WIMBLEDON, England - The Australian grass-court dynasty was broken up years ago. But despite all the changes in Australia and its tennis players, there is still something in the collective consciousness that associates the land Down Under with the lawns of Wimbledon.
Thus, it was a jolt to realize after losses Tuesday by Lleyton Hewitt, Bernard Tomic and Matthew Ebden that for the first time since 1938 there will be no Australian man in the second round of the world’s greatest grass-court tournament.
“Word has spread fast,” said Wally Masur, the former Australian player who is working Wimbledon for Australian TV. “We’ve gone a long way from grass courts and a long way from that style of play.”
Australians such as Masur, 49, grew up playing on grass at home in the 1970s. Today’s Australian juniors hardly play on the surface at all, and the Australian Open shifted from grass to hard courts in 1988.
“When I was playing you could close your eyes and conjure up an Australian in terms of their characteristics and their game style, and it was very suited to grass,” Masur said. “I don’t think you can close your eyes and conjure up an Australian anymore. … Now you close your eyes, and you conjure up a Spaniard.”
In truth, virtually no one plays grass-court tennis at Wimbledon in the manner that once suited Aussie champions such as Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, Pat Cash and Patrick Rafter.
In other first-round matches, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal dropped the first four games against Thomaz Belluci on Centre Court before winning, 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-3, and No. 10 seed Mardy Fish defeated Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo in three sets, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (1).
It was the first tour-level match since April for Fish, an American who has been treated for an accelerated heartbeat and underwent a surgical, outpatient procedure in May in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, he declined to appear at a post-match news conference, saying he felt “unwell.” In an email, Fish later explained that the issue was “not heart related.”
Serena Williams is also into the second round, which seems more newsworthy than usual after what happened last month at the French Open, where she suffered the only first-round defeat of her Grand Slam career. She defeated Czech Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, 6-2, 6-4.
It was no surprise that Hewitt, the last Aussie champion at Wimbledon (2002), lost, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, to No. 5 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It was no surprise that Ebden lost, 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-3, to France’s Benoit Paire. But it was a surprise that Tomic lost a lead and his temper in a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 loss to 21-year-old Belgian David Goffin.
Off the court, a proposal to shift Wimbledon a week later, starting as soon as 2014 – so it would begin three weeks after the French Open instead of two – received a favorable response from Hewitt and 2011 champion Novak Djokovic.