The first week of the Australian Open is now a thing of the past and we had to wait until Day 6 to get the first huge surprise of the men’s singles draw.
Stunning Jérémy Chardy!
The surprise came from the racquet of Jérémy Chardy, who played the best match of his career to stun sixth seed Juan Martín del Potro in a 3h45 contest, 6-3 6-3 6-7(3) 3-6 6-3.
The 25-year-old brought his best tennis into this third-round encounter, hitting particularly well from the forehand side (43 of his 78 winners came from that side), but doing everything to keep the tall Argentine on the move, trying to bring him forward as much as he can.
On the other side of the net, del Potro did not start the match particularly well. Looking at times as if he were elsewhere, his big serve and cracking forehand, his two weapons of choice, were not as sharp as they have been in the first two rounds. With the Frenchman all over him, attacking from all sides, it was a recipe for disaster for the World no 7, who quickly found himself trailing 0-2 in sets.
Del Potro, who had never come back from 0-2 to win a best-of-five match (while Chardy had never lost when ahead 2-0), was in serious danger in his hopes to make it far in the tournament.
The players traded breaks at the start of the third set, and Chardy had chances to break midway through, but could not capitalise on them. Those missed chances by the Frenchman seemed to have doused his energy for a time, but also to wake the Argentine, who went and took the set, and the next one, forcing a decisive fifth.
Many, yours truly included, thought that it was over for Jérémy Chardy at that point, and that Delpo was completely back on track. The Frenchman proved us wrong, gritted his teeth and stuck to his game plan (hitting many low balls, which make the Argentine very uncomfortable, attacking with his best shot – the forehand – move his opponent around as much as possible), and like in the first two sets, the strategy paid off.
Chardy broke in the eighth game and served out the match comfortably to complete the upset and send del Potro packing, thus reaching the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the second time in his career.
What happened to Chardy?
Chardy had a bad bout with his tennis, especially the mental side of his game, for a while. Off-court problems with his former coach did not help him in the least.
Nevertheless, since he started working with Patrick Mouratoglou’s Academy, particularly under the tutelage of Martina Hingis, he seems a transformed player.
He came to Melbourne with much more confidence in his game and his abilities, and it bore fruits.
Considering the quality of his rival, just the fact that he hung on and fought all the way to the win after losing the third and fourth sets is a good testimony of what Jérémy Chardy has been able to accomplish over the last few months.
Still, the season is young. Hopefully for him, it will continue in this vein.
Del Potro needs to work harder
This is probably the easiest thing to say: Juan Martín del Potro needs to roll up his sleeves and, with his team, get back at the working table.
The third-round defeat he suffered in Melbourne shows that the Argentine is in need of a plan B when things get complicated. It is not the first time we say such a thing, and the match only showed yet again that trying to hit the ball harder when things get a little rough is not necessarily the winning strategy.
Against an inspired opponent, when he is not playing at his absolute best (like it was the case against Chardy), this can really cost him. And it did.
Indeed, del Potro is right when saying that Jérémy Chardy was the best player on the court. However, he came really close to complete the comeback and, perhaps, had he been able to change and vary his game plan a little, the result might have been different.
There is no doubt in my mind that Juan Martín del Potro has the talent to aim for the number one spot in the ATP. What he needs, now, is to add a few more tools to his range in order to really make a difference.
Since the beginning of the tournament, including Saturday’s results, there have been 26 matches that went to the limit in the men’s draw: 13 in Round 1, 8 in Round 2, and 5 just in Round 3.
Seven players have taken part in two of those five setters: Mikhail Youzhny, Roberto Bautista, and James Duckworth lost in the second-round fifth set after winning their first match in the same fashion, Duckworth’s being the most memorable of them when his second-round loss to Blaz Kavcic is still, to this date, the longest match of the tournament, played under scorching heat and with the consequences we know.
Fernando Verdasco won his first-round match in five sets, and lost in five two rounds later.
In the last two rounds, Janko Tipsarevic won his matches in five sets, spending a total of 7h20 on court.
Andreas Seppi also won a marathon second-round match under that fierce heat on Thursday, and repeated again in “cooler” conditions on Saturday, when he had the better of no 12 seed Marin Cilic, 6-7(2) 6-3 2-6 6-4 6-2, brining his total time on court to 7h45 for the last two rounds.
The champion of the time spent on court in two matches, however, is Gaël Monfils, who narrowly lost an excruciating (and overly defensive) war of nerves against his countryman Gilles Simon.
When the last ball dropped, sealing Simon’s 6-4 6-4 4-6 1-6 8-6 victory after 4h47, and many rallies way over 30 strokes each (the longest being of 71 shots), Monfils had spent 8h24 on court in just his last two matches.
The length of the rallies, combined with Simon being injured and Monfils short of match fitness, resulted in both players receiving trainer visits, cramping (in Simon’s case), in a battle for survival in the fifth set not dissimilar from the one we have seen between Duckworth and Kavcic two days ago.
If La Monf went to meet the press after the match, it was not the case for Simon, who was seen staggering to the locker room, with help to stand and walk, and was thus dispensed from his interview until the morrow.
Simon will likely be in a sorry state when he faces Andy Murray on Monday, if he makes it to the match at all.
What do players do in such matches?
When playing a long match, what do the players do to keep energised? Of course, they drink a lot, eat something with proteins (usually bananas), but we have seen in the Duckworth-Kavcic and the Monfils-Simon marathons other ways of coping.
“I was drinking as much as possible. Had a few bananas, a few energy drills. A bit of Coke for caffeine. Started having some salt, just plain salt, trying to help the cramp.”
– James Duckworth
Just like Duckworth, Gaël Monfils was drinking Coke to give himself a caffeine boost. As for Gilles Simon, he had a quite special request, which seemed to amuse umpire James Keothavong:
The key, in those situations, is really to keep hydrated and energised, try and reduce the length of the rallies, do your best to finish quickly… and post-match recovery.
Most of the time, however, even with a good post-match recovery, and a day of rest before the next match, the winner of a match that exceeds four hours will end up losing in the next round, like it happened to Kavcic, who was routed 6-2 6-1 6-4 by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Round 3.
Round 3 results
-  Novak Djokovic d.  Radek Stepanek, 6-4 6-3 7-5
-  Roger Federer d. Bernard Tomic, 6-4 7-6(5) 6-1
-  Andy Murray d. [Q] Ricardas Berankis, 6-3 6-4 7-5
-  David Ferrer d. Marcos Baghdatis, 6-4 6-2 6-3
-  Tomas Berdych d.  Jürgen Melzer, 6-3 6-2 6-2
-  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga d. Blaz Kavcic, 6-2 6-1 6-4
-  Janko Tipsarevic d.  Julien Benneteau, 3-6 6-4 2-6 6-4 6-3
-  Richard Gasquet d. Ivan Dodig, 4-6 6-3 7-6(2) 6-0
-  Nicolás Almagro d.  Jerzy Janowicz, 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 6-1
-  Milos Raonic d.  Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-6(4) 6-3 6-4
-  Gilles Simon d. Gaël Monfils, 6-4 6-4 4-6 1-6 8-6
-  Stanislas Wawrinka d.  Sam Querrey, 7-6(6) 7-5 6-4
-  Kei Nishikori d. Evgeny Donskoy, 7-6(3) 6-2 6-3
-  Andreas Seppi d.  Marin Cilic, 6-7(2) 6-3 2-6 6-4 6-2
- Jérémy Chardy d.  Juan Martín del Potro, 6-3 6-3 6-7(3) 3-6 6-3
- Kevin Anderson d.  Fernando Verdasco, 4-6 6-3 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2
(Photos: Getty Images via Zimbio)