Blake took the court against veteran Frenchman Sebastian Grosjean in the second match on Vodafone.
Grosjean captured the first two sets, and led 4-1 in the fourth before a furious Blake comeback gave the American only his second five set victory of his career.
On any given day of a tournament, fans would be thrilled to see a quality match such as this one. To make things more interesting, as Blake and Grosjean battled on, unknown Croat Marin Cilic was busy taking care of number seven seed and 2007 finalist Fernando Gonzalez.
As the eastern United States saw Friday turn into Saturday, Roger Federer was ready to cruise in his third round match against Serb Janko Tipsarevic.
The match started off as many Federer matches have. Tipsarevic found himself unable to do anything against Roger's serve and for the first few games looked overwhelmed.
When Federer broke to go up 5-4 in the first, I figured that this would be a classic Federer straight set victory. Roger may have felt the same.
One who didn't was Tipsarevic, who broke back and took the first set in a tiebreaker. Federer returned the favor in the second set, before Janko struck back to claim the third.
As 1:00 am turned into 2:00 am turned into 3:00 am on the east coast, Federer took the fourth set 6-1. I figured the fifth set would go the same way and I could finally go to bed.
Janko had different ideas.
With a perfect blend of play, Tipsarevic was able to do what so few can. He kept Roger off balance, hitting a mix of deep balls, then hitting his angles with Federer-like perfection.
Federer played his game as well, as each man held serve over and over again. In Australia, day had turned into night, and Melbourne's night session was delayed as a growing crowd outside the complex had their eyes fixated on the world's number one in a dogfight with a player some had never heard of.
Finally Federer wore down his opponent, and after four hours of exciting, draining tennis, Melbourne was ready for its night session (two hours later than scheduled), and I was ready for mine.
After a wonderful sleep that lasted all of five hours, I awoke to find out that for the second consecutive day, the night session became the early morning session.
Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis had patiently waited their turn and it showed. I awoke to find Baghdatis controlling the third set after the two had split the first two.
Hewitt stormed back to take the third set, and up 5-1 in the fourth, was ready to end a long day in Melbourne, and leave the fans satisfied with a great day of tennis.
Baghdatis had either ideas, as he stormed back to take the fourth set in a great tiebreaker. Now the players, fans, and commentators suffered the same fate as I had several hours earlier.
While I was lying on my couch, barely conscious, Hewitt and Baghdatis were slugging it out, going for every shot. The fans did their part cheering both players with a vigor worthy of such a match, as Aussies andCypriots and Greeks alike roared with each progressive point. ESPN's coverage led by Chris Fowler did their part, not showing the signs of their 14 continuous hours of work.
Hewitt went on to win a competitive, exciting fifth set 6-3 ending a 17-hour day at the Australian Open, encompassing three classic five set matches, plus a host of other quality tennis. The local time at completion of the day: 4:32 am Sunday, January 20th.
In the coming days, a number of other great matches will be sure to take place. Top players such as Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic move closer to matches against each other.
Each has a long way to go, however, as this tournament has shown that no one is immune from an instant classic.
My lack of inspiration has been fixed for right now. The rest of the weekend promises to be filled with more great tennis and two pretty good football games, as the Giants look to cap off a great weekend for me with a hopeful upset of Green Bay and a Super Bowl appearance.
Whoever wins in the NFL's conference championship games, the Super Bowl promises to be quite the game.
Football fans should be so lucky to get a Sunday that even approaches what tennis fans were able to experience down under in one day, one that was a combination of a Friday night, a Saturday, and a Sunday morning.
With my inspiration restored, I sit ready to take in more tennis, more football, more hockey, and more basketball with a rehabilitated excitement as the new year rolls on, and it feels good.