Soderling Shocked, Oudin Ousted
January 19, 2010 -- Robin Soderling has been on a tennis tear since he dethroned Rafael Nadal at The French Open last May, and made the finals. He played in the year ending ATP Barclays Tour Finals too, which invites only the ATP's top eight men to compete. Soderling thanks the Swedish gods every day, one hopes, that Andy Roddick couldn't make his appearance at the London championships due to a knee injury. This twist of fate allowed Soderling to strut his Swedish stuff on an indoor hard court stage fit for musicals, pop concerts, and professional sports. All was well with Robin Soderling.
But not so much today for the big Swede in his first round loss to Marc Granollers. The Spaniard, ranked #112, came from two sets down to win the match, shocking Soderling. He was the highest seed to lose in the first round, but not the only one. Gone, too, are Juan Carlos Ferrero, seeded #23. He lost to a qualifier in another five set knock down. And, guess what? His opponent Ivan Dodig, a qualifier from Croatia, came from two sets down to win in five.
It gets better.
Late night matches at a major are a sure shot to rev up fans and players. The U. S. Open is famous for loud and long midnight court madness. Adrenalin pumps up the crowds and players. But jittery jubilation isn't just for the Big Apple. Last night in Melbourne Park, two five-setters stirred emotions as the midnight hour approached on Margaret Court Arena and way out on Court 19.
Richard Gasquet, in his return to major action from a lip-smacking run-in with the anti-doping folks last fall, seems to have steadied his rudder. With as much talent as any pro in the top ten, Gasquet might finally be serious about his tennis career.
Following the same pattern as others matches today, Gasquet forged ahead and took the first two sets. Then Mikhail Youzhny, the #20, stepped up and Gasquet didn't take advantage of opportunities. The third and fourths sets went to tiebreaks and to Youzhny. The fifth set was classic. Cramps, supposed bad line calls, noisy nationalistic fans, plus a rampant series of service breaks.
As Youzhny limped around the backcourt and stretched his quadriceps, intimating he might be cramping, Gasquet went up a break. And since the International Tennis Federation put a stop to timeouts for cramping this year, all Richard had to do was run the Russian and hold. Youzhny would fall apart, like a crumbly baguette. Didn't happen. Youzhny's will and determination and thrilling shots slowed Gasquet's engine just enough to burn him out.
This wasn't Gasquet's first encounter of the losing kind at a Grand Slam, after being up two sets and going home without the 'W.' Andy Murray did in the Frenchman at Wimbledon two years back. Same scenario, but the crowd was ever so behind the Scotsman Murray. A late evening scolding in front of England... the England that yearns for a tennis court king.
Gasquet's loss at Wimbledon stung the Frenchman. His loss today to Youzhny did, too. However, he demonstrated a tennis brilliance that leaves fans begging for more. His court sense is intuitively marvelous, a girlish and quaint way to speak of such an athlete, but, nonetheless, Gasquet glides the court and spins his racquet in ways that inspire awe, a shot maker for the ages.
The other evening five-setter was between Nicolas Almagro, the #26 seed, and Belgian qualifier Xavier Malisse. Almagro hung on to win 8/6 in the fifth, after having put the first two sets in his back pocket.
The ones who came out on top of their long matches today are now ready to unleash some supreme confidence in the next round. Squeak out a five-set winner early in a major and you either lose right away in the next round due to physical or mental fatigue; or, you run with the wind at your back.
Unfortunately for American and international fans, Melanie Oudin is out of the Australian Open. This was her first major since the phenomenal run at the 2009 U. S. Open. In round after round in New York, the spunky Georgian fought back from elimination. The crowds ate it up. She became a star.
However, today -- her one and only day at the 2010 Australian Open -- wasn't so magical. But it might have been. Up a set and 5/3 in the second, Oudin let it slip away committing too many unforced errors. Her opponent Alla Kudryavtseva returned serve like a champ and hit deep penetrating groundstrokes that eventually forced Oudin's hand. In the third and down 1/4, Oudin tied the set at 5-games all. She immediately lost her next service game at love.
Australians Samantha Stosur, seeded #13, Lleyton Hewitt, seeded #22, and Casey Dellacqua -- returning to the game from shoulder surgery -- all advanced to the second round today. Wildcard and Aussie Carsten Ball tried to push past the 2009 Australian Open semifinalist Fernando Verdasco, but couldn't quite get the job done. He won in four sets.
Tomorrow, keep an eye on the second-round match between return Grand Slam Champion, and wildcard entry, Justine Henin and Elena Dementieva, seeded #5. For many pundits, this is the match of the week. The complexion of that quarter of the draw will shift, no matter who wins. However, the entire Belgian force is in that quarter: Henin, Clijsters, and Wickmayer. All of them are headed to the quarterfinals.