Tim Smyczek jumps on opportunity

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Tim Smyczek owes his good friend John Isner dinner.

The 25-year-old Milwaukee native twice came within a match of earning a slot in the main draw in the season's first Grand Slam event -- first in last month's playoff for the wild card allotted to the Americans and again in the qualifying tournament a few days ago.

But Smyczek did win a mini-game of chance by drawing No. 1 in the "lucky loser" draft and filled the one and only vacancy left by the withdrawal of none other than Isner, sidelined by bone bruising in his right knee.

That was an interesting enough coincidence, but the wiry 5-foot-9 Smyczek then found himself paired with Croatia's 6-10 Ivo Karlovic in the first round and his hours of practice with the 6-9 Isner suddenly came in very handy. Smyczek didn't lose a single service game, hung in and broke twice against Karlovic's out-of-a-tree delivery and won in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-5. Isner texted his pal shortly afterward and implied there should be a quid pro quo.

"I knew I was going to be watching the ball go by me a lot, so I just prepared myself for that mentally, and really just tried to get myself in a calm place and tell myself if I did get any opportunities, I was just going to have to be ready for them,'' said Smyczek, who trains in Tampa and is part of a close-knit group of pros there, including veteran Mardy Fish.

"With Ivo, it wasn't so much the speed of the serve as really just the angle it was coming from. He can put it real short in the box. A lot of times I covered one serve and it just didn't matter; he hit it too good. Practicing with John a lot did prepare me for that, for sure.''

Smyczek, ranked 125th in the world, will next play Spain's relentless fourth-seeded David Ferrer, who is more his size but obviously many cuts above him in stature. Smyczek said he was looking forward to the "thrill" of facing Ferrer on a show court.

"I've watched a lot of video of Ferrer over the last couple of months,'' the American said. "He's a guy I look up to a lot; he's more my body type. He's got a game I'm working toward.''

Smyczek's upset was part of a generally strong day for the six U.S. men in action -- although the draw now pits two of them against each other.

Last year's spirited late-bloomer Brian Baker battled what he described as just enough wind to be troublesome in his outer-court match against Russian qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr. and let a two-set lead slip away before prevailing 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-7 (0), 3-6, 6-2.

He moves on to face 20th seed Sam Querrey, who is the top-ranked U.S. player here because of Isner's absence. It's the first time Querrey has carried that mantle in a Grand Slam event, but he'd rather not look at things that way.

"I don't feel like I am,'' said Querrey, who dropped a first-set tiebreak to Spanish qualifier Daniel Munoz-De La Nava but played efficiently thereafter and smacked 27 aces in a 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory. "I feel like the No. 2 American even though John's not here, which is unfortunate. I haven't even thought about it; everyone keeps asking me about it, but it's a complete nonissue.

"I mean, Serena is probably the real leader,'' he added. "I guess on the men's side, a lot of the younger guys are here, so I guess so, a little bit. … I'm just doing the best I can. I'm cheering for the other guys and they're cheering for me, so we're all in it together, but I don't feel like too much of a leader.''

That togetherness will have to be suspended in the second round. Querrey and Baker have gotten to know each other fairly well off the court, but they've played only once before, last year in a Challenger-level tournament on clay where Querrey won in three sets. "We haven't hit too much, so it'll be a little bit of a new scenario,'' Querrey said. "I'm just going to try to keep serving well and dominate with my forehand, and hopefully that's enough to get by him.''

Baker called his offseason "necessary" after an exhilarating but wearing 2012 season that saw him reach the fourth round of Wimbledon and climb to world No. 52 at age 27 after various injuries and surgeries cost him six years away from the elite ranks.

He spent two weeks working with two-time U.S. Open finalist Todd Martin at Martin's home base of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and said the former top-10 pro doesn't plan to travel much but will continue to advise him.

"If anybody would probably understand some of the injuries I went through, he would,'' said Baker, currently ranked No. 57. "He was always a thinker out there, played a cerebral game, and if I'm going to be successful, I'm not always going to beat people on physical tools -- I'm going to have to be smart out there as well.

"I think we have the same general demeanor, too. Not afraid to get fired up, but for the most part pretty low key. A lot of those things add up to making us jell a little bit. Hopefully it'll turn out to be a good partnership.''

No. 62 Ryan Harrison prevailed over 64th-ranked Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to propel him straight into the vortex of two-time defending champion and tournament favorite Novak Djokovic. Harrison lost to the current world No. 1 in straight sets at Wimbledon last year.

University of Southern California product and two-time NCAA singles champion Steve Johnson extended 10th seed Nicolas Almagro of Spain to five sets, winning two tiebreaks before succumbing in a 6-2 final set.

Michael Russell also lost, falling to fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.