Americans played pretty well in the first two days of the Australian Open, but a series of brutal draws left the men with little to show for it. Can a player like Ryan Harrison or Tim Smyczek break through with an enormous win on Day 3?
First, the answers to Day 2's questions:
1. Where are the upsets? They were in Day 2 all along. Of the 32 seeded men and women who played on Day 1, only two lost. But of the 32 who played on Day 2, nine fell: five women and four men. We still got 16 of the top 17 men into the second round, along with 22 of the top 24 women. Chalk still reigns. But for players like Sara Errani (No. 7 on the women's side), Nadia Petrova (the No. 12 woman, who fell to 42-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm), Alexandr Dolgopolov (No. 18 on the men's side) and Tommy Haas (No. 19), the Australian Open ended on Tuesday.
2. Are you ready, Bernie? Fresh off of a tournament title in Sydney, 20-year old Aussie Bernard
Balotelli Tomic started his tournament run with a surprisingly easy 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 win over Leonardo Mayer. His first serve was both consistent and dominant, he committed twice as many winners to unforced errors... generally speaking, he was fantastic. Plus, his draw got easier: No. 27 Martin Klizan, his prospective second-round opponent, fell to No. 121 Daniel Brands. His potential third-round matchup with Roger Federer, perhaps the most highly anticipated first-week battle outside of Maria Sharapova-Venus Williams, is one step closer to happening. Federer, of course, also has to survive a tricky second-round match versus veteran Nikolay Davydenko.
3. Whose early form (among the top men) is most flawed? Is "None of the Above" an acceptable answer? Roger Federer cruised through Benoit Paire, dropping seven games in three sets. Andy Murray also dropped just seven to Robin Haase, and Juan Martin Del Potro dropped only five to Adrian Mannarino. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga needed a little extra work to take down countryman Michael Llodra (he lost 11 games), but only so much. The top players on the men's side looked like, well, the top players on the men's side.
Now to the questions we are asking heading into Day 3:
1. Can Sam Stosur take out both Zie Jheng and her Aussie jinx?
Women: No. 9 Sam Stosur v. Jie Zheng (Match No. 3, Rod Laver Arena)
Singles tennis is both an amazingly, and tragically, individual sport. Your triumph is yours, but when things start going in the wrong direction, there is no one but you to stop it. You can't call timeout (well, you can call injury timeout, I guess), you can't consult your coach and you can't lean on a teammate. It's just you. The top players are the top players both because of amazing physical skill and the propensity for finding within themselves the ability to dig out of holes. Others, like 28-year old Aussie Sam Stosur, have all of the physical skills you could hope for but cannot find a shovel in timely fashion.
She struggles to get out of her own way, in other words. Since cruising to the 2011 U.S. Open title -- and I mean cruising: the No. 9 seed, she dropped just three sets, all to players with similar breakdown issues, faced only one Top 10 player, and pummeled a flustered Serena Williams in the finals -- Stosur has been incredibly up-and-down. She fell in the first round of the 2012 Australian Open and in the second round at Wimbledon, and even in making the semis of the French Open, she still fell to a physically outgunned opponent (Sara Errani).
Stosur has long struggled in her home slam -- she has only once advanced beyond the third round in Melbourne -- and in just her second round match, she already faces a serious challenge this time around. Midday at Rod Laver Arena, she will face Jie Zheng, a former Top 15 player who has made two slam semifinals (Wimbledon 2008, Australian Open 2010) and defeated Stosur just a week ago in Sydney. Stosur is as impressive a ball-striker as you can find on the women's tour (at least of the women with a last name other than Williams), but that hasn't always led to tremendous results. Will it this time around?
2. Which American males survive?
Men: No. 20 Sam Querrey v. Brian Baker (Match No. 2, Court 6)
Men: No. 4 David Ferrer v. Tim Smyczek (Match No. 4, Margaret Court Arena)
Men: No. 1 Novak Djokovic v. Ryan Harrison (Match No. 5, Rod Laver Arena)
Americans were done absolutely no favors in this year's Aussie draw, and despite some truly solid play, there are few great results to show for it just yet. On Monday, Michael Russell played relatively well but lost in straight sets to No. 5 Tomas Berdych while Steve Johnson took No. 10 Nicolas Almagro to five sets before losing. On Tuesday, 21-year old Rhyne Williams won the first two sets versus No. 25 Florian Meyer but couldn't hold on and fell in five sets. On Day 3, the road does not get any easier. Ryan Harrison, who has never gotten a good draw at a slam, faces Novak Djokovic while Tim Smyczek (who looked great in taking out big Ivo Karlovic in the first round) must face David Ferrer. From a stature-and-style perspective, Ferrer and Smyczek are quite similar; but to put it as diplomatically as possible, Ferrer is a bit more well-tested and proven. (Just slightly.) Smyczek probably won't win, but this will be a nice measuring stick match for him at the very least.
One American, however, is guaranteed to make the third round without an upset of a Top 5 seed. That's the good news. The bad news is, both Sam Querrey and Brian Baker are capable of making nice runs on the hard courts, but they must face off on Day 3. They should put on a hell of a show, though, so that's something.
3. Does Madison Keys' run continue?
Women: No. 30 Tamira Paszek v. Madison Keys (Match No. 2, Show Court 3)
She won a U.S. Open match at 16 in 2011, but the 17-year old Keys has begun to experience her first true career breakthrough in January. She defeated both Lucie Safarova (currently No. 17 in the world) and Jie Zheng (No. 40) at Sydney, then took Li Na (No. 6) to three sets. Then, against Casey Dellacqua (the highest-ranked Aussie in the field), Keys ground out a 7-6, 6-4 win. Keys' game is volatile and dominant, meaning she is capable of dictating play for both good (winners) and bad (errors) reasons. In the first round, she had 27 winners (Dellacqua had 13) and 35 errors (Dellacqua had 28).
Now Keys faces Tamira Paszek, a 22-year old Austrian whose own career has already taken some twists and turns. A two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist, Paszek broke through with a fourth round appearance at the 2007 U.S. Open at just 16 but hasn't advanced beyond the second round of a slam outside of the two Wimbledon runs. Now, at 30th, she is nearing her career high ranking. Keys showed she can play at a Top 30 level in Sydney; how long can she maintain this form?