But play did finally kick off in Benidorm with three matches set to be played. Daveed and Nole the Smurf kicked off the tie and though Nole showed some flashes of his old form, his groundstrokes were all over the place and his serve was wonktastic (hmmm...sounds like another Serb I know). And he insisted on trying to dropshot Daveed. Roger's got nothing on Nole in the stubborness department. Nole put up a nice fight to come back in the third to make it closer, but it was a straight set win for the resurgent Daveed, 63 63 76(3).
Next up, the Return of the King of Clay. Do I really need to write this up? The good news for Tipsy? He held his opening serve to level the match 1-1. The bad news? He would go on to lose the next 11. Final score: 61 60 62. Watching Rafa on hard courts for 8 months, it's easy to forget how ruthless his game is on clay. It's just not right.
With Rafa's match being so quick, there was time for doubles. Nole pulled out and was replaced by Viktor, and the Serbs got the win over a seemingly discombobulated FeLo and Disco. Disco really does suck at Davis Cup, no?
The win guarantees a Rafa/Nole rubber tomorrow. Let's see if Nole can get up for that one.
Fearing that historical tensions between the rival supporters might boil over into violence, Tipsarevic asked tournament organisers to move his game against Cilic away from the outside courts - where spectators can wander around as they please - and onto one of the tightly supervised show courts.
Melbourne is home to large communities of expats from the former Yugoslavian states, whose volatility was all-too-clearly demonstrated by the notorious Australian Open riot of 2007. That was the year when gangs of Serbian and Croatian fans fought a pitched battle in the elegant "garden area" of Melbourne Park.
"Normally the problem is with people who live abroad," said Tipsarevic. "And especially in Australia because it's so far away from their homeland. It's stupid to say these people love Serbia more, but they do feel nostalgic for it - and sometimes they cheer too much.
"I told the guys who are in charge of the schedule what might happen, and I'm glad they listened to me and put us on the show court, where the chance of violence is reduced. The problem is that if the Serbs and Croats pass by each other, and someone says something rude, then they will start to fight."
Tipsarevic's forebodings were borne out by the atmosphere on No 2 court, which became aggressively polarised and partisan. The pro-Cilic faction sat in the south-eastern corner, decked out in their red-and-white checked shirts. The Tipsarevic devotees camped in the western stand, wearing long capes decorated with the Serbian flag. Both groups chanted slogans and shouted obscenities in their own languages - which, fortunately, were completely unintelligible to the majority of spectators.
"The things that they were saying were really not nice," explained Cilic, who was the target of much of the abuse. "It was tough to play, of course. But I was trying to stay focused on the match and do as well as I could. When they said a couple of bad words to me, Janko told them to be quiet."
The rival fans' behaviour may have been more typical of an "Old Firm" football derby than a tennis match, but the players still maintained an impressive level of sportsmanship. Tipsarevic and Cilic came out dressed in identical kits and did all they could to avoid igniting an already inflammable situation.
"We were talking to each other when we went to the net," Tipsarevic explained, "and he told me, 'I don't know about you, but for me this is really tough, playing in these conditions.' I said, 'For me, the same.'
"Both the Serbs and the Croats were a little bit incorrect," Tipsarevic added. "They were singing songs that were nothing to do with tennis, because of the history we have between each other."
The players still put on an absorbing show, as witnessed by the long lines of spectators queuing for a seat in the stands. At 6ft 6in, Cilic is even taller and more lethal on serve than his compatriot Mario Ancic (5ft 5in), and he bombed down a fusillade of aces on the way to a two-set lead.
Tipsarevic rallied in the third set, taking advantage of his opponent's brief loss of concentration to spray a series of forehand winners. But a lucky net cord helped Cilic to steal the initiative back in the fourth, and he quickly closed out the match.
"Given all the things that were going on, the tension and provocation, I was glad to win it in four," Cilic said. "Things were getting tighter towards the end."
The police kept a close eye on the fans as they streamed out of the venue. The more hot-headed elements formed two lines in the concourse underneath the stadium, singing, gesturing and staring each other out. Happily, though, the atmosphere was closer to West Side Story than Goodfellas.
"We kept an eye on the match but no ejections were needed and the police have been very happy with the way things have gone so far this week," said a spokesperson for the Victoria police. After the riots of 2007, and the incident last year when two Greek supporters were doused with pepper spray, the 2009 Australian Open has remained a non-contact sport.
Roger, Nole, and Rafa all went through with ease. Rafa disposed of an exhausted Lleyton Hewitt, who had been up past midnight finishing a marathon doubles match that ended 18-16 in the third. Thankfully, Rafa's form was much better today. Maybe he got a call from Ana telling him not to worry and that her hand was ok.
As for "upsets", my boy Paul Henri Mattieu (so cute!!!) ousted Kolya and Juergen Melzer knocked out weary Stan The Man Wawrinka. Too bad for Stan. The heat and humidity got to him. In other bad news, Janko had to withdraw with an ankle injury against Olivier Rochus. Poor Janko. He needed a wheelchair to get to his presser:
As for the ladies, the Sisters Williams, JJ, Dinara, and Lena D. all went through with ease. The big news was Agi Radwanska getting ousted by Frannie Schiavone. Tough loss for A-Rad. I she going through a bit of slump? She got dusted by Caro last week in the semis of the Nordic Light Open. That being said, Schiavone was a tough match-up. She always has that little extra something when she plays for her country.
As for other "upsets", SKI BOOTS IN DA HOUSE!!! Caro dismissed Dani H. 1 and 3 and Mama Bammer ditched Peppermint Patty, 4 and 4. Seriously, who is going to come out of that top quarter? I have to put my money on Bepa, but since everyone else I've picked has lost so far I fear I may have just jinxed the crying Russian.
Finally, in the only match I actually watched from start to finish, Zheng Jie had to dig down and fight hard to come back and beat Lloggostera Vives, 67 61 64. That first set was a tough one and Zheng looked absolutely wiped out. She was leaning against the back wall, doubling over for air, etc. But she kept fighting and as it turned out, it was Vives who had nothing left in the tank. Mondo Kudos (yes, that's an official term) to Zheng, who I find myself rooting for more each and every day.
In an interview with Serbian Playboy, resident Forty Deuce hottie Janko Tipsarevic apparently said this about women's tennis:
“99% of male tennis players can’t stand women’s tennis. There’s no other sport with such a big disparity concerning level of play and the money women make. A friend of mine says that a woman who wins a Slam should only earn enough money to pay for her airplane ticket home. Who knows what else I would say if it wasn’t for Ana and Jelena whom I may consider friends. But of course, I appreciate the effort they’re putting into tennis, because I know they practise as hard as I do.
The way women think on court cannot be compared to men. Their only strategy is ‘hit the ball where your opponent isn’t.’ Nothing more! No ‘Put more spin on the ball, this is an important point, play to her backhand’. No way!
It’s that such kind of tennis works today. Look at the Williams sisters, Sharapova or Ivanovic who hits the ball like a truck on steroids. I get a bit critical when I see how much the women earn and how their opening rounds go. That’s what irritates me the most....
Look at Federer who is so dominant, he has to work so hard to beat a Starace or an Almagro, he may even lose a set and then look at Sharapova or Ivanovic who lose 3 games in the first 4 rounds. It makes me sick”.
Note to Ana and JJ -- With friends like this, who needs enemies?
To be fair, Janko didn't say anything that we haven't heard before from the men's side. Prior to Wimbledon, Tennis Channel ran a preview show wherein every male player they interviewed except for Roger said that they didn't think it was fair for women to get equal pay at the Slams. Rafa, Nole, Youzney, they all harped on it. So I think its clear how the guys feel and I'm not going to get into that whole equal pay argument, except to say that under Janko's crazy logic, Rafa should have received less prize money because he only lost four games in the final Yeah, that makes sense.
But this notion that the women's game lacks strategy and tactics compared to the men's game is absolutely ridiculous. Look at Wimbledon for example. How many blogs and websites picked Ivo Karlovic, Mario Ancic, Andy Roddick, and John Isner to potentially make runs at Wimbledon? What was their basis? Because they had huge serves and nothing more. No tactics, no strategy.
Are we currently in the era of Big Babe Tennis? Absolutely. Does that mean it's mindless ball bashing? Anyone who actually watches women's tennis knows that it's not. Before he starts making these ignorant and uninformed comments, Janko needs to sit down and watch the Williams sisters final, AI vs. JJ semifinal at Roland Garros, and Pova vs. Henin at the Australian Open.