In the Round of 16 on Sunday and Monday, 8 men moved onto the quarterfinals of the first major of the year, and it was two days' worth of amazing tennis featuring everything you could expect in Round of 16 matches at a Grand Slam. There were some beatdowns, there were some upsets, and there were some unexpected results. There was even a little bit of controversy.
On Sunday, the results went like this:
Roger Federer def Bernard Tomic 64 62 62
Rafael Nadal def Feliciano Lopez 64 64 62
Juan Martin del Potro def Philipp Kohlschreiber 64 62 61
Tomas Berdych def Nicolas Almagro 46 76(5) 76(3) 76(2)
In the most anticipated match of the tournament, Roger Federer easily handled young Australian hope Bernard Tomic 64 62 62. Quite simply, Federer put on a masterclass performance of the highest order against a very unorthodox opponent. The match was pretty even in the first 8 games, and then Federer turned it up another gear and broke and held to win the set 6-4. At this point, I felt like Roger had gathered enough information on Bernard's game to now break away and take over the match. I was right, because it was a Federer display of genius for the next two sets. Tomic played well for his standards but he just had no answers against the shotmaking brilliance of the Great Swiss. Roger brought his wide arsenal of shots to the match, hitting half-volleys, backhand smashes, drop shots, cheeky slices, and executing brilliant ballstriking from the baseline to thoroughly dismantle his 19-year old opponent. Although it was not a close match after the first set by any means, it is one that those in attendance and those watching on TV all around the world will remember forever. This is the Federer Effect. Sometimes in a match featuring Roger, your jaw drops, and you understand that the tennis you are witnessing is so special that all you can do is enjoy the moment. Sometimes you just have to applaud at the shots Roger hits when he is in full-flow like he was against Tomic. It was magnificent to watch and I know I won't forget the match and some of the genial shots that Roger pulled off.
I must admit I had not really seen Tomic much before the match. I knew he had a unique game but I did not know that he had such crisp groundstrokes. His forehand is big, and his backhand cuts through the court like a knife cuts through warm butter. Add to that a very good serve and a great tennis IQ, you can see why this guy is a promising star in the game of tennis for the next decade. As for Federer's game, well, it was just shockingly spectacular. He hit his forehand and backhand equally brilliantly, and played his backhand down the line to perfection. His movement and defense was also clicking at an elite level, which is no doubt a great sign for his game. Everything was executed to perfection, and I honestly say that it was about as good a match as he has played since he beat Tsonga two years ago at this same tournament. I really like his chances the rest of the way if he brings that level of tennis to the table.
-- Nadal eased by countryman Lopez 64 64 62. Just as I thought, Feliciano did not challenge Nadal much at all. This had to be expected, as other than Ferrer, the Spaniards never test Rafa anymore. Whether that is because they hold too much respect for Rafa or it is because none of them are anywhere as good as Ferrer, I'm not sure. Nadal looks very good so far, and seems to be back playing his ultra-punishing style of tennis with his heavy, deep groundstrokes that wear down opponents.
-- Del Potro played brilliantly to dispatch Kohlschreiber 64 62 61. He looks scary good at the moment, and I would say he is close to playing his very best again. A dream Federer vs Del Potro match awaits in the quarters.
-- Berdych got through Almagro in a tough 4 setter, winning all three of his sets in consecutive tiebreaks. However, the match itself was not the big story in this one...
Late in the 4th set, Almagro lasered a forehand straight at Berdych who was at the net, and you could clearly tell that Tomas was unhappy with it. Almagro repeatedly apologized, but nothing was going to change Berdych's mind. After Tomas won the match, he went straight to the umpire and did not shake Nico's hand. Because of his lack of respect, the Australian crowd hit him with an unrelenting chorus of boos and Tomas could barely get through his on-court interview. I think it was incredibly disrespectful for Berdych not to shake Almagro's hand after the match, but I can understand why he wouldn't. The incident happened so late in the match that it was very fresh in the Czech's mind, so he was obviously still very upset. Had the incident taken place in the first set, I don't think he would still be so upset and then we wouldn't even be talking about this. Tomas obviously felt that Almagro purposely aimed for him, but we will never know if this was the case. It was a smart play for Nico to direct the ball at Berdych so he could not get a racquet on it, but I think he just hit the ball a tad too hard at Berdych for the Czech's liking. Nevertheless, Berdych has some serious balls to go against protocol and refuse to shake his opponent's hand. Already unpopular with many tennis fans, Berdych lowered himself even more in their eyes and will be undoubtedly booed non-stop in his quarterfinal clash against Rafa Nadal.
On Monday, an equally entertaining day of tennis was played. The results were as follows:
David Ferrer def Richard Gasquet 64 64 61
Andy Murray def Mikhail Kukushkin 61 61 10 (retirement)
Kei Nishikori def Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 26 62 61 36 63
Novak Djokovic def Lleyton Hewitt 61 63 46 63
-- Ferrer looks very good, much like he did last year.
-- Andy Murray was given a retirement after only dropping two games in two sets. No doubt that kukushkin was exhausted after his 5-setter with Monfils and got injured in some way from that match. Nevertheless, Murray looks good heading into his QF.
-- The biggest upset of the day came when Nishikori got a 5-set win against Tsonga. Jo was looking exceptionally good heading into this match, but it wasn't enough to beat a very motivated and confident Nishikori. Andy Murray must be very happy that Tsonga was eliminated, because he would be a much tougher matchup for Andy than Kei.
-- Arguably the most entertaining match on the day was Djokovic vs Hewitt.
Djokovic looked to be cruising to an easy 3-set win when he was up 61 63 30, but then the tide turned. Hewitt fought back valiantly to win the next 6 of 7 games to take the set 6-4. He even held a break point in the 4th set to put another dagger into Djokovic, but alas could not. Djokovic raised his level and ended up winning the the match 61 63 46 63. Though Novak won, his performance does raise many peculiar questions. First of all, how does Djokovic, after being up 61 63 30, suddenly falter physically and become tired? His first three matches featured scorelines of 62 60 60, 63 62 61, and 60 61 61. So after only losing 10 games in the first three matches, how does Novak suddenly falter and not only lose a set to Hewitt, but lose a set after being up 3-0? Sure, Lleyton played some incredibly inspiring tennis, but Novak did not look anywhere near the same kind of player he looked like in the first two sets. His fitness will definitely be something to keep an eye on in the second week with some very difficult matches ahead of him. Every player remaining in the draw should take notice of Novak's vulnerability in this match, even those on the opposite half. Djokovic showed some real weaknesses, and Federer and Nadal will definitely have taken notice in case they meet in the final. David Ferrer (Nole's QF match) will be comforted that Hewitt could wear down Novak because Ferrer plays equally as physical and tough, and he has many more weapons than the veteran Aussie does.
As for Hewitt, what an amazing tournament he played. There were doubts that he wouldn't even make it past the first round, let alone make it to the 4th AND take a set off the current #1 player in the world. Lleyton is a true warrior and has gained so much respect from the fans and the locker room with his performance this tournament. I couldn't be happier for him.
On the women's side of things, Serena Williams was upset 62 63 against unseeded Ekaterina Makarova, and Maria Sharapova outlasted Sabine Lisicki. Kvitova also moved through by beating Invanovic and Jie Zheng was quickly dismissed by Italian Serra Errani in another upset.
On Tuesday, the blockbuster Clijsters vs Wozniacki match will be played. If Kim is healthy, she should have a great chance of winning. Victoria Azarenka played Ag Radwanska, which should also be a competitive contest. On the men's side, the two blockbuster quarterfinals of Berdych vs Nadal and Federer vs Del Potro will be played. I will talk more about that later in my quarterfinal preview.
Overall, it was a great Round of 16 at the 2012 Australian Open. Here's hoping the quarterfinals can exceed it. Nadal/Berdych, Federer/Del Potro, Djokovic/Ferrer, Nishikori/Murray, Clijsters/Wozniacki, Azarenka/Radwanska, and Sharapova/Makarova should all be tight. The only match I can't see being close is Errani/Kvitova.
Until next time, Kyle.