It’s the first day of the weekend at Melbourne Park, and it shows in the crowd attendance. It’s hard to walk around anywhere, and it seems like there are big crowds wherever you go, too many people standing around doing other things than watching tennis matches because the stadiums are too full. The first couple of days of the tournament seemed fine with a greater spread of matches, but the last few days have been more problematic.
Today I decided to join the battle of trying to occupy good seats, although it was initially not my decision to do so. I had prepared to watch Mikhail Youzhny play then heard of his withdrawal so I walked into Margaret Court Arena to watch Vera Zvonareva play against Gisela Dulko.
The weather seemed continually threatening but in the end, it was simply a minor nuisance. What was probably more of a nuisance was the quality of the matches. By the end of the day, I felt like I just watched a first round day of coverage on TV where they pick the top players beating a poor hapless opponent for three tedious sets. For the first time, I left the grounds in the afternoon at 4:30pm, that’s how one-sided the matches were.
The match between Zvonareva and Dulko was fascinating to watch, just because it was refreshingly different to the other women’s matches I watched. Everything seemed at a pace slower, reminiscent of what 90s women’s tennis looked like, and at first this was exciting. This was tennis that was easy to watch, filled with rallies where players cared much more about accuracy than power.
Zvonareva can hit the ball significantly harder than Dulko, but at the same time it was obvious that she could hit it much harder if she wanted to. Instead, she chose to hit the ball side-to-side most of the time at about a medium pace.
In the first ten minutes or so, I found Dulko incredibly fascinating to watch. The way she hits the ball, she finesses it, she doesn’t drive through it. As a result, Zvonareva dominated the majority of points, and I thought it was an incredibly difficult way of playing because if she doesn’t find perfect accuracy then her shots end up being punished. Given Dulko’s stature, I am not sure why she can’t generate any more pace or whether she just chooses to play like this.
Dulko started poorly struggling with her serve and making far too many simple errors. But whenever they engaged in a rally, Zvonareva seemed to have the upper hand quite clearly, which made it difficult to shake off this preconceived feeling in the second set when things started to become more even.
I constantly wondered what it would look like, Dulko playing on a good day. She seemed too much of a crafty player to be overly reliant on her opponent’s errors. In the second set, I found out the answer to my question. She still swings at the ball just as timidly, and she doesn’t seem to find much racquet head speed at all. She finds that extra pace mostly through better timing. And with better timing came better depth and accuracy, and she ended up putting Zvonareva on the move more often than it would initially seem possible.
Still Zvonareva’s groundstrokes seemed too good overall, and it was more a case of her managing her own game. It was far more difficult for the Russian in the second set, but in the end she prevailed.
I hadn’t seen Nikolay Davydenko play yet this week, so it was my final opportunity to do so. He was scheduled to play against Juan Monaco, in what would end up being a one-sided victory for Davydenko.
From first glance, Davydenko has one of the more eye-catching games on the tour. I’m not sure why he has a reputation of not standing out when he clearly does. Compared to the majority of other players, Davydenko has an incredibly efficient game, and everything he does is so neat and perfect.
He has shorter backswings than the majority of players, and he takes everything so early that it looks like he’s catching it while the ball is still high. Every time he hits a backhand, it looks like a high backhand. I can see why they call him a ball machine, in a different sense. Because he manages to prepare early enough to be able to hit every shot almost exactly the same way, and this looks ridiculously good. Surely it has to be tiring to be so quick and early to every single shot. Everything he does, he does at a fast pace, whereas the majority of players are more selective.
When I watch Davydenko on TV, I usually focus most of my attention on the accuracy of his groundstrokes and his relentless aggression. But I found myself mostly looking at the technique and movement that Davydenko has on his groundstrokes. It’s hypnotising in a way, though I thought maybe I should actually take a step back and focus more on the tennis. I also think that his backhand looks so much better than his forehand live, whereas I normally think of them as being more even. And how about Davydenko's service motion where he seems to lean his back in a perfectly straight slanted motion?
Monaco doesn’t appear to be doing anything remotely interesting. Basically, Davydenko is playing at a fast pace and Monaco is playing at a medium pace, and being far less adventurous. His low winner count says it all. In the first set, he was making the simplest of errors, but in the second and third sets, he picked up his consistency.
The first set was Davydenko playing close to his best tennis, but his game dropped off to something more mediocre for his standards in the second and third sets, at least in the part that I watched. The match was a demonstration to me of both, why I like Davydenko play, but also why I don’t. As soon as his game dropped off, the funny thing was that his shots and movement still looked almost exactly the same. Except that it was less admirable given that he was making far more errors. I guess that’s because he relies so much on timing.
I wonder if Davydenko only reserves his all-court game for the higher ranked players, when he thinks he needs it, because he mostly stuck to the baseline and didn’t hit that many volleys.
Before the match ended, I decided to take off and watch Novak Djokovic’s match against Denis Istomin. As I sat down to watch this match, I started to gain a new appreciation of Davydenko’s match against Monaco, due to its one-sidedness. At least Monaco managed to extend many of the rallies, though it also put into perspective that even though Davydenko plays very aggressively, he doesn’t finish points in a couple of strokes that often.
It seems like the rest of the crowd were restless and bored as well, with someone behind commenting me that this was like watching an exhibition. It was a seriously underwhelming day all around, not only with the matches I watched but also with Koubek’s retirement against Verdasco, and one-sided victories for Azarenka and Serena Williams.
Djokovic had already won the first set 6-1 when I started watching it, and he seems incredibly relaxed. How can I judge a performance like this, with no pressure? Djokovic’s stroke production is so different from Davydenko’s by the way, so much looser and less precise especially on the forehand.
He seemed very keen on coming to the net today, maybe experimenting with his game, I’m not sure. And he hit more slice backhands than I can normally remember. He had a lot of success with it, and Istomin struggled with it all match long. The rallies and the pace of this match was so quick that sometimes it was difficult to see what Istomin was doing wrong, aside from being a weak, inconsistent player all-round. His defensive skills were particularly poor as he would often drop balls short anytime he had stretched out wide, and quickly Djokovic was able to dominate points easily.
Djokovic was up 5-0 in the third set, but had a slight concentration lapse towards the end. He tried to hit a shot behind his back to entertain the crowd but failed miserably in its execution. In the end, he served it out on second attempt, and that was the end of the horror of the day session.
I came back for the night session between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis hoping to watch a closely competitive match played in a emotionally charged atmosphere. After some early excitement with Hewitt gaining an early lead, it became obvious early that something was wrong with Baghdatis. Though I was not sure whether it was fatigue, or something more permanent.
He couldn’t seem to generate any racquet head speed on any of his shots, and I was wondering whether he had a slight problem with this in his match against Ferrer because the pace of shot did noticeably decrease towards the end.
It was the first time I experienced sitting near the Aussie supporters dressed in the yellow shirts, and the support group was nowhere near as big as I thought they would be. Where are the Fanatics? In any case, I really liked the variety and creativity of their chants, compared to the majority of support groups that generally chant the same thing over and over again.
The atmosphere died down quickly, when everyone realized that Baghdatis was struggling badly. It hadn’t been a satisfying day of tennis, and this match unfortunately didn’t live up to hopes of making up for the rest of the day’s tennis.
I walked over to Hisense Arena hoping that maybe this would be the match to do that, between Tommy Haas and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and fortunately it was an entertaining affair. Surprisingly the atmosphere in here was much more electric than it was in Rod Laver Arena, and later, it was easy to see why with the quality of play the fans were witnessing.
This was an entertaining display of all-court tennis from both players, and I loved the fast pace of the match, with both players barely taking much of a break in between points. This was a battle between Tsonga’s forehand and Haas’ backhand to see which shot would be more dominating.
Everything about Haas’ game is so clean and aesthetically pleasing. Haas’ backhand down-the-line is great to watch, and so are his dropshots though he overplayed it at times. I was looking at his shot selection, and he seemed very focused on playing beautiful tennis. I am not sure if this is a good thing.
Haas is a clean hitter of the ball, and he doesn’t seem to have much weight on his shots compared to a lot of the other players, especially on the forehand. Whenever he missed shots, he’d usually miss them by overhitting, often hitting it too long or trying to be accurate. I am not sure how much his defensive game was affected by the back injury that he had, where he called the trainer for at the end of the second set.
Tsonga was more explosive on the court and he had more power on his groundstrokes than Haas did. His serving was especially good, while the rest of his play was more up and down. The match was so fast paced though, that if ever there was a bad error in a point, it was easy to move onto the next point. Haas served for the fourth set, but Tsonga suddenly raised his game to a new level, making more of an effort to turn everything into a forehand and bludgeon his way into the match.
After spending so much time previously looking at Haas’ backhand and all-court game, it was like Tsonga suddenly made his presence loud and clear, raising the level of his shotmaking and athleticism, and hitting more spectacular forehands to take the match in four sets.