Rafael Nadal seemed totally unconcerned over his strapped knee as he took out German veteran Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the second round of the Australian Open, but Mardy Fish seemed to be bothered by everything.
The American No. 1 slumped to a 7-6, 6-3, 7-6 defeat at the hands of the Colombian Alejandro Falla out on Court 3 on Wednesday, and then suggested his opponent had used frequent treatment for cramping as a ploy.
Having admitted that he didn’t play well and made too many errors, Fish said, "The third set (which Fish served for at 5-4) was obviously pretty important, knowing he was struggling, I guess," he said. "Maybe not. Maybe that was a ploy. Didn’t seem like he was having too much trouble during the point. So it was a good tactic on his part."
Players are allowed to receive treatment for cramping during changeovers twice during a match — a point of controversy among many players — provided it is for the same limb. Falla had the trainer on more than twice, switching the massage from one leg to the other. And Fish was right in saying that the Colombian did not seem inconvenienced during the points.
Some of his retrieving was sensational. No matter how hard or accurately Fish hit the ball to the far corners of the court, Falla was on the end of them. Mostly, it was the American who erred at the end of those long rallies.
Asked about his level of frustration, which was plain to see, Fish replied, "You’re down two sets. He’s a good player. He was up two sets to love against Roger Federer at Wimbledon. The guy can play. And I was under the impression you can’t get treatment for cramps. But I guess you can. I didn’t know that.
"But as someone who, in the later stages of their career, prides themselves for fitness, I don’t enjoy that at all. I have a hard time calling for the trainer, period, for anything. You should have seen the amount of water I drank in the last three days to make sure something like that didn’t happen."
It is easy to understand Fish’s frustration, but the fact remains he did not play well in the first two sets. He tried to enforce his serve and volley game on a man he had thrashed in straight sets when they last met at Delray Beach 11 months ago, but too many volleys flew out of court. And there were mistakes off the ground, too, as the left-hander curved balls back at him from awkward angles.
Fish seems somewhat harassed at the moment. He appears to be feeling the pressure of being the American No. 1 with the need to maintain the unexpected top-10 position he achieved last year.
"Just seems that it kind of never ends. It was only six weeks or so ago that I was in London. So there’s no sort of mental break," he said. "I want to try and improve and get higher ranked, but it’s mentally very fatiguing to make all the right decisions around the game like I do now, so that’s hard."
Ideally, Fish needs to benefit from the 10 days off he will get as a result of losing here in the second round for the second year running. A beach, perhaps, before getting ready for Davis Cup.
Nadal was well pleased with his performance against Haas, a former world No. 2 who has suffered badly from injuries over the past few years and who, at the age of 33, may be contemplating retirement. The way Haas waved to the Rod Laver crowd on his way out suggested as much.
"I don’t know if it’s the perfect match," Nadal said, "but I started match playing fantastic and now I have won two matches already in straight sets with positive feeling. I am well. You never know. We are in the first week and every match will be difficult."
And the knee? "Very good," he smiled.
Roger Federer received a walkover from Andreas Beck just as he was about to play his first match on the No. 2 stadium here, now called the Hisense Arena, after no less than 52 consecutive matches on Rod Laver.
"I was excited," he said. "I wasn’t disappointed to hear I was going to play over there, to be quite honest. I was surprised when I saw Andreas in the locker room and he said he had a lot of painkillers and pain with his back during the last match. He didn’t want to risk it."
Two powerful outsiders, Thomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro, blazed their way into the third round on a pleasant day of cooler temperatures after the brief heat wave. Berdych, the No. 7 seed, demolished the diminutive Belgian Olivier Rochus, 6-1, 6-0, 7-6 while del Potro, seeded 11th, overcame Slovenia’s Blaz Kavcic 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
In women’s play, 19-year-old Christina McHale from Englewood Cliffs, NJ, who lost in the first round here last year, followed up her fine victory over Lucie Safarova by beating New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic 3-6, 7-6, 6-3. McHale finished the year ranked No. 42 and will be heading higher.
World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki came through against Anna Tatisvili 6-1, 7-6, which would appear simple enough, but in fact the Georgian Tatisvili, who turns 22 next month, gave a fine demonstration of aggressive tennis in the second set and pushed the Dane all way with blockbuster returns and even the occasional drive volley. Tatisvilli came to the States when she was 13 and has been training at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., ever since. On this evidence, she should be poised for a breakthrough with a game that is going to worry players ranked a little lower than Wozniacki.