Commentary

Federer downplays rift with Rafa

Updated: January 16, 2012, 11:50 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Rarely have Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal featured on opening day at a Grand Slam, but that was the case Monday at the Australian Open.

What a treat for tennis fans.

Both players won in straight sets, but it was Nadal's critical comments of Federer uttered a day earlier that had everyone buzzing. Bernard Tomic then thrilled the locals with a comeback victory against Fernando Verdasco.

Here's what we made of a memorable Day 1 Down Under.

Roger takes the high road

Nadal and Federer, despite their healthy respect for one another, have butted heads on several issues for a while.

Nadal thinks there aren't enough breaks in the schedule for players during the season; Federer takes his own mini-breaks during the campaign and thus has never agreed with the Spaniard's observation.

Although Nadal, reportedly, backed former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek to become the next head of the men's tour, Federer, according to reports, didn't.

Nadal was obviously simmering.

But for Nadal to air his grievances against Federer in public was wrong, as he duly noted. Interestingly, though, he didn't take back what he said, that Federer essentially didn't want to look like the bad guy as the players sought changes to the game.

"You know, what I said," Nadal said in a news conference. "I feel sorry for say[ing] that, especially to you. Because when I say that, I have to say him personally. But that's it."

Later, Federer classily took the high road.

"I have no hard feelings towards him," he said. "It's been a difficult last few months in terms of politics within the ATP, I guess, trying to find a new CEO and chairman. That can get frustrating sometimes.

"He's mentioned many times how he gets a bit tired and frustrated through the whole process, and I shared that with him. It's normal. But for me, obviously, nothing changes in terms of our relationship. I'm completely cool and relaxed about it. He seemed the same way, or at least I hope so."

Nonetheless, if they were to meet in the semis, it'd be highly charged.

For the time being, though, Nadal has to worry about his knees. Again.

Tomic is good for the game

Let's enjoy Tomic before he changes. Changes off the court, that is. His wonderful, unorthodox game won't deviate much as the years unfold.

[+] EnlargeTomic
AP Photo/Andrew BrownbillBernard Tomic took another step in what could be a fabulous career.

Tomic was the toast of Australia after rallying from two sets down to beat Verdasco. Before the affair, Tomic gave the gifted, but mentally suspect, Verdasco plenty of ammunition by saying the 22nd seed wasn't playing that well. Oh, yeah, it was true, but you're not supposed to say it, Bernie.

Then, afterward, Tomic admitted that he resorted to some rope-a-dope tactics in the third set, when he looked completely empty.

"I eased off as well, I think, on purpose," the 19-year-old said. "I eased off and seemed I didn't care, and I think that's what drawed him a little bit tonight. He thought he was going to win the third set and when the right time came, I broke him."

"So you set him up a little bit?" a journalist asked.

With a chance to deny it, Tomic did quite the opposite.

"In that third set, yeah," he added. "I knew if I lifted my game early, he would have lifted as well and he wouldn't have let go. I pretended a little bit in the first few games in that third set to not be there mentally, but in a way to still be there."

American Sam Querrey gets all of Tomic's trickery in the second round.

Still early to judge Woz

Anastasia Rodionova can hardly be classified as a dangerous opponent, but Caroline Wozniacki didn't mess around to end the day's play Monday, dispatching the transplanted Aussie with ease, 6-2, 6-1.

Nursing a wrist injury, the Dane wanted to get off the court quickly, and it was mission accomplished.

We won't be able to judge how much of a hindrance the injury is until Wozniacki, who's set to lose the No. 1 ranking, faces stiffer opposition. She wore a red wristband that would have concealed any tape job.

"It feels better," Wozniacki said. "I was a bit nervous before the match. I didn't know exactly what to expect. I'm very happy about the way I felt out there today."

Wozniacki should breeze in the second round, too.

Vika means business

Winning a tournament heading into a Grand Slam doesn't always translate into success at the big one. How many times have we seen a player flop, unable to come down from the high and focus?

That was scarcely an issue for Sydney champion Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka didn't get a pushover for a first-round foe, but she made Britain's Heather Watson look like the inexperienced teen she is, winning 6-0, 6-1. Watson, you may recall, gave Maria Sharapova quite the scare at last year's U.S. Open.

After saving a break point in her opening service game, Azarenka was ruthless and relentless. More and more, it appears she'll finally win a major -- if not in Melbourne, at another time in 2012.

"I didn't get my coffee in the morning today, so I was really pissed off," Azarenka said in a news conference.

Watson bore the brunt of Azarenka's fury.

DelPo needs work

Many expect great things from Juan Martin del Potro in 2012. With his 2011 comeback in the books, the thinking is that he'll progress further and challenge for Grand Slams again.

Will that indeed be the case?

Del Potro didn't end last season on a high, and you wonder how much work he really does on his fitness. Facing the elite deep in Slams is where the benefits of training will truly pay off.

Del Potro labored against Adrian Mannarino in a four-set win at Hisense Arena. Granted, Mannarino is no slouch. The talented French lefty takes the ball early, and when he's on, he can be hard to stop. How many guys can bagel David Ferrer on clay?

There's no denying that del Potro wants it. His roars of exaltation suggest as much.

The question is whether he's willing to put in the hard graft like Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.