As I write, the organisers of the Australian Open tennis championships are trying to work out how to replace the roof on the Rod Laver arena. The repairs have just become necessary thanks to one Casey Dellacqua. Which one is she in Home and Away?, I hear you ask. Hard as it is to believe, she isn’t a teen soap character. In fact she’s the new Australian no.1 in women’s tennis, a ranking she achieved by sensationally knocking out the 2006 champion and former world no.1 Amelie Mauresmo.
Dellacqua’s victory is the latest exciting turn in a tournament that has just started to hit its straps. Andy Murray, whose first round exit virtually guaranteed no British press interest in this massive global sporting event, is still the biggest casualty seed-wise; but the defeat of Mauresmo, whose seeding of 18 can be put down to injury and the strange WTA tour point scoring system, by an unknown young home player, under the evening lights of the stadium court, is by far the most high-profile scalp so far.
For Mauresmo, surely the most talented all-court tennis player of her generation, it is yet another Grand-Slam disappointment to add to a list which is significantly longer than her successes. Having taken the first set against an opponent treading completely unknown territory, the rest should have been a formality for the supremely gifted French woman. As any tennis fan knows however, Mauresmo’s ability to implode is legendary. As the second set wore on, and it became clear that the young Australian was getting into her stride, the crowd smelt blood, and the former champion’s demise, however unlikely it may have seemed in theory, became almost inevitable.
This exciting encounter followed quickly on the heels of yesterday’s heart-stopper in the men’s event, which saw Marcos Baghdatis and Marat Safin crashing the ball back and forth with astonishing force for over 3 hours. In the end the mercurial Safin came back from two sets down, but couldn’t quite complete the comeback, with Baghdatis having enough left in the tank in the final set to delight his entertaining army of chanting Cypriot fans.
The year’s first Grand Slam is set for a mouth-watering second week. Whilst many (myself included) may feel that the winners of both singles championships are predictable, given the dominance of Roger Federer and Justine Henin, the scramble below them to be seen as number two to these legends is fascinating, and is likely to throw up a number of cracking encounters.
As we stand, half way through the third round, both draws are looking increasingly appetising. In the men’s, Novak Djokovic has emerged as a genuine challenger to Rafael Nadal’s status as no.2, and it’s a shame that the draw has separated them, robbing us of the chance to see a semi-final showdown. Both of these players are far from guaranteed to progress that far though; Davydenko, Gasquet, Roddick, Gonzalez, Ferrer, Baghdatis, Nalbandian and Hewitt are just some of the names who are more than capable of taking out one of the bigger guns.
The women’s event is arguably even more open if you bet without Henin. The Williams sisters are a law unto themselves, both believe they’re the best player in the world, and opponents fear them, regardless of whatever ranking has been bestowed on them as a result of their inactivity on the tour. Serena of course is defending champion here, having waltzed into last years championship after not playing any tennis for months, and having waltzed out again with the trophy. That makes three genuine greats in the women’s draw, and to this you have to add the challenge from Russia and Serbia, which throws names like Sharapova, Jankovic, Ivanovic, Kuznetsova and Chakvetadze into the mix. And still you haven’t got to the top-ten-bothering likes of Vaidisova and Hantuchova.
All this talent, and yet the name we are talking about today is Casey Dellacqua, because outrageous upsets are still alive and well too. It’s a great time to be a tennis fan, and it’s going to be an unmissable week of entertainment from Melbourne.