David “Fat Dave” Nalbandian and homecountry former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt put on a show for Australian Open fans that lasted into the wee hours of the morning in Melbourne, where the Argentine won a nearly five-hour battle 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1), 9-7, sending a frustrated Hewitt out in the first round of play.
Hewitt entered the contest leading the head-to-head series 3-2, which had featured some bad blood between the two, but there was little reason for the Aussie to break out “The Lawnmower” in the end after missed opportunities. Hewitt looked in control, up two sets to one and a break in the fourth set, but the resurgent No. 27-seeded Argentine would not be denied, fighting off two match points and storming back, ending the prolonged battle with a topspin lob winner over Hewitt’s head.
“Before the match I thought the match will be very, very tough, like was,” Fat Dave said. “I mean, he didn’t play a lot in the last month, and I thought maybe if I play good with good shots, maybe he wasn’t on a good move. I mean, but he play unbelievable. From the beginning was very tough. Very tough first round. And I expect a match like that with the crowd. It’s amazing playing with full stadium, with him here in Australia. But I think we both have a lot of chances. I mean, I was two match points down and then I turnover. I was serving for the match before in the fifth. It was that kind of matches that nobody can forget it.”
The Top 10 seeds had a smooth day, led by Rafael Nadal who will benefit over the field in the long run, contrasting Nalbandian’s almost five-four match with a 6-0, 5-0, ret. (knee) win over Brazil’s Marcos Daniel.
“Save energy or not, I think the way that the match came doesn’t make big difference, no?” said Nadal, who after the match hit the practice court to work on his serve. “Is difficult to say something, to say I played really well, I played bad. I think I played right. I played some good shots, some long shots. The serve can be a little bit better. Yeah, that’s the only point that I think I can improve. I can improve in everything for sure.”
Other Top 10 winners were No. 2 Robin Soderling, No. 5 Andy Murray, No. 7 David Ferrer in four over Jarkko Nieminen, and No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny.
“I haven’t had much success here in the past,” said Soderling, who next faces the big-serving Gilles Muller. “That’s why it’s even more important to really focus on the next match all the time. Now I got past the first round and I have a difficult match coming up and I have to play well.”
No. 24 seed Ernests Gulbis was the lone seeded upset on the day, losing in straight sets to American college system-raised German Benjamin Becker.
Other seeded matches of note were No. 13 Jo-Willie Tsonga surviving Philipp Petzschner from two sets down, No. 21 Marcos Baghdatis outlasing Slovak Grega Zemlja 6-2 in the fifth, and No. 30 Thomasz Bellucci recovering from almost blowing a 2-0 set lead, defeating Brazil’s Ricardo Mello 6-3 in the fifth.
American fortunes were mixed: No. 20 John Isner advanced in straights while “The” Donald Young was steamrolled 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 by No. 15 Marin Cilic, who used to be ranked No. 2 to Young’s No. 1 in the world junior rankings. In American “C”-team action, “Iron” Mike Russell also was a winner, defeating Aussie Matthew Ebden in four sets, and Ryan Sweeting advanced with a straight-set win over Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain.
Aussie Bernard Tomic saw some of his promise come through to the thrill of Aussie fans, impressively stopping Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(5).
“I play down here really good,” said Tomic, who judged his slice to be his biggest weapon. “Amongst the crowd, it’s different playing with your home crowd, the way they get behind you. I’m sure the other player feels it, as well…I’ve been working on sort of making the transition of the ball, to hit it harder throughout the point. Sometimes I get in the rally where I play too soft. Against these guys, you need to take the first point and hit it hard. That’s what I’ve been doing and working on the last six months. So really taking the opportunity whenever I get it.”
Additional unseeded winners of note were Juna Martin Del Potro, former junior world No. 1 Richard Berankis, and the Luxembourg serving machine Muller.
“Today I play good tennis again,” Del Potro said. “But I’m really enjoying this week. I met with all the players, especially the Top 10 players. They support me when I was very bad. So now I face to face with them and I say thank you…I feel in good shape again. I work very hard with my physical trainer. I need time to play harder and to play stronger. But just I need time. Sometimes some balls I play, I hit very, very far, and sometimes not. But with time and with training and with focus in every practice, I will take again.”
Matches to look for Wednesday in Melbourne include (8) Andy Roddick vs. Russian Igor Kunitsyn, Fed nemesis Gilles Simon vs. (2) Roger Federer, Janko Tipsarevic vs. (9) Fernando Verdasco, (6) Tomas Berdych vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber, (16) Mardy Fish vs. Tommy Robredo, Davydenko-killer Florian Mayer vs. Kei Nishikori, (25) Al Montanes vs. the resurgent Xavier “X-Man” Malisse, and (29) Viktor Troicki vs. French dress-wearing Wimbledon iron man Nicolas Mahut.
TENNIS-X NEWS, NOTES, QUOTES AND BARBS
Roger Federer has won 11 straight matches…Wearing that $500K watch, Rafael Nadal is 22-0 in Grand Slam matches…Trust us, if you are the coach of Ernests Gulbis you do not want to look up the last time your boy won a set in a Grand Slam…Until today Ana Ivanovic has never lost in the first round at the Australian Open…Until today Dinara Safina had never been double bageled…Already five men (Tsonga, Seppi, Fish, Kohlschreiber, Monfils) have come back from two sets down…Kim Clijsters needed 44 minutes to beat Dinara Safina. David Nalbandian needed over 4 hours 44 minutes to beat Lleyton Hewitt. Equal prize money?…Marcos Daniel picked up AUS $20K for playing injured against Rafa…Juan Martin Del Potro won his first best-of-five match in almost a year…Rafael Nadal’s last two Australian Open matches have ended with a knee retirement…The future of the ATP: Bernard Tomic, Richard Berankis, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dmitrov?….We know who won, but who had more fist pumps, Makarova or Ivanovic?…In two matches Gilles Simon has never lost to Roger Federer…Aussie Bernard Tomic says he is still growing and getting wider: “Yeah, I’m getting close to 6’5″. I think I’ve stopped growing. I’m physically getting wider. Growing is a tough thing. Don’t get me wrong. You can play well sometimes, and then you come to the court sometimes in practice and I can’t find my ball. But sometimes I think when I’m settled and I’m not growing as much, I play better. I used to weigh 86 kilos last Oz Open; now I’m weighing 91. I’ve definitely got more on me. I’m not saying I’m going to be like a hundred kilos. That’s not ideal for a tennis player. But I think this is my limit now with my weight. I just have to use this weight, where I am now, and just hold it.”…HGH champion Wayne Odesnik lost in the quarterfinals of the Plantation (Fla.) Futures event 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4 to Luka Gregorc…Ana Ivanovic admitted that her breakup with pro golfer Adam Scott around the middle of last year contributed to her on-court slide…American Lauren Davis announced she has turned pro, before getting hammered by Sam Stosur 6-1, 6-1.
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