Tough decision culminates in amazing 31 hours of tennis

Updated: January 20, 2008

Brunch At Melbourne

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The big topic of discussion Sunday, once everyone woke up, was the tournament officials' decision to start the third-round match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis close to midnight on Saturday -- and the corresponding revelation that Venus Williams and Sania Mirza were asked whether they would be willing to shift their match, which preceded it in the evening session, from Rod Laver Arena to Vodafone Arena. For you U.S. Open fans, this is the equivalent of moving a match from Arthur Ashe Stadium to Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Long before the Hewitt-Baghdatis match concluded at 4:34 a.m., a new Grand Slam record, Williams told reporters that she and Mirza agreed they wanted to go on center court as scheduled.

"We felt like our match was important," she said. "Also for the fact that [she and sister Serena] were [playing] doubles and Sania is also in mixed. So that makes it very difficult for us, too. So the tournament definitely listened to us, and gave us the opportunity to go out there and play some great women's tennis.

Hewitt

"No one could have predicted that the circumstances that we all had to play under, so I definitely hope the best for both players."

Later, as with anything involving the Williams sisters, rumors began to circulate: Venus had threatened to leave the grounds, it was said, if she didn't get her way. Serena Williams, who said she was present for the conversation, ridiculed that idea in her own press conference Sunday.

Tournament officials were in a hard-to-win situation. Referee Wayne McKewen had the authority to force Williams and Mirza to move, but doing so might have seemed politically incorrect. (His official stance was that he simply wanted to give night patrons their two guaranteed matches.)

Postponing the Hewitt-Baghdatis match until Sunday could have resulted in some crowd-control issues, the last thing organizers wanted following an ugly incident early last week in which fans were pepper-sprayed. As it was, officials are lucky the crowd was so well-behaved, given all the extra hours fans had to consume alcohol.

Hewitt and Baghdatis were told at one point that the women's match would be moved, at which point they warmed up for 10 minutes to get ready to play. McKewen and tournament director Craig Tiley called the gaffe a "miscommunication." They eventually decided they would postpone the men's match to Sunday only if the women went three sets. For better or worse, it didn't turn out that way.

Whenever matches extend into the wee hours, the argument is made that tennis is shooting itself in the promotional foot, much as baseball does with its late start times for playoff and World Series games.

Yet this match was such bizarre instant history -- both in terms of its starting and ending time and its wild momentum shifts -- that it probably generated more attention, in the end, than it would have had it ended at the now-commonplace hour of midnight or one in the morning. As a byproduct, the U.S. market got a treat with a rare Saturday-brunch-at-Melbourne opportunity.

The fourth-round match between Hewitt and Serbia's well-rested Novak Djokovic is first on the schedule for Monday night, at 7:30 local time. Guess who's playing the last match of the afternoon? Tomas Berdych and No. 1 Roger Federer, whose five-hour, five-set thriller against Janko Tipsarevic was the schedule-buster Saturday. Hewitt and Djokovic will just have to hope things roll along at a more efficient clip this time.

Between Phillip Kohlschreiber's upset of Andy Roddick that carried over from Friday night into Saturday morning, the Federer-Tipsarevic epic Saturday afternoon and Late Night With Lleyton and Marcos, it was an amazing 31 hours in men's tennis. (For a timeline, check out the Traveling Circus blog by Tennis.com's Kamakshi Tandon.)

That being said, cheering erupted in the press room among some bleary-eyed tournament staff and reporters when Paul-Henri Mathieu retired in the second set against Rafael Nadal just before 10:30 p.m. No offense, PHM.

Random Thoughts

Pop quiz: How many times since 2001 has James Blake gone deeper in a Grand Slam than Roddick?

Roddick

Kohl takes his lumps: Two days after upending Roddick in a dramatic five-set match, Phillip Kohlschreiber of Germany frittered away 11 set points and a chance to advance to the quarterfinals in a 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (9), 6-3 loss to Finland's Jarkko Nieminen. The match was a study in contrasts -- an emerging guy with a lot of variety to his game and a penchant for risk-taking versus a veteran grinder. We have to give props to Nieminen, though, for his moussed semi-Mohawk, which we suspect he didn't sport during his mandatory Finnish military service last year. We'll be hearing from the icy-blue-eyed Kohlschreiber again this season.

Your mama: Our nomination for ludicrous call of the week was a code violation slapped on Jelena Jankovic when her mother yelled "Come on!" in Serbian. The WTA has been pointedly ignoring this stuff for a year now.

Your grandma: Was there anything sweeter that the sight of Australian sparkplug Casey Dellacqua's "Nan" in the stands with a paper flag tucked into her well-coiffed auburn hair, weeping with joy? She was tennis' Queen Mum for the week.

Four a.m. shadow: Few men have been more in need of a midmatch shave than Baghdatis, whose beard visibly darkened as play wore on.

Much ado about BBQ: Although short-lived, the coverage of an incident in which Baghdatis was captured on amateur video chanting a political slogan did raise a few issues. First, in an age in which cell phones are cameras and anyone can be an indie filmmaker, discretion has become the better part of wisdom for celebs. Second, this video surfaced months after it had been filmed (Australian media outlets disagreed on exactly how old it was) and the timing of the "controversy" smelled of gratuitous trouble-stirring rather than an expression of genuine outrage. Third, shouldn't Baghdatis be staying away from barbecues? As he said in his blog on the ATP Web site last week, "I love eating! I have a problem with that! I have a dream to eat as much as possible and not get fat, but I think it will never come true!" We feel your pain.

Quiz answer: It's happened four times, in early-round play in 2002, 2003 and 2006 at the French Open and at the 2005 U.S. Open, where Roddick suffered a shock first-round upset and Blake reached the quarterfinals.


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When Opportunity Knocks

Sharapova

Maria Sharapova will be taking every opportunity that comes her way when she meets Justine Henin in the fourth round.

"Against someone that's No. 1 in the world, someone who has a lot of confidence, you've got to take your chances and take the opportunities because you won't get many," fifth-seeded Sharapova said after coasting past fellow Russian Elena Dementieva 6-2, 6-0.

Sharapova is 2-6 against Henin and has lost the last two matches they've played -- -- including the Madrid final, which stretched to 5-7, 7-5, 6-3.

"She's just very steady and very consistent, and she'll do whatever it takes to win the point," Sharapova said. "No matter how long the point is, no matter how many times you run her side to side, she's willing to be out there all day and be the one that challenges you to make the errors."

--AP

Double Trouble

Hsieh

The double-handed forehand-backhand combination made famous by former No. 1 Monica Seles could be on the way back thanks to an Asian revival.

Hsieh Su-wei used it to great effect this week to become the first Taiwanese player to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam, before losing to top ranked Henin 6-2, 6-2.

Henin said the tennis world can expect more of the double-handed play to come.

"Players from Asia, they all play the same way. Very talented, good hands, like Seles had in the past," Henin said. "I think we're going to see this kind of game more often probably in the future. With Beijing this year, the Olympic Games, they're all coming pretty strong."

The Belgian said there was plenty to be said for the technique. "They can really have a very good defense with a lot of angles," she said. "[But] when you play fast and long, you know, they don't have too much time to change their grip."

--AP

Inbox

Bonnie D. Ford is on the grounds at the Australian Open for the two-week event. She'll have firsthand knowledge of everything that's transpiring Down Under. Send your questions to Bonnie here.