January 20, 2011 -- News about the round of sixteen, those lucky players who have a clear shot at meeting a scary seed like Rafael Nadal or Robin Soderling, will be on editors' minds over the next day or two. Before that, let's scan upsets and upstarts.
Jelena Jankovic became the first top-ten seed to fall this fortnight. She was seeded #7. Shuai Peng, a gifted player from Tian Jin, China, knocked Jankovic's socks off in straight sets. This was their eighth meeting. Shuai had beaten the Serbia once before. Odds were not in her favor.
Jankovic's loss didn't discourage the former number-one player.
"The last six months of last year, [I] had a lot of injuries," Jankovic said in her press conference. "I twisted my ankle and couldn't move. Then I had eye surgery in the offseason. They did not allow me to practice and work as well on my fitness. But now, that's past."
Her match against Peng was the Serbian's third of the new season. Quite likely, Jankovic was not match ready.
Shuai Peng hits with two hands off both sides. Her balls are flat and she takes them early. Even Martina Navratilova, calling matches for Tennis Channel, complimented Shuai -- to a point.
"She should be a top ten player, but she can't move. She can't run," Martina pointed out more than once.
One thing Peng does well is hit deep and on the rise. The combination can beat back any player who isn't on their toes, which is exactly what happened to Jankovic. Shuai came from a break down in the first set and won it in a tiebreak. As she gained confidence, Jankovic's unforced errors mounted.
Jankovic isn't one to dote on an opponent's talent. She rarely compliments those that defeat her. "She can come up with some really good shots, really flat shots. You always have to be careful, you know, anything can happen out there."
Shuai Peng made the third round at the Australian Open in 2009, which is the farthest she's gone in any major. Beating the #7 seed will fuel her physically and mentally. Her section of the draw has been drained of half its seeds, which bodes well. She plays Ayumi Morita of Japan next, a player ranked #74.
Although Peng has no WTA career singles titles, she has six doubles titles. If she beats Morita, she will probably meet Agnieszka Radwanska (#12 seed) in the round of sixteen. Unless, of course, Radwanska is defeated by qualifier Simona Halep. She had the joy of taking out Alisa Kleybanova (#24 seed) in the previous round.
Aussie wildcard Bernard Tomic is another story in the making. He stunned Feliciano Lopez (#31 seed) yesterday in three sets, using sly and crafty tennis at times. This is the 19-year-old's third Australian Open; he's ranked 199, which says loads about his tennis against the Spaniard Lopez. Tomic's third-round berth is the farthest this young man has gone in any major.
Unfortunately Tomic faces 9-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal next. He's not going to be done in like Lopez in three sets, unless space invaders land on court and take them hostage in front of 15,000 silenced fans, which you have to agree is highly unlikely. However Tomic did take eventual semifinalist Marin Cilic to five sets last year. And if the young Aussie performs a miracle against Nadal, Tomic will again face Cilic.
"I've been playing some good tennis," Tomic said. "I'm hitting the ball great. My confidence is up there, especially after two matches. Against Nadal, I've got to play to win. I believe I can."
Nadal, too, is up for a match against the hometown favorite.
"I think is nice to have a young Australian coming well and having very good talent and very good future," Nadal said. "I'm excited to go on court and try my best tennis, and for sure to try to win."
Juan Martin del Potro tried his best today to forge his way to the third round. He had not played a major in over a year. Needless to say, the more fit and match-tested Cypriot, Marcos Baghdatis (#21 seed), held on in four sets.
"I knew he didn't have a lot of matches," Baghdatis told Jim Courier on court, immediately following his win. "My coach said to play fast balls. Don't let him get in."
Many of the top seeds didn't want to see Del Potro, a dangerous floater, in their section of the draw. In his year away the 21-year-old's ranking plummeted to 259. But no one forgot that he defeated Nadal in the semifinal and Federer in the final of the U. S. Open in 2009.
Del Potro showed signs of brilliance today, clubbing stinging forehands that even speedy Baghdatis couldn't touch. But consistency lacked and his timing was shaky. Early in the match a trainer tended to Del Potro's right wrist, the one that had thrown him into the depths of depression while recovering in his hometown of Tandill.
"All the year, very bad for me," Del Potro told The Guardian earlier this week. "My parents, friends and my coaches, they follow me in my bad moments and in my best. They say 'You have to fight. You love tennis. It is your life.' Now I'm here; I feel good about my body and my wrist. I feel I am good person again."
After the trainer left Del Potro courtside, the six-nine U. S. Open champion stood up and walked slowly to the baseline. His wrist didn't bother him for the rest of the match. He lost in four, but managed to hold a break in the third set and win it.
Some say his career is over, that the injury could cause problems yet unseen. But for others, Del Potro needs more matches and concentrated training -- the two things he couldn't do last year.
"When you're out of injuries it's easier to keep the competition, keep working hard," Baghdatis said sympathetically to fans after his match. "It's been a year and a half I don't have any injuries. I'm working very hard. It will take time for sure, the same for Juan Martin."Ê