Drama Down Under


What a day in Melbourne! Or is it night/morning here?

Unlike Roland Garros (six hours ahead) or Wimbledon (five), it’s never been easy for me to get my head around that the Australian Open, which runs about 16 hours ahead of the East Coast time zone.

Without trying to spend too much time deciphering whether it was Sunday/Monday in Melbourne or Saturday/Sunday in Mamaroneck, let’s just say the tennis was intriguing at the season’s first Grand Slam.

The drama started with Jelana Jankovic, the women’s No. 1, and the player analyst and the sport’s doyen Bud Collins refers to as “Jelly.” Well, she got Jelly Rolled by Marion Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon finalist and 16th seed, in straight sets, keeping intact a resume sans a Slam entry.

Then things got rolling. No. 3 Dinara Safina, Marat’s little sister, battled back from two breaks down in the third set to finally put French teenager, No. 15 Alize Cornet away at 7-5.

Also dripping with distaff drama: Jelena Dokic, she of the abusive tennis dad and estranged family. Trading 7-5 sets with No. 29 Russia Alisa Kleybanova, Dokic, in a match that lasted over three hours, prevailed in the third 8-6 to become the first Aussie woman to reach the quarters since 2005.

In a post-match press conference, Dokic dismissed the reconciliation rumblings that dad, who was banned for his intolerable behavior in Melbourne, would be welcome if she made it to the final weekend.

With Anna Ivanovic and Venus Williams dispatched earlier, ESPN2 and Tennis Channel have to be pulling for lil’ sis Serena, Dokic, Safina and the hot player, No. 4 Elena Dementieva, to make deep runs during the tourney’s second week.

On the men’s side all of the top seeds remained intact through Melbourne’s Monday. American and No. 7 seed Andy Roddick made it to the quarters with an easy straight-set win over 21st-seeded Tommy Robredo

While Roddick was quickly dispatching with the Spaniard, No. 2 Roger Federer was in a dog fight in Rod Laver Arena. Looking to tie Pete Sampras’ Grand Slam mark of 14 titles, Federer, who pummeled the 2005 champion Marat Safin in his Melbourne swan song during their third-round match, was trying to make it to the quarters of a major for a record 19th straight time.

But his chance to chase history, teetered on the racket of Tomas Berdych in the seventh game of the third set. Ahead two sets to love, the Czech flubbed wide-open forehand and backhand volleys, and then dumped an overhand into the net to give Federer a break. From there, Roger upped his game, with better movement and serving, while his opponent started spraying the ball around and his leg injury came into play.

Next up in the quarter: No. 8 seed, Juan Martin Del Potro, the 6-foot, 6-inch Argentine sensation.

The winner there matches against the winner of Roddick-Novak Djokovic, who triumphed over MCN editor George Vernadakis’ favorite player Marcus Baghdatis.

In the final bit of Down Under drama tomorrow/today, the Cypriot took a third-set tiebreaker to send it to a fourth against the defending champion. Alas Baghdatis ran out of gas. Nevertheless, the match concluded at 2:30 a.m. in Melbourne.

This portion of the draw should provide some fireworks, while No. 1 Rafa Nadal and No. 4 Andy Murray, who some odds-makers installed as the tourney favorite, are alive in the top half.

American James Blake, the No. 9 seed, also remains in the hunt, good news for ESPN2 as the tourney gets down to the nitty gritty. But he’ll have to overcome last year’s finalist and current No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.