Rain revisited Melbourne Park in a big way on Saturday, forcing some matches indoors as Australian Open officials scrambled to finish second round qualifying and have everyone through to the final round on Sunday.
Vasek Pospisil, slated for about a 2 p.m. start out on Court 12, wound up in retractable-roof Margaret Court Arena. It certainly seemed to suit him at the start against Stefano Napolitano as he ran through the first set 6-1 in 19 minutes.
While Napolitano definitely picked up his level – especially his serving in the second set – Pospisil still broke to 5-4 and was poised to serve out the match in less than an hour.
But he played a shaky tenth game, Napolitano broke serve and then eventually got the mini-break on a Pospisil forehand error on the third point of the tiebreak and made it stand up. He served big to finish off the tiebreak 7-5.
Pospisil regrouped and seem back on the right track when he broke to lead 3-1 in the final set. But he started game five with a double fault way long and Napolitano was able to break back – helped in the game by a timely net cord that fell in his favour.
Both players were dominating on serve and it looked like another tiebreak would decide the outcome. But after holding to 6-5, Pospisil took advantage of the rule allowing coaching in the qualifying. He went over courtside and spoke to his coach Dirk Hordorff just before positioning himself to receive serve.
“He just told me to go for it – hit my returns because I had gotten a little more passive in the third set,” Pospisil said. “It was good advice. It was exactly what I needed to do and it helped.”
Pospisil required three match points to eventually finish off the match but in that last game he hit a beauty screaming forehand winner down-the-line, a forehand volley winner, an outright forehand service return winner and wrapped things up with a forcing forehand that Napolitano hit long on the backhand. The final score was 6-1, 6-7(5), 7-5.
“I thought I moved pretty well today – even if maybe I got a bit tried toward the end,” Pospisil said. “And I served well and was pleased with my forehand.”
It hasn’t been the easiest of times for the world No. 108 in recent months, so a hard-earned victory was welcome. “I’m pretty happy with how it turned out today,” Pospisil said. “I really need wins like this because my confidence hasn’t exactly been very high and it was great to pull out this one.”
Pospisil has been working with Hordorff, an experienced German who spent close to 20-years with 2003 Australian Open finalist Rainer Schuettler. “I’m very happy that Vasek could go through this challenge,” Hordorff said about Saturday’s outcome. “He waited 14 hours yesterday and 11 hours today (because of the rain). He had a great start and then it was very tough after the tiebreak in the second set. He deserved to win because he stayed focused all the match and tried all the time to professionally play his best tennis.”
Pospisil is seeded fifth in the qualifying and his two hours plus win over Napolitano sets up a meeting on Sunday with no. 28 seed, Ramkumar Ramanathan of India. Pospisil would likely have played Ramanathan last September in Davis Cup in Edmonton if he hadn’t been getting over a back problem.
It was one of the most dramatic matches of this year’s Aussie Open qualifying – stretched over two days and a total of three hours and three minutes. But it didn’t turn out quite the way Frank Dancevic had hoped.
After having a match point in the second set tiebreak on Friday against Duckhee Lee, Dancevic was beaten 4-6, 7-6(8), 6-3 by the South Korean on Saturday when the match resumed with Dancevic serving in the opening game of the third set and holding the advantage.
He had the first chance to break serve in the final set holding two break points with Lee serving at 1-2. But a service return long and a volley winner by Lee and the break points were wiped out. In the very next game it was Lee’s turn to have break points and he converted the second one by getting the better of Dancevic in a rapid-fire volley exchange at the net.
The total points for the match were 113-112 in favour of Dancevic but Lee was just a little better on the key points when it mattered most.
“The guy came out firing in the third set,” Dancevic said about Lee. “I had two break points, let my opportunity slip and after that he was just lights out. I was trying to get my energy up for that set but I just felt like physically – from going on and off the court four times (on Friday) I was a little bit just down. He was a little bit up. He was sharp from the first ball.” Dancevic said, “it was one of those situations in the tiebreaker that it could have gone either way.”
“I tried to play more aggressive today but it almost seemed like it complemented him a little bit. He was tough, ready for everything. I have to give it to him.”
It has been two days in a row of trying to play tennis between persistent showers that continually disrupted play. “I was here from 8 a.m. til 10:30 at night yesterday (Friday),” Dancevic said. “It was on-off, on-off – kind of a nightmare. It doesn’t happen too many times in your career that you have to go on court over a 13-hour time span.”
Commenting on playing an opponent like Lee who is deaf, Dancevic said, “I knew he was a great player because he’s ranked (no. 195) or whatever he is. It (the deafness) had nothing to do with the way he plays tennis. I tried mixing up the spins, this and that. I thought it might affect him in a way but he was just a very solid player.”
Where Dancevic had been able to push around the five-foot-nine Lee in the first set, the 19-year-old South Korean tightened up his game over the rest of the match and now has a shot – for the second year in a row in Australia – at a third round qualifying match with his first-ever Grand Slam main draw appearance on the line.
While Pospisil played his match entirely indoors and Dancevic played his completely outdoors, Françoise Abanda got to experience both as she was outdoors for the first set and three games before finishing off on Tennis Australia’s indoor courts at Melbourne Park.
The outdoor part definitely went better as she took and early 4-1 lead in the first set against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia and then served it out 6-4 in a dominant fashion.
She seemed to be the superior, more consistent hitter from the baseline and even when she fell behind 2-1, 30-15 with the 23-year-old Slovak serving in the second set, it felt like she was headed for a favourable result.
But the match went indoors at that point – it’s unusual to move mid-match from outdoors to indoors but, with Friday’s massive scheduling problems because of the rain, Aussie Open officials wanted to insure that all second-round matches were completed so the third round could wrap up (a day late) on Sunday.
Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau was optimistic about the move of the Abanda match indoors. “I expected it would favour Françoise but the courts are fairly slow and Schmiedlova hardly made any unforced errors,” he said. “I wanted Franççoise to be aggressive but the ball wasn’t coming off her racquet as well as it had been.
“It was as if the break affected her and she made a few mistakes when play started indoors while Schmiedlova really started well.”
“Françoise lost serve at 1-all in the third set after a long drawn-out game. She got behind 3-1 and sort of had to play catch-up the rest of the way. The final score was 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 for the no. 138-ranked Slovak.
“Schmiedlova really surprised me. When Françoise hit hard and deep she didn’t flinch and was solid at getting the ball back.”
It has been noted about Abanda that she performs better in front of a big crowd than on the back courts at obscure events. Asked about that, Bruneau said in relation to the spectator-free indoor courts on Saturday, “I thought Françoise really gave a good effort – she fought the whole way. It’s true that sometimes she plays her best tennis when it’s in a big stadium – it wasn’t the case today but she fought hard and just missed out by a little bit in the match.”
So the only remaining Canadian woman in the Australian Open singles is Genie Bouchard who will play her opening match on Tuesday against Océane Dodin of France, the same day Milos Raonic starts against Lukas Lacko of Slovakia.
The lone Canadian playing on Monday’s opening day is Denis Shapovalov. He takes on his old junior rival Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.
AUSTRALIA POST CARD
A day at the beach – Port Philip Bay in Melbourne – can be tiring and this couple, stealthily photographed on the St. Kilda Beach tram, are an obvious example of that weariness.
NOTE: Back on Sunday with the story on Peter Polansky vs. Yuki Bhambri and Pospisil vs. Ramanathan – two Canadians facing two Indians. We’ll also have an interview with Milos Raonic.