By Dave Gertler
(January 5, 2013) SYDNEY – 25-year-old Argentine grand slam winner Juan Martin Del Potro was a picture of calm on Sunday when he made his first media appearance at the Apia International, Sydney. The world No. 5 said that in the off-season he’s been, “Training hard for this new season. Practicing every day, also the weekends, and I think I did a very good preparation for the tournament,” and that his goals for 2014 are, “to get closer the fourth and third position,” in the ATP
Making his third appearance at the Apia International, Del Potro thinks, “It’s a good chance to see how I’m feeling before the grand slam,” also admitting that, “I always feel really good in this city. The fans are so good
with all the players, so I’m really glad to be here.”
When asked about young Aussie defending champion Bernard Tomic, Del Potro said, “He’s a really nice player, and the fans here like him a lot…He’s very smart to play and we respect him a lot on court, and he’s going to be a really dangerous player for us in this season and in the future too.”
On the first day of main draw action, the gates of Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre welcomed thousands of tennis enthusiasts eager to catch a glimpse of some of the events big names.
Simona Halep opened proceedings on Ken Rosewall Arena, and despite having a higher WTA rank than her opponent, proved outgunned by Madison Keys, who took Halep out in straight sets 6-1, 6-4.
Over on Grandstand Court at the time, Keys’ American compatriot Bethanie Mattek-Sands was being challenged early by Julia Goerges before Goerges retired due to an ankle sprain, making Mattek-Sands the first qualifier to win through to the main draw.
Goerges has since been announced by tournament officials as the lucky-loser entrant into the main draw, but this event nonetheless marked the start of another day of great results for Americans in qualifying. Ryan Harrison won his second round match, but will need to get past a confident Alex Bogomolov Jr before making it into the main draw.
Impressively, Lauren Davis, Christina McHale and Victoria Duval all winning their matches means that four of the six qualifying spots in the main draw have been claimed by American women.
Not as successful in her final round of qualifying was Shahar Peer of Israel, whose consistently aggressive style of play saw her through two previous rounds of qualification, but was eventually broken down by a resilient 18-year-old Tsvetana Pironkova from Bulgaria, after the sun took its toll on both players in a three-set match that lasted 2 hours, 20 minutes.
Back on Ken Rosewall Arena, Daniela Hantuchova, the 30-year-old former world No.5, was having big problems with the big serving of a Croatian opponent ten years her junior, Ajla Tomljanovic. Tomljanovic served seven aces, including one on match point, on her way to a surprising 6-4, 7-5 win, and will now face Madison Keys, the other surprise winner – and similarly big hitter – in the second round.
Monday’s action on Ken Rosewall Arena will begin at 12:00 with American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands taking on rising Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard, who rose from 144 to 32 in the WTA rankings in 2013. Mattek-Sands, at 28, will draw on the experience of her years on the tour, as well as matchplay practice during qualifying that Bouchard will lack, to decide who plays defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.
Things will only get better from there on KRA with local favorite, Australian Jarmila Gajdosova – on the comeback trail from mononucleosis – taking on Lauren Davis. Other stars featured on Monday’s schedule include Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Sorana Cirstea, Victoria Duval, Ryan Harrison, Julien Benneteau and Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .