Former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia was beaten by David Nalbandian of Argentina 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/1), 9-7 in a marathon five-set thriller that lasted late into the night yesterday at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
The match was a replay of their 2002 Wimbledon final that was won by the Australian, who had held a 3-2 lead in the series, but had not beaten Nalbandian since their controversial 2005 Australian Open quarter-final in which the pair bumped into each other purposely on a changeover. The video clips of that altercation have featured prominently on television promotions of the night Rod Laver Arena match.
Elsewhere, to get an assessment of how much better Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are than most of the competition in men’s tennis, look no further than Marcos Daniel.
Daniel was on the other side of the net from Nadal, who is attempting to win his fourth major title in a row — the “Rafa Slam.” Daniel saw, ever so briefly, why the top-seeded Nadal is among the best ever in the game.
Only briefly, because the Brazilian’s left knee gave out, forcing him to retire from the first-round match while trailing 6-0, 5-0.
Nadal’s limited court time should hold him in good stead for the rest of the tournament, but he wasn’t counting his blessings as the result of another player’s misfortune.
Nadal will play US qualifier Ryan Sweeting, who beat Daniel Gimeno 6-4, 6-4, 6-1.
Another one of those top five that Daniel mentioned was Andy Murray, last year’s finalist who also advanced when Karol Beck retired with a shoulder injury in the third set of their first-round match.
The fifth-seeded Murray, who was leading 6-3, 6-1, 4-2, was the only man to beat Nadal in a Grand Slam tournament last year, the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.
“You’d rather finish the match off without your opponent being hurt, but it does happen quite a lot. So you just have to move on and get yourself ready for the next round,” Murray said.
Fourth-seeded Robin Soderling had to go the distance, but was rarely challenged, completing a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win over Potito Starace of Italy. Australian wild-card entry Bernard Tomic advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) win over Jeremy Chardy of France. Tomic could meet Nadal in the third round.
Another winner was 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Dudi Sela of Israel, 7-6 (15/13), 6-4, 6-4.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who lost in the final here to Novak Djokovic in 2008, came back from two sets down to beat Philipp Petzschner of Germany 4-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Andreas Seppi of Italy beat Arnaud Clement of France 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 in another late match.
On the women’s side, US Open champion Kim Clijsters did nothing to dent her growing status as favorite by routing fellow former No. 1 Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-0.
The US Open champion never allowed the 2009 Australian Open finalist to get into the match, placing pinpoint forehands to all areas of the court. When Safina did have an opportunity to return, her many unforced errors gave away the point to Clijsters.
“I expect my opponent to come out and play their best tennis,” Clijsters said. “She obviously didn’t do that today.”
Elsewhere, No. 15 Marin Cilic of Croatia beat US qualifier Donald Young 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 to advance along with No. 7 David Ferrer, No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny, No. 11 Jurgen Melzer, No. 20 John Isner, No. 31 Feliciano Lopez and No. 32 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
No. 2 ranked Vera Zvonareva began her bid to reach a third consecutive Grand Slam women’s final with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Sybille Bammer. Zvonareva lost to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final and to Kim Clijsters in the US Open final last year.
She dominated the first set against the 30-year-old Bammer, conceded only four points in the first four games of the second set and didn’t allow the Austrian to hold until the sixth game.
Ana Ivanovic, the 2007 French Open champion and 2008 Australian Open finalist, slumped to her worst result in seven years at Melbourne when she lost 3-6, 6-4, 10-8 to Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova. The 19th-seeded Ivanovic saved five match points before finally going out.
Also advancing were French Open finalist Sam Stosur, the fifth-seeded Australian who beat US wild-card entry Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-1; No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska, who took six of the last seven games after a medical timeout in the third set to hold off Japanese veteran Kimiko Date Krumm 6-4, 4-6, 7-5; No. 7 Jelena Jankovic; No. 10 Shahar Peer; No. 13 Nadia Petrova; No. 22 Flavia Pennetta; No. 25 Petra Kvitova and China’s Peng Shuai.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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