Australian Open: Falla d. Fish

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 /by

201201171945711588349-p2@stats_comI've seen Alejandro Falla at his best. In 2010 I watched the lefty outplay Roger Federer on the king's turf, Wimbledon's Centre Court, for two sets and parts of another. He actually served for the colossal upset, only to get broken, drop a tiebreaker, and lose the fifth set 6-0.

So when Falla, leading the top-ranked American by two sets today in the second round, lost two match points in a third-set tiebreaker, he surely felt a sense of urgency—especially because he received treatment for cramps throughout the set. Lucky for him, Fish was more charitable than Federer. The No. 8 seed missed a forehand badly at 6-6, botched a volley on Falla's third match point, and was eliminated to the tune of 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (6).

Falla may not have won the match with his best stuff, but he showed flashes of it beforehand, helping him jump out front. Falla is solid with all strokes, master of none, and he give Fish a variety of flat backhands, heavily-spun forehands, and low slice. He hit with deceptive pace, just like at the All England Club two years ago, and for the most part dictated rallies. That was also due to Fish, who lacked his usual aggressive mentality and any sense of consistent footwork—the favorite struck some errors usually saved for the junior matches.

After two years of watching Fish continuously improve, I'd largely forgotten what he played like in those pre-fitness years (they were mostly forgettable times, and Fish would tell you that himself). But I was reminded of his dark ages today. Besides the flawed footwork, Fish played passively, didn't serve with authority (both men finished the match with five aces), and didn't create or finish points with his trademark backhand. Add to that an irritable demeanor and there were practically no positives to take away from Fish's performance.

In the long term, this defeat shouldn't set back a player who's proven as much as Fish has over the past two years. It was a bad time and place to play one of his worst matches, sure, but it's silly to speculate any sort of decline. In the short term, the focus is on Falla. He'll try to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time, with Philipp Kohlschreiber in his way.

—Ed McGrogan

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