The Get Out Alive Slam

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 /by
Frank Dancevic, here receiving treatment, suffered in the oppressive conditions Tuesday in Melbourne. (AP Photo)
Frank Dancevic, here receiving treatment, suffered in the oppressive conditions Tuesday in Melbourne. (AP Photo)

MELBOURNE—It was an ear-stinging, skin-scalding day here on Tuesday, a day when you wished there was no breeze, because all it did was send the 105-degree heat flying straight into your face. Fans doused themselves with water and stood for hours in the shade, even if it meant seeing no tennis at all; by the middle of the afternoon most of them had disappeared entirely. There was no escape for those who had to be on court, though. A ball boy passed out, multiple players pulled out, and when the temperature reached 107 degrees, Canada’s Frank Dancevic just sat down. 

Yet the roofs remained open, and the Australian Open’s “extreme heat” policy wasn’t invoked. It used to be that when the “wet bulb”—a measure of heat and humidity—reached a certain number, the roofs were automatically shut and play suspended on the grounds. Now it’s up to the discretion of the referee. I know Aussies are tough, but I think anyone who was here today would have to agree that this weather was pretty extreme for tennis. 

Here’s a look at a few of the happenings in Melbourne Park on this stressful day. Players and fans might as well get used to it. The fire-breathing winds are supposed to keep blowing through Melbourne until Friday.

*****

“It was a little bit hot out there.”

That may sound like the understatement of the century from Caroline Wozniacki, but she was one of the lucky players who was scheduled early—11 A.M.—and who got on and off court quickly. 

This is an Aussie Open of coaching debuts: Yesterday we saw Becker and Djokovic for the first time, today it was Fedberg's public debut. Wozniacki was also playing her first Grand Slam match with a new coach, Maria Sharapova's ex, Thomas Hogstedt. While Woz didn’t get much resistance from her opponent, Lourdes Dominguez Lino, in Hisense Arena, the very early evidence from Caro is encouraging. Wozniacki went after her forehand and backhand, and got them to penetrate through the court. It's a start.

*****

“Get up, get up, get up!”

On Court 2, Australia’s Marinko Matosevic has just won the fourth set from Kei Nishikori (pictured at right). Matosevic turns to each corner of the stands and flaps his arms, demanding that everyone stand up. This is his home soil, but few people oblige—it’s too hot to be out here watching, let alone standing. 

Matosevic isn’t happy about it. In fact, he's not happy about a lot of things. 

He’s not happy that the crowd is calling him Mad Dog. "It’s not my nickname,” he says afterward. “Some idiot put it on Wikipedia.” 

He’s not happy with his coach, Mark Woodforde, who also refuses to get up and urge him on. “Some players need verbal support, some don’t,” Matosevic says. “So if my coach is just going to sit there and clap, I expect more.”

He’s not happy with chair umpire Marija Cicak, who assesses him two time violations. “That was bullsh*t,” is Matosevic's reaction. 

And he’s not happy with the reporter who alludes to the fact that, with his defeat in the fifth set to Nishikori, he has now lost all 12 Grand Slam matches that he has played. “I don’t give a sh*t, man,” is Matosevic's considered response.

*****

“Let’s GO, Isner!”

The half dozen people watching John Isner play Martin Klizan on Court 6 don’t seem to believe the big American wants to be out there. And they’re not wrong: Isner has aggravated an ankle injury that he suffered at Hopman Cup a couple of weeks ago, and he eventually retires after losing the first two sets.

Afterward, Isner is asked about another player who defaulted in the first round with an injury today, Polona Hercog, though she did it after just one game. Along with the rise of first-round prize money at the Slams has come an unfortunate rise in the temptation for injured players to begin a match, default, and collect their cash. Isner had an interesting suggestion: Guarantee an injured player a percentage of the first-round prize money. He or she can take it, but give up the spot in the draw to someone who is ready to compete.

For today, though, there’s no way of getting around the fact that this is another Grand Slam disappointment for Isner. He had won the Aussie tune-up in Auckland; injured or not, he wasn’t the same player when he had to go three-out-of-five sets.

*****

“Come on!”

Nineteen-year-old Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan repeats this mantra to herself after every point—seemingly every single point—that she wins against Agnieszka Radwanska today. Putintseva doesn’t have to say it often in the first set, which she loses 6-0. But this spark plug of a player gets her metaphorically sharp teeth into the match and wins the second 7-5. In true teen fashion, Putintseva can't be bothered to save energy along the way. She celebrates her successes with cries and leaps of joy, while her failures lead her to pound her sneakers with her racquet as hard as she can. At times, she seems to be winning on fist-pumps alone.

Radwanska, always cool, looks downright demure by comparison. Smarter and steadier, she turns the match back around in the third, sips some water, and happily does her post-match interview. My descriptions of Putintseva might lead one to think that she's an irritant, and her antics haven't earned her the best reputation on tour. But as she walks off today, she hears the crowd's loud ovation for her and breaks into a wide, surprised smile of appreciation. It's a nice moment in defeat.

*****

“Frank! Tank!”

The most brutal match of the day is between Benoit Paire and Frank Dancevic, which takes place when the heat is at its highest. By the end of the second set, Dancevic can’t take it anymore. In the middle of a game, he walks to the side of the court and either falls over or sits down—it's hard to tell which. Either way, Dancevic stays there for a while, until medical staff comes to attend to him, and a sympathetic Paire takes a seat nearby.

But as with Isner on the same court earlier, the few fans watching don’t have much sympathy for Dancevic, who sits slumped, zombie-like, staring down at the court with his mouth hanging open. 

“Frank!” one of them yells, as if to jolt him awake. “Get up!”

A few others join in: “Frank, tank! Frank, tank!” they yell. I'm guessing these fans of Old School are unaware of what tanking in tennis means—if they’re going to encourage Frank to tank, they might as well encourage him to quit.

To everyone’s surprise, Dancevic responds. He stands up, Frank the Tank style, walks back on the court, and plays a competitive third set, with few more signs of physical distress. 

The "Happy Slam"? How about the "Get Out Alive Slam"?

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