Due to last night's late finish and having to blog afterwards, today felt like a strange continuation of yesterday. I ended up watching fewer matches because I started to doze off after a while.
I really needed to be punctual for the 11am start, because Florian Mayer was scheduled against Kei Nishikori. When I arrived, Mayer and Nishikori had just walked onto Court 6, and I noticed there were plenty of empty seats so I tried to find myself the perfect seat. This ended up being a far more difficult task than I originally thought.
I already ranted about there being far too many shade covers on this court in the Simon vs Lu match, more so than on Court 7. But it turns out on the other side, if you sit too close to the middle opposite to the umpire chair side, you’ll be looking through blue sheets on one third of the court. Probably around 70% of the seats on that court have a restricted view. As Mayer and Nishikori were warming up, I switched seats about three times until I finally found a seat I liked. Thank goodness there was at least one good spot.
Unfortunately after all of that internal drama to start with, the spectacle was sorely lacking from Mayer. It was a very subdued performance from him, with everything slower paced than usual, and far too many errors creeping into his game. It was such a letdown from his fantastic win over Davydenko, and I think perhaps he was also a little tired, as he would sometimes bang his legs to try to get them moving more quickly.
To start with, it was mostly a defensive performance from Mayer, not going for his shots, but also not able to prolong rallies due to all those simple errors. Perhaps also, Nishikori didn’t give him that much pace to work with. It was a very controlled and disciplined performance, different to what I saw from him in the past where he’d try to be more flashy with the forehand. I saw Brad Gilbert in the stands a couple of rows ahead of me, and it seems like he is improving his tactical game as a result of that coaching change. I thought he played some very smart and patient tennis in this match. Could you believe it took him until the fourth set until he hit his first jumping forehand?
He played a different game today. Not focused on hitting outright winners, but on moving the ball around the court, using the full width of it. I’m typically a fan of this kind of play, going around your opponents instead of through them. Looking at Nishikori’s groundstrokes, they look so technically sound, much more so than the majority of players I have seen before. Playing like this, I could not notice any weaknesses in his game, aside from perhaps the serve which could get attacked. That was probably the main thing keeping Mayer’s chances alive in the match, his return of Nishikori’s serve.
I thought Nishikori was playing at around a top 20 standard today, but then again, I later saw Stanislas Wawrinka today, and maybe that was a level above. In any case, if he keeps playing like this, he will quickly rise up the rankings this year.
Today was the first time I had seen Mayer show such poor touch in a match. He missed practically every drop volley in the first two sets, or so it felt like. He definitely missed plenty of easy ones for his standards. Obviously the creative side of Mayer was missing in action today, but he did try to play better. It was just that every time he would string together a couple of good points, he’d ruin it with another error. On the defensive, he’d generally hit those low slices and slow shots, so those shouldn’t have ended up being errors because he didn’t even go for them. So I guess it was mostly to do with poor movement and energy.
Mayer’s level did improve each set though until the fourth set, but generally in a subtle manner. The second set had more of a mixture of good and bad play, instead of being just outright bad. The third set, he had better touch and a more aggressive strategy, but then in the fourth he was too inconsistent again. The third set was nowhere near as one-sided as the 6-0 scoreline suggests. All of the first three games were long and difficult games, but once Nishikori went down a double-break, he conceded the whole set.
From the fourth set onwards, Nishikori started to play more aggressively but I’m not sure whether that was due to increased confidence or a drop in fitness levels. He started to hit those bigger forehands that I’m more accustomed to seeing from him, and as mentioned earlier, more jumping forehands.
On the completion of that match, I made my way into Hisense Arena where I had tickets for throughout the week (so far) but preferred to stay on the outside courts. I think I was encouraged by the pleasantly decent view on my back row seats last night, that I thought the tickets I bought here would be fine.
I went into the stadium, as Janko Tipsarevic was serving for the second set against Fernando Verdasco. I took a quick look up the stadium, to notice a few people reading books, and another with a newspaper in their hands. The memories all came back to me now. How it’s just a completely different mindset in that stadium. It’s filled with plenty of people that are not actually fully concentrated on the tennis. They’re here just to relax.
My seat was slightly frustrating with the handrailing blocking my view. Just one more row up, and I would have been fine. Aside from that, everything seemed so far away in here, and it took me a while to find my concentration. Tipsarevic had just taken a two sets to love advantage, and generally third sets tend to be lacking in tension for the most part in this scenario. I don’t know about other people, but I generally don’t care for watching third sets, whenever the player favoured to win leads two sets to love. But in this case, Tipsarevic was the underdog.
Verdasco hadn’t begun the season in good form though. He lost in the first round of Brisbane to Benjamin Becker. One quick look up into the screen in the stadium shows that so far in this match, he had hit a ridiculously large amount of unforced errors. It would have been something like double the amount of Tipsarevic. I had already started to draw my conclusions before even watching it.
I saw the error count and had all the potential explanations for this match in place. But halfway into the set, I started to realize that Verdasco must have cleaned up his game a whole lot here, because he was moving the ball around nicely. In the first couple of games in the third set, I noticed some bad shanks and errors where it didn’t look like Verdasco had any feel on the ball.
Verdasco is definitely a player worth watching live, mainly to see the forehand, because live, you get even more of a sense that the shot looks very different to most other players. The spin that he puts on the ball is great to watch. It looks very skilful.
This was a relatively fast-paced match for the third and fourth sets (of course, I didn’t see the first two, so I don’t know). Aggressive tennis mixed with good athleticism from both players. I think Tipsarevic was better at absorbing the pace, and hitting higher quality shots on the defense though. Particularly off the backhand. I really like Tipsarevic’s jumping backhand. Okay, he hits it just as well, when he’s not jumping, but it looks good.
In the third set, Verdasco broke serve with some great forehands and aggressive play, aided I think by some first serves being missed by Tipsarevic. The way Tipsarevic failed to serve out the match the first time played out exactly the same way, as the end of the third set. Verdasco was allowed the opportunity to start off each point on the attack, and he took advantage of it.
The fourth set, though was where the match reached its epic climax. Tipsarevic had chances to go up a double break, then he served for the match, broke back, served for it again and had two match points. He was in firm control of the match, but he couldn’t seem to finish it off.
On his second attempt serving for the match, he showed a huge improvement to his first attempt. He played it much better, and on the first match point, he had full control over a rally, but was a little too safe with the putaway volleys, and Verdasco took advantage of it with a spectacular forehand winner. I thought it would have been good enough. But since it wasn’t, he really shouldn’t have been as passive as he was with those volleys. Tipsarevic played a great point too on the second match point. It was a long rally where he had started to up the tempo, and he had just hit a scorching backhand down-the-line. It was called out, and it must have been very close, but Tipsarevic had run out of challenges, making desperate and silly challenges earlier on. Who knows what the result would have been, if he had enough challenges left. Did they show the Hawkeye result of that on TV?
In the end, Tipsarevic didn’t manage to hold, so they went to a tie-break. Unfortunately, from then onwards, Tipsarevic was emotionally scarred from all the opportunities he had in the game before. While the tie-break was going on, he was on some other planet reminiscing about the past. The fifth set would continue in the same manner, with Tipsarevic not really giving his full effort, and looking forward to getting off the court instead.
I was looking forward to getting out of the stadium as well. During the Tipsarevic meltdown, the guy sitting two seats away from me, started rambling on about Tipsarevic. How he had played to lose the first break, how he was playing in the tie-break, how he wasn’t going to win a single game. For just about the entire fourth set tie-break and fifth set. There wasn’t really that much to say about it, so there was obviously a lot of repetition there.
After taking a break and nodding off to sleep in Marion Bartoli’s match (this really had nothing to do with her play), I tried to recover for Stanislas Wawrinka’s match against Grigor Dmitrov.
There has been a lot of hype about Dmitrov, and I had never seen him play before, nor even bothered to read much about how he plays. It seems like he is still very much a work in progress. At the moment, he only has the raw shotmaking ability, and a good serve, but he hasn’t quite figured out what to do with it yet. The way he plays, it all looks a bit random to me, apart from the fact, that his game does seem centred around the forehand, and the serve does help set it up.
His forehand looks impressive when he executes it correctly, but it mostly only looks good from an offensive point of view, not defensive. Whether he is trying to hit it as a winner, or whether he is retrieving it back deep into the centre of the court, he is still hitting it just as hard. It doesn’t look like good percentage tennis to me.
This was a match between two shotmakers, but one was much better in toughing out rallies, and that was Wawrinka. Both had similar amounts of winners, but Wawrinka had far fewer unforced errors. Both won plenty of cheap points on their serve, or followed it up with a winner after their serve, so that made the spectacle a bit dull at times.