What an absolutely incredible day of tennis yesterday at the Australian Open. In every the match the player who was down ended up winning in dramatic fashion. At times it wasn’t the greatest of tennis – I submit Li Na and Venus Williams – but it sure made for some good old fashion drama.
Roger Federer’s win over Nikolay Davydenko was the match of the day. Federer was getting waxed early and often by Dayvdenko who came out on fire. In blink, Federer was down a set and break with points to go a double break. To say it didn’t look good for Federer at that moment would have been gross understatement.
But this is not best-of-3, it’s best-of-5. This is not Doha, it’s a Grand Slam. Federer knew he had time and he knew Davydenko wouldn’t be able to sustain such a high level, and sure enough he couldn’t. Under the weight of the lead, the moment and perhaps the pressure of now being the heavy favorite to win the match and ending Fed’s reign, Davydenko completely collapsed. Federer did nothing different per se, instead, the “machine” had simply broken. The match was on Davydenko’s racquet, it was his to win, his to lose. In the end, he lost.
Tennis is such a mental game and again we saw more evidence of that yesterday. Dayvdenko was in total command on all levels early on, but something clicked between the ears midway through the second set and that was it.
Did Federer suddenly raise his play? Not really. Did the playing conditions change? It didn’t look like it. What changed was the pressure or the scoreline. Davydenko had the match and he couldn’t handle it. He missed an easy backhand that might have given him two breaks in the second and that was it.
Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka both experienced similar phenomenons. Venus stood just two points from the match but somehow she couldn’t seal the deal. Credit to Li Na who kept fighting, kept digging and never gave up. Venus didn’t completely fall apart – she had many chances in the third, but she usually closes those kind of matches out.
It was a sign of things time for the matches on Rod Laver.
Azarenka was leading Serena a set and 4-0, and appeared more than ready to reach her first Slam semifinal, but again, between the ears she fell apart. Full credit to Serena for rising up and showing her champions heart but Azarenka has beside herself for letting such a chance slip by.
And in the night match, Novak Djokovic looked in control after busting out to a 2-1 set lead following a 6-1 third set over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But the Serb who was struggling with nausea and diarrhea issues before and during the match he said, couldn’t sustain it and his body melted down. He won just four more games. Djokovic says he doesn’t know why and from where his stomach problems originated, but some of it has to be mental.
Ah, the pressure of Grand Slam tennis!
Today, the women’s semifinals appear to be pretty straight forward. I think Justine Henin gets through Zheng Jie, while in a struggle Serena beats Li Na. I give Na a better chance for the upset. Serena didn’t look good at all early against Azarenka (she looked injured!) and Na has played her very tough before.
On to the evening match.
Andy Murray v. Marin Cilic
In this one everything is pointing to Andy Murray. The Scot is playing the best tennis of anyone among the last four. He’s looked sharp in every match and played one of his better matches I’ve seen against Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Murray comes in fresh, confident and hungry. He’s now just six sets from his first Slam title and the start of that journey first takes him through Marin Cilic.
Cilic has had a great run, but I have to wonder how the Croat’s body is holding up. He’s played three five setters already and even though he’s shown that mentally and physically he’s up to task, his tank cannot be 100% at this point. Cilic did crush Murray in shocking fashion at the US Open and he’s got the potential for a repeat performance if Murray plays like lamb. But I don’t think that happens.
I think that Murray is going to continue the aggressive form we saw from him against Nadal and take it to Cilic. Murray’s also been serving big while Cilic has been struggling with a low first serve percentage, and that will allow Murray to really push Marin in his service games.
Murray also has got to sense that this is his time. Federer has looked very beatable, Tsonga and Cilic may be physically ailing while Murray is playing peak-level tennis. Then again, knowing that this tournament is there for the taking, Murray may mentally breakdown and the growing weight of expectation. But I don’t think that happens today. Murray in three.
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