Monday January 16th, 2012

Australian hope Bernard Tomic dropped the first two sets to Fernando Verdasco, but was able to rally and advance to the second round. (Zumapress)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Day 1 of the 2012 Australian Open is in the books. Here's a rundown from the first day of the year's first major, where Americans rolled, Bernard Tomic tried some tricky tactics and Rafael Nadal opened up about his latest injury.

What happened

Tomic rope-a-dopes Verdasco: Sometimes a match can be riveting for all the wrong reasons. For two sets, Fernando Verdasco, in all his tanned, muscular glory, looked ready to bully the lanky, hometown kid right out of Melbourne. From the beginning, Bernard Tomic had no answer for Verdasco's power. It was a lesson in "Big Boy Tennis" as the Spaniard pounded forehand after forehand. That's when Tomic decided it was time to get into the Spaniard's fragile head. As the third set began, Tomic let Verdasco think he was beat.

"I eased off and seemed I didn't care, and I think that's what drawed him a little bit tonight," the 19-year-old said after the match. "He thought he was going to win that third set, and when the right time came, I broke him. I knew if I lifted my game early, he would have lifted as well and he wouldn't have let go. I pretended a little bit in the first few games in that third set to not be there as mentally, but in a way to still be there."

The tactic worked. After dominating the rallies for two sets, Verdasco found himself struggling with the heat  (he complained of being nauseous) and his focus. Tomic took the tightly contested third set and Verdasco virtually checked out. As Tomic's confidence grew, Verdasco's disappeared. The Spaniard hit an astounding 83 unforced errors for the match, and though he was able to find some form in the fifth, Tomic remained patient and steady, winning the baseline rallies that he was losing early in the match.

The match, on the whole, was painful to watch. As Tomic smartly junked him, dishing off-speed balls all over the court, Verdasco imploded.

"It wasn't fun today," an exhausted but relieved Tomic said after his 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 victory. "It was torture."

Torture to play. Torture to watch.

The Polish Ninja carries on: It would have been the upset of the day if Bethanie Mattek-Sands could have pulled it off, but I don't call Agnieszka Radwanska the "Polish Ninja" for nothing. She's crafty, a problem solver who is often able to get herself into and out of sticky situations in confounding ways. The two played a three-hour match under the blazing midday sun, including a 22-point tiebreaker in the first set and more cat-and-mouse games than a Tom and Jerry marathon, and Radwanska pulled it out 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-2.

Mattek-Sands played an entertaining, aggressive game that saw her crashing the net as often as she could and drawing Radwanska in with drop shot after drop shot after drop shot. But the grind sapped the American's energy and she sputtered in the end. Who knows what would have happened if she hadn't had to spend 75 minutes grinding out that first set, which she led 5-2 before eventual winning in a tiebreaker. She might have had the energy to finish it off and do the Discount Double Check, in honor of her fallen Packers.

Inauguration by fire: In addition to Tomic, two other notable youngsters had their nerves tested before prevailing with flying colors. Donald Young squandered a two-set lead over German qualifier, and auto-correct nightmare, Peter Gojowczyk, and got down a break in the fifth set. I raced out to the non-TV court only to watch Young sweep the next six games to win 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 1-6, 6-2. That level of composure was good to see. Also good to see was Grigor Dimitrov fighting through a tough match against a fellow Mouratoglou Tennis Academy charge, Jeremy Chardy, to win 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Rift? What rift?: After their first-round victories, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer downplayed any tension stemming from Nadal's comments about Federer's lack of support in Tour issues. Nadal regretted saying anything at all, and Federer said he saw the Spaniard's remarks and isn't bothered.

"Things are fine between us," Federer said. "I have no hard feelings. I'm completely cool and relaxed about it. We can't always agree on everything."

All quiet on the Western front: Solid day for the top Americans, with Mardy Fish, John Isner and Sam Querrey winning in straight sets and Christina McHale notching an upset over 24th-seeded Lucie Safarova. Querrey gets a shot at Tomic next.

Brit flop: Not so much for the British Brigade, who came into Monday with six players in the main draw, the most without needing a wild card since 1992. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Brits went 0-for-5 on the day without winning a single set. Once again, it's all on you, Andy Murray.

Taking a stand: Laura Robson may have thrown in a stinker of a performance against Jelena Jankovic, getting dusted 6-2, 6-0 in an error-strewn match, but it wasn't a complete waste. With her match scheduled for Margaret Court Arena, the 17-year-old Robson took the court wearing a rainbow hair-tie.

"I wore it because I believe in equal rights for everyone," she said in her standing-room-only press conference.

When pressed about whether she wore the hair-tie in protest of Margaret Court's anti-gay comments, Robson was more diplomatic.

"I didn't see anything about a protest today," she said. "It's not a protest. It's just a hair-band."

Protest or not, it was a bold move from the youngster.

Not the knees again: Everyone freezes when Nadal enters the court with tape on his body, and today was no different. Nadal had some heavy strapping around his right knee but didn't seem too bothered by it in his straight-set win over Alex Kuznetsov. But afterward, Nadal revealed that he sustained a freak knee injury Sunday while sitting in a chair that made him doubt whether he would be able to play at all.

I could summarize Nadal's story, but he went to such great monologuing lengths to tell it that I feel I would be shortchanging you. So here, in all its unedited glory, is Rafa's rambling story, which I found oddly entertaining, both in substance and in his retelling.

"I gonna say what happened. I had a fantastic week of practice with nothing of pain, no one bad feeling on the knee and no one place on my body. So I was really, really happy with everything. But yesterday afternoon happened the more strange thing ever happen to me. I was sitting on a chair in the hotel. I felt like a crack on the knee, but is nothing really strange. Happens lot of time with articulation, movement, articulation. Nothing strange. I stand up. I felt the knee a little bit strange. I moved the leg like this two times to try to find the feeling. After the second time, the knee stays with an unbelievable pain completely straight. I really couldn't move the knee like this (indicating just a little bit). I have no movement on the knee.

"I have a hard afternoon. I did all the tests. Came here for ultrasound. Went to hospital for MRI. I just can say thank you very much to the tournament for all the facilities give to me on a Sunday. Not easy to find places, and they make fantastic work for me. So I just can say thanks to them.

"And, seriously, yesterday during the evening I wasn't a hundred percent sure I would have chance to play, because with the movement of that knee I felt that I will not be able to play. I did a lot of treatment. The MRI was positive. Nothing wrong shows the MRI. So that's always a lot of calm. But still the knee, you know, with the pain.

"Finally what happened is with the movement, articulation, probably pinch maybe the tendon little bit or something that put the tendon completely straight. That's why yesterday we did a lot of work during the evening. At the end of the night with a lot of pain, but I finally really had the full movement of the knee. I wake up today morning with a little bit better feeling. I did all the treatment. I was all the day doing the treatment."

"I started the match with a little bit of scare at the beginning, and nervous because I was really disappointed yesterday. But, you know, after the first 10 games that was scare, I started to play with normal conditions. The best thing is I felt the knee very well. So is something that I really don't understand why happened everything, but I am really happy that today I was ready to play and I played a fantastic match."

So long story short, Rafa's knee hurt a lot but he's fine now.

Photo of the day

Rafael Nadal prepares to serve in his first-round match. (Zumapress)

Go figure

60... Career wins (to eight losses) at the Australian Open for Federer, joining Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras with 60 or more wins at two or more Grand Slam events.

83... Unforced errors hit by Verdasco. In fact, he hit more errors than Mattek-Sands hit winners. That doesn't sound odd until you consider that Mattek-Sands hit 81 winners.

3... Retirements on Day 1, the most unfortunate being Jarkko Nieminen, who won the rain-delayed Sydney International on Sunday and couldn't persuade tournament organizers to give him a day of rest.

6... Seeds to lose on Day 1: Verdasco (No. 22), Ivan Ljubicic (28) and Jurgen Melzer (31) on the men's side; Flavia Pennetta (19), Lucie Safarova (24) and Yanina Wickmayer (28) on the women's side.

Video of the day

Bernard Tomic survived Fernando Verdasco in a five-set thriller.

*****

Bits and bobbles

• No other Grand Slam tournament has the patriotic partisanship of the Australian Open, from the flags, to the face paint, to the drums (yes, there were drums). It's jarring at first and it's obviously caused problems in the past, most notably the dust-up between Serbs and Bosnians in 2009. But when you're walking the grounds, hear a huge roar and turn around to see Chinese-Taipei fans waving flags and chanting Rendy Lu's name as he walks onto tiny Court 13 for his evening match, you learn to love it.

• Lots of players struggled with the heat, unprepared for the drastic rise in temperature after experiencing unseasonably cool weather here in the days leading up to the start of the tournament. Tomic said he actually requested the day match because he thought it would be cool. "Silly me," he rued.

• Loving Victoria Azarenka's sartorial decision to wear shorts with her kit instead of her typical Nike baby doll dresses. The jock look works for her.

• Whoever designed Verdasco's kit at Adidas should be fired. He looks like he works the counter at McDonald's and a drunk highlighter threw up on him. What an eyesore.

• Casey Dellacqua was here as a commentator last year while she was still recovering from injury, and she spent her rehab time going to beauty school. On Monday, she pulled of a solid upset over the geographically challenged Bojana Jovanovski. As they say Down Under, "good on ya."

They said it

"I do not talk anymore. During the two weeks, you can try very hard to ask me a lot of things. Yesterday, you know, I started, and I say I don't want to talk anymore about this. Finally I talked too much -- as usual. That's not going happen again. I advise all of you. You can try hard, but I'm going to talk about tennis."-- Nadal, playfully telling the press that he's learned his lesson after his comments about Roger Federer ignited a firestorm.

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