Day 2 Headlines
— The big story of yesterday was obviously Rafael Nadal’s stunning loss to Fernando Verdasco in a drama-filled five-setter. Nadal didn’t play poorly, but it’s fair to assert that this was the worst of his recent Slam defeats, as he had been playing well coming into the tournament.
Some of the reaction since has featured hot takes that Nadal is “done,” which obviously isn’t true. The guy beat Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and David Ferrer all in a row at November’s World Tour Finals. He’s still firmly back in the top five and finally gets to return to clay for the next few months, aside from the Indian Wells/Miami double in March. If “done” means “not winning majors anymore,” then sure, it’s fair to wonder, so long as one also contemplates the same for others like Murray or Roger Federer, who both have longer Slam droughts than Nadal.
Dustin Brown, Fabio Fognini and now Verdasco all played with their hair on fire, hitting winners left and right, which isn’t Nadal’s fault. However, his inconsistent shot depth paired with the extra spin he puts on the ball often facilitates opportunities to crush balls right in the strike zone, resembling something closer to practice balls than probing groundstrokes.
Those players facing him have done well under pressure partially because they don’t have to second guess their tactics. It’s simply “see ball, hit ball,” or else they’ll lose. Now Nadal needs the same clarity in his game, as falling back on defense won’t be enough, at least not consistently, and both and his coach/uncle Toni have made it clear they understand this, but patterns are hard to break, especially after so much success.
This loss will sting because he and his team thought they had things largely figured out, though it’s possible this is for the best in the long run. A deep run ended by a top player might have masked that his game still needs more retooling. Instead, it’s back to the drawing board as he heads to South America.
— Nadal’s loss provided cover for women’s No. 2 seed, Simona Halep, who lost in the late hours of the night in the States. Though it’s possible she’s still a bit injured with her nagging Achilles, falling in straight sets to Shuai Zhang — 0-14 lifetime at Slams until now — is unfortunately part of a disappointing habit for the Romanian. A strong, determined semifinal run in New York last fall combined with full-time coaching from Darren Cahill portended high hopes for 2016, only to suffer this massive setback.
— Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza were downright dominant in their debuts. It’s a shame they’ll have to face off in merely the fourth round. Elsewhere for the women, Angie Kerber survived a three-set fight against Misaki Doi, and Madison Keys salvaged a disastrous first set to come through in straights over Zarina Diyas. They were just part of a much calmer day for the women’s seeds than Day 1.
— The top men other than Nadal mostly cruised. Murray, Wawrinka, Ferrer and Milos Raonic did not drop a set. An injured Kevin Anderson falling to Rajeev Ram was the only big knockout. Jeremy Chardy survived a brutal five-setter at 13-11 in the fifth over 2014 Roland Garros semifinalist Ernests Gulbis, while an ill and injured Jack Sock came back to beat Taylor Fritz in five.
Day 3 Marquee Matches
Roger Federer (3) vs Alexandr Dolgopolov
After what amounted to a first-round bye, Federer’s interesting draw starts now. This could be over in 90 minutes, but if Dolgopolov’s weird, unique game is clicking, he’s got a chance to make this a match. Not once, but twice “The Dog” took the first set off of Novak Djokovic in 2015, coming just short both times of winning in straights before collapsing in the deciding third set.
Prediction: Federer in straights, with one tiebreaker
Aga Radwanska (4) vs Genie Bouchard
Tumbling down the rankings as Bouchard has is even harder to rebound from because low rankings mean the chance of tough draws, as is the case here. That said, it’s also not a match Radwanska particularly wants to see either. This one could see a ton of long, tactically-compelling rallies, as each compensates for a lack of power with taking the ball early and changing the direction of the point.
Prediction: Radwanska in two, with one tiebreaker
Petra Kvitova (6) vs Daria Gavrilova
Kvitova is famously ripe for an upset at any point in a tournament and the feisty Gavrilova has a shot in this one. The Russian-turned-Australian notched three top-10 wins in 2015 and pushed Kvitova deep into the third at Wuhan last fall. Her form match-to-match isn’t always the best indicator, but Kvitova looked very strong in her opener.
Prediction: Kvitova in a tight three-setter
Also in action: Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Tomas Berydch, Kei Nishikori, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Belinda Bencic, Grigor Dimitrov, Nick Kyrgios