Tennis Goliaths Blink at Australian Open

Now that it's over, they are merely a footnote, but for a moment, they were championship-bound:

Alexander Waske of Germany and Jurgen Melzer of Austria were unknowns, a pickup doubles team given little chance to succeed in the 2005 Australian Open.

But for seven shining days here in Australia, they defied the laws of gravity in international tennis, upsetting the world's top doubles team in the first round and winning three more matches in short order.

Then they were gone.

Their story begins 10 days before the start of the tournament, when neither Waske nor Melzer had a partner.

On Jan. 7, Melzer called Waske to see if he would enter the competition as Melzer's partner, replacing his regular teammate, Alexander Peya, who was injured.

Waske, who won All-American tennis honors playing at San Diego State University (1997-00), quickly agreed. Once ranked 100th in the world in singles, Waske's ranking had plummeted after an injury and surgery, from which he attempted to return too quickly to the tour.

More recently, Waske's doubles career had gained some luster when he was chosen to play on the German Davis Cup team. Melzer ranked in the top 40 as a singles player.

Still, this Austro-German partnership seemed to have few chances against the world's best doubles specialists.

What happened next lowered hopes still further.

For their first-round opponents, Waske and Melzer drew Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Daniel Nestor of Canada, the world's No. 1 ranked team and the top seeds for the 2005 Australian Open. The fate of the pickup team seemed settled.

What happened next defied all expectations.

Waske and Melzer won. In straight sets. The Goliaths blinked.The score, 6-3, 7-6 (5), suggested that improbable things had happened. In fact, while the score showed a clear victory, it was nip and tuck all the way. But it happened.

Surprisingly, almost no one noticed. Most of the world's top tennis writers, gathered here to cover one of the world's four premier tournaments, didn't bother to attend the match, focused instead on the men's and women's singles competition.

Tom Tebbutt of the Globe and Mail of Toronto covered the match's waning moments and managed to provide an account for his readers in a delayed dispatch.

Two days later, the improbable pair won again, grinding down Mariano Hood and Martin Garcia of Argentina, 6-1, 7-5.

Since Argentines are clay court specialists, no one expected them to win. But two days later, Melzer and Waske scored another triumph, over Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei and Takao Suzuki of Japan, 7-5, 7-6 (3). The conventional wisdom was that the Asians were simply no match for their European conquerors.

Still, explanations were sought.

"It helps to communicate with someone in your native language," Melzer said, pointing to their common tongue, German. Both men agreed that in doubles, communication is vital between partners.

"The Germans and Austrians share the same culture," Waske explained.

"You mean forehands and backhands?" he was asked. Waske smiled.

What that didn't explain was the ability of the new team to march forward without the loss of a set. In their drive, Waske's serve was particularly potent.

Then, in the quarterfinals, they scored again, defeating Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and the veteran Andrei Pavel of Romania. The score was close, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8), but when it was over, the miracle team stood on the threshold of the men's finals.

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