Early-morning service Down Under
Time is of no essence Down Under. Jelena Jankovic's loss, Roger Federer's escape and a hometown hero's theatrics kept the Aussie crowd awake until the early hours.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Welcome back to the Australian Open All Hours. Love it or hate it, it's fast becoming an annual tradition.In 2008, the tournament set a record for the latest finish at a Grand Slam, with the first Saturday's action continuing until 4:34 a.m. Sunday. A 4½-hour battle involving Roger Federer had set the whole schedule back, and Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis rode their five-set roller coaster 'til the early hours of the morning. One year later, an eerily similar story was unfolding at Melbourne Park on Saturday. Roger Federer went five sets. There was a dramatic Australian victory for the crowds to cheer. And once again, Baghdatis was left holding the loser's purse at the end of a very long day. The genial Cypriot is getting sick of being the tournament's late-night mascot.
"It's a pain in the ass," Baghdatis said. "But it's something all the players have to do. It's part of the job, so there's nothing to say about it."On Friday, Baghdatis' third-round match went until 1:14 a.m. Saturday. He began his match against defending champion Novak Djokovic on Sunday night during the first week of the tournament. By time he went down 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (5), 6-2, it was almost 2:30 a.m. Monday morning and the tournament was into its second week.
Jankovic likely will lose the No. 1 ranking after this tournament. But she'll retain her distinction of being the only top-ranked player without a Grand Slam title for at least a few more months."When I'm on the top of my game, it's very hard to beat me because you really have to kind of spill blood if you want to win the match," Jankovic said afterward. "But at the moment, I'm not there yet." It looked as if the French destruction of the top half of the women's draw would continue when talented teen Alize Cornet found herself up two breaks in the third set against No. 3 Dinara Safina. But emotion got the better of the 19-year-old, and Safina overcame two match points to advance 6-2, 2-6, 7-5. That match was followed by Roger Federer's comeback from two sets down against the dangerous Tomas Berdych, 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Safina and Federer had wildly contrasting reactions to their narrow escapes.
As far as the locals were concerned, the biggest match of the day had yet to come: reborn Aussie Jelena Dokic taking on Alisa Kleybanova, who had upset French Open champ Ana Ivanovic in the third round. The contest lived up to all the hopes, as did the result -- Dokic defeated Kleybanova 7-5, 5-7, 8-6 to reach the quarterfinals and continue her stunning run.The former No. 5 is trying to make her way back after personal problems derailed her career a few years ago. She reached the tournament after winning Tennis Australia's wild-card playoff event in December and will return to the top 100 after next week. The drama reached its peak when Dokic rolled her ankle at 5-6 in the third set, but it only seemed to focus her efforts, as she won the last eight points in a row. Both Dokic and the crowd erupted after her final backhand zipped down the line for a winner. While a captivated nation watched, Djokovic and Baghdatis were less than thrilled as their match ticked past three hours. "In the locker room, we were cheering that the match finishes a bit earlier, but it didn't," Djokovic said. "It was all in a good way." As a competitor, he wasn't thrilled about the early-morning finish. "I don't think that this really benefits a lot of people that we played that late. Hopefully in the future we can make some compromise," he said. Still, Djokovic couldn't help enjoying the novelty of the experience. "You have this unique excitement when you play the night matches. It's really fun. You know, you make history by going to 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock in the morning."
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
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