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Technology, Lendl and expectations at the Australian Open

January 23, 2012

By Greg Rusedski

The big Australian hope for the woman’s title Sam Stosur, the U.S. Open champion, went out in the first round which wasn’t a huge surprise. She said in all her press conferences before the event about how she wasn’t dealing with the pressure and home expectations. In my experience, even if a player is feeling that way they shouldn’t bring it up at a press conference as it could potentially give the opponent an extra belief. Sam will learn from this and hopefully get stronger for it.

On the men’s side, Australia’s big hope Bernard Tomic played well and is the real deal. He loves playing with the Australian pressure and expectation. Unfortunately for Tomic in the fourth round he came up against the great Roger Federer. It was another entertaining match from Tomic but Federer was just too good. Tomic is an exciting player to watch because of the variety in his game. He can hit any shot and mixes the pace of the ball all the time. He is a great thinker on the court and is a natural born winner. At only 19 years of age he should be in the top 10 very soon if he keeps working.

Federer has been sublime all week and there are no more worries about the back problem he suffered in Doha. His quarter-final match against Juan Martin Del Potro will be a repeat of the 2009 U.S. Open. It has all the makings for a classic match.

Former world number 1 Lleyton Hewitt, now world number 181, turned back the clock in the first week by making the second week at the Australian Open. His fighting spirit is as strong as ever, but after five surgeries in four years it will be nearly impossible for him to get back to the top. He should enjoy this magical moment at home. He set up a fourth round meeting with Novak Djokovic on Monday. Unfortunately for Hewitt, Djokovic had too much game and won reasonably comfortably. Djokovic has played great in the first week and is still my pick to win the title.

From a British point of view all the chat was about the ‘Murray, Lendl hook up’ and what influence Ivan would have on Murray. It seems a great move from Murray. Murray is trying to be calmer and one level mentally on the court. In my opinion this is the right direction to go because he needs to grow up in that respect. The screaming at the support box has stopped and I would say that this is because of Lendl. Lendl is also trying to get Murray to find the balance between attack and defense, when to go for it and when not to. He also wants Murray to play on top of the baseline as well. He is getting Murray to use the slice serve out wide and kick out wide on the advantage side as a first serve sometimes. He is adding more variety to his serve instead of the big flat topspin serve on the deuce court and out wide flat on the advantage court on big points. He is also hitting through his forehand more as well, instead of pulling off it. Let’s see if Murray can keep these aspects going in the second week, where the real tests begin.

There was a big scare for Nadal before the tournament started. He was sitting in his hotel room and after flexing his knee a few times, it locked up completely. The tendon was the problem and he didn’t know if he would be able to play his first round match. Fortunately the next day he was alright and played through the pain after long sessions of physio the night before, what a warrior! From there he has gone from strength to strength in the event and looks like he will most likely meet Federer in the semi-finals. His first test before that will be in the quarter-finals against Berydch, who has beaten Nadal. Expect a very tight match.

THE men’s match of the first week was without doubt John Isner versus David Nalbandian which was another five set epic. Nalbandian could not put Isner away in the fifth set, with many more opportunities to break. Mentally Isner was tougher and came through 10-8 in the fifth which was a great effort given the fact he had cramp in his right leg. On break point for Nalbandian at 8 all in the final set, the chair umpire overruled the line judge who called the serve a fault and said it was an ace to go back to deuce. Nalbandian waited a while and asked for hawkeye and was refused by the chair umpire. This made the crowd support Isner fully because of the argument between Nalbandian and the chair umpire. I believe the officials got it wrong on this occasion and should have defused the situation by playing the point on hawkeye for Nalbandian. Now we will never know if the chair umpire made the right call. These are the small margins matches are won and lost on and also highlights the importance of technology in today’s game.

On the women’s side all the main contenders were on a roll! Kvitova and Sharapova looked the sharpest in week one. Unfortunately, they are all in the bottom section, so only one will be in the finals. The defending champion Kim Clijsters saved four match points in the fourth round in a repeat of last year’s final against Li Na. This will only give Clijsters more confidence if she can recover from her ankle twist in the match. The problem for Clijsters is if she doesn’t recover in time, Wozniacki will be too strong. Wozniacki played her best match of the year beating Jankovic in the fourth round. Wozniacki’s movement looked great and she hit her forehand really well which is usually a weakness. Azarenka has been impressive in week 1 and I expect she will be in the semi-finals in the top half. Can she break through to get to the finals? She will have to beat Clijsters or Wozniacki to do so. Bring on an exciting the second week…

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