The tennis world held its breath when Serena Williams fell in a heap after going over on her ankle and cried out in pain but, in truth, this was a day for a reality check.
"We get carried away with what we think is important," said Paul Annacone who coaches Roger Federer. He was referring to the news which had stunned members of the tennis family at Melbourne Park concerning Brad Drewett, the popular CEO of the ATP tour.
Afflicted for over a year with a slurring of his speech, Drewett announced that he had been diagnosed with the, as yet, incurable Lou Gehrig’s Disease and would only continue in his role on an interim basis until a successor was found.
"He told me the news yesterday," said Federer after he had defeated Benoit Paire of France 6-2, 6-4, 6-1. "Obviously it is very emotional. I have known Brad since I came on tour and I have worked with him very closely, especially over the past two years. He has done tremendous job leading the ATP over the past 12 months, overseeing some major initiatives and a record-breaking year in 2012."
Andy Murray, who looked very powerful as he overwhelmed Robin Haase of Holland 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, found himself having to discuss a friend’s illness for the second time in a week, following the announcement that his best friend, the doubles player Ross Hutchins, was suffering from cancer. "It’s obviously very shocking news. Very sad. We had many meetings with [Drewett] negotiating with the Grand Slams and I’ve chatted to him a lot privately. He’s definitely had a big impact on the tour."
Drewett, a former Australian player, has been credited, particularly, with having organized meetings between the top four players and the Grand Slam chairman to discuss an increase in prize money – especially for the early round losers. Faced with such a coordinated appeal, all four major championships, including Wimbledon and the US Open responded with various increases and more are in the pipeline.
In contrast, on court, it was a day of sunshine and bearable temperatures with many of the next generation offering signs of true potential.
But, of course, the first concern was for the state of Serena’s injury. The good news was that she was able to finish off her match against Romania’s Edina Gallovits-Hall 6-0, 6-0 but by the time she faced the media, the extent of the injury was still unknown. "Haven’t had time to assess it yet," she said. "But I’ll be out there for my next match unless something fatal happens to me. I’m alive. My heart’s beating. I’ll be fine."
Behind the bravado, however, remains the fact that Serena had injured her ankle in Brisbane 12 months before and admitted the injury was similar. "Yeah, it reminded me a lot of Brisbane," she said. "Obviously there’s pain. Obviously, there’s swelling. So the next few hours are going to be really important."
Asked if she would be prepared to play through the pain, she replied, "Honestly, yeah, because I would rather not know. One year I won this tournament and had two bone bruises on both knees. I had no idea. I just knew I was in pain. I think sometimes what you don’t know cannot hurt you. But I’m not here to make excuses. I’m here to play."
Meanwhile Serena’s young friend Sloane Stephens was out on the Margaret Court Arena, needing no more than 47 minutes to take care of another Romanian, Simona Halep 6-1, 6-1.
Other young Americans are finding it more difficult to step up at the Grand Slam level. Christina McHale went down 6-1, 6-7(0), 6-2 to Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan while Lauren Davis also discovered winning a tiebreak was not enough as she succumbed to the Russian, Daria Gavrilova, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-4.
Melanie Oudin found herself overpowered by 18-year-old British left-hander Laura Robson, who hit 20 winners in the first set on her way to a 6-2, 6-3 victory. Unsatisfied with some aspect of her performance, Robson immediately took herself off to the practice court for more work.
"Just a few things needed taking care of," she said. "But I definitely feel stronger after that training block in Florida." Robson spent a month working at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Fla.
Rhyne Williams, who earned a place in the draw after winning a wild-card tournament held in the US in December, suffered a heart-breaking loss against 25th-seeded Florian Mayer out on Court 20.
Rhyne Williams, who dominated the first two sets, eventually went down 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(14), 6-1. The fourth set was obviously crucial. Williams had three break point opportunities in the ninth and 11th games to leave himself serving for the match but he failed to get his service return over the net on two of them and missed a lunging forehand by an inch on the third.
He got even closer in a protracted tiebreak, reaching match point twice before losing it 14-12. Williams had done well to keep his concentration toward the end of the third set when the match was interrupted because a young ball boy was sick on court. Hygene demanded a complete clean up but once the match resumed, Williams continued to attack the steady German who hits strangely deceptive backhands.
In the end the more experienced pro took control but Christopher Williams, Rhyne’s cousin and coach, quickly took a positive line when he tweeted, "Rhyne has gained so much today. He belongs here."
For much of the match that was true but for young Americans like Rhyne Williams, Davis, McHale and Steve Johnson, who also lost a five setter against No. 10 seed Nicolas Almagro on Monday, some patience is required as they go through the sometimes painful rituals of adapting to Grand Slam tennis.
Late in the day, Alabama’s Jamie Hampton became the first American player to upset a seed when she defeated Urszula Radwanska 6-4, 6-4 after missing five match point opportunities on the Polish player’s serve at 5-4. Radwanska, seeded 31, is the younger sister of Agnieszka Radwanska, the world No. 4.
But the most startling upset of the day belonged to a tall 16-year-old from Croatia called Donna Vekic who lives in England and is being coached by the former British Davis Cup captain David Felgate. Vekic, who plays an aggressive game with no apparent weaknesses, defeated the experienced Czech, Andrea Hlavackova, who is ten years her senior, 6-1, 6-2.