Fresh off a five-set battle of wills with John Isner, 22-year-old Marin Cilic is exhibiting the form that landed him in the top-10 a year ago.
-- Ah, the familiar refrain, as the fuzz gets swept off the court after a highly compelling day of third round action: It was the best of times... It was the worst of times. With every splash of jubilation that we witnessed we didn't have to look very far for the sour note that inevitably accompanied it.
It is the yin and the yang of Grand Slam tennis. The sweet melody and the doleful dirge of life on the tour.
It goes without saying that Pennetta's pleasure was Peer's pain today; that Kvitova's coming of age led to Stosur feeling her age; that Cilic's fortuity marked the end of Isner's fortuity.
It is the nature of the business. They meet at the net, they battle from the baselines, and in the end they shake hands -- one hand trembling with joy, the other limp with agony.
In other words, it was one heck of a humdinger yesterday at Melbourne Park. The round of 16 begins today, but before we get the popcorn ready, let's look back at the third round that was.
1. Sam Wowed - And I don't think Sam Stosur, Australia's great hope on the women's side, was the only one that was wowed by the steely maturity of 20-year-old Czech Petra Kvitova. Once again Stosur ran into a buzzsaw, and if you're a Stosur fan (some would argue it's hard not to be) you're beginning to tire of this scenario a bit. Just like that fateful day last June when Francesca Schiavone played the most brilliant tennis of her life in the final vs. Stosur, the young lefty also brought her "A" game to Rod Laver Arena. And once again, sadly, Stosur couldn't find a way to overcome.
Is it Stosur's fault? Are there improvements she needs to make? One must consider that Stosur had leads of 3-0, 4-2, and 5-3 in the first set tiebreaker. She also had three break points at 2-2 in the second set, before Kvitova went on a tear that included 11 straight points.
This match was more about Kvitova's stellar play than Stosur's weaknesses, but one has to wonder -- when will the time come for Sam to truly wow?
2. Tsonga? Hello? - Alexandr Dolgopolov stormed to a five set victory against the enigma wrapped in a mystery, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. In the 44 minutes (the length of the final two sets) that it took for the youngster from the Ukraine to turn this match on its ear, Tsonga played as if he had a plane to catch. Or perhaps he was running from the F.B.I? Whatever the case, Tsonga managed to win only 17 out of 40 points on his serve while surrendering 5 breaks in those two sets.
Hopefully, Tsonga caught his plane.
3. Cilic is Back - Marin Cilic ripped the heart out of John Isner and saved us all a Wimbledon marathon sequel, when he broke Isner to win, 9-7 in the fifth. Could it be that the young lad has finally found himself after a turbulent back half of 2010 that saw him upset in the first round of Wimbledon and the 2nd round of the U.S. Open? And furthermore, might he have a shot against Rafa in the round of 16?
4. The Dead Zone - Play had to be stopped or delayed on two occasions for repairs to the court on Hisense Arena. For those of you who believe the ghosts of Jack Crawford and Daphne Akhurst are conspiring to wreak havoc on the modern game, you might not want to know that the reason for the dead spots was that water had worked its way below the Plexicushion, causing air pockets. Court attendants drilled holes into the surface, and presto, play was continued.
5. Chill, Roddick -- Andy Roddick moved in and blasted a short ball right at the brain of Robin Haase early in the 2nd set of their 3rd round tussle. Haase avoided the intimidating blast, which traveled to the back fence on a fly, but he didn't avoid the intimidation. After an awkward moment that saw Haase gesturing to the crowd to get behind him and Roddick acting as if he just happened to miss an easy forehand by 40 feet by accident, Haase went out with hardly a whimper in 4 sets.
6. Backhand Bliss -- It happens a few times a year, and this year it's happened early. I've fallen in love with Stan Wawrinka's backhand. He used it to perfection against Gael Monfils on Friday night in the first set, mixing flat drives down the line with topspin angles crosscourt with a certain demonic wickedness. Monfils seemed to enjoy the running, until he found himself pretty much gassed by the end of the first-set tiebreaker. I like a lot of one-handers -- Haas, Kohlschreiber, Henin, Federer, Youzhny, Gasquet -- but to me Wawrinka's is the best because he can go anywhere with it, and he can drive it for clean winners like nobody else in the game.
7. Belgian Bump in the Road -- Justine and Svetlana had a very entertaining battle that ended -- after much nerve wracking and teeth gnashing -- in a straight-set win for the Russian. Huge win for Kuznetsova, and now that she's beaten Stosur and Henin (she was 2-16 vs. Henin coming in), it's hard not to wonder if Svetlana has the necessary wind in her sails to take her all the way to Grand Slam title number three. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibilities, and the odds will significantly increase if she can get past Francesca Schiavone in round 4.
8. Azarenka-Li, must-see TV? - Vika hasn't made it past the third round in 4 of her last 5 Grand Slams, but she was a quarterfinalist in Melbourne last year. Li, by the way, was a semifinalist. Both ladies have been travelling under the radar this week -- but this tilt has the potential to be an entertaining affair. Azarenka took their last head-to-head match in Montreal, but Li won the first two.
9. Raon Man - Talk about exploding onto the scene. Milos Raonic was hardly known to anyone save for a few tennis-loving canucks and savvy tennis fans before his big, bold, game graced the courts of Melbourne Park in qualifying just over a week ago. Now he's a sensation, a revelation, and a bonafide contender for a quarterfinal spot next week. That being said, he's never played David Ferrer, and that can be another type of revelation for even the biggest and baddest of ATP servers.
Still, the 6'5" Montenegrin-born player is the youngest left in the draw, and the lowest ranked. He'll likely shoot up the ATP rankings into the top-100 even if he drops out of the next round in Australia.