Tennis missed its lost injured boys. I missed seeing a dude look like he a sipped through a six-pack, dozed off on the couch, toppled out of it, peed golden-brown, shuffled off to his match and immediately began lashing 100 mph backhand winners. There are a lot of professional tennis players, but there is only one Stan Wawrinka:
Nobody else can punish a tennis ball quite like Stan. For the latter half of last season a viewer might have had to settle for Dominic Thiem, who plays a little like a lobotomized Stan Wawrinka, with instincts to hit just as hard but not close to the lines; he hardly does justice to the real thing. Yesterday, in his first-round Australian Open match, Wawrinka tested out a left knee that had cut short his 2017 season after Wimbledon. He survived that first test, an opponent far pluckier than expected: world No. 136 Ricardas Berankis, who in 21 tries against top-twenty players has only beaten Milos Raonic and late-career Tommy Haas, but today played probably one of the better matches of his career. Berankis strung together a few sets of go-for-broke aggression, as one absolutely should when overmatched this badly in the average baseline exchange. Berankis hit 59 winners to Stan’s 36, and was particularly intrepid in his forays to the net, where he won 33 of 49 points (for reference, Stan found himself at net only 11 times and won four). Though easily obscured in in the 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 score, Berankis won four more points that his superior opponent, 127 to 123. He was good. Stan was a little better, and also looked perfectly mobile.
Also looking pretty good in the first-round, and recovering from a season-ending injury of his own, is Novak Djokovic, who entered the Open as the 14 seed, which leaps off the page like a surreal typo. A disconcertingly flesh-toned compression sleeve now hugs the right elbow that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon in the middle of his quarterfinal and take six months off. He’s now trying out an abbreviated service motion, to protect that elbow from excess stress—
—but otherwise looked familiar and unfazed in his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 dismissal of American what-if story Donald Young. There was not quite enough resistance in this match to see the limits of Novak’s current game, but he appeared healthy, and coach Andre Agassi noted that Novak has added on weight in his time off.
Novak’s second round gets much dicier: Today he has Gael Monfils. He can take comfort in the fact that he’s beaten Gael all 14 times they’ve met, and of course, that he has won this particular tournament six times. There is probably no more comfortable place for Novak to get his groove back than the courts of Melbourne.