MELBOURNE—Wednesday dawned bright and warm here. By 10:00 A.M., early-bird fans were examining their draw sheets while ball kids, after making sure their blue hats were fastened securely, stretched and sprinted and honed their ball-rolling skills. On the practice courts, Milos Raonic worked on his serve-forehand combination, while Petra Kvitova hit returns in a quiet corner with no spectators in sight. She looked as comfortable, and hit the ball as smoothly, as I’ve seen her. Maybe fans aren’t this shy girl’s thing.
But this would day would not turn out be as idyllic as it promised. If Monfils vs. Dolgopolov on Tuesday night in Margaret Court Arena was Woodstock, this morning felt a little like Altamont.
First, Jerzy Janowicz, the big Pole with the big-time potential, had a few issues with the chair umpire on Court 8. More than a few, in fact. After barking at her through the first set about bad calls, no overrules, and fans moving in the crowd, Janowicz finally had the season’s first full-on YouTube-worthy meltdown. See it here. More on it below.
A few minutes later, Brian Baker, America’s comeback kid of 2012, survivor of five surgeries and five years on the sidelines, was leading countryman Sam Querrey by a set when he suddenly found himself lying on the court. Baker had torn the lateral meniscus on his right knee and eventually had to be wheeled off the court. Just like that, Baker, who was hitting the ball as well as I’ve seen him hit it since Wimbledon, will need surgery and miss four months. I had been out watching the end of the first set a few minutes before Baker hit the deck. The next time I spotted him he was being wheeled through the player lounge surrounded by friends and family.
If you were asleep back in the Northern Hemisphere, here’s some more of what you missed today:
Loose Cannon with a Cannon Serve
First, a description. At set point for Janowicz in the first-set tiebreaker, his opponent, Somdev Devvarman, floated a forehand that appeared to be heading wide. It floated and floated and finally landed near the line. Janowicz and the rest of the crowd waited for a call, but there was only silence. Which Jerzy proceeded to fill quite nicely. He screamed, with an agonized rasp, "How many times?" He dropped to his knees and put his face an inch from the line, went back to spit on the mark, walked toward the chair umpire, sunglasses glinting, yelling in the same guttural rasp. It was all made a little more intimidating by the fact that Janowicz is 6'8". But chair umpire Marija Cicak held her ground and handed him a warning for “Unsportsmanlike Conduct.” By the time it was over and he had lost the first set, Janowicz had tossed a ball at the umpire and banged the side of her chair with his racquet.
If nothing else, the incident showed how far the sport has come in the age of Hawk-Eye. If the system had been in place on Court 8 today, Janowicz would be a lot less famous right now. This should inspire the Aussie Open and the other Slams to install the technology on all of courts that are equipped with TV cameras. But Janowicz still went well over the line, and could have been punished further during the match (he’ll likely face a fine later). It’s not as if he's never played without Hawk-Eye before. However widespread the system becomes, there will always be courts without it, and the need to control yourself.
As it was, Janowicz played the second set somewhat sheepishly, with his head down and the fight temporarily kicked out of him. But he’s a major prospect for a reason, and once he left the embarrassment behind, his monster game was too much for Devvarman. After winning the final point with a huge forehand return winner, Janowicz dropped to his knees again, this time in an equally dramatic, and nearly as unhinged, celebration. Then some girls in the stands brought him flowers. All in a day’s work for the 22-year-old future of tennis.
Make no mistake, though, Janowicz is an intelligent kid, and he recovered later with a poised and funny— and honest—press conference.
Q: Have you gone as nuts as that in a match before?
Janowicz: Yeah (smiling).
Q: Did you surprise yourself?
Janowicz: No, I’m a really strange person....Even when I’m going nuts sometimes, I’m always trying to win no matter what.
Q: Has [reaching the final in Bercy last year] changed your life?
Janowicz: This changed my life, but this not change me. I’m all the time same crazy person.”
Whether he makes the Top 10 and fulfills his potential or not, the game has a new loose cannon (with a cannon serve) to follow in Jerzy Janowicz. He gets Nicolas Almagro next. Asked if he has played Almagro, he said no, but it was no problem, he’d “watched a lot of his matches on TV.”
Mad, in Good way
Watching 17-year-old Madison Keys dismantle Tamira Paszek, No. 30 in the world, on Court 3 this afternoon, I kept telling myself not to think back to another, similar match-up from 1997. But I couldn’t help it. Seeing the raw teenager belt her more experienced opponent off the court reminded me of Venus Williams’s first big pro win, over Anke Huber at the U.S. Open in 1997. Williams was also 17, and had yet to learn to use all of the talent we knew she had. But she put it all together that night, went on to reach the Open final, and has been a star ever since.
That is not, of course, to say that Madison Keys is now the next Venus Williams. She could just as easily be the next version of a hundred other prodigies who never went on to win anything. Plus, Paszek played very poorly.
Still, as Keys locked up the match with high-kicking second serves—she said today that her serve has been the crucial shot for her this week—and fierce forehands, my mind did wander back, and ponder ahead...at the very least to Keys’ third-round match against No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber. The Floridian will have to make a lot more balls in that one, but it will be a good test nonetheless.
Old New Face
I had seen Tim Smyczek play before. I should have; he’s a 25-year-old American, after all. But I hadn’t seen him against a top player in a big Grand Slam stadium until today, when he faced David Ferrer in Margaret Court Arena. Maybe it was the particular match-up, and the Ferrer's shots sat up, but Smyczek, ranked No. 112 and a lucky loser at this event, was a lot of fun to watch. He didn’t get on the scoreboard until he was down 6-0, 3-0. When he did, he celebrated with a wide smile of relief that won over the packed house.
From there, Smyczek hauled off on high forehand and backhands and had the No. 5 seed scrambling for all he was worth. A sometimes very bad, sometimes very wild Wednesday ended with something new and surprising to watch for on sidecourts in the future, the leap and wallop of a Tim Smyczek forehand.