The Australian Open kicked off Monday and true to its tradition surprises are frequent. Del Potro struggled in the first set before waking up and battling to a four set win over Mannarino. This match was up in the air even in the fourth set. Tomas Berdych lost the second set before pulling out a four set win over Albert Ramos. Fernando Verdasco was not so lucky. He started fast up 2 sets to love but succumbed to Bernard Tomic's variety of pace and shots in five sets.
The Aussie Open is the first slam and starts on the third week of the season. The timing of it makes it interesting. The training players have done in the offseason, as short as it is, is clearly revealed in the heat of the Australian summer. While no one has retired at the writing of this sentence you can bet the retirements are sure to come, maybe even in Day 1 (after writing this several players did retire).
Agassi used the off season to train hard and prepare for the Aussie Open. This enabled him to outlast and outperform his opponents to the count of four Australian Open championships. Rafa Nadal recently has dominated the Open, partially due to his dedication to training and being ready for the start of the season.
The court and the heat play a role in the surprises. The court is a slower hard court which levels the playing fields - not allowing the top players to dominate as much with a big serve or forehand.
Another issue, however, is that players don't have as much match play and so don't come into the Open feeling match tough. Basically, players have little recent experience being put in pressure situations and working their way out of them. Because of this you will see wild swings in momentum, and just plain performance catastrophes.
Give credit to Mardy Fish. He had a tough match against Gilles Muller. Fish's workmanlike attitude and trust in his conditioning and game allowed him to work through very few rough patches of tennis and finish off Muller in straight sets.
It is important in the heat of Melbourne to get through matches as fast as possible. Otherwise, the heat can take your legs and eventually get to you late in week 1 or in week 2. Del Potro, Tomic, and Berdych will be looking for a quicker win in the second round, but must beware of rushing things. Take care of your business on court today or there is no tomorrow!