Commentary

The return of marathon man Isner

Updated: January 18, 2012, 9:13 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was shaping up to be a bad day for the U.S. men at the Australian Open. Mardy Fish, the U.S. No. 1, lost against Alejandro Falla, and Donald Young suffered an upset loss, too.

But John Isner raised spirits with a gripping, controversial win -- in five sets, of course -- over David Nalbandian. Rafael Nadal cruised, and Roger Federer didn't have to break a sweat.

Here are five takeaways from Day 3 in Melbourne.

Izzy goes into OT -- again

It may not have equaled his record-setting Wimbledon match of 2010, but John Isner gave it a whirl anyway -- and this time it came with a dose of dissention.

An umpire's ruling helped the American prevail 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 10-8 against Nalbandian in 4 hours, 41 minutes, the second-longest match of the fortnight.

With Isner facing a break point at 8-8 in the fifth, he hit a serve down the middle. It was called wide by the linesperson but then overruled by chair umpire Kader Nouni.

Nalbandian took his time before deciding whether he wanted to challenge and Nouni ran out of patience, calling "deuce." When the Argentine then requested the challenge, Nouni wouldn't allow it. Nalbandinan's heated chat with tournament supervisor Andreas Egli on court didn't change matters, and Nalbandian was understandably livid afterward.

"What is this? This is a Grand Slam," Nalbandian said. "I don't think it was too late to [challenge]. John says, 'Yeah, ask.' I mean, it's ridiculous playing this kind of tournament with this kind of umpires. I didn't understand in that situation, 8-all, break point. I mean, can you be that stupid to do that in that moment?

"I mean, what the umpires need, press? Name? Be on the picture tomorrow? Incredible. Anyway, I didn't lose for that, but that was very bad situation. Was amazing."

Isner, who hit 43 aces, said in an on-court interview that he didn't quite know what was transpiring because his back was turned as he toweled off.

"This is such an important tournament," Isner said. "It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the season. I think after that match I lost here last season I went into a big funk after that for the next two, three months. Very happy to win. It will give me a lot of confidence going forward."

Nalbandian was right not to blame his loss entirely on the incident. Earlier in the same game, he misfired on a routine backhand on break point. Running Isner ragged from side to side, his final shot landed long.

He also blew a 30-0 advantage in the final game, although a fired-up Isner set up match point by chasing down a ball with the ailing leg and sending a forehand down the line. Nalbandian also led by a break in the second set.

"I was a little luckier than he was tonight," Isner said.

Lucky and good.

Rafa tested?

Nadal has had an eventful first few days at the Australian Open. He drew criticism for publicly slamming Roger Federer and came down with a bizarre knee injury.

[+] EnlargeNadal
Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesThe only statement Rafael Nadal made was with his racket.

What he needed, then, was a nice, fairly routine afternoon.

And that's what he got Wednesday.

Nadal, with his knee now upgraded to "very good," advanced with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win over Tommy Haas.

Since winning the 2010 U.S. Open, Nadal never has served consistently big at a Grand Slam, but he was clutch against Haas. Pegged back to 5-4 after taking a 5-1 lead in the opening set, Nadal faced a break point.

He hit consecutive aces -- his only two of the entire match -- to escape the danger, and Haas' slim chances dissipated.

"I had a very good preparation in my opinion," Nadal said in his news conference. "I practiced very well. I won already two matches in straight sets with positive feeling. I am well."

He'll likely feel well against Lukas Lacko in the third round, even though the Slovak did bagel him in Doha last year.

Meet the new guy

Brad Drewett, the new man in charge of the ATP (and reportedly not Nadal's first choice), was formally introduced to the media.

Good timing, eh?

Drewett, as expected, didn't go near any of the issues said to be bothering the men's players -- prize money distribution at Grand Slams, which in turn led to talk of a strike -- simply acknowledging that there was "some frustration on certain points within the game."

"These guys, because they're engaged and they care, their level of understanding about the detail of any issue, whether it be the Grand Slams, scheduling, calendar, prize money, is like it's never been before," said Drewett, a former pro who had lengthy ties to the ATP before becoming executive chairman and president. "I see that as a positive. It's great to be able to sit down with players who really get it."

He also wouldn't reveal what, if anything, he'd like to fix. There was no talk of tweaking the calendar, for instance, but he was quick to point out that over the next three years, prize money would increase by a total of 20 percent.

When hasn't prize money increased recently?

He replaces the hard-working, meticulous, media-shy Adam Helfant, who in turn took over from showman Etienne de Villiers.

Drewett appears to lie somewhere in the middle.

Obliging Fed

Federer flew to Australia under a cloud of injury after he pulled out of his semifinal in Doha with a bad back. But on the eve of the Australian Open, he said the back was much better and not an issue.

And Federer caught a break Wednesday, when his second-round opponent, Andreas Beck, was forced to withdraw with -- you guessed it -- a back injury (it's a longstanding issue for the German).

A good omen?

Federer still fulfilled his media duties, though.

He weighed in on a scheduling issue -- the men playing first at night on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I don't think it's good that they always had the women's match first," Federer said. "I think it's good to mix it up. If it happens that three women's matches are first again in the night, it's no problem. I just think that [it's] important that the tournament has flexibility."

The streak will be broken Thursday, as Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt are up second.

No Schiavone epic this year

Francesca Schiavone made history at the Australian Open last year, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova in 4 hours, 44 minutes, the longest women's singles match in Grand Slam history.

No such joy this edition.

Schiavone went out with a whimper to fellow Italian Romina Oprandi, 6-4, 6-3, committing 35 unforced errors.

Schiavone told veteran Italian tennis journalist Ubaldo Scanagatta that it was the worst Slam match of her career.

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.