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Finding Roger Federer Meltdown footage on YouTube is like finding a seat on the Number 4 Lexington Avenue subway at 9:30 in the morning. [Non-New Yorkers, take note: it's rare.] The Greatest of All Time usually deals with blown shots by dragging his middle finger across his forehead and tucking his hair behind his ear. Not this time. This was a semi-final match with Novak Djokovic at the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. Djokovic just broke Fed in the third and deciding set and was up 15-0 when the Greatest of All Time took his eyes off a routine approach shot that could have evened the score. Federer went through lots of racquets when he was playing the junior circuit; wonder if he felt a little wave of nostalgia upon banging this one hard into the court.

On the Sideline

Entries in australian open 2014 (3)


Australian Open: Oh, How the Mighty Are Falling

Another towering threat in the Australian Open has been felled.  Number 3 seed and four-time Grand Slam champ Maria Sharapova, all 6'2 inches of her, came crashing down in the Round of 16 at the hands of 5'3 Dominika "Diminuka" Cibulkova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Dominika was dominentika over Sharapova in the Aussie Open Round of 16. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

Some light is now filtering down to the forest floor.  Seedlings like 30th-seed Eugenie Bouchard, Simona Halep and Garbine Mugaruza -- Garbine Mugaruza! -- are now getting Miracle Gro pep talks from their coaches. 

Cibulkova was thisclose to letting Sharapova slip through to the quarters in straight sets.  Cib was up 5-0 in the second, but got tight, letting Maria reel off four straight games.  To her credit, she knuckled down and closed out the set, holding up a clenched fist in triumph.  She learned her lesson in the third set and never let her foot off the gas.  

"I came into this match believing 100 percent that I could win it," she said in her on-court interview.  Cib credited her victory to confidence.  But, as with Ana Ivanovic's upset of world number one Serena Williams Saturday, journos will likely give more of a nod toward Sharapova's injury.

After losing the second set, Sharapova called for the trainer and received a ten-minute medical time out for what what Maria said later was a hip strain. 

It was just maybe few seconds I let my thinking go away." -Dominika Cibulkova

As I watched on TV, I thought, gamesmanship.  Maria's going to use the bum butt to regroup and come out firing, and Dominika is going to let the long wait rattle her.  But it didn't.  "I wasn't thinking about it," she said in her post-match interview.  She WAS thinking about Maria's service toss, which she caught a couple of times near the end of the match.

But that long break didn't phase Cibulkova.  What was getting to her was Maria's ball toss.

"I was getting like a little bit angry about that, you know.  I was keep talking myself, like, Why she doing that?  I thought it was on the purpose."  

I know the feeling, DC.  I burn with fury whenever Mark starts chatting during a changeover about the little adjustment he's made that has him cracking forehand winners down the line against me and my Worthy Comrade.  He's doing this on purpose. He's rubbing it in.  He hates me.  I hate him more.  I'm calling an attorney after this match. 

I haven't called an attorney. Yet.  And Cibulkova stopped the mental bleeding.  

"It was just maybe few seconds I let my thinking go away," she said.  "That what I was also working on during my preseason, you know, to let me stay focused and not to let my thoughts go away."

Cibulkova has beaten Maria on a big stage like this before.  She dominikanated Sharapova in the quarters of the French Open, 6-0, 61.  But that was five years ago, in 2009.  She must have a scrap book of that match, a little memory shrine in her head that she visits to remember what that felt like, because she rode that feeling all the way into her first quarterfinals Down Under.

When Ivanovic stepped inside the service box for Serena's second serve, it was like watching a New Yorker cross Eighth Avenue 

Ivanovic's victory was more unexpected.  The 14th-seed had never won a match against Serena in their four previous meetings, never even took a set from Williams.  She's been in one quarterfinal since her French Open victory in 2008.  You've got to get into the Way Back Machine to remember that victory, before her toss went awry and her confidence crumbled.  

But here she was, doing what no one on the women's tour does: cracking winners off of Serena's vaunted serve. Ana had 33 winners to Serena's 22.  She won 60 percent of second serve points, compared to a paltry 41 percent for Serena.  When Ivanovic stepped inside the service box for Serena's second serve, it was like watching a New Yorker cross Eighth Avenue in front of a line of cabs at rush hour: Bold.

On center court, in Rod Laver Arena, defending men's doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan were shown the exit by Minnesota native Eric Butorac and his doubles partner, Raven Klaasen of South Africa, 7-6 (9), 6-4.  It's the first time in 10 years that the twins haven't made the finals.  

Even more stunning is that they were beaten by two guys who've only been playing doubles together for four months.  


Australian Open: And You Thought the Heat Played Basketball

Heat continues to be the biggest threat for tennis players trying to advance through the draw at the Australian Open.  The forecast for Day Three in Melbourne is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Celsius sounds so much better, a meager little number, just 41.  

The players aren't so fortunate: kids staying cool at the steamy Australian Open. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

No matter how you count the notches on the thermometer, if these temperatures last through Thursday, it will be the worst heat wave in more than 100 years for Melbourne.

The heat is keeping Serena Williams up at night, though it didn't seem to hurt her on court Wednesday. She rolled through No. 104, Vesna Dolonc, 6-1, 6-2,  The win is her 60th at the Aussie Open, tying her with tennis great Margaret Court.

"I kept waking up in the middle of the night last night, just paranoid," said Williams.

"I just wanted to stay hydrated.  The last thing I want to do is to cramp in this weather.  It can happen so easy.

On the men's side, top seed Rafael Nadal plays his second rounder.  So does No. 4 Andy Murray and No. 6 Roger Federer.  Americans Jack Sock and Donald Young try not to melt against 24th-seed Andreas Seppi (Sock) and 25th-seed Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Despite the heat, there were plenty of marathon matches.  Daniela Hantuchova prevailed over Karolina Pliskova, 12-10, in the third set.  Florian Mayer upset 14th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  American up-and-comer Madison Keys was up-and-out after three sets against Jie Zheng.

Sabine Lisicki blamed the heat for the Wimbledon finalist's quicker-than-expected exit.  Australian writer Darren Saligari took issue with her excuse:


After her 2-6 6-2 6-2 loss to Monica Niculescu, Sabine Lisicki tweeted: "Got beaten by the heat today. Very unfortunate but that's life. Thx so so much for your support out there!!"  

Presumably she forgot it was Niculescu who was hitting all those winners, not the sun.

Unseeded American Sam Querry hung in there to beat 23rd seed Ernests Gulbis, who hasn't made it past the second round in his six appearances at the Aussie Open.  

Gulbis is an epic Tennis Hater.


The 25-year-old Latvian should kick the spare tire around his middle, not the racquet.  Time for me to take down the Gulbis picture posted at my cubicle at work.  




Australian Open: Nadal Over Wawrinka, Li Over Azarenka

The Australian Open is about three hours away AS I TYPE.  Talk about Tennis Hate.  I'm hating 16 hour time zone differences and draw sheets.  I'm scrambling to submit mine by 7:00 PM Eastern Time for Tennis Channel's contest. Every day, at WNYC, I work under deadline pressure.  Why should my Sunday afternoons at home be any different? 


Serena Williams seems likely to pick up her 18th Grand Slam title, which would put her in the same company as Chris Evert and Martina Navratalova.  Yeah, she has to beat Victoria Azarenka, but she can do that.  She just did in Brisbane, and Williams' last take-down of Azarenka was for the US Open title in September.  It won't be easy, though.  Both of those matches were close, with Serena needing three sets to beat Vika at Flushing Meadows.

But there's Li Na lurking in the semifinal, to spoil it all for Serena.  Haters, you know how I love that.  If Li gets past Serena, she could see a rematch with Vika in the championship round.  Azarenka is going for her third consecutive Australian Open trophy.  

Li Na could upset the conventional narrative of this tournament in so many ways.  It would be awesome.

I want Li Na to beat Vika Azarenka in a go-for-broke three-set chamionship match.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: an early exit for 7th-seed Sara Errani, who suffers from Tennis Hate and doesn't think she belongs in the Top upset of Azarenka by young gun Sloane Stephens in the Round of 16, just like she last year to Williams in the quarters...a Kerber/Kvitova nailbiter in the Round of 16.....and, in third round action, Jersey girl Christina McHale besting 10th seed and former world number one Caroline Wozniaki, who's too distracted by plans for her upcoming wedding to Rory McIlroy.  

On the men's side, I'm actually predicting more unpredictability than on the women's half of the draw. Unconventional, I know.  I don't think Andy Murray is going to go very far.  He's recovering from back surgery. Philip Kohlschreiber can take him in the quarters, after he confounds John Isner, who will suffer a letdown from his skin-of-his-teeth 7-6(4), 7-6(7) victory over Yen-Hsun Lu (who?) in Auckland.

I'm making a sentimental pick, by-passing a world number one Rafael Nadal/world number 2 Novak Djokovic dream final, for a championship match between Nadal and 8th-seed Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

Stan will have to upset Djoko in the process.  He came close last year in the fourth round in Melbourne, leading at one point 6-1, 5-2 (ah, the Tennis Hate that ensued!).  It was one of the best matches of his life and in tennis. Stan's no longer languishing in the fading Federer's shadow.  He stepped up his game in 2013.  He climbed back into the top ten for the first time since May 2008 -- reaching his current spot of 8th in the world in July, a career best --  and collected his fourth ATP World Tour title at Oeiras, his first since 2011.  

So, payback time for Stan when he meets Djokovic in the quarters.  I think he can do it, and defeat Berdych, too, in the semis.  But he won't get Rafa.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: Ryan Harrison, losing his cool and busting some racquets over the shots of quicksilver trickster Gael Monfils in the first round....16th seed Kei Nishikori, newly empowered by advice from Hall of Famer Michael Chang, giving Nadal a scare in their fourth round match....the battle of the beautiful one-handed backhands in the fourth round between Wawrinka and 9th seed Richard Gasquet....a first-round battle of the old-timers, American Michael Russell and might-as-well-be-American Dmitry Tursunov (Russian, seeded 30th)....and how quickly the Greatest of All Time, Roger Federer, will get sent home to his pregnant wife and twin daughters.