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A Giant-Killing… A bully in pink… And a winner on a stretcher. Why the Aussie Open is already a gladiatorial sizzler

Locker Room

February 19, 2013

What a start to the Australian Open!

Laura Robson, born in Melbourne just eighteen years ago, thrilled her “home” crowd with a stunning 2-6, 6-3, 11-9 victory over Petra Kvitova in 36C, midnight heat.

For the first time, I really believe Laura can win a Grand Slam one day. Not this one, because Serena Williams – in her blinding violet and purple outfit – would surely be waiting in the quarter-final to dash her dreams.

For all Laura’s talent and growing power, Serena is probably still too much of a warrior to allow herself to be beaten by a teenager who remains raw and vulnerable, despite her recent success..

But the Brit with Australian parents has proved that she can take down any giant who isn’t on top of her game. And the truth is, Laura wasn’t even playing her best – yet she still had too much for the 2011 Wimbledon champion.

A smiling Robson said afterwards, ‘I always struggle to play lefties but I knew I’d get myself back into the match.’ She did just that – and refused to be intimidated by Kvitovic, despite her shrill war-cries. Just imagine what Laura might achieve in two year’s time, with true consistency in her serve, a little more experience and an even stronger mentality.

By then the Williams sisters will have faded, Maria Sharapova will also be on her way out, and women’s tennis will be looking for an enduring new star.

You can almost hear the playful debates between Aussies and “Poms” as they both try to lay claim to Laura…a future world number one in the making.

Right now, wherever we come from, we can all enjoy her breakthrough. And the giant-killing of Kvitova has been the early highlight of a sensational tournament so far, full of drama under the sun.

Incidentally, t’s the first time for 26 years that two British girls have won through to round three of the Aussie Open. But in my view Robson has now shown that she has more long-term potential than her feisty rival, Heather Watson.

Watch the sparks fly as the “bully in pink” tries to dump young Bernard Tomic out of his home Slam.

Daring Roger Federer wore pink footwear and a pink collar-trim to go with his grey shirt and black shorts on Thursday night. How did the Fed look as he defeated Nikolay Davydenko 6-3, 6-4, 6-4? Devastatingly cool – just as he always does!

‘I used to wear pink, I like to play around with style, and people like it so far,’ Roger said after he ruthlessly destroyed Davydenko inside two hours.

Now he faces Aussie favourite Tomic, whose laid back approach on-court – and big talk off it – has prompted claims that he isn’t making the most of his undoubted talent.

Tomic, sorely tested by the giant German Daniel Brands in their second-round showdown, came through when it mattered – despite needing eight match points to defeat Brands 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 7-6.

We’ll see what he’s really made of when he comes up against Federer. How do we know the man in pink aims to bully the outspoken Australian into submission? Because Federer has admitted as much.

‘He (Tomic) has had a wonderful start this year, it’s going to be an exciting match, but I’m going to play tough, I don’t mind the physical aspect, I’ll be aggressive,’ Roger warned.

Controversial Bernard, who carries the hopes of Australia on his shoulders, insisted recently that Federer wasn’t even a cert to make round three. Now that he has, 20-year-old Tomic is confident he can pull off a giant-killing.

The Fed is out to make his young adversary eat his words. With the Aussie crowd right behind Tomic, there’s going to be an edge to this battle for sure.

James Duckworth couldn’t quite make it through to keep his fellow Aussie company at the next stage, despite an epic which lasted almost five hours in 40-degree heat. Both men looked ready to collapse before Blaz Kavcic finally edged out Duckworth 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 10-8.

Moments later Kavcic did collapse, and required a stretcher and a drip before he came to his senses. Who says these tennis players don’t earn their money?

Federer knows he has to go for his shots against the sole Aussie survivor, because that’s the game he needs to master if he’s going to beat Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic later in the tournament.

Djokovic looked unbeatable when he brushed aside young American Ryan Harrison 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in round two. He has to be the favourite to take the title, despite more hard-court heroics from Murray.

The fanatical Scot added three pounds of muscle to his already-athletic frame during his pre-season training in Miami. We’ll see whether the obsessive winter work-outs and chunky new physique help or hinder Andy when he comes up against real quality.

But he beat Portugal’s Joao Sousa with relative ease in round two. ‘I thought I could move a bit better,’ Murray admitted. Still, the 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory means he hasn’t dropped a set so far, as he prepares for surprise Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis next time out.

To say that the draw has been kind to Murray in the early rounds is an understatement. With temperatures never really dropping – even after the sun goes down – no one needs a Melbourne marathon…except the tennis-loving crowd.
And how extraordinary it is that Robson and Kvitovic, Duckworth and Kavcic gave us all the drama we crave, despite the sweltering heat.

by Mark Ryan (part of the Mail on Sunday‘s Wimbledon reporting team)

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