There was a lot of action in the first half of the third round tonight and if the first few matches were, I must say, a little boring, the match of the day really delivered as far as the show and quality of the play was concerned. However, the match between Bernard Tomic and Alexandr Dolgopolov (15) was tainted with obvious gamesmanship from the Aussie, which gave his win a bitter taste.
But first, a little round-up of the other matches.
Federer and Nadal, without much history
The first two matches on Rod Laver Arena were not, I admit, the most entertaining ones to follow. Having the chance to see Roger Federer (3) and Rafael Nadal (2) in back-to-back Grand Slam matches and early round action should have been something to enjoy. However, such was not the case, and even the biggest fans of both players admitted it was not as fun as they would have hoped.
To start the fifth day of action, Rafael Nadal was facing Lukas Lacko, a young player who has a very nice game to watch but who was not, despite a tight first set in which Nadal simply adapted his game to his rival’s until he found his weakness and went for it (Lacko’s backhand, in this case), much of a challenge for the Spaniard, who flew to a 6-4 6-2 6-2 win in 1:45.
Shortly after, Roger Federer stepped on court to face Ivo Karlovic. No surprise there, the match was played on the serve and we had a tiebreak. In fact, out of the 11 matches Federer and Karlovic played against each other, including yesterday’s, only two did not include at least one tiebreak.
Even though tiebreaks and a match involving Karlovic usually come together, and that the match in its whole was not the most exciting affair, the first set tiebreak gave us the two most entertaining moments of the night, the first one being when down break point, Roger Federer saved it by lobbing Dr Ivo:
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Federer went to win the tiebreak, saved the second set from the same feat and won the third with relative ease, defeating Karlovic 7-6(6) 7-5 6-3.
The second entertaining moment of the match happened a few points before: a failed attempt from the Swiss at a two-handed backhand, which ended up in the net. When questioned about it after the match, Federer gave this explanation:
“That’s why I play one handed. And I won’t play double handed for a long, long time, I can tell you that.”
Not too long, please. The effect of surprise was really nice, even though the shot was missed.
The Spaniards at the helm
Rafael Nadal was not the only Spaniard to gain his ticket for the fourth round, as he was also joined by Feliciano López (18) and Nicolás Almagro (10). Sadly, it is assured that one of them does not make it to the quarter-finals, Feli and Rafa playing each other of one of the spots.
Almagro was the first one to join Nadal in the round-of-16 when he played brilliant tennis to defeat Stanislas Wawrinka (21) in straight sets, 7-6(2) 6-2 6-4.Yes, Wawrinka was ailing (left shoulder, same as in Chennai), but this does not, in the least, take away the merit of the Spaniard, who really played a great match to reach the last 16 for the third consecutive year.
As for López, he battled for five sets to dispatch John Isner (16) 6-3 6-7(3) 6-4 6-7(0) 6-1. If we can definitely say that Isner battled, as he did, to try and reach the fourth round, and that Feli played many brilliant shots, we also have to be objective and say that López battled himself a lot as well during this tipsy-turvy roller-coaster of a match. With this win, the 30-year-old Spaniard has now reached the fourth round or better of all four Grand Slam tournaments, not a small achievement! Furthermore, with Isner losing, it means that it is the first time in the Open Era that no man from the U.S. will be in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Del Potro gains pace
Juan Martín del Potro (11) was, last night, facing Yen-Hsun Lu to also make his way to the round-of-16, and if he did not convince in his first two matches, this third-rounder was a much better match from the Argentine.
Precise at the service line, his forehand booming just like it used to, he made his opponent appear as one who was just not of calibre for him. The 6-2 6-3 6-0 scoreline (the lowest number of games conceded in one match by del Potro in his Grand Slam career) reflects just that.
They are the future of the game
I kept the blockbuster match of the evening for last, on purpose, as the face-à-face between Alexandr Dolgopolov and Bernard Tomic was, to me, the most entertaining match of the tournament so far. We knew that the two young players were capable of playing incredible tennis and this is what we have been treated to for nearly four hours.
In a brilliant display of sliced backhands, sliced forehands, nice serving, unorthodox shotmaking, impressive rallies, and so much more, both Dolgopolov and Tomic treated the fans over at Rod Laver Arena, and those watching from the comfort of their home, to an epic tennis match that may led me to think that if this is the future of the game, I’m buying a dozen of them.
To me, this match was the essence of what tennis should be: shots, rallies, a mix of speed and power, but not too much power, and incredible skill. No such thing as anyone cannoning serve-bomb over serve-bomb, just shotmaking and tennis creativity. Genius in the making, for both.
Of course, both players being very aggressive led to a huge amount of unforced errors on both sides (78 for Dolgopolov, 61 for Tomic), but also to a very big amount of winners (80 vs 41), the latter showing the contrast of style between the two players.
In my mind, there is no doubt that these two players will shortly enter the top 10 if they continue like that.
However, an incident at the beginning of the fifth set tarnished this incredible night of tennis. In the first game of the decider, Bernard Tomic gestured to challenge a ball from Dolgopolov, mid-rally. The ball was called in and so the play continued, but Dolgopolov’s next shot was out, as the Ukrainian had all but stopped playing, seeing the gesture of his opponent, as all but apparently umpire Carlos Ramos had seen.
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Rightfully very angry, Dolgopolov never seemed to fully recover from that blow, which actually led to a 4-6 7-6(0) 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3 win for the Australian, who still wouldn’t own up to what he did after the match:
Q. What happened at the end of the first game in the fifth set.
BERNARD TOMIC: Yeah, it was a long rally, a slice rally. Four, five slices and he hit the ball long. I knew the ball was long called, but I looked to the umpire’s chair because I sort of had my head down. I knew where the shot was. So even though I liked to the ref to see what his reaction was, because I didn’t hear him, I didn’t say a thing.
I knew I got the slice back. It was on my frame. I was looking at him whether he was going to say “out,” but I continued to play. He thought I was going to challenge it. Got lucky I didn’t say anything.
Q. So in your mind you didn’t challenge?
BERNARD TOMIC: No, I didn’t challenge but I looked ‑‑ sometimes before the ref says “out” and overrules, he lifts his arm.
At that time when he didn’t say “out,” I continued to play. So I went like that. Alex thought I was challenging, and I didn’t focus on that shot.
May this be clear: in this case, I do give Carlos Ramos the benefit of the doubt and the gesture was done while the ball was already going back onto Dolgo’s side of the net and the umpire’s job is to follow the ball. In this case, the blame goes to Tomic, who did raise his hand to challenge, who was seen by all except, likely, the umpire, but did not call out that he challenged the in call and so, by failing to do so, took a point that was not really his to take at that moment.
In other words, just like Justine Henin once did to Serena Williams, Tomic cheated. And just like Justine Henin after the fact, he did not own up to it. As he already has quite a bad reputation, to put it mildly, I wonder if the tennis fans will be as lenient to him in the future as they have been with Henin.
Tomic will meet Roger Federer in the round-of-16 and I’m pretty sure that we will be treated to another great match. It is just a shame that Tomic’s action cast a shadow on how great this youngsters’ battle was.
Bottom half round-of-16 matchups
In the bottom half, the round-of 16 will feature these matches:
- Rafael Nadal vs Feliciano López
- Roger Federer vs Bernard Tomic
- Tomas Berdych vs Nicolás Almagro
- Juan Martín del Potro vs Philipp Kohlschreiber
Tonight, we will know the identity of the other eight players who will battle for a place in the quarter-finals.