By Brian O’ Connell
The highlight of the second round of matches was arguably the match between Rafael Nadal and US qualifier Tim Smyczek. Conditions were tough and the tennis was top notch as fans were treated to a five-set thriller on the Rod Laver Arena. You could have been forgiven for thinking it would be a uniform win for Nadal after he took the first set 6-2. As we would find out later, from that point on, the third seed was not only battling the opponent on the other side of the net, he was also in a titanic struggle against his own limited fitness.
Nadal made no secret of his physical condition before the tournament started but it wasn’t clear just how much it had deteriorated before this stage. Even for Rafa, the amount of sweat pouring out of him at the end of every point was strange to see. After it looked like he had expended every ounce of energy he had left, Nadal came through to win the fifth set 7-5. He had come from two sets down and it had taken over four hours of tennis to do so.
Although conditions were brutal, the sportsmanship on show was admirable. Smyczek, in the final game of the match, corrected a line judge when he had called Nadal’s serve out. The Spaniard went on to clinch that last decisive game, and upon winning, sank to his knees as if he had won the title itself.
Top seed Novak Djokovic dispatched Alexander Kuznetsov in relatively quick time, beating the Russian 6-0, 6-1, 6-4. Next up for the Serb is Fernando Verdasco of Spain.
Despite an early scare, number two seed Roger Federer eased to a pretty convincing win over Italy’s Simone Bolelli. The final score was 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
The eagerly anticipated match between Aussies Sam Groth and Thanasi Kokkanakis did not disappoint. Groth, famously the man with the fastest serve in the world, eventually won the marathon contest in five sets. That win means he will now face Bernard Tomic in the third round, another game that is sure to have the Australian media, once again, in a frenzy. Tomic put on a dazzling performance to beat German 22nd seed Philip Kohlschreiber in four sets on Wednesday.
Also adding to the excitement of the home crowd was the emphatic progress of top Australian seed Nick Kyrgios, who defeated Croatian giant Ivo Karlovic 7-6 6-4 5-7 6-4. Tunisia’s Malik Jaziri awaits in the next round.
In a repeat of the 2010 Wimbledon final, Serena Williams faced former world number one Vera Zvonareva on Wednesday. In a duel that showed just how much the Russian’s star had fallen, Williams eased to a 7-5 6-0 victory.
One player who did not have it all her own way in the second round of matches was Maria Sharapova, who took on compatriot Alexandra Panova. Although Sharapova demolished her opponent 6-1 in the first set, the second seed had to save two match points in the decisive third to seal a place in next round, where she will face Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas. Afterwards, Sharapova said she had not played her best tennis, and that Panova had “played a pretty inspiring match.” All things considered, the 2008 winner did fantastically well to win the match, showing signs she has the hunger to go all the way this year.
Poland’s Agniezska Radwanska had a slightly more enjoyable time on the Rod Laver Arena than Sharapova as she swept aside Johanna Larsson 6-0, 6-1 in just 44 minutes. Interestingly, with prize money of $40,000 awarded to those who progress to the third round in Melbourne, Radwanska earned almost a $1000 a min out on court. A fine day’s work at the office now means the Pole will play Varvara Lepchenko of the USA on Saturday.
Another high-profile game in the women’s draw was the contest between former winner Viktoria Azarenka and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki. Many expected this tie to be a tight affair given the skill-sets of both players, but perhaps surprisingly it was Azarenka who powered her way to a pretty dominant 6-4 6-2 win.
Day four of the Aussie Open also saw the exit of Sam Stosur from the tournament, as she lost to rising US star Coco Vandeweghe in three hard-fought sets.
It turned out to be a bitterly disappointing day for the home players, as Lleyton Hewitt also went out, losing to Benjamin Becker. After winning the first two sets, it seemed 33-year old Hewitt did not have the energy to close out the match, and lost the following three sets to put an end to, incredibly, his 19th Australian Open.
Other third round losses for Australian players included a defeat by Andy Murray over Marinko Matosevic, while young James Duckworth lost out to the experienced Frenchman Richard Gasquet in three sets.
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