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« Australian Open Day 3 Recap | Main | In Their Words »

Australian Open Day 3: Monster Serves Mixed With Controversy 

David Nalbandian arguing with the chair umpireby Kait O'Callahan

We got home late last night, and as a result I sleep past my alarm this morning. We turn up an hour late for day three - it seems insignificant at the time, but we will pay for it later, (bear in mind our 50 matches goal). We start our day with Sergiy Stakhovsky and Kevin Anderson, our favourite Rhino helping South African. It’s exactly what you’d expect; big serves, short rallies, and not a whole lot of rhythm. We leave after a set; there’s an Argentinian I have to watch.

If I’ve known absolute joy as a Roger Federer fan, I’ve had my fair share of heartbreak with Juan Martin del Potro. Thankfully, today isn’t one of those days. Del Potro is never in danger of losing to Blaz Kavcic, despite being broken in each set and falling behind 0-3 in the first. He plays in patches, some brilliant, some far from it. Kavcic never really goes away, although he matches del Potro in unforced errors and throws in more than a few double faults. Del Potro says after the match that he’s happy with his level, and on later reflection, so am I. At the time though, I’m clutching my hands in a prayer position, dangling on the edge of my seat. I’m fairly sure the girl beside me has decided I’m nuts, but then she thinks the best thing Francesca Schiavone’s done is beat Sam Stosur in Brisbane, and is wearing shorts that resemble a denim bikini (these shorts that don’t cover your bottom need to go. Mothers of teenage daughters worldwide- get onto that). Del Potro takes his sweet time winning in straight sets, and by late afternoon we have seen only two matches.

David Nalbandian versus John Isner is one of those matches you know will go five. We join it from the start and see it all the way through to its heartbreaking end. The court is packed to the brim, but with the sun setting on Margaret Court and the Melbourne skyline glimmering in the distance, the back row isn’t a bad place to be. The two men produce some of the best tennis yet, with net play from the days of old and some stunning rallies. Isner, of course, has the added bonus of possessing a monster serve. Like so many of his games, Isner is the inferior player, but his serve gets him through to a fifth. What comes next I’m sure you’ve all read about. I won’t dwell on it, except to say that at the time I believed the umpire was right to disallow Nalbandian the challenge. The overrule may have been poor, but Nalbandian didn’t challenge in anything like a timely manner. He had two challenges up his sleeve and no excuse not to challenge automatically. I’m surprised later when I read that many thought the umpire made a terrible mistake. Perhaps I’m the one who was wrong and Nalbandian’s consideration over whether to challenge was done quicker than it seemed.* It’s a shame such a good game will be remembered for its controversy. We leave crushed; we were both cheering for Nalbandian.

By the time Nalbandian is finished, the day’s play is almost over and we have only seen three matches. We need to see a full set or nine games, but both remaining outer court matches are in the fourth set (we have no interest in the next MCA match). Hoping for a tiebreak, we naturally we take our chances with Ivo Karlovic. Karlovic is playing Carlos Berloq out on Court 18. The atmosphere is in stark contrast to what we just experienced; about twenty people are dotted amongst the stands and seagulls circle hopefully. Berloq is grunting loudly and down break points. Karlovic breaks, and we realise this won’t be going another six games.

I never thought I’d run to a Nicolas Almagro match. Yet there we were, sprinting past empty merchandise stands in desperation to catch a full set of one more match. We make it to Court 2 in time to see the fifth set of Almagro and Grigor Dimitrov. It’s the worst fifth set I’ve seen. Dimitrov, clearly injured, doesn’t manage to win a game. It wraps up our day three. Tomorrow will be frantic.

*I just read Nalbandian's presser and didn't realise there was confusion over the call. At the time, I sided with the umpire. Having now head Nalbandian's side properly, it seems the umpire was in fact incorrect to disallow the challenge.

Photo Ben Soloman

Kait O'Callahan also has her own tennis blog Any Given Surface.  To follow her on Twitter, click here.

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