Aching Aussie Hearts
January 22, 2011 -- The fizzle flopped on Australia Day as two home heroes bottomed out. Expectations for Bernard Tomic weren't sky high; he had to face Rafael Nadal. However, Samantha "Sammy" Stosur was a solid bet. Too bad she ran head on into a sizzling Petra Kvitova.
"I would have dearly have loved to gone further than what I did," an obviously disappointed Stosur said. "It's hard when you run into an opponent that's playing very well. At least I played well."
In the next match on Rod Laver Arena, a nervous Nadal had his hands full with wildcard Bernard Tomic. For the first two sets Tomic's easy game style invigorated thoughts of miracles: their hometown teen sensation, ranked 199 in the world, might defeat the number-one seed and hottest player on the planet.
The second set really fueled fans fires, as Tomic went up 4-0, or two breaks. Nadal's serve seemed like a mystery to the Spaniard, as Tomic continually teed off on second serves. No one questions the depth of Nadal's fitness, but at times he was put on the defensive as Tomic directed the ball left and right forcing Nadal to run them down.
The Aussie showed a great variety of spins, change of pace, good anticipation, a consistently solid serve, and a temperament unlike many. He was thoughtful in his tactics and refreshingly quiet. The continual proud puffing 'come ons' never passed his lips. No self-aggrandizing fist pumps in Rafa's face, either. Tomic moved from one side of the court to the other in a workmanlike fashion, well within himself.
"Great. Played a wonderful match," Tomic told the press. "The experience that I had, it was great today. You know, I played really good in that second set. I'm happy with where my level was and where I need to improve."
Petra Kvitova's behavior didn't warm Aussie hearts and not just because the tall Czech destroyed their Sammy.
"Great hope Sam Stosur was completely outplayed by excessive fist-pumper Petra Kvitova, leaving Rod Laver Arena a little devoid of hope," the Australian Open's e-newsletter, Slice, wrote.
But the 20-year-old and 25th seed had reason to celebrate. Down a break in the first set, she set the match on serve with very deep groundstrokes and a surprising deft net game. Her lefty down-the-line forehand put Stosur on her heels several times. The ball whizzed past before she could scramble for it.
Stosur and her coach, David Taylor, knew she had to move Kvitova and stretch her wide.
"I think everyone say how well she hit the ball. She hit it very flat, quite hard," Stosur began. "If I was going to hit away, I really had to get her stretching. Playing a left return, obviously, is a little more difficult."
Stosur took a 3-0 lead and then a 5-3 in the first-set tiebreak. But Petra proved too dangerous at the net and off the baseline. She won the breaker 7-5.
There really was little Stosur could do in the second. Kvitova had 15 winners and zero unforced errors, at one point. Stosur was relegated to a defensive game, which isn't her style. Stosur conceded that she just didn't play the big points well.
"Yes, I was focused on each point, mainly on the big point," Kvitova said. "I had to play hard and fast for Sam because she has a big forehand and big serve."
Kvitova rose in recognition at last year's Wimbledon Championships, as she played through six rounds to lose in the semifinals to eventual champion Serena Williams. The WTA awarded Kvitova "Newcomer Of The Year," for 2010. This year, Kvitova won her second career title in Brisbane. Interesting to note, her favorite city to visit is Melbourne.
So, the lefties -- Nadal and Kvitova -- toppled their opponents today. Playing a lefty brings unpredictable problems. Their serve has a wicked kick and spins off in wiggy ways. Forehands are backhands for lefties, and backhands are forehands. After years of tactically aiming at backhands, the 'weaker' shot, you find yourself hitting to a forehand. Basically, right-handed players' lack lefty practice partners. The mental game can crumble then, draining away valuable moment-by-moment concentration.
Lefty Kvitova short-term goal is to break climb into the top 20 -- she is currently #28. Be prepared to see her name in the top ten sooner than later.
Bernard Tomic's road is steeper. He agrees that his fitness has improved, since last year's Australian Open. However, he has to finish growing and build mighty weapons, several of which are still under construction.
After a 33-shot rally that Tomic lost and caused both to inhale heavily, he hit three aces and an unreturnable serve to win the next game. Nice way to save energy and recover. It was also gutsy. He had to have wanted to hit aces. He had to have planned them moments before he tossed the balls. That's a smart player.
Kvitova and Tomic must learn from losses.
Before Nadal and Tomic shook hands with the chair umpire, Nadal leaned in Tomic's ear. He said, "Very good play, keep working hard in the future." Tomic was pleased and awed. "That's something I'll take from a player like that. He's a true champion. Very nice to get that advice from him."
A little humility never hurts, either.