It’s been a nightmarish (and typically British) grass-court fortnight of rain, and the Aegon Open Nottingham’s ATP event fell victim to the downpours yesterday. First round play was forced to draw to a close a day late, with the last two matches finishing up on Tuesday.
James Ward – playing on Centre Court against American Tim Smyczek – looked ready to serve the home crowd a slice of victory yesterday. Up 6-1 and 4-5 on the man from the US, he survived three set points at 5-6 after the resumption, sending the match into a tiebreak. However he narrowly missed out on that mini-triumph, and consequently spiralled downhill in the way that James often does: Of his own accord, with no route back. The crowd rode the crest of the wave with him, but as his resistance died, so did their general voice.
Tim Smyczek – whose claim to fame is an almost-defeat of Rafael Nadal at the Aussie Open in January – took the final set by the same scoreline as James swept the first, and progressed to round two. Possibly hindered by the stress of his suspended match, and the chore of already having played this day, the world number 72 later fell in straight sets to 16th seed Jiri Vesely.
Mischa Zverev – Marin Cilic’s Stuttgart victor of two weeks ago – was also in line to complete his opener, and fell at the same hurdle as the British number four. Having dropped the first set 7-6, the qualifier was going toe to toe with big-serving Australian Sam Groth, displaying fantastic composure and coming within two points of the second set at 15-30. But as the duo took turns executing passing shot and volley winners, the Australian took them to a tiebreak.
In the few minutes he was on court, Groth portrayed an ugly figure. Post every point – whether he won or lost it – the Australian wasted no time in criticising himself, the ball kids or the lines judges, either aloud or under his breath. The slightest on court movement threw him. However, frustration triumphed over concentration, as Groth pulled out the win 7-3 in the tiebreak. In a resumed contest constructed of deft net play and low attacks- be they winners or errors – Sam’s thwacking gamestyle trumped Mischa’s clean, quick precision. The giant from Down Under moved through with one last enormous serve, and his extremely-vocal coach was probably as relieved as his equally-vocal charge.
Mischa, kindly donating his composed self to the aid of brother Sascha (young prospect Alexander Zverev), will stay around in Nottingham for as long as his sibling remains in the competition.