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Did we need to see this?

Matches we didn't need to see... but did!


January 21, 2012 | 11:19 AM

Matches we didn't need to see... but did!

JOKER V MAHUT

Most people remember Nicolas Mahut for his epic match with John Isner at Wimbledon in 2010, a loss which did more for him as the loser in terms of his name recognition than it did for the higher ranked, younger and better Isner. Mahut has never achieved a ranking above #40, and with a losing record overall in a career with fewer than ATP tour 200 matches, he was hardly a household even in La France before last year.

Yesterday on his 30th birthday (January 21st in Australia), playing with what looked like a home-made apparatus keeping one knee from buckling, Nicolas had little to celebrate on the Laver arena. Until the 2nd set, #1 Novak Djokovic didn't give him a game, and Nic only got one more on his way to the locker room after little more than an hour of tennis (74 minutes, to be exact - against one of the two men on tour who usually takes the longest between points; Rafa is still #1 in that category, I believe, though statistics aren't readily available). Ironically, his coeval John Isner had played a 5th set in the previous round which took 25 minutes longer than Nic's entire match.

Happy Birthday, Nic! At least you got off court in time to celebrate all night with the mates down under.

TSONGA V GIL

This was another quickie - just under 90 minutes - and while lacking anything close to competitive drama, it was not an abject humiliation for the lightweight 26 year old from Portugal who had reached his first 3rd round in 14 Majors (he also became the first Portuguese player to reach the 3rd round in Oz, so at least one ethnic community here was happy to see this live). Gil's highest ranking in singles so far was #62 last April, but unlike Rochus and others in his 150 pound weight class, he rarely upsets higher ranked opponents like #26 seed Marc Granollers, whom he beat in the previous round. Jeff Sackmann of heavytopspin.com, found that Olivier Rochus has been in the top 5 on the tour in recent years in upsetting higher ranked players. Jeff's list of players most likely to score upsets is one which contains players from up and down the ranks, although the very top few lose so rarely most don't appear (Murray has been the least consistent within the top 10).

Consistency in results is not always good. The most consistent players on Sackmann's list don't have the weapons to beat better players on off days, which is the case for Gil. He is high within top 100 players who earn their rankings more by avoiding bad losses than by good wins. So it was not surprising that Tsonga didn't let Gil into the match. What was surprising was that The Tennis Channel, which usually prioritizes Americans in action, gave the Tsonga-Gil match a lot of prime time coverage while the 2nd to last remaining American in the Open, VANIA KING, was struggling to stay alive (she lost to #21 seed Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-4). Perhaps they anticipated her loss and wished to avoid highlighting more discouraging results!

Now that we've gotten to the WOMEN, the list of matches not worth seeing expands (King v Ivanovic is not on my list - we should have seen it in it's entirety, rather than waffling between Tsonga and Sharapova's easy wins and seeing King lose a set point and a match point):

- Sharapova def. Kerber 6-1, 6-2 (87 minutes; 63% of points for winner)

- Serena def. Arn 6-1, 6-1) (57 minutes; 66% of points for winner)

- Wozniacki def. Niculescu 6-2, 6-2 (76 minutes; 63% of points for winner)

[Niculescu's 2 handed FH provided entertaining highlights, but not a match)

There were other lop-sided results, and some were obvious picks to get their prime time coverage:

- Jankovic def. McHale 6-2, 6-0 (70 minutes; 63% of points for winner)

[featured America's next, best hope being dry cleaned by another washed up Serbian star]

- Kvitova def. Kirilenko 6-0, 1-0 (retired; this could have been a blockbuster)

There were also lop-sided matches that didn't take place in our prime time:

- Del Potro def. Lu 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 (112 minutes; 62% of points for winner)

- Murray def. Llodra 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 (109 minutes; 61% of points for winner)\

- Gasquet def. Tipseravic 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 (97 minutes; 61% of points for winner)

On the MEN's side, yesterday's two best matches fell at the wrong times for LIVE viewing:

- HEWITT upset RAONIC 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3

This one was reminiscent of the classic Agassi v Baghdatis in the 2nd round of the 2005 US Open, and for Hewitt, the win was just as sweet (in his remarks on court to Jim Courier afterwards, Leyton referenced Agassi). The pivotal 3rd set tie-breaker, broadcast LIVE early this morning, showed Hewitt at his best, wearing down his opponent to the point where at set point, Raonic missed a routine high forehand volley that Hewitt acknowledged Milos would have made 99 times of 100. The Canadian never fully recovered, though he lifted his play in the final game when Hewitt struggled to serve out the match.

- KUKUSHKIN upset #14 MONFILS 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 1-6, 6-4

This one, nearly 4 hours of twists and turns, would have made entertaining viewing if only for the number of times Gael Houdini Monfils had to fight off break points (26, which may be a men's record this late in a Major; together Isner and Mahut only faced 17 break points in their marathon, and they only lost 3; Monfils was broken 9 times).

Like Gil, Kushie made history for his home land Kazakhstan, becoming the first player to reach the 4th round of a Major.

In WOMEN'S play yesterday, there were 2 sets and only 47 games lost by winners in 8 matches which featured only 2 tie-breakers (the average score of a set taken by the winner was 2.2, and the average set lasted 37 minutes).

Of note:

- #7 seed Zvonareva was upset by Makarova 7-6 (7), 6-1

- #9 seed Bartoli was upset by Zheng 6-3, 6-3

- #14 seed Lisicki def. #18 seed Kusnetsova in the one of the two women's 3 setters



In a later post, I'll PREVIEW the most interesting 4th match-ups, when overall we'll expect closer matches with more significance for the rest of the tournie.

Rick

Australian Open 1.21.12


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