1. It's hot
It's Arizona-in-August hot right now in Melbourne. Temperatures have been approaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and it's had an impact on the field. Playing a best-of-five match is difficult in any conditions, but one of every eight first-round matches in the men's draw (eight in all) ended in a retirement. Not all of those were heat-related, but it clearly played a role.
You know how they say weather is an equalizer in a sport like football? It's no different here. While the top seeds have mostly cruised (we'll get to that), the next layer of contenders has been thinned out a bit, and some unexpected names have emerged.
Damir Dzumhur, No. 233 in the Advanced Baseline hard court rankings, took down Ivan Dodig (No. 32 seed, 34th in AB) in the second round on Wednesday, and there were plenty of heavy first-round upsets as well: Thanasi Kokkinakis (245th) over Igor Sijsling (77th), Nick Kyrgios (186th) over Benjamin Becker (83rd), etc.
2. It's really hot
Canadian player Frank Dancevic hallucinated he saw Snoopy on court before he fainted mid-match on Tuesday in the extreme heat at the Australian Open.
Dancevic collapsed during the second set of his first round match against Frenchman Benoit Paire and said he saw the comic character out on court as he suffered in the conditions.
He was unconscious for almost a minute but managed to return to the court before losing in straight sets.
"I was dizzy from the middle of the first set and then I saw Snoopy and I thought, 'Wow Snoopy, that's weird'," Dancevic said.
"I couldn't keep my balance anymore and I leaned over the fence and when I woke up people were all around me."
3. The favorites have cruised
If the tournament doesn't truly begin until the first really good upset, the 2014 Australian Open hasn't actually begun yet.
No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal beat Bernard Tomic in the first set, and Tomic retired with a groin injury. No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic has cruised to the third round; he has been taken to 5-5 in a set just once in six. Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all cruised in the Murray Region on Tuesday. Tomas Berdych is in the third round without dropping a set.
Granted, there have been some trials here and there. Young American Rhyne Williams made Juan Martin del Potro work, taking the first set in a tiebreaker before falling, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; David Ferrer, meanwhile, dropped a set in the second round against Adrian Mannarino. But the only top-12 seed to fall on the men's side was Tommy Haas, who had to quit in the first round with a shoulder injury.
It's the same on the women's side. Yes, the No. 6 and 7 seeds -- Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani -- both fell, and the slumping No. 5 seed Aga Radwanska was taken to three sets in the first round, but the top four seeds and heavy favorites (Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and Na Li) have cruised. On the top half of the bracket, now through two rounds, Williams has dropped six games in four sets, and Na dropped just two games in her first three sets before being taken to a tiebreaker by exciting youngster Belinda Bencic in the second round. Meanwhile on the bottom half of the bracket (for which second-round matches will be played on Thursday), Azarenka cruised, and Sharapova put away solid American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-3, 6-4.
Aussie Open Must Reads
Aussie Open Must Reads
4. Andy Murray has left the wooing phase
One of the more entertaining story lines heading into the tournament was the sudden resurgence of 1980s tennis names. Ivan Lendl has had great success as Andy Murray's coach, so others have followed suit -- Roger Federer has hired Stefan Edberg, Novak Djokovic has hired Boris Becker, Kei Nishikori has hired Michael Chang, etc. (Andre Agassi remains on his sofa in Las Vegas, waiting for a call from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.)
Hiring your idol can eventually reap its rewards; just ask Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon champion. But Murray said it takes a little while to get used to the arrangement. And then he said other things.
"Yeah," he replied, "that’s definitely there at the beginning of the relationship. It’s like any relationship you have. If it’s with a woman, I would try to impress my girlfriend a lot more the first few months I was with her than I do now. I guess that’s natural.
"It’s the same with Ivan. The first few months when I was working with him, you’re kind of nervous going into practice sessions and stuff. That’s a good thing. It shows that you care and want to impress him. But then over time, you get used to having him around. It’s not quite the same. But that happens in a lot of different relationships."
What you are saying, came the reply, is that Kim Sears does not get flowers any more? Murray grinned wolfishly. "She didn’t get many flowers at the start, either. But yeah, not so much."
5. Bouchard has a big chance
The WTA top 100 currently features seven players born in 1994 or later. They haven't fared particularly well as a group -- among others, Laura Robson was smoked by Kirsten Flipkens in the first round, and Madison Keys was upset by Jie Zheng in the second -- but the most highly ranked of the seven, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, is alive and kicking. She trounced Haochen Tang in the first round and survived a test from veteran Virginie Razzano in the second. And now she's staring at a wide open bracket.
With Errani going down, she will instead face American Lauren Davis in the third round, and if she wins, she'll be a favorite against either Jie or Aussie Casey Dellacqua in the fourth. The No. 30 seed, Bouchard has an excellent shot at reaching the quarters; granted, she would likely then play Serena Williams, and that would likely be the end of her stay in Melbourne, but considering the 19-year old's best slam performance to date is a third-round appearance (both in the 2014 Aussie Open and at Wimbledon in 2013), and considering she didn't even play in her first slam until last year's French Open, the growth has been stark, and making the second week of this tournament would be a strong accomplishment.
6. So do some young Americans
Granted, Madison Keys missed out on a golden opportunity, falling in three sets to Jie Zheng on Wednesday. But other American women have done well and are staring at manageable brackets. Twenty-year old Lauren Davis (68th in the WTA rankings) took down Julia Goerges on Wednesday and now gets a shot at Bouchard.
No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens weathered an early blitz by Yaroslava Shvedova and survived her first-round match, and with Ajla Tomljanovic (84th in the AB hard court rankings) and either Elina Svitolina (73rd) or Olivia Rogowska (192nd) in the next two rounds, she is a heavy favorite to reach the fourth round (where she would likely play Azarenka).
Alison Riske, 53rd in the WTA rankings and 23 years old, pummeled Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets on Wednesday and will face No. 9 seed Angelique Kerber in the third round.
Christina McHale, 62nd in the WTA rankings and still only 21, gets a shot at imminently beatable No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki, against whom she is 2-1 all-time, in the second round. A win would give her a very good shot at reaching either the fourth round or perhaps the quarterfinals.
7. It's a free-for-all in the Ferrer Region
As Colin Davy told you on Monday, the Ferrer Region is without a clear favorite. David Ferrer is the No. 3 seed, but he ranks just ninth in the AB hard court rankings. Tomas Berdych, the No. 7 seed, is the favorite according to AB, but the Aussie Open is the only slam in which he's never made the semis, and he underachieved in slams in 2013.
The region as a whole has been one of the least predictable thus far, even though both Berdych and Ferrer have advanced to the third round. Haas had to retire in the first round, and both No. 14 seed Mikhail Youzhny and No. 32 seed Ivan Dodig were upset in the second round. That makes a Ferrer-Berdych quarterfinal a bit more likely, but it also opens the door for players like 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Jerzy Janowicz, unseeded Florian Mayer and No. 19 seed Kevin Anderson, who seemingly draws (and loses to) Berdych in every slam.
Third Round Matches, Ferrer Region (AB hard court ranking in parentheses)
No. 7 Berdych (6) v. Damir Dzumhur (233)
No. 19 Anderson (19) v. Edouard Roger-Vasselin (71)
Mayer (20) v. No. 20 Janowicz (74)
No. 3 Ferrer (9) v. No. 29 Jeremy Chardy (53)
Janowicz has done better in slams than in regular tournaments, but he has an opportunity to further that reputation in the days ahead; but first, he has to get past Mayer, who has performed better than him on hard courts.
8. Ana Ivanovic got a bad draw
The former No. 1 player in the world, Ivanovic has had a great 2014 season so far. She took down Kirsten Flipkens and Venus Williams to win the ASB Classic in Auckland earlier in January, and she has cruised through two rounds in Melbourne. With so much of the women's draw wide open, she could have had a clear path to the quarterfinals in a different section; instead, she not only drew a spot in the Williams Region, but she has to get by Aussie Sam Stosur in the third round just to get to Williams in the fourth.
Hell, even within the Williams region, she got a bad draw. Of the eight remaining players in the region, four of the top five are in the upper half.
Third Round Matches, Williams Region (AB hard court ranking in parentheses)
No. 1 Williams (1) v. No. 31 Daniela Hantuchova (42)
No. 17 Stosur (8) v. No. 14 Ivanovic (14)
Jie Zheng (38) v. Casey Dellacqua (51)
No. 30 Eugenie Bouchard (36) v. Lauren Davis (115)
Either Jie or Dellacqua will make the fourth round, while either Ivanovic or Stosur will fail to survive the third.
9. Jack v. Gael
Big-hitting Nebraskan Jack Sock received either a bad draw or a great opportunity. He took down Tobias Kamke in the first round, and his reward is the pleasure of facing Gael Monfils in the second. Monfils (the No. 25 seed and the No. 16 player according to AB hard court) is an entertainer first and a top tennis player second, and in the "styles make fights" category, this could be wonderfully entertaining, DVR-worthy tennis. Granted, Monfils hitting against a wall would be entertaining in and of itself, but Sock should add to it.
(Sock's reward if he upsets Monfils? Rafael Nadal in the third round. Good luck with that, Jack.)
10. Keep an eye on Sam Querrey
It's obviously difficult to conjure any sort of optimism for American tennis at the moment, with Mardy Fish still struggling with injury and John Isner withdrawing with injury in the first round this week. But it bears mentioning that Sam Querrey is a) still only 26, and b) rolling at the moment. Querrey dropped out of the top 50 after a frustrating 2013, but he can straight pummel the tennis ball, and in the second round he also pummeled No. 23 seed Ernests Gulbis, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
Querrey gets No. 15 seed Fabio Fognini in the third round, and if he wins he probably gets Novak Djokovic; so his odds of making the second week aren't strong. Still, he's already played more inspiring tennis in Australia than he did over the last half of 2013.