Surprises Down Under
January 21, 2009 -- Yen-Hsun Lu could have strolled the grounds of any tennis venue without being noticed... until today. His obscurity bubble popped wide open this evening when he beat #10 seed David Nalbandian in the second round of the Australian Open: 64 57 46 64 62. Lu hasn't advanced farther than the third round in any Grand Slam. And Nalbandian hasn't lost in the second round of a Grand Slam since 2002. How quickly things change.
Last summer at The Indianapolis Tennis Championships Lu was scheduled to play James Blake. In his post-match interview a reporter asked Blake about the impending contest. The question posed intimated that Blake was a sure-fire winner, like why wouldn't he win? Lu at the time was ranked 75 and Blake was the tournament's #1 seed.
"Hey, Lu is someone for me to be very careful with," James began, a bit annoyed that the reporter had been so pretentious. "I've seen him play. Have you seen him play? He can play well. He's very quick."
A good lesson for that reporter, and a good lesson for any player who believes an upper hand comes along with a higher ranking. Blake did defeat Lu in Indy, though. He had found the zone that sticky afternoon. They were off court in 47 minutes. Who stood across the net from James didn't really matter. James just played awesome ball. Let's hope he can slip through to that mysterious place here in Melbourne.
David Nalbandian, though, has no one to blame but himself. He strung together brilliant points, demonstrating to fans his perfection. Then he seemed to vacate the stadium the way a thief flees at a crime scene. He stalked the baseline, moving the ball around with ease and then slapped a shot wide for no apparent reason, except it always comes down to technique.
Both men battled for control on the last point of the match with Yu serving. The game lasted over ten minutes. They played at least six deuces. You would expect Lu's nervousness. However, Nalbandian has been all the way to the final of a Grand Slam. He's defeated Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in succession at Masters Series Tournaments. Come on Da-veed... get your act together.
Lu left the stadium with a smile on his face and his cell phone ringing. Tommy Robredo is his next opponent. He's seeded #21. Maybe this will be Lu's finest hour in a Grand Slam, after having previously tried twelve times to make an impression.
Novak Djokovic -- #3 in the world -- wouldn't consider Lu a threat, though. The defending champion said today that he doesn't consider Andy Murray a threat either and he's ranked #4. Maybe Novak should heed the wisdom of James Blake and consider the reality of Murray's abilities. For example that he's beaten Novak the last two times they've met. And that Murray has a winning record over Federer.
However, Djokovic thinks that since he has a couple thousand ranking points on Murray he surely would beat him here. Talk about flawed logic. Anyone can get hot. It doesn't depend on points. Lu ended Andy Murray's hopes of Olympic glory in Beijing, defeating the Scot in the first round. Djokovic has defeated Murray four of the six times they've battled. But Murray has won the last two.
Couple Djokovic's bravado, assured attitude and ebullient court gestures, with the rumblings of cultural dissent demonstrated today by fans representing Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, and his next match against Amer Delic, a native-born Bosnian who has lived in the United States since he was a youngster, could provoke tournament officials to enact the somewhat strident rule, which states "zero tolerance" for unruly crowds.
But they didn't take the boisterous crowds to task today.
A persistent group of Bosnian fans wouldn't back off their taunts during the match between Delic and Paul Henri Mathieu. Try as he could the Frenchman lost his confidence and concentration, two fragile commodities he struggles to possess. Having been up two sets, Delic and his cheering fans wore down Mathieu to the disastrous effect of losing the match 9/7 in the fifth.
Amer apologized to his opponent for the annoyance. He also posted a plea for calm on his personal web site. Let's hope that these incidents don't spoil the third-round match between Serbian Novak Djokovic and Amer Delic. And let's hope that the tournament management enforces policies meant to maintain order. Tennis isn't soccer, but today's incidents mimicked scenes from rowdy football rather than genteel tennis.
Wildcard and resurgent Jelena Dokic ended Australian Open hopes for the 17th seed Anna Chakvetadze 64 67(4) 63. Dokic served for the match in the second set at 53, but her forehand and timing went awry. Through persistence and faith, it seemed, crowd favorite Dokic persevered and reversed her downward spiral. Through to the third round, Jelena will next meet Caroline Wozniacki, the #11 seed, and dark horse according to several tennis commentators.
Youngster Bernard Tomic went out in four sets against Gilles Muller, during the last match of the evening session. The young Aussie hopeful came out swinging and quickly won the first set, but couldn't withstand the power and lefty serves from his opponent.
"He [Tomic] knows how to win points," Darren Cahill, ESPN commentator, said with a hint of country pride. "I'm enjoying myself watching him out here. He's loose and relaxed. He has a good sense of the court."