What's the best way to cope the day after your favorite player plays an epic three setter, saves match points, only to lose? Crawling back under my covers this morning didn't seem like a viable (or healthy) option. I perused the order of play on my tram ride to Melbourne Park and came up with a game plan: I was going to watch matches that didn't require me to pick sides or root for any players. I just didn't have it in me to get emotionally attached to any matches today and I certainly didn't have the capacity for heartbreak or disappointment.
Luckily, two matches fit the bill: Fernando vs. Janko and Petko vs. AKO. I like all four players, I'm fine if any one of them win, and since they were playing each other, I was ok if any one of them lost. This seemed like a fool-proof plan. I could just sit and enjoy the tennis and just hope and root for each player to put in a good performance.
After strolling the grounds to soak in some practice courts (I saw Big John smiling and chatting up some fans as he signed autographs after practice) I returned to the scene of the crime: Hisense Arena. It was another overcast day as I settled into a chilly dome for Fernando vs. Janko. I made it a point to avoid the seat I was firmly lodged in for almost three hours yesterday. Post-traumatic stress disorder is real and it must be managed.
For two sets Janko was, as he tends to be, early-round-Slam Janko. He was hitting his serve and going for his shots and Fer just couldn't find his range or figure out how to get him out of his rhythm. It was kind of a bummer, actually. I wanted to see a good match and Fernando wasn't obliging. It was looking like the men's side would suffer their first top seed exit. He was at times frustrated, at times listless, and at times, racquet-breaky.
But somewhere along the way -- maybe it was all the Serb flags in the crowd -- Janko remembered that he is Serbian. Serbs just don't do straightforward. Serbs do drama. And there has been no bigger or better stage for Serbian drama in the past 24 hours than Hisense Arena.
So Janko would find himself, after dropping the third set, twice serving for the match in the fourth set. In fact, he would have three match points. Somewhere in those three match points, Fernando would twist his ankle and get gimpy. And yet. AND YET. Janko would choke on a backhand volley that, instead of putting away, he put back into the middle of the court to give Fer a chance to pass. He did, and it was all downhill from there. Janko would blow the rest of his match points, Fernando would break to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-0, crushing forehands left and right.
From there the Serbian fatalism that I have come to know and love/hate kicked in and you just knew it was over. Fernando would drop a bagel in the fifth set, crushing forehands and serves, and Janko looked like he would rather be anywhere than Hisense. I knew the feeling. He said afterwards that he was "dead in the legs". Probably true, but he was dead in the heart, too.
It was a disappointing end to the match for sure. I would have loved to have seen these two play at their best. But it happens and after Janko blew that one MP that he should have converted the result was inevitable.
Good win for Fernando, though. Not sure how this match will get written up but I wouldn't label the win an "epic comeback". I mean, Fernando definitely stepped up a bit, but by then Janko was long gone. Hopefully it knocked something loose in Fernando's head and he plays better going forward. It was a rather shocking performance after his masterful destruction of Rainer Schuettler on Monday.
But the match served it's purpose. I was able to sit there and watch some good tennis without any frazzling or real vested interest. So go me. My plan was working.
I bookended the day (or at least I thought it would be the bookend) with Petko vs. AKO on Court 3. Again, a match that I could be happy about either way. Anne has been on the brink of retirement and had a great qualifying run to get into the main draw here to get her back into the Top 100. A spot in the third round to face a possibly gimpy Venus would be HUGE for her. But then there's Petko, who's trying to kick off her year positively after a pretty heartbreaking 2010.
You could tell from the get-go that this match meant a lot to these two, who are good buddies off the court. I mean, of course they would be good buddies. Awesome people find awesome people and become friends. Those are the rules of the universe.
Anne came out of the blocks on fire, moving really well and playing steady, patient tennis. She would take the first set convincingly, 6-2. But after Petko left the court for a toilet break and then had to call an MTO at the first change to get her ankle taped (she twisted it in the first game of the second set), Anne cooled off a bit. It was a tense second set but you got the impression that Petko was going to be able to pull away. Anne's a fighter and she broke her while she was serving for the set, only to be broken back and eventually lose the second set. From there it was all Andrea, who ran away with the third 6-0 to send her good buddy packing. Another disappointing end to an otherwise well-played match, but no real disappointment from me. I'm looking forward to the Petko/Venus third rounder.
I came back to the media center with a bit of pep in my step. I felt recharged and ready to go for tomorrow's day of stress. I thought that would be the end of the day.
(Pics: Getty, AP, Reuters)