Australian Open - Tramlines: Rafa slammed

Wed, 26 Jan 10:56:00 2011

So, there it is - the Rafa-Slam is over. As the Australia Day fireworks exploded over Melbourne, so too the world number one's hopes of emulating Rod Laver and Don Budge went up in smoke.

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Not that he relinquished his dream without a fight. Oh no. That's not how Rafa rolls. Despite the unfortunate hamstring injury he sustained early in the first set against David Ferrer, Rafa's warrior spirit still shone through.

He was in obvious pain and far from the player who got himself into a position to become just the third man in history to†hold all four Grand Slams at once, yet he simply refused to give up.

Like a wounded lion, he refused to lie down and insisted on continuing until the bitter end. And like watching a wounded lion in a nature documentary on the television, it was oddly upsetting for the neutral to watch.

The mighty-beast-being-tamed theme reminded Tramlines a bit of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (or The Lion, the Witch and the Robe, as it's probably called here in Australia - the Aussies love their lazy abbreviations). How poor little Trammers cried.

And it was with a similar sadness (minus the tears - just) to see Nadal to go down like this. He certainly didn't deserve such an unfortunate fate. Beaten by Roger Federer in a five-set epic, yes. But not like this. Not with a pained and knowing expression on his face for much of the match. Not deprived of his main weapons.

Yet for all the wretchedness engulfing Rafa's camp after the defeat, his misfortune can only have been welcomed by the likes of Roger, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

Their own paths to Australian glory have now been made that much clearer, Murray's in particular. The Scot will now meet Ferrer in Friday's second semi-final and with Nadal out of the way, the world number five will fancy his chances of reaching a second consecutive final in Melbourne.

Ferrer too will have high hopes of his own of reaching†a first Grand Slam final. It should not be forgotten, for all Nadal's misfortune, a lesser player would not have been able to capitalise.

Ferrer did exactly the right thing following the injury. He had Rafa running all over the court, he played to his weaknesses and, most importantly, he took full, devastating advantage.

So, credit to Ferrer, but Trammers cannot help feeling a little empty by the manner of Nadal's exit.

As one star departs, another has been born this year at Melbourne Park in the form of Alexandr Dolgopolov (not so Jnr).

The long-haired, one-time computer programmer who also happens to be quite good at tennis may have been bounced out of the tournament by Andy Murray, but the Ukrainian has shown enough over the past week and a half for us to know that we will be seeing a lot more of him in the future.

Not only has his play on the court impressed the assembled media and fans alike, but his demeanour off it has been equally noteworthy.

The girls may well have been accused of being boring, but the same claim cannot be levelled at Dolgo, who has kept up interest levels with his demeanour in front of the microphone and his forthright answers in media grillings.

Take, for example, the press conference following his defeat to Murray. When questioned†on the absence of his coach from the box at one stage of the match on Rod Laver, he said: "He went to the toilet. They were giving him a hard time getting back because they were saying, 'you don't have a box pass'. He's like: 'look, it's coach Dolgopolov'. He wasn't there for a few games."

Not that his absence bothered the Ukrainian. He stretched Murray as no one else has done this tournament and did much to rattle the world number five, who is actually only a year his senior, in the third set.

He might be a little too old to have 'come from nowhere', but Dolgo has certainly surprised many, not least Murray, who is backing him for a bright future.

Murray said: "He's just unorthodox, very different to how most guys play.

"But he's also a very, very good player, definitely not someone to be underestimated. I'm sure he'll give a lot of players problems in the future."

Murray summed up his fallen opponent, in a nutshell: "So, you know, he was very good."

There is a journalist at this year's Open who insists on asking each player who comes into the press conference room what they do with their hard-earned millions.

It might not be any of their business, but many players have been happy to open up on the normally prickly issue.

Roger Federer puts it in his Swiss bank account, Murray invests in property (only not in Scotland). Caroline Wozniacki has bought a car (but not one of her sponsors Audi ) while Vera Zvonareva does a lot of good work for charity.

Interesting? Maybe not, but Tramlines is predicting an article about players' earnings and their investments in some financial magazine or other in the very near future. You heard it here first.

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Day 10 was one of distractions off the court, with Australia Day festivities taking centre stage across the country.

As Trammers made his way down the, er, tramlines to Melbourne Park this morning, preparations were well under way for what turned out to be a right old knees up.

But not everyone was enjoying the celebrations.

Agnieszka Radwanska said of the repeated fly-bys of an aeroplane formation similar to the Red Arrows called the Roulettes that interrupted her match with Kim Clijsters: "I didn't really expect that. But it was pretty loud and not pretty fun."

And Vera Zvonareva not only had to deal with a 21-gun salute which rocked Rod Laver Arena, she also had her match with Petra Kvitova suspended for a moment when a lady fainted in the stands.

"It was a difficult moment," said Zvonareva, who beat Kvitova to set up a date with Kim in the semis. "It's difficult to play when someone is feeling bad. You're here to play tennis."

Zvonareva at least has a novel way of dealing with distractions at each change of ends - covering her head in a towel and blocking out everything but her focus on the game.

"It relaxes my eyes," she explained. "It helps me keep focus on the tennis ball. The ball is travelling very fast and it helps me keep concentration."

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You're looking good both on and off court today." Todd Woodbridge makes amends for his gaffe earlier in the tournament when he finally comes face to face with Kim Clijsters in a post-match courtside interview.

TWEET OF THE DAY: "Happy Australia day to all my Aussie tweethearts!" Kim knows how to get on the right side of her hosts.

PLAYERS OUT ON THE TOWN: Andy Murray was at Billy Connolly's gig last night, reciprocating the support the ageing comedian gave him on Rod Laver for his last 16 clash with Jurgen Melzer.

So did Billy, as so many stand-ups do, pick out his famous audience member and target him for a bit of stick?

"No," said Murray. "I wouldn't have minded. I don't mind people making jokes about me. It's not a problem."

RALLY OF THE DAY: An incredible 35-shot effort during Murray's match with Dolgopolov - even the crowd couldn't bear to watch at one stage.

Tramlines / Eurosport

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