Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day 14: Sunday, January 28

It is now Monday and I am writing my final entry about the Mixed Doubles and Men's Singles finals, which you may have already seen. Since the Men's singles was played in the evening, I did not get back to Ormond College until after midnight, and that was too late to write my last blog entry. I did go back to the courts earlier today to meet with the tournament director and he provided some great insights about the research that I am doing so I was really grateful to be able to meet with him, especially after what must have been an ordeal for the past several weeks.

Back to Sunday's matches...

Only two matches were scheduled for Sunday, with the MXD final at 4:00 p.m. featuring Daniel Nestor (CAN) and Elena Likhovtseva (RUS) against the Belarussian pair of Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka. Both teams were unseeded and had to advance to the final by way of several upsets. Like the earlier doubles finals, the stadium did not fill until closer to the time of the Men's Singles final, but about 2,000 or 3,000 fans arrived in time to see the Mixed Doubles. Each team held serve in both sets to go to 3-3, but that is where Nestor and Likhovtseva managed to break, in what is often referred to as the "crucial 7th game." From there, they simply held serve to win each set and the match, 6-4, 6-4. The biggest difference in these two teams was the relative inexperience of 17-year old Azarenka, who had never been to the final of a Grand Slam event. Needless to say, she received excellent mentoring from her countryman, Max Mirnyi, and he praised her potential after it was over. Nestor and Likhovtseva had been to the MXD finals last year which they lost, so winning this year's title was especially sweet for them. It took only an hour and 19 minutes to capture the title.

Between the MXD finals and the introduction of players in the Men's Singles finals, entertainment of Jimmy Barnes was featured in Garden Square (to see his website, you can go to http://www.jimmybarnes.com/). Since it was still a bit nippy, most fans opted for dinner and stayed within the confines of Rod Laver Arena. That was my decision as well.

Shortly after 7:00 p.m., fans began to fill the arena in anticipation of the Men's finals. In place of the ever-present Swedish contingent, there were numerous Swiss fans wearing red t-shirts with a white cross in the middle. Several Swiss fans of Federer sported noticeable wigs (perhaps you saw them on t.v?) and one person held up a sign that said, "Quiet: Genius at Work"). The fans for Fernando Gonzalez were colorfully decked out as well, wearing t-shirts that read "Red Hot Chilean," or "Go Gonzo." As the arena filled, chants and cheers echoed throughout the stadium, which heightened the excitement. Before the player introductions, Guy Sebastien was introduced with two back-up singers. They sang the theme song of the tournament, "What a wonderful world."

Finally it was time to introduce the players, and both were greeted with loud applause from the audience: first, the No. 10-seeded player from Chile, Fernando Gonzalez, entered the stadium, followed by the No. 1 seed, Roger Federer, winner of three of the last four Grand Slam titles (the question is: will he be able to win the French Open? I will give my thoughts on that a bit later). One other significant person was introduced after the players--for the first time ever, a woman, Sandra DeJenkins umpired a Grand Slam final of the Men's Singles. She received a rousing ovation from fans as well.

After a ten minute warmup, play began with Federer serving. I will not go into details of what happened in the match, largely because for once I watched what was happening instead of taking notes. But I formed impressions that I would like to share with you. Many people have spoken of the genius of Federer, how easy he makes it look to execute some of the shots that he makes. What I could not tell from watching on television was how quick he is. That is partly from keen anticipation, but he also accelerates the racket head faster than anyone I have ever seen (Agassi was comparable I would say), especially on his ground strokes. I was surprised to see that he did not try to break serving records. In fact, I do not recall seeing one of his serves that registered over 200 km, and yet he won his service games handily--often at love. The reason I believe he does that is because he uses his serve to set up the next shot, much like I remember Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors doing. Neither of them had an overpowering serve, yet if an opponent returned their serve, that is when the shots came back harder than before. So it was with Federer. He could attack from the baseline with both his forehand and backhand, or could go to the net and put shots away. In sum, he has a complete game. That is something you can tell from television.

Gonzalez was no slouch either. In fact, he gave Roger perhaps one of the best matches he had to play. In the final, I sat next to a man from New Zealand who had also seen Federer's match against Roddick, and he said that Gonzalez' speed made Roddick look slow in retrospect. Gonzalez hit serves as hard as 210 km and probably had more aces than Federer, but he also had far more unforced errors. On occasion, he managed to hit outright forehand winners but in many cases, even shots that had been winners in previous matches were anticipated by Federer who was able to put them away. Nonetheless, there was a point at 5-4 with Gonzalez serving at 40-15 when he had two attempts to win the first set. On one of those points, Gonzalez had a chance to hit a forehand groundstroke, but he netted the shot. Once Roger got to deuce, he won that game. The two players each held serve and at 6-all, they played a tiebreak, which Roger won easily, 7-2. Notably, the first set alone lasted longer than the entire Women's Singles match.
It is easy to think of what could have been if Gonzalez had won the first set, but there was definitely a sense among fans that once he lost the first set, Federer would probably win the next two. And yet, Gonzalez held on at the beginning of each set, again until the score reached 3-3. That was when Federer won the all-important 7th game and went on to win the second and third sets, 6-4, 6-4. The whole match lasted well over two hours and was of high quality, as the man next to me indicated. One other thing was noteworthy about the match and awards ceremony that followed, and that was that the majority of fans stayed in their seats until the end of the ceremony. If they were like me, they did not want the whole experience of the Australian Open to come to an end.

This brings me to my prediction for the French Open. The big question on Federer's resume is whether he can win the French, since that is the only Grand Slam that has eluded him. I was thinking about that during the finals match, and it occurred to me that what the slow clay courts do is defuse Federer's quickness and allow his shots to set up for others to run them down. Thus, a good clay courter (like Nadal, especially) can get to his shots and overpower or hit returns with greater consistency. In the Australian Open, Nadal was not at his best, but there are plenty of proficient clay court specialists waiting to give Federer fits at the French Open. I am eager to see what happens in May and June when he plays in the French Open. I am also eager to see how Serena Williams does in the remainder of the year because she has definitely shown that she has shown that she will be a force with whom players must reckon! Until then, I will say cheers one last time. If you would like to email me, my address is: nspencr@bgsu.edu

Cheers from Melbourne!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Day 13: Saturday, January 27

The day of the Women's final began with howling winds, overcast skies, and eventually rain showers, which meant that the roof of Rod Laver Arena was closed for the match. That was a good thing for the fans but not so good for Maria Sharapova, or so she said afterwards (i.e., that she would have preferred to have the roof closed on Day 2 when the Extreme Heat Rule went into effect). If you did not get a chance to see the Women's Singles final, I will give you a recap. If you did see it, then you know this--Serena Williams is back!!

Before I tell you about the Women's Singles final, let me say a few words about the Girls' Singles final that was played beforehand on Margaret Court Arena. As mentioned yesterday, the Girls Final featured No. 1 seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) against 16th-seeded Madison Brengle (USA). Because of the rain, the match started a bit later than the 12:30 time for which it was slated. Brengle must have broken serve in the first game, because she lost her serve just after I sat down in MCA, and that made the score 1-1. I was able to watch five more games before going to my seat in RLA for the WS finals, and Brengle was up 4-3 when I left. In the games that I watched, Madison seemed to be playing consistently and was moving the ball around although it was clear that Anastasia had good depth and power on her groundstrokes as well. Brengle has a nice rhythmic looping forehand stroke and drives it deep to the corners. She can also get pretty good pace on her backhand. I had noticed in the junior matches I had watched Friday that there were no IBM signs to indicate how fast the players were serving. At the time, I thought maybe it was to keep them from being concerned about how hard they were hitting the ball, which I assumed to be a good thing at the time. However, in the Girls and Boys' finals, the IBM trackers were on court, so I guess that was not the rationale after all. The average speed of the girls serves were around 150 km while the boys served as high as 205 km. Interestingly, Serena Williams hit 199 km on more than one occasion, so that tells you how hard she was serving. As to the outcome of the Girls Singles, Pavlyuchenkova edged Brengle in two tie-breaks, 7-6, 7-6 (for more on that match, see the Australian Open website: http://www.australianopen.com/en_AU/news/articles/2007-01-27/200701271169885300772.html). In light of those scores, I wish I could have seen more of the match. It certainly turned out to be much closer than the Women's singles final.

The Daily Schedule and Draw sheet had touted the match-up between Williams and Sharapova as a "Battle of Willpower." In previous matches, they had faced each other a total of 4 times, and each had won twice (Serena won in the Round of 16 at Miami in 2004 and in the semi-finals of the 2005 Australian Open which she also won; Maria won both times that she played in 2004--both times in final matches--at Wimbledon and the Tour Championships at the end of the year).

In this match, Sharapova won the coin toss and elected to receive, which seemed a bit odd at the time, until I remembered her comment after her semifinal match against Clijsters, that she would need to work on her serve since she had too many double-faults. From the moment Serena began to serve in the first game, she was totally focused. You could see it in the close-ups of her face as she changed ends. You could see it in how deliberate she was when she took her time to serve, and you could sense her intensity as she prepared to return Sharapova's serve. Unlike her match against Vaidisova, when Williams frequently seemed to be on the defensive, Serena took control from the start and dictated the pace and direction of shots before Maria could get into a rally. This put Sharapova on the defensive and meant she was always playing from behind. When the players changed ends with Serena up 5-0 in the first set, I noted that it looked like she was playing in the zone, and I am sure that was how Maria felt as well. On the first point of the 6th game, Sharapova hit a shot that nearly hit Williams, and it was clear from the replay on the big screen that Serena was none too pleased about that shot. That would turn out to be the only game that Sharapova won in the first set, as Williams held serve to win the first set, 6-1. In looking at the statistics for the first set, a woman sitting behind me noted that Williams had actually hit more unforced errors (7) than Sharapova (4), but of course the key statistic--winners--was where Serena had 15 to Maria's 5. In the second set, Serena jumped out to a 4-0 lead as well, before Sharapova came back to win her first game. In the second set, Maria managed one more game before Serena ended it 6-2 to win the final in less than an hour. To read more about the Women's Singles final, you can also go to the Australian Open website: http://www.australianopen.com/en_AU/news/match_reports/2007-01-27/200701271169870806507.html

U.S. television coverage of the Australian Open does not always feature the awards ceremony, so I will fill you in on some of the highlights. It took 10-15 minutes to set up the stage and usher in the speakers. After they did, the award for runnerup was presented to Sharapova, who showed her respect for Williams when she said: "First, I want to congratulate Serena. I know that you can never underestimate Serena Williams. I don't think many of you in the media expected to see her here in the finals, but I did. I know how tough she can be. She's a great champion." [Are you listening, Tracy Austin?]. The presentation of Serena as Australian Open Champion was even more compelling since she dedicated her win to her sister Yetunde, who was shot and killed in Compton, CA several years ago. It was a tragic event that Serena and Venus have both been reluctant to talk about after their tennis matches, and Serena was understandably emotional when she dedicated her play to her late sister. It was quite moving.

The Women's Singles final was followed by the Men's Doubles final, featuring the No. 1 seeded team of Bob and Mike Bryan (USA) vs. second-seeded Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi, about whom I have written before. Although the Bryan brothers are from the U.S., I had never seen them play (live) so it was a pleasure to see this match. Unlike previous teams that Bjorkman and Mirnyi had been able to subdue with winners after 4 or 5 shots, the Bryan brothers seemed to anticipate where so many of their shots were going, and that made for some great rallies, and unanticipated returns of shots. Both sets appeared to be going to tie-breaks, but instead the Bryan brothers were able to break serve in the 12th game of each set to win in the final, 7-5, 7-5. This would be the last time to hear the Swedish cheering squad and they too met their match in a group of young boys and girls who were determined to outyell the Swedes. I must say that the cheering duel almost rivaled the play on court.

One final match remained following presentation of the Men's Doubles awards, and that was the Boys' Singles final. This Australian Open was the first time that a Grand Slam had featured a junior final on the center court. Since one of the finalists was a boy from Australia, Brydan Klein, that may have entered into the decision to stage the Boys' final in Rod Laver Arena. Klein's opponent was the No. 1 seed, Jonathan Eysseric (FRA). There pairing appeared to be as lopsided as the rankings of Williams (#81) and Sharapova (#2) going into their final. But the rankings proved to be deceptive in the Boys' final as well. Apparently the Player Development program in Australia has benefited the young Aussie, although having the crowd in his court, so to speak must have helped as well. Brydan won the first set rather easily, 6-2, but went down to his lefty opponent Eysseric, 3-1 in the second set. It appeared that the seeding might hold to form as the young French player showed the form that prompted his seeding. Eysseric had remained poised throughout his first set loss and that allowed him to put together a second set win, 6-4. But Klein was not through after all, as he fought back to win the third set, 6-1. Needless to say, the Aussie crowd gave a warm ovation to Brydan Klein for his victory, but even more when Patrick Rafter was introduced to do the honors of awarding the trophy.

That was it for the play in Rod Laver Arena on Saturday, but there were two other matches besides the Girls' Singles that were played on Margaret Court Arena. I am sorry that I did not get to see those, as they were the Men's and Women's Wheelchair Singles finals. In the Women's Wheelchair Singles final, the No. 1 seeded Esther Vergeer (NED) defeated 2nd seeded Florence Gravellier (FRA), 6-1, 6-0. The Men's Wheelchair singles went the distance as No. 2 seeded Shingo Kuneida (JPN) outlasted 3rd seeded Michael Jeremiasz (FRA), 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Perhaps one day the three matches that were played on MCA will also be played in RLA.

In the meantime, I am finishing yesterday's entry on Sunday and it is nearly time to leave for today's matches. Before the Men's Singles will be the Mixed Doubles Final. I only wish Jonas Bjorkman were still in the MXD:-) Hope we get to see some good matches. Cheers!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Day 12: Friday, January 26

Today is "Australia Day," which is a national holiday!

As a result, there was an abbreviated tennis schedule and the matches that were played did not start until 3:00 p.m. This may have been because there were parades in the morning, and fireworks at night. I learned that Australia Day celebrates the history of the (white) settlement of Australia, when Captain Arthur Phillip landed on the shores of New South Wales on January 26, 1788 (See the following website for further info: http://www.australiaday.gov.au/pages/page98.asp). I was surprised to learn that the history of Australia dates back only 219 years, but then I imagine that it parallels the history of the United States in overlooking the presence of indigenous peoples when white settlers landed on both continents.

In any case, I thought it would be interesting to ask Australians what it meant to be an Australian, and/or what Australia Day means to them. Surprisingly, I found that most people didn't really know what it represented. One person said it was like our Labor Day; another said it was when the Australians gained independence from the British. But after asking two students from Ormond College (where I have been staying), they said that Australia remains part of the monarchy but still has its own constitution, which they have had since January 26, 1901. Like our Independence Day, there are also fireworks in the evening, and it just so happened that they began tonight as the Men's Singles semifinals between Tommy Haas and Fernando Gonzalez came to an end. Once again, it was great timing!

As for the tennis, it was a bit of a day off for me, or at least for my credit cards. I did get a grounds pass, and saw parts of several matches, but the big coup came in getting tix to the Men's and Women's singles finals on Saturday and Sunday. Although not quite as good as the ticket I had yesterday, I am still lower than Row PP so I cannot complain.

Back to the tennis I saw today. The first match I saw part of was the Women's Doubles final that was played in Rod Laver Arena. I watched it on the Big Screen in Garden Square just in front of Rod Laver Arena. That area is much like I imagine Henman Hill at Wimbledon, with people lounging on the grounds, some sitting at tables, others on benches, and still others sitting on blankets on the ground. I had been thinking that I would watch the Men's Finals match there as well, since I have not had much luck in getting tickets for Men's matches, but since I landed one today, I will be happy to sit in Row LL instead. The Women's Doubles final featured the third-seeded team of Cara Black (ZIM) and Liezel Huber (RSA) vs. the unseeded Chinese team of Yung-Jan Chan and Chia-Jung Chuang (TPE). Apparently, they upset the higher seeded team of Yan/Zheng in the semi-finals, 6-3, 6-4. When I got to Garden Square, Chan and Chuang were about to take the second set tie-break to split sets with Black and Huber. In the 3rd set, the more experienced team of Black and Huber cruised to win 6-1.

My next stop was Show Court 3 where Madison Brengle (USA) played in the Girls' Singles semifinals against 3rd-seeded Ksenia Milevskaya (BLR). When I arrived, Brengle had won the first set, 6-4 and was down 4-1 in the second. I was impressed by Brengle's movement on the court, and like most young players in the Women's draw, both girls seemed to want to end points with hard-hitting groundstrokes. Gradually, however, Madison worked her way back into the second set and eventually won it 7-5. She will now face No. 1 seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the Girls Singles finals, which will be played just before the Women's Singles final tomorrow.

A Girls' Doubles match followed on Show Court 3 but I watched only the first two sets, since I hoped to catch another Mixed Doubles semifinals, and it was starting to cool down considerably. The No. 1 seeded team included Julia Cohen (USA) and Urszula Radwanska (POL) against Evgeniya Rodina (RUS) and Arina Rodionova (RUS). Cohen and Radwanska won the first set easily, 6-2, and appeared to be in control in the second, but as can happen in doubles, the momentum turned around the fifth game, and the Russian team of Rodina and Rodionova went on to win the second and third sets, 6-3, 6-1. If the junior players are any indication, it appears that what tennis writers have referred to as the "Russian Revolution" will continue.

After the Girls' Doubles teams split, I decided to head back to Ormond College since it was starting to get cool. I thought I would watch the Men's Singles semifinal match between Tommy Haas and Fernando Gonzales on t.v. Besides, I wanted to get a good night's rest for the Women's Singles final that will be tomorrow. In the meantime, Happy Australia Day to Bec McMillen and any other Australians who may be celebrating January 26! Cheers!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Day 11: Thursday, January 25

Did you know that the theme of this year's Australian Open is "The Wonderful World of Tennis?"

Well, today was a wonderful day for sure!

The day began with a call from the Tournament Director, Craig Tiley, to be sure I had gotten up in time to get to the matches. Actually, that wasn't the reason for the call but I might not have gotten up in time if it weren't for his call. Those of you from Illinois might remember that Craig was the Men's Tennis Coach at the University of Illinois when I was a doc student there (and another BGSU prof, Dr. Sally Ross knew him from her work in the Athletic Department at Illinois. In fact, thanks to Dr. Ross for providing contact info for Craig:-). I taught some tennis classes for my grad assistantship when Craig was the coach. I had emailed him from the U.S. before I came over and left a message for him yesterday at the offices of Tennis Australia. In fact, I should probably tell you a little bit about my excursion into the underbelly of Rod Laver Arena, which houses the Tennis Australia offices among other things. [Apparently, there is a similar area replete with tunnels underneath Disney World, and if you happen to go there, you never look at Mickey and friends quite the same. According to Angie Raizis who was my grad assistant last semester, it is disillusioning to see the characters without their heads... I hope that does not shatter anyone's illusions about the World of Disney.]

Since I had not been able to connect with Craig by email or phone, I thought maybe I could leave a message for him at the offices of Tennis Australia. So, yesterday I asked someone at the Ticket Box Office if they could tell me where those offices were located. A man at the Box Office gave me directions to go to Lift 4 (I found out that a "lift" is an elevator) and take it down to the next level and I would be able to see the Tennis Australia offices. However, when I arrived at the lower level, several people asked me if I had a credential; since I did not, I told them that I had been sent there by someone at the Box Office. The first security person seemed to accept that, but the second man quickly spoke into a small speaker in his hand to call another security person (to send "back-up" no doubt). The third security person hurriedly headed toward me like a man on a mission who was determined to get to the root of this "breach of security." He briskly informed me that I should "keep walking as you talk and tell me what you are doing here." I tried to explain why I was there, and wanted to assure him that I was not trying to spy on the linespeople and ball kids who were sitting at tables in a large room that was undoubtedly air conditioned [I may never look at the linespeople and ball kids quite the same way, having seen them without their hats]. When we reached the outdoors, he pointed to the steps and told me to "Go up those steps and you will see an Information Desk. They will tell you the correct procedure for finding out where you need to go."

Case closed.

By this time, I was feeling like a punished school girl and I wasn't sure I wanted to go downstairs after all, but I thought I should persist. So I followed my instructions from the person at the Information Booth and headed to Lift 2, where there was a Tennis Australia Reception that "anybody" could attend (even me!), although I was still questioned by security when I got there. Fortunately, there were two switchboard operators who were willing to take my information and left a message from me. Apparently that is how I came to receive a phone call from Craig Tiley at 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning.

Now for the tennis, since that was actually the highlight of Day 11! As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I managed to secure a ticket for the Women's semis although there was a Men's Doubles semis scheduled to precede it. "No worries!" It featured my new favs, Max Mirnyi and Jonas Bjorkman, playing against an Aussie, Paul Hanley (who reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld), and Kevin Ullyett (ZIM), the 4th seeded team. Better yet, the Swedish cheering section was seated in the next section, about 6 rows above me, so I got to see them up close and personal. It was a treat, albeit most of the fans were cheering for Hanley and Ullyett, understandably since Hanley was an Aussie! The No. 4 seeds started out strong and captured the first set, much to the delight of the crowd and the dismay of the Swedish cheering contingency. Gladly for me, Bjorkman and Mirnyi fought back to take the second set, which they won 10-8 in an extended tie-break. That meant we were going to see a third set. It did not disappoint, nor did the outcome (for me) as Bjorkman and Mirnyi won in three sets, and I will hopefully get to see them in the finals.

I was surprised that the arena did not really fill up until after the Men's Doubles, since most fans were apparently more interested in the Women's semifinals. As a result, people who arrived for the MD moved around in their seats, and for good reason. Thursday turned out to be the coolest day of the tournament, and my seat was in the shade. While I wouldn't have minded on any other day, it was actually chilly Thursday, so I moved to a warmer seat in the sun for awhile.

Around 1:15, the seats began to fill in anticipation of the first semifinal between Serena Williams and Nicole Vaidisova. Given Serena's absence in the past few years, coupled with Vaidisova's recent entry to the tour, the two had not played before. Of course, Vaidisova was also seeded (10th) but I still put my money on Serena! The match started with Vaidisova taking a 2-0 lead, and Serena coming back to hold, making it 2-1, Vaidisova. The first set remained close, with both players hitting with so much pace. It took awhile for Serena to find answers to some of Vaidisova's forehands, but eventually she matched her stroke for stroke and even hit winners off what would have been Vaidisova winners in previous matches. [The match reminded me of one I played in Corpus Christi years ago when I was No. 1 seeded in the City tournament--nothing big except in Texas--and I faced an upstart 18-year old, Sylvia Noster. Sylvia had a huge forehand that must have seemed like Vaidisova's to Serena! Unfortunately for me, I was no Serena Williams, so I never did come up with responses and ended up losing the match:-(enough about me:-) ]

The first set eventually went to a tie-break; when Serena cruised to a 5-2 lead, she looked like a sure bet to win the opening set. That was until she double-faulted twice and Vaidisova capitalized with another winner to even the score at 5-5. Needless to say, Serena was not pleased about the outcome and that became evident on the next two points when she let out her loudest shrieks to take two points to win the tie-break, 7-5. The crowd exploded when she won it, apparently elated to see Serena assert herself. In fact, I get the idea that this Aussie crowd really appreciates players who leave it all out there on the court, and Serena has surely done that in this tournament. In the second set, Serena continued to roll as it seemed that Vaidisova was shell-shocked after the last two points of the tie-break. There was an intriguing point with Serena up at 5-4 on serve in the second set; as you may know if you have been following the tennis, this Australian Open provides players in RLA with two challenges per set. Unfortunately, Serena had lost both challenges and was without any when a ball that would have been match point appeared to go wide of the sideline [but the linesperson called it out]. The crowd gasped in astonishment, knowing that Serena was out of challenges and that the call seemed clearly to be wrong. That made it deuce. Fortunately for Serena, she regrouped to hit a 200 km serve and take the ad. This time, Vaidisova's error resulted in Serena's winning the match [a second time], 7-6, 6-4. The crowd and Serena were jubilant as she made it to her first Grand Slam final in 2 years. And it promises to be a great final at that!

Meanwhile, the second semifinal featured No. 1 seeded Maria Sharapova vs. Aussie favorite, Kim Clijsters. While the match-up looked to be promising, it turned out to be a disappointment, as Clijsters proved to be no match for Sharapova, who won a routine 6-4, 6-2 match. When it was over, the announcer interviewed Clijsters since it was to be her last Australian Open final. I got the impression that the Aussie fans were disappointed in Clijsters' effort against Sharapova. Fans tried to motivate her with their cheers--someone in the stands replaced the infamous "Aussie Aussie Aussie" chant with "Kimmie Kimmie Kimmie" and the crowd responded loudly with "Oy Oy Oy!" Even that could not seem to evoke a greater effort from Clijsters who seemed clearly to be uninspired. Instead, the two women in the finals will be the two who seem to want it the most, and it will be a rematch of 2004 Wimbledon, when Sharapova shocked Serena to win her first Wimbledon. This time, I'm putting my money on Serena. And this a.m. I managed to secure a ticket so I will be there in Row DD.

For now, cheers:-) And Happy Australia Day as well!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Day 10: Wednesday, January 24

"Good luck getting tickets in Rod Laver Arena for tomorrow."

[That was what the ticket salesperson said to me Tuesday night after I bought a grounds pass for today's matches.]

"I seem to have had some pretty good luck," I replied:-)

I thought of those words later Wednesday afternoon as I again sat in Row PP and watched the second women's singles quarterfinal match between Kim Clijsters and Martina Hingis. Admittedly, I did not get to see the first quarterfinal match between Maria Sharapova and Anna Chakvetadze, but I did get to see some pretty good doubles matches courtesy of my grounds pass! In fact, the first match I picked featured some of the best men's doubles players in the game--Max Mirnyi and Jonas Bjorkman vs. Mahesh Bhupathi and Radek Stepanek (he is engaged to Martina Hingis). I mentioned seeing Bjorkman Tuesday in a Mixed Doubles and he was even more spectacular in this morning's Men's Doubles. Perhaps that was in part because the "Swedish songbirds" were out in full force. They gave one of the finest performances of the tournament. About 16 members of the Swedish cheering contingency sat about three-fourths of the way up in the stands at Margaret Court Arena, just opposite where I sat. There seemed to be one designated cheer leader, who was about the size of Jared (before the Subway diet). He had on a yellow shirt with SWEDEN written in big letters, and he wore khaki pants with a beige baseball cap. He really got into the cheers, using great inflection, and moving his body forward as well as side to side for emphasis. The cheering squad could be heard after almost every point. If Bjorkman's partner, Mirnyi, missed a shot, the cheers were:

"Combien, Mirnyi, Combien!" (CLAP CLAP)
"Combien, Mirnyi, Combien!" (CLAP CLAP)

If Bjorkman and Mirnyi hit a winning shot, the chorus rang out with:

"That's the way, ah ha, ah ha, we like it, we like it..."
"That's the way, ah ha, ah ha, we like it, we like it..."

Some of the cheers must have been in Swedish so I couldn't catch everything that was being said, but I marvelled at how well choreographed every cheer was. It was very entertaining, and the tennis was not bad either. Of course, Bjorkman and Mirnyi won (6-3, 6-2), and fortunately for me, I will get to see them play again first thing tomorrow, but more on that later.

After the Men's Doubles match on Margaret Court Arena, I checked out one of the Women's Doubles quarterfinals that featured two teams from China. I remember being shocked several years ago when one of the Chinese Women's Doubles teams seemed to come out of nowhere to win the Olympic gold in doubles. At the time, I had a grad student from China who told me that the Chinese players were gearing their efforts toward the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. As it turns out, the two teams that I saw today were two of three that made it to the quarterfinals, and I had seen the other team (Chan and Chuang) play previously. Since all three teams were in the same half, there is certain to be a Chinese team in the finals. The match that I saw today was between the Olympic gold medalists (Yan and Zheng) and another team of Sun/Sun. Both teams played very solid, fundamental tennis and I can see why they are doing so well in doubles. Each team plays well together, they cover for one another, hit good percentage returns, and do not make many unforced errors. They also do not try to blast their opponents off the court like some of the strong singles players do when they try to play doubles. I would not be surprised if we see Chinese women's doubles teams capturing a number of medals in Beijing. Oh yes, and Yan and Zheng beat Sun/Sun, 6-3, 7-6. I forgot to mention that when Chan and Chuang won the previous day, there was a Chinese man in the stands who yelled out: "Booyah! Booyah!" (If you watch ESPN Sportscenter, you are probably familiar with the phrase used frequently by Stewart Scott:-)

After the women's doubles, I decided to head toward Rod Laver Arena to see about getting a newspaper and to check at the Box Office about getting a ticket for tomorrow's semi-finals. When I did, I discovered that there was actually a ticket available for today's second quarterfinal (between Clijsters and Hingis) in addition to the Men's Singles quarterfinal between Nicolay Davydenko and Tommy Haas (GER). Finally, the 3rd seeded Men's singles player had made it in to RLA. I did not hesitate but took the opportunity to pay the difference and go for Row PP, as mentioned at the beginning of today's entry. I really enjoyed getting to see Clijsters and Hingis, again knowing that Clijsters was retiring after this year, and because it was an interesting match-up. Hingis played some incredible shots (drop shot, lob combinations, followed by put-away volleys). At the beginning of the first set, it looked like Clijsters might breeze through the match easily, but it turned out that Hingis took the first set, 6-3, before Clijsters came back to win the second. Hingis went ahead in the third, 3-2, but then Clijsters came back to win the third 6-3. Although it wasn't as draining as the previous day's match between Serena and Shahar Peer, it was long enough to satisfy me, so I decided to leave and maybe catch a bit of the doubles before heading for home earlier than usual.

Before I left, I saw that the No. 2 seeded Women's Doubles team of Lisa Raymond (USA) and Samantha Stosur (AUS) were playing against Cara Black (RSA) and Liesel Huber (GER). Surprisingly, Raymond and Stosur had lost the first set after they had jumped out to a 3-0 lead. They did come back to win the second, and when I got there, it was 2-2 in the third. From that point on, the number 2 seeds did not win another game, which disappointed me, since I had hoped to see Lisa Raymond play more. She is one of a rare breed of players who actually graduated from college, so I would like to see her be successful in the pro game!

It was a disappointing note to end on, and I could have gone back to watch the Davydenko-Haas match (which turned out to be a 5-setter by the way), but I just felt ready to go home. Before I left for the day, I stopped by to get what I figured would be a grounds pass for tomorrow. But I still asked if they happened to have any tickets for the women's semifinals in RLA. I had been checking frequently so didn't expect to find any good news when the ticket salesperson said, "As a matter of fact I do!" I could not believe my good fortune!

"Do you mind being in the sun?"

"No, of course not!" I said.

"It's actually a pretty good seat, Row L on the first level."

[YES!!! I don't even have to sit in Row PP!]

So, I'll let you know how it goes tomorrow. Till then, cheers:-)!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Day 9: Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I was all set to leave for the courts today when I thought I better check my ticket to be sure it said Tuesday. Sure enough, I discovered that the ticket I thought I had bought for today's matches was actually for tomorrow! Now, that might not be so bad since I already had a grounds pass for today and I could have used the ticket for Rod Laver Arena tomorrow (I would have seen Sharapova vs. Chakvetadze; Clijsters vs. Hingis; and Haas vs. Davydenko), but I had my heart set on seeing today's matches with Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, and Mardy Fish. As soon as I realized my mistake, I flew out the door to get the tram so I could try to rectify my error and perhaps exchange the Wednesday ticket for one for today.

Even with my early departure, I found that I was in a line that looked impossible for trying to get a ticket in to RLA. I mentioned that to the woman standing behind me, that I didn't know how long I was willing to wait to exchange a ticket for tomorrow, when she suggested that maybe we should talk:-) You can probably guess what happened next--it just so happened that the woman had a friend from Germany who really wanted to see Tommy Haas (playing tomorrow) but they had tickets for today, so she was trying to find a ticket for tomorrow. As soon as we talked... you can probably guess the rest--I got a ticket to see the three matches today in Rod Laver Arena:

WS: Nicole Vaidisova, the 17-year old seeded #10 (CZE), vs. Lucie Safarova (CZE), who upset Mauresmo
WS: Serena Williams, unseeded (USA) vs. Shahar Peer, the 19-year old seeded #16 (ISR)
MS: Andy Roddick, seeded #6 (USA) vs. Mardy Fish (USA)

The thing I did not know about the ticket I bought this time was that it was an upgrade--but not in the sense I might have hoped (i.e., like moving to first class). It was an upgrade to the last row of the stadium (Row PP), which is so high that they don't even put the letters PP on the row. You know you have gotten to it when you see one row beyond OO. I actually liked the seat however (it was also billed as "limited leg room" but that really wasn't a problem for me either:-) because it was a good view of the court, albeit up high, and it was in the shade so it felt very comfortable.

The match between Vaidisova and Safarova never fully materialized into a close one as I hoped it might. Vaidisova was just too strong for her younger countrywoman, with serves that regularly hit about 174 km (almost 100 m.ph. according to my calculations), while Safarova served about 40 km slower. The groundstrokes of Vaidisova took their toll on Safarova as well, perhaps more than Mauresmo's might have. The match took slightly over an hour, but Vaidisova ultimately prevailed, 6-1, 6-4.

Then came the match that I had awaited, and one that turned out to be the piece de resistance of the day. As you may remember, Shahar had quite a vocal following in her earlier match against Tatiana Golovin; in fact, I would partially attribute her win in the previous round to the support she received (sometimes at inappropriate times according to traditional tennis etiquette). And her supporters were there for her match against Serena. But Serena also had a lot of support throughout RLA. I only saw one U.S. flag at the start, but later saw another not far from where I was sitting. The match itself was riveting! Shahar started with a fairly easy first set win, 6-3, and Serena seemed sluggish in that set. She would later say that she did not play her best tennis. In all fairness to her opponent, Peer was very sharp, especially on her forehand, and she hit a lot of down-the line winners, as well as pressuring Serena with deep shots to her backhand. That is where I think Serena is still the most vulnerable--on deep shots to her backhand. She does not seem to attack from the backhand side like she does from her forehand. It reminds me of how Roddick used to play before he started working with Jimmy Connors (not that I am suggesting Serena ought to work with Connors!). There were several points in the match where Serena showed her determination and the sixth game of the second set was one of those games, where there were hard fought points, after which Serena let out a Lleyton Hewitt-like "Come on!" She was clearly hungry, but so was Peer! Both women played with so much intensity and that is why the match was the most compelling of the day for me. After Serena took the second set, 6-2, she pulled out ahead in the third to go up 4-1 and I thought she would cruise easily from there. But this is where she seemed to let up, uncharacteristically I thought. She looked tired to me at that point and I wasn't sure she would be able to get a second wind to win it after that. When the score got to 6-all, there was no tie-break (only at the U.S. Open do they play a tie-break in the deciding set), so the two played it out with Serena finally winning the third set, 8-6. When she won the match, she started jumping around and celebrating like she had just won her first Grand Slam (a la the 1999 U.S. Open). You could not help but share her joy!

Now I must tell you there is another side to the success of Serena Williams at this year's Australian Open, and I read about it in the Herald Sun, which is apparently the "gossip" newspaper of Melbourne (I probably won't be getting it again:-( Anyway, in the Tuesday paper, there was an article about Russell Mark, an Australian Olympic shooter who said last Thursday that Serena Williams was so overweight that he would shoot in the nude at the Beijing Olympics if she made it to the women's final. As you might imagine, he is beginning to regret saying that (just like John McEnroe regretted saying that he would stand on his head to commentate if Michael Chang made it to the final of the U.S. Open one year). McEnroe may have lucked out when Chang lost in the semifinals, but Russell Mark may not be so fortunate. Stay tuned... for the Women's Singles final and the 2008 Olympics:-)

The last match of the day featured Andy Roddick and his former housemate, Mardy Fish, a year older than Roddick, but having dealt with a variety of injuries in the past few years. Fish came in unseeded, but he certainly earned his shot at Roddick with some good wins including his first round upset of 4th seeded Ivan Lubjicic. Unfortunately, his familiarity with Roddick's game didn't seem to help his cause as he lost 6-2,6-2,6-2 in a match that did not last as long as the Williams-Peer match did.

When the singles matches were over, I decided to check out some of the Mixed Doubles matches and there were several good ones. The best one pitted Jonas Bjorkman & Francesca Schiavone against Igor Andreev & Maria Kirilenko. Bjorkman is a great doubles players, as are the others, but Bjorkman has won a number of doubles titles and continues in the Men's Doubles with Max Mirnyi (whom I hope to watch tomorrow). I started watching when the score was 5-5 in the first, and Andreev-Kirilenko took the first set in a tie-break. The second set had some great points, but Bjorkman-Schiavone pulled out the second set. I was expecting to settle in for the third set when they announced that the match would be decided by a 10-pt tie-breaker instead of playing a third set. I had never seen this before, but it turned out in favor of Bjorkman-Schiavone, so I am glad to be able to see them play again, perhaps tomorrow.

The other MXD match that I saw featured the second-seeded team of Rennae Stubbs and Mark Knowles against Nathan Healey and B. Stewart. Three of the four (all except Knowles) were Australians so the Aussie crowd got into this one. This was the first time I heard a chorus of:

"Aussie, Aussie, Aussie"
"Oy! Oy! Oy!"

The choruses and cheering are one of the best parts of the atmosphere at the Australian Open. I wish there was a way to capture it for those who don't get to see and hear it! Anyway, Stubbs and Knowles had already taken the first set 6-0 and Healey and Stewart had just won their first game when I got there. What happened after that was hard to believe, but the number two seeded team managed to lose all the momentum they must have had in the first set to lose the second, 7-6, and the subsequent tie-break. It was not a well-played match but I had to see it to believe it. When it was over, I was ready to head for the tram and my nightly chai. And now I am ready to head for bed so I can get up early to head back to Melbourne Park. Till tomorrow, cheers:-)!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Day 8: Monday, January 22

I saw parts of a lot of different matches on Monday, most of which were doubles. I will just highlight some of the best matches. Overall, the matches I saw some or part of were as follows:

WD: Elena Dementieva (RUS)/Flavia Pennetta (ITA), #14 seeds vs. Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL)/Martina Sucha (SVK)... This match did not capture my interest since it was pretty one-sided, with Dementieva and Pennetta winning most games that I saw.

[After watching a few games of the above match, I thought about getting a ticket in RLA where three of the Women's Singles were being played, but the line was way too long and the prospects did not look good. I did get a ticket for Tuesday so that's when I will see Serena vs. Peer and Roddick vs. Fish!]

WD: Dinara Safina (RUS/Katarina Srebotnik (SLO), #5 seeds vs. Yung-Jan Chan/Chia-Jung Chuang (TPE) played the next match that I watched and it was a much closer match. In fact, it turned out to be one of several three set matches that I got to see Monday. The two teams were a contrast in styles. I really wanted to see Safina (Marat Safin's sister) since I had heard much about her. The first thing I must say is that she is TALL--not just taller than me (most people are) but even taller than Sally Ross and Erianne Weight, two of my good colleagues at BGSU:-) I have heard commentators say that Safina really looks up to Marat and her mannerisms definitely show that. In terms of firepower, the seeded team of Safina and Srebotnik had far more than the young players from TPE, but the steadiness and team work of Chan and Chuang were really good, and they ultimately prevailed in three sets. Watching this match made me realize how much I have always loved playing doubles, and I wondered why more people do not watch doubles at the Grand Slams. After all, most club players probably play more doubles than singles. I think tennis needs to do a better job of marketing doubles.

WD: Maria Elena Camerin (ITA/Gisela Dulko (ARG) vs. Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER)/Meghann Shaughnessy (USA), seeded #7. I had wanted to see more of this match but the previous one kept me from getting there until they were well into the third set. As a result, I saw only about 3 games, but I was glad to see that Shaughnessy won and hope to see this team play again.

WD: Anabel Medina Garrigues (ESP)/Sania Mirza (IND), 10th seeds vs. Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)/Ai Sugiyama (JPN), seeded #6 turned out to be a great match, and lasted nearly 3 hours! When I arrived at Show Court 2 where they were playing, Hantuchova and Sugiyama were up 5-0, but Medina-Garrigues and Mirza were beginning to come back. They got it all the way to 6-all before losing the first set in a tie-break, but it was obvious that these two teams were well-matched and very competitive. Medina-Garrigues won the second set, also in a tiebreak, but then lost the third set 6-2. There was much more hard-hitting in this match compared to the previous doubles matches, but not as much strategic positioning as Chan and Chuang's match. When it ended, I had seen plenty of tennis for one day and was ready to head for home.

But there was one more match going on Margaret Court Arena that caught my attention before I could leave. I could hear the crowd chanting during the match that was going on there so I wanted to check it out. It turned out to be a Men's Singles match between #3 seeded Nikolay Davydenko and #13 seeded Thomas Berdych (CZE). Berdych had a cheering section that was quite vocal and they were the ones I could hear from Show Court 2. There must have been about 18-20 fans who held up a Czech flag that said "Berdych's Army" and they had an assortment of cheers and songs that they chanted between almost every point. If they covered the match on ESPN, I am sure you would have heard "Berdych's Army!" It was really fun to watch them and hear what they came up with, so I stayed for the end of the match as a result. When I got to the court, they had just started the fourth set, and Davydenko was up two sets to one. It soon became apparent that there was an element of the crowd that was not amused by Berdych's fan club and in fact, there seemed to be a "Berdych backlash." As it turned out, Davydenko prevailed to win the fourth set in a tie-break, but it was an exciting atmosphere and I was glad I had stayed for one more match. There were still a lot of doubles to be played but I had seen enough and decided it was time to get home so I would be ready for my big day in RLA on Tuesday. I will let you know if I am in a friendlier neighborhood than last time. Cheers till then:-)

Day 7: Sunday, January 21

I am writing this entry after getting back from Monday's matches so it seems an eternity since I went to the matches on Sunday. I actually saw only three matches on Sunday, so it should not be so hard to remember, but two of the matches were in Rod Laver Arena--a good thing since it got much cooler and there was rain again on Sunday. The matches I saw on Sunday were as follows:

WS: Ashley Harkleroad (USA) vs. Daniela Hantuchova, #15 seeded (SVK)
MS: Andy Roddick, #6 seeded (USA) vs. Mario Ancic, # 9 seeded (CRO)
WS: Serena Williams (USA) vs. Jelena Jankovic, #11 seeded (SRB)

The first two matches went the distance, but after watching Harkleroad blow a 5-2 lead in the second set (she had already won the first), I was determined that I would not watch the third set. The most frustrating thing about watching the match between Harkleroad and Hantuchova was that I knew Ashley could win it, that Hantuchova often made unforced errors at inopportune times. But it was windy, and Hantuchova also made better use of the wind. Perhaps Ashley has never played in wind but if she would like a course in how to play in the wind, I would suggest visiting Corpus Christi, TX for a few weeks to prepare. For those who don't know, I taught tennis there for 6 and a half years of my life (and loved every minute of it:-) but it was invariably windy during tournaments (and much of the remainder of the time as well). Winds of 25-35 m.p.h. were not uncommon. So when Corpus Christi hosted the NCAA Men's National Championships in tennis (in 1975 and 1976), the California schools hated it so much because of the wind that they petitioned to never have it there again.

Anyway, back to Harkleroad and Hantuchova. In case you have not heard of Ashley Harkleroad, she was an up and comer a few years ago, and was touted as being the "next Anna Kournikova" from the United States. At that point, it was hoped that she could also do well on the tour. While she did fairly well for awhile, she obviously never became a household name. Advancing to the third round in the Australian Open was pretty good for her, but she could have gone a round further imho. Ultimately, Hantuchova won the match, 6-3 in the third set.

When Harkleroad and Hantuchova split, I decided to split as well. For some reason, I had asked on Sunday about getting tix to the matches in Rod Laver Arena and found out that there was a box officewhere you could see about upgrading from a grounds pass to a ticket in RLA. The problem was that you could wait in line pretty much all day and then you wouldn't see the matches for which you got a grounds pass. But I decided I would check it out and see if there was a chance of getting a single ticket. By this time the first match had finished, with unseeded teen Lucie Safarova upsetting Amelie Mauresmo. Mauresmo was one of the top players I did not get to see because I could not get tix for venues where she was playing, so I was sorry she lost. I did see her practicing several times (even during the extreme heat, so I can say that she is dedicated). Anyway, it did not take long before a single ticket became available and I was able to exchange my grounds pass for RLA. At this point, Roddick and Mario Ancic had finished their first set and begun the second. In fact, when I found my seat, about 50 minutes had elapsed, which wasn't much considering that it turned out to be a 5-setter.

The one down-side about getting the single ticket in RLA was that I moved into a neighborhood (seating) where I was apparently not wanted, and the animosity I felt from the people next to me was palpable. At first they said I couldn't sit there because someone else had that ticket--i.e., that they had "given" it to a tall, nice young man (actually, I found out later they had "sold" it to him, but you aren't supposed to do that in Australia). I thought maybe I had come to the wrong row, so I asked if I was in the wrong row. The man next to me asked to look at my ticket and sure enough I was in the right seat. But they continued to insist that THEY owned that ticket and I couldn't sit there. Finally, it occurred to them that the nice young man to whom they had sold the ticket (perhaps at a discount:-) had probably sold it back to the box office and capitalized on it at that. By now he was long gone. Meanwhile, back in row KK, I could feel the resentment that these people had toward me and it was not comfortable. As a result, I tried to focus on the match and jot down "field notes" as I have been doing daily for my blog. I could hear the woman two seats down from me whisper to the man next to me, "What's she writing?" He shrugged and said, "I don't know..." (Actually I was writing about how mean they were to me:-) Later, the people who had shown such animus toward me left and I actually enjoyed talking with the people to my left. They wondered about why I was taking notes, so I explained that I was writing about what I saw and heard in terms of social interactions. That was certainly one of the less pleasant ones I have had. So much for that... now for the tennis.

I loved getting to see Roddick play against Ancic. I had heard about Ancic pulling some upsets at Wimbledon a couple years ago when he surprised people with his big serve. Yet, his serve paled by comparison to Roddick's. The serves in Australia are timed in km, so I have been converting them to m.p.h. in my head so that they are more meaningful to me. I can tell you that Roddick had more than a few serves that were over 140 m.p.h. What really impresses me about his game is how Connors has helped him with his attacking game. He no longer hangs back at the baseline and lets his opponent attack, but even his backhand has become more of a weapon. I am really excited for Tuesday's matches since I was able to get a ticket to see Roddick vs. Fish. That should be really fun to see two Americans! I am guessing that they showed coverage of Roddick's match against Ancic, so if you got to see it you know that he won in 5 sets (6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4).

Next up on RLA was the match between Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic, both of whom I had watched in several previous matches. Having watched both, I felt that Serena would win, but I also thought Jankovic would hang in there and not concede anything. That was pretty much how it went, although the score doesn't sound that close with Serena winning, 6-3, 6-2. I don't know about the coverage in the U.S. or elsewhere, but a lot of people here continue to dwell on Serena's fitness (or what they perceive as lack of fitness). My sense is that Serena is more fit than people give her credit for; she has certainly gotten to a lot more balls than she could have if she were less fit, and she seems to be improving with every match. The key thing is that she wants to win. In today's paper, she was quoted as saying that everyday she wakes up and cannot wait to get out on the court. That sounds to me like someone who is ready to play and wants to win. Do not count her out--EVER! She will play Shahar Peer (#16 seeded) Tuesday, so more on that to come.

The matches on RLA were over about 6:30 Sunday so I decided to see what was being played on the outside courts before heading home. As I was leaving the arena, I walked past a man who looked familiar and I realized it was Ken Rosewall, owner of the greatest backhand in the game, again imho:-) I wanted to ask him for an autograph, but did not want to interrupt the conversation he was having so I stood back and waited for him to move on, but somehow, when he finally did, I lost sight of him, so there was an opportunity lost. I should have remembered the lesson learned from Derek Eiler.

Leaving RLA, it was drizzling and quite cool, so I decided I would head home and that's what I did (by way of Starbucks and a tazo chai, of course). Cheers:-)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Comments?

This will just be a quick message since I am about to leave for Monday's play (I still need to fill you in on Sunday's matches that I saw in RLA--Roddick and Serena Williams:-). But I wanted to say that I hope you will feel free to add comments to the blog--if you have been watching the coverage in the U.S. or elsewhere, or if you have questions, I would love to respond or get a conversation going. Until tonight then, cheers:-)!

Day 6: Heineken Day at the Australian Open

Apparently I missed the festivities connected with "Heineken Day," which included getting your photo taken at the Heineken Beer Garden and picking up a beer cooler. That meant I also missed Tex & Tim, who were billed as "a double dose of legendary Oz musicians" (Tex Perkins and Tim Rogers) who performed at the Heineken Beer Garden at 6:30. Maybe Bec McMillen can fill me in on what I missed? Instead, I spent all day in Vodafone Arena watching a line-up that included the following:

1. MS: David Nalbandian, #8 seeded (ARG) vs. Sebastian Grosjean, #28 seeded (FRA)
FOLLOWED BY:
2. WS: Kim Clijsters, #4 seeded (BEL) vs. Alona Bondarenko, #29 seeded (UKR)
3. MS: Fabrice Santoro (FRA) vs. Nikolay Davydenko, #3 seeded (RUS)
4. MS: James Blake, #5 seeded (USA) vs. Robby Ginepri (USA)

I decided to try to get into Vodafone Arena (VA) early in the day when I saw who would be playing, but when it looked like rain would be an issue, I knew that I needed to be inside if I had any hope of seeing live tennis. Since others had the same idea, I knew there would be a line to get into VA. So, I decided to use a different strategy, which I believe is worth sharing for any would-be travellers to the Grand Slams:-) Although I started earlier than usual (about 10 a.m.) to go to the courts, it almost proved to be not early enough to get in for all the matches. However, I had some good fortune that enhanced my strategy. First, I discovered that the Tram stopped at VA one stop later than Rod Laver Arena (RLA). I had always gotten off the tram at RLA thinking that it was the end of the line. That alone got me to VA about 10-15 minutes earlier than if I had walked from RLA. When I got inside, there were already long lines of people with Grounds passes waiting to go into the arena so I needed to decide which door to try to enter. Here again, I figured that being on the tram side might mean a slightly shorter line, besides which I figured if I walked around to try to find a shorter line, I might miss my place in this line, so I got into a line that probably had about 150 people in front of me. From where I stood I could see the monitor that showed a nearly full arena. It did not look good for getting in, and as I later discovered, many people had been there since 8 a.m. to get good seats. Gradually, the ushers allowed people to enter the arena, but as we neared the start of matches, there were still probably 75 people in front of me. A few people had dropped out of line, sensing the futility of waiting for seats once the matches began. Still, I remained optimistic, thinking of two things: one, that it was an advantage to be looking for a single seat; and two, I was reminded of something that happened whenever a grad of BGSU came to speak. For those from BGSU, you will know what I am talking about when I refer to Derek Eiler's presentations to our students. Whenever Derek speaks, he uses an example that leaves an impression on students when he asks a question, matter-of-factly, "Would anyone like $20?" His point is to see if people are paying attention and if they are alert enough to step forward, not just raise their hand. Needless to say, the person who steps forward first is the one who picks up a $20. bill. I had just thought of these two things when one of the ushers stepped out to ask if there was anyone who could use a single ticket. Immediately I raised my hand and stepped under the railing to grab the ticket. I could not believe my fate! I got the ticket and a great seat in the front row of the upper level. I had a great view of the court and some nice people to visit with (Max and Jasmine) who even agreed to send some of the photos they were taking of the first three matches:-)

If you recall, I had also picked up a strategy for moving into the front row, so when Max and Jasmine said they were going to leave after the third match, I decided to make my foray down to the first row and see if I could find a seat for the James Blake v. Robby Ginepri match. It worked and I landed a front row seat, but it turned out that there was a lot more going on in the front row and it was much less enjoyable to be there than on previous occasions. Still, I had a great view of all the matches and a great day of tennis. Now for the tennis...

Just reading the line-up, with David Nalbandian facing Sebastian Grosjean, I had to think it would be 5 sets, and they did not disappoint. In fact, I later read that Mark Stevens posed the question in the daily program: "Would the renowned fighters David Nalbandian and Sebastian Grosjean break the all-time record for the longest match?" They might have come close to it, as the match lasted just under 4 hours. It really looked to me like Grosjean was going to win in straight sets as he seemed to be much more consistent than Nalbandian, but the thing that struck me about Nalbandian was that he stayed with his strategy and plodded along until the opportunity arose to capitalize on it. One thing Nalbandian did well was to use the drop shot/lob combination to perfection and it may have gotten to Grosjean, because apparently he hurt his leg after the second set, and that was when Nalbandian came on to win the next three sets. Interestingly, in the same time that it took for the first match on VA, they had played two women's singles (Sharapova def. T. Garbin, and Hingis def. Nakamura) and a set and a half of Nadal's match against Wawrinka. But, hey, we were getting our money's worth at VA:-)

I really wanted to see Kim Clijsters since I knew this was her last year to play the tour. She announced before this year that 2007 would be her last, since she is getting married to a U.S. basketball player, and she wants to start a family. I think also that she grew tired of being injured and that wore on her. I had never seen her opponent, Alona Bonadarenko, who is one of two Bonadarenko sisters--not yet the rivals of the Williams sisters I would say. Bondarenko hit the ball well but did not have the fire power or consistency of Clijsters, who won, 6-3, 6-3. I had heard that Clijsters was a fan favorite in Australia, perhaps because she was adopted by the Aussies when she and Lleyton Hewitt were an item, but she remains a favorite even though they are no longer together.

I was probably the least interested in the third match scheduled for VA, so decided to take a break for lunch during that time, although the match turned out to be more fun than I had anticipated. Davydenko was familiar to me by name only, but the fact that he was third-seed suggested to me that it would be a one-sided match. I knew Fabrice Santoro was a good doubles player at one time, but now in his 30s, he was "over-the-hill" (in tennis terms, of course:-) But the match turned out to be closer and much more fun than I anticipated. Santoro hit some amazing shots and was probably quite frustrating for a classic player like Davydenko to play. In case you have never seen Santoro, he hits his groundstrokes with two hands on both sides (forehand and backhand), a la Monica Seles. The difference is that he hits one of his shots with so much slice that it stays really low and angled. The problem for him is that he hits a lot of shots down the middle, which makes it easy for his opponents to run him out of position. In any case, Santoro made it close in the first set which went to a tie-break, before losing, 7-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Then came the match I had awaited: James Blake vs. Robby Ginepri. I know Artemis would have LOVED to be there! Though Blake was seeded fifth, Ginepri was a bit of a surprise, having ousted the #32 seeded Nicolas Almagro (ESP) in five sets [part of which I had seen earlier on one of those Extreme Heat days!] Blake and Ginepri are good friends; in fact, one of the things Blake said after the match was that they were probably going to dinner together after the match, which I thought was cool! On the court, you could tell that they knew each other's games as they really hit out against one another. Blake has some unbelievable groundstrokes, especially off the forehand side. But I actually thought Ginepri would take the first set until Blake won it in a tie-break and held on to win, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2.

I mentioned there was a lot going on during the Blake v. Ginepri match, so let me try to explain what I meant. Remember that after the first three matches, I had moved to new environs on the first row. But it was more crowded than when I had been there before and the kids were more diverse. Four young boys (teen-aged, I am guessing) to my left were probably surfers, since they were either barefoot or wearing thongs (as in footwear). They seemed casually interested in the tennis but chattered away all the way through the match; it was a little hard to tune them out. But not as hard as it was to tune out the guys behind me, who were probably about the same age, and must have been enlisted to go to the matches by one of their fathers who insisted on getting photos of them that showed how close they were to the court. At one point, I heard one of the boys ask another if he would come to the tennis again next year, and the second boy replied that he would as long as he didn't have to sit on one court all day, since they had been there since 9:30 in the a.m. What was a joy for me must have been torture for them, because all they seemed to want to do was play with their cell phones and chatter with one another:-( To my right were two twenty-something males who seemed to have a dark outlook on life. At least my attempts to strike up a conversation went nowhere, although the one guy next to me did agree to send his photos of James Blake and Robby Ginepri; I am not going to hold my breath on that one. They finally left before the third set and I had a nice conversation with an Australian man and woman who said they had been there since 8 a.m. to get front row seats in Vodafone, and they even planned to stay for the next match that was added due to the rain: i.e., Juan Ignacio Chela vs. Andy Murray. I probably should have stayed since it was a great opportunity to see so much tennis, but it was already after 9 p.m. and I had watched tennis since 11:00 a.m. Besides I wanted to catch up on my blog, but that was yesterday... Now for today... Cheers:-)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Day 5: Optus 'Yes' Day

Friday was Optus 'Yes' Day. According to the Optus 'Yes' webpage: "The Optus IBM scoreboard brings you all the up to the minute scores from the on court matches at Melbourne Park during the Australian Open."

Day 5 started with rain, which meant that matches would only be played on Rod Laver Arena (RLA) and Vodafone Arena (VA). Since I could not get tix to RLA, and Serena Williams was playing Nadia Petrova there, I decided to stay at my 'flat' (at Ormond College--more on that later) to watch the match--at least until the rain ended. The commentary was provided by an American, Tracy Austin, in addition to England's John Barrett. From what I watched of the first two sets, it did not seem that Tracy gave Serena much of a chance to win the match, so when I found out later that she had won, I was thrilled to hear it!

About mid-afternoon, after the rain stopped, I headed for Margaret Court Arena where Jelena Jankovic (SRB) was scheduled to play Belarus' Victoria Azarenka, to be followed by American Mardy Fish against Australia's Wayne Arthurs. [After seeing the first round match between Arthurs and Fleishman, I thought it promised to be an exciting match.] What I did not expect was to find the court almost completely packed when I got there for the Jankovic vs. Azarenka match. Still I found a seat about 3/4 of the way up with a pretty good view of the court and settled in for the Women's Singles. Given Jankovic's background, she had huge fan support, with plenty of fans chanting, and waving flags. In fact, I felt badly for her opponent because the support for Jankovic was so obvious. As the match wore on, I realized that much of the support for Jankovic was fueled by fans who wanted to see the next match between Aussie fan favorite Arthurs and Fish. They wanted Jankovic to win the second set simply because she won the first, since that would mean the Arthurs' match would be that much sooner. As it turned out, the Women's Singles match was close, with Jankovic prevailing 6-3, 6-4. I continue to be impressed with how well Jankovic moves and gets to everything. Though she hits the ball hard, she doesn't have the weapons that some of the other players have, but I can see her being a top ten player for awhile.

After the Jankovic match, the excitement for Arthurs became palpable. The arena was filled mainly with Aussie fans, and they let it be known that Arthurs was their favorite Aussie player! Groups of fans started songs at different junctures around the stadium; one group got a "wave" going in both directions which I had never seen before. By the time the players came out on court, the excitement could not be higher. I got so caught up in watching and listening to what the crowd was doing that I must have missed what happened in the warm-up, but it soon became apparent to everyone in the crowd, much to their dismay, that Arthurs was limping after his first serve. Although he tried to serve and play out the points, it was clear that he could not move for balls that were out of his reach. And he couldn't get much pace on his infamous serve because he couldn't put his weight into it (I found out later that he injured his knee during the warm-up). The crowd tried to encourage him to play on, but no matter how much they cheered, Arthurs could not keep going, and finally, he retired at 0-3 in the first set. It was obviously painful for him to do that since this would be his last Australian Open. I cannot imagine what he must have been feeling to know that he was disappointing so many of the Australian faithful. The crowd seemed stunned as well. The excitement that had permeated the arena quickly dissipated as fans filed out to find other matches to watch.

After the stunning ending to Arthurs v. Fish, I eventually made it to Show Court 2 where Shahar Peer (ISR) was playing Tatiana Golovin (FRA). The match looked to be nearly over since Golovin had won the first set and was leading in the second, but Peer mounted a comeback and forced a third set. I stayed for the remainder of that match. I had read about Peer in a recent Tennis magazine that reported she had taken one or two years to serve in the Israeli army. And her support was evident as several groups of fans displayed Israeli flags and chanted wildly whenever she won a point. In fact, I would have to say that her fan support probably played a big role in her comeback against Golovin (much to Golovin's dismay).

The atmosphere around Melbourne Park became increasingly festive as the afternoon wore on. There have been bands performing entertainment in the late afternoons, and I could hear it toward the end of the Golovin-Peer match. It so happened that another match had been moved to Show Court 2 due to the rain and it featured an up-and-coming American, Sam Querrey. I had only heard of him through comments by James Blake, who said how oblivious this 19-year old was, adding that he would go out on the court wearing shoes with holes in them and not think anything of it. That was all I knew about him going in, but I knew he would be in for a tough match since he was facing Spain's Tommy Robredo. What I did not know was that Querrey is probably about 6' 5" and reminds me of McEnroe's former doubles partner, Peter Fleming, although Querrey is lankier at this point. He does have a serve and wicked ground strokes, but he doesn't yet have the transition game to handle the low shots en route to the net. Anything above net height is almost a sure winner for him, but if it is low or at his feet, he sets it up and that meant Robredo was able to easily pass him. Robredo took the first set, but Querrey held on to win the second set in a tie-break. By the time they got into the tiebreak, Roddick had begun to play his third round match against Safin on RLA. From where I was sitting for the Robredo-Querrey match, I could turn around and see the big screen of Roddick's match. After Robredo and Querrey split sets, I decided it was time to head for home and watch the remainder of Roddick v. Safin at home... which is why I didn't finish my blog until Saturday.

Saturday turned out to be the best day of all, since I got to see James Blake against Robby Ginepri--both Americans. But that is another story for another day and now it is time for me to get some rest. So I will pick up there tomorrow. Cheers:-)!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Day 4: "Garnier Girls Day" at the Open

Today was "Garnier Girls Day" at the Aussie Open. I'm not really sure what made this day any different from the first three days although apparently there was a special breakfast for girls. Beyond that, Garnier has been sponsoring a free makeover for all girls and women who are willing to stand in line for up to three hours (in this heat?!). I talked to a couple of young Aussie women in their mid-twenties who admitted standing in line for more than three hours even after cutting in line at that. When I asked if it was worth it, they showed me their free bags of goodies, and said they got a massage as well as a makeover. If it was air conditioned, then I could understand the attraction, but otherwise, I cannot see doing something that would mean missing three hours of tennis!! Having said that, let me get to the tennis for today.

It was another hot day and as you may have heard, some of the players are not happy about the heat policy that is in effect. The crux of the policy is that if you start a match, whether on the outer courts or on Vodafone or Rod Laver Arena, the latter of which are able to close the roof, you must continue the match to completion. Once it reaches the heat limit (I think it is 40 degrees C), new matches will not be started. Some of the top players, including Federer, Blake and Sharapova have expressed concerns that it could be dangerous to the players to continue to play in such heat. I definitely see their points, and it could also be a health issue for fans, although it seems that fans are taking every precaution they should. I have only seen one person needing medical care due to heat-related issues. That doesn't mean there aren't more. The following article ("Heat policy under review") elaborates on this issue if you want to read more: http://www.theage.com.au/news/tennis/heat-policy-could-change-as-players-give-it-a-serve/2007/01/17/1168709831910.html

As hot as it was today, I decided to sit through several long singles matches because I wanted to see players I had heard about. The first was between #15 seeded Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) and Emilie Loit (FRA). I really thought Hantuchova had the weapons to win in straights but she made some ill-advised down the line shots when she was out of position or just didn't have the percentage shot, and with Loit's shotmaking ability, it went to three sets. I have to say it wasn't a well-played match overall, but for some reason, I was intrigued by all that was going on. In case you don't know about Hantuchova, she was billed as the "next Anna Kournikova" before Maria Sharapova hit the scene. At first, she had some good wins and rose pretty high in the rankings; ESPN: The Magazine even did a feature on her in their magazine (and ESPN rarely does features on female athletes!!). Perhaps there is a curse with ESPN just like the Sports Illustrated jinx. In any case, Hantuchova got so obsessed with working out (she may have had an "exercise addiction"), that it became dangerous to her health; ESPN: Outside the lines did a special on "Anorexia Athletica" in which they discussed the pitfalls of doing too much exercise and gave Hantuchova as an example. The photos they showed of her revealed why she came to be referred to as the "Slovakian Skeleton." The more weight she lost, the worse she played. Finally, she turned it around and now she has climbed back up in the rankings. And oh, did the (mostly male) fans love her in today's match. There was one group of male admirers who had the letters of her name written on their bare chests (H-A-N-T-U-C-H-O-V-A). They led most of the cheers. Before the first point, another male admirer yelled, "Come on, legs!" It might be humorous if it wasn't so frightening to think about what she almost did to her health to look like she does!

After Hantuchova won in three sets over Loit, I proceeded to Margaret Court Arena to see the second and third sets of #13 seeded Ana Ivanovic (SRB) vs. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL). The level of tennis in this match seemed to be much higher than in the Hantuchova-Loit match. Unfortunately, my biggest challenge by this time was trying to avoid the heat. I finally devised a way of making a tent out of my shirt by draping it over my hat. Several people have said they were looking for me on t.v. so if you were, you might not actually recognize me, but you may recognize my shirt. I never thought I would be hiding from the sun but I take everyone's warnings seriously, especially after some of the issues I have had with my skin and exposure to the sun's rays in Texas. Anyway, back to the tennis, Ivanovic outlasted Radwanska in three sets and I was never so glad for a match to end. When it did, I sought respite in Rod Laver Arena to find shade before going over to Vodafone.

Yesterday I wrote about a player from the U.S. who had his hair dyed red, white, and blue, i.e., Zack Fleishman and here is some more info about him: http://www.australianopen.com/en_AU/bios/ms/atpf337.html
Apparently, Zack played at UCLA and sometimes dyed his hair the Bruin's colors of light blue and yellow. He thought it would be appropros at the Aussie Open since so many of the fans come decked out in their national colors. In that sense he was correct. I am sorry this clip about him does not show his red, white, and blue "do," but if you are lucky, you got to see him in the Open coverage. As for the player who defeated Zack, there was an article in today's paper, The Age that tells about Wayne Arthur's routine that helps him prepare for his matches: http://www.theage.com.au/news/tennis/wayne-gets-wiggle-on-to-advance/2007/01/17/1168709831898.html

I also went back to find some of the articles about the violence at the Australian Open after realizing that I had greatly underestimated the impact of what happened. One thing I have found in studying sport is that many politicians want to forward this notion that sports should be a space that is pure of politics, and yet there are many ways that politics enter into that space despite their best intents. That is what one of the articles that I read was about. Here are several on the subject. I would be especially interested in knowing what kind of coverage has been given to this on U.S. television so please feel free to add your comments: (One story appeared in the Herald Sun, http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21071772-661,00.html, while another was on Yahoo.com:
New ethnic violence shocks Australians: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070116/wl_asia_afp/australiaracismreligion)

The last full match that I caught today was in Women's Singles and pitted top-seeded Maria Sharapova against another Russian, Anastasia Rodionova. Unlike her first round near-meltdown, Sharapova was reportedly back on form (as the following article suggests: http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21080970-661,00.html) I wasn't sure if I would get to see Sharapova's match since they played in Vodafone Arena, but I think I now understand how to get in to see matches by going to the match preceding the one I want to see and then working my way down to the front row. As a result, I also saw the third set of Andy Murray (GBR) against Fernando Verdasco (ESP), which Murray won in three. Murray is obviously a crowd favorite, and looks to be the new British hope as Tim Henman nears retirement. The crowd for Sharapova and Rodionova did not have much to get excited about as it was pretty one-sided, unlike Sharapova's first round match against Pin. I mentioned before that it didn't seem that Sharapova had the same kind of crowd support that Serena Williams seemed to have in yesterday's match. I still have that impression. But that does not stop the horde of photographers from obsessing on Sharapova as she is warming up and at the end of her matches. Sitting in the front row, I could really see it up close. It was somewhat similar to the kind of attention given to Daniela Hantuchova, who played in the earlier match that I mentioned.

After the Sharapova match, I wanted to catch some of the Women's Doubles, especially the young team of Shenay Perry and Bethanie Mattek (If you do not remember Mattek's outfit at last year's Wimbledon, you must see the following photo: http://blog.killervirgo.com/uploaded_images/Bethanie%20Mattek-723839.jpg). While I only saw less than a set of the doubles, I did catch the tie-break which was exciting and had some great points. I really liked the way that Mattek and Perry played together, despite having an imposing task facing them in Nicole Vaidisova and her partner, Emma Laine. But they more than held their own and for their efforts will next face the seeded team of Black and Huber.

By now I have probably missed the night match of "Rafa" Nadal, but will see if there is anything left just the same. Hope everyone is getting to see some good tennis at home, and I would love to hear your comments about the coverage you are seeing compared to what I have written about seeing. Cheers till tomorrow:-)!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Day 3: Wednesday, January 17

After a good night's sleep, I was ready to go for Day 3 but still did not leave for the courts until about 10:40 (since I wanted to post my blog before I left:-). That got me to the courts about an hour later, and it was still the first set of the Women's Singles match between Virginia Ruano Pascual (ESP) and #11 seeded Jelena Jankovic (SRB) when I found a seat in Margaret Court Arena (MCA). Wednesday was much more comfortable, cool and overcast by comparison to Tuesday, but I remembered what John and Bec McMillen had warned about preparing for Australian weather in the summer--i.e., to always wear sunscreen even if it feels cool and looks overcast. So, I followed their instructions to a T:-) Once again, I found a great seat around midcourt, and settled in to see whether Jankovic would uphold her seeding. She was ahead 4-1 when I sat down and held on to win the first set 6-2. Jankovic was noticeably stronger than Ruano Pascual, who reminded me of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario--small, good mover, but sometimes pulls up on her forehand; if she made it to the net, she could be lethal. Ruano Pascual and Suarez are seeded 4th in doubles and have won a number of grand slam doubles titles, so I knew she would be a good maneuverer if she could get control of the points. Unfortunately for her, she could not and Jankovic won the match, 2 and 2.

I was about to depart from MCA after the WS but thought it might be good to stay around for at least the first set of the next match since it featured an American (does the name Zack Fleischer ring a bell? It did not for me, so you may wish to look him up on Australian Open.com). He was slated to play Wayne Arthurs, one of the Aussie favorites who is in his final year of play and plans to retire after this year. There was an obvious contingent of Aussies filling the stadium after the women's match finished, so I thought I might want to stick around to see what their cheering section was like, and to offer moral support for an American in Oz. Arthurs came out first and, not surprisingly, he was greeted warmly by his compatriots. Shortly thereafter, another player entered the court carrying one racket and looking like he had just wandered in off the streets, with his hair dyed red, white, and blue. This had to be Zack... with one racket only? This could not be good; he would definitely need some moral support. While the Aussies were doing the wave for Arthurs, I watched Zack warm-up to see if I could get an idea of his game. Things did not look promising at first glance. He had a short backswing on both forehand and backhand, and would hardly be able to generate power against the big-serving Arthurs. When they had the coin toss, Fleischman won, and an Aussie fan yelled out: "It's the last thing you'll win today." Sadly, I feared he would be right. After Zack held serve and nearly broke Arthurs, I began to give him a little more of a chance. Still, the crowd was brutal, with lots of chanting for Arthurs. I felt that someone had to take up for Zack, so I bravely yelled, "Go Zack" in about the middle of the first set, with Zack leading 40-love on his serve. He promptly lost the next two points, before finally holding serve. I decided that would be the last of my yelling for Zack. It was a good thing, too, as he won the first set in a tie-break.

Much as I wanted to stay for the completion of the Fleischman v. Arthurs match, I knew that Serena Williams played the third match on Vodafone, and if I had any hope to see it, I needed to get there and work my way up in line. Before her match, Nadia Petrova was slated to play Gisela Dulko from Argentina, so I wouldn't mind seeing if the young girls from Romania showed up to cheer Nadia again. When I got to Vodaphone, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get in during Petrova's match (second set) as she was about to finish off Dulko. Even better, I got a pretty good seat, down fairly close to the center. But after Petrova's match, I took a chance and moved down to the first row (behind the cameras) and had one of the best seats in the house for Serena's match vs. Anne Kremer (LUX). The match did not disappoint. And I have to say that I think Serena has much more crowd support than Sharapova, so I was surprised and pleased to see that. The first set was a nailbiter, with Serena winning it 7-6 (7-4 tie-break). Kremer was a good player, very consistent, much like Camille Pin who gave Sharapova a run for her money yesterday; however, Serena was mentally tough and seemed to be able to crank it up a notch when needed. Serena won the second set, 6-2 I think it was. In the interview after her match, Serena was asked how she felt about her play. She said she thought she had a tough start, but that Anne played well, and she had to pick up her game; she definitely felt like she was getting back into form, and looks forward to playing more in front of this crowd, adding that it was a fun crowd. Needless to say, her kudos to the crowd drew a big round of applause.

Marat Safin played on Vodafone after Serena finished, which meant Safin had won Monday night, but I had decided to move on to see one of the Men's doubles that featured a former student, Jimmy Thomas, who took lessons when I taught at Hall of Fame Tennis Courts in Canton, OH. He happened to be playing with Paul Goldstein, who had a tough loss the previous night in a four-setter (to Jarkko Niemenen, of Finland, #17 seed). I don't think Jim plays in the Singles. In any case, when I got to Court 10, they were in the second set of their doubles against Alberto Martin (ESP) and Potito Starace (ITA). Goldstein and Thomas won the first set and it looked like they could win in straights, but unfortunately for them, too many net errors led to a tie-breaker in the second set and a third set loss as well. Afterwards, I spoke with Jim and we talked awhile about when he took lessons at Hall of Fame and how he played at Stanford after finishing H.S. It was good to see him play!

By this time, it was beginning to cool off, and I was ready to head for the tram, but decided to stop in on one more match, this on Show Court 2 between Mario Ancic (CRO), seeded #9 and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP). When I arrived for this match, I could hear the Croatian fans cheering wildly since Ancic had just taken the second set to even the match at a set apiece. I decided to stay for the first three games and did just that; it would have been fun to watch more but by now I was spent, and really wanted to get home and get some food in my stomach. When I left, the players were on serve, which meant Ancic was down 1-2 in the third set. I'll let you know tomorrow when I find out who won. In case you wondered about Zack, he only won the first set, so it was curtains after that. Now it is time for me to get back to the televised matches, where Tracy Austin and Jim Courier are sharing commentary duties with Todd Woodbridge. Tonight's remaining match pits Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) vs. Gael Monfils (FRA). More on that later!! Cheers:-)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Day 2: Extreme Heat Policy in effect

If you watched any of the matches on day 2, you probably know that they had to invoke the "Extreme Heat Policy." Before they did, I managed to see several matches or parts of matches, I should say. I had been forewarned that it would be quite hot. In fact, I spoke with a student at Ormond College (where I am staying as an Academic Visitor) who said that she and her friends had decided not to go to Tuesday's matches because it was supposed to be so hot--perhaps 37 degrees C. As it turned out, the on-court temps were estimated to be about 118 F. and that proved to be problematic to more than one player. If you saw any of Sharapova's match vs. Camille Pin, of France, you know that it almost led to Sharapova's upset.

Just one thing from Day 1 that I need to address, and that was what I thought was the slightly exaggerated coverage of the "rioting" between Croats and Serbs (I reported it was Slovenians). Apparently, this was more serious than I originally understood, as it was reported in The Age under the title of "Gangs warn of more ethnic violence today at Melbourne Park." Apparently, it was premeditated as some groups of fans (Croats and Serbs) planned to meet up at the tennis, and reportedly (the Serbs) hoped to stab a few Croats. Obviously, bottle throwing was the least of it. It reminded me of how American telecasts of Baghdatis' match last year reported on the groups of cheering Greek and Cypriot fans (according to today's paper, some of the Greek fans also aligned with the Serbs); while American coverage reported it as harmless cheering, Dr. A (from Bowling Green) interpreted some of what was being said as less than harmless (death to the opponents). My original impression was that this was something like the Ohio State fans encountering Michigan fans, but perhaps this is a bit more serious? Or not.

Back to the tennis on Tuesday, upon arrival, I had to buy a grounds pass but found there were no tix for the evening play (since two Aussies were scheduled, I guess that was no surprise). As it turned out, I stayed only four hours, until the Extreme Heat rule went into effect, deciding that I would go home and watch the remainder on t.v. I did get my ticket validated to come back in case I got re-energized, but ended up sleeping through until this a.m. The first match I caught on Tuesday was between Laura Granville (Stanford, I think she won the NCAA championship one year) and Yulia Beygelzimer, of the Ukraine. Granville won the first set, I believe it was 6-2. Her play reminds me of Gretchen Magers formerly of Trinity University, and another NCAA champ in the 1980s. It was obvious that the heat was a factor. Players applied ice bags to their necks while they sat on the side during changeovers.

During Granville's match, I could hear quite a bit of noise coming from other courts, so decided to check it out after the first set. On a nearby court, Robby Ginepri (US) was playing Nicolas Almagro, from Spain. Almagro won the first set, 6-4 but Ginepri was up 4-1 in the second. I stayed for several games since I was starting to feel like I needed to get out of the sun. As I wandered back to the Rod Laver Arena, I caught a few points from different matches: Juan Ignacio Chela (ARG) vs. Potito Starace (ITA); and Anna Chakvetadze (RUS) vs. Sybille Bammer (AUT) who were about to go to a third set.

Inside Rod Laver Arena, I decided to walk around just to stay out of the heat, and in the chance that someone might be willing to relinquish a pass to the matches (no such luck:-). Sharapova was about to split sets when I arrived, and after she did, I decided to watch the third set from inside the arena on one of the big screens. There was a big screen outside as well, but even the shade would not make that as bearable. It did not take Sharapova long to go up 5-0, and appeared that it would be over quickly, until Camille Pin slowly worked her way back into the match, evening the score and then going ahead. Although the score was tied at 6-all, the Australian Open has the final set played out, which meant that Pin went ahead 7-6 on her serve. Somehow, although Sharapova was in obvious distress, she managed to pull herself together to break Pin's serve and win the next two games to win the match. As the third set progressed, the crowd that was watching the big screen really grew as well. By the end of the match, I looked behind to see that about 50-75 people had gathered to watch the end of the match. There was quite a bit of cheering for points, mostly for Pin. But there were still some excited Sharapova fans who cheered loudly when she won.

After Sharapova's match, they announced that the Extreme Heat rule would be in effect and it would take 25 minutes to close the roof before Nadal's match would begin. The ruling had been invoked on the outer courts, except where matches were already underway. The only match that was still being played featured David Nalbandian (ARG) and Janko Tipsarevic (SRB). Nalbandian was about to secure the fourth set, leading 5-0 when I sat down in Margaret Court Arena. Nalbandian won the fourth set to go into a fifth, and played to about 3-2 when Tipsarevic retired (no doubt due to the heat:-). With that, I too decided to retire due to the heat, and headed back on the tram to Ormond College. I figured that I could get lunch (or dinner) and watch the remainder on t.v, except that I fell asleep and ended up doing neither. Which brings me to Day 3... and now it is time for me to get going if I hope to see today's matches. Good day, for now!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Day 1: Australian Open



Monday, January 15, 2007

Day 1 of the 2007 Australian Open began at 11:00 a.m. with matches on 16 different courts. On Sunday, shortly after I arrived, I bought a grounds pass which allowed me in to all the courts except Rod Laver Arena (see photo above), which was where Amelie Mauresmo vs. Shenay Perry played the first match of the day.

Although the Tennis Center opened at 10:00 a.m., I decided not to go in until later since I planned to stay through the evening matches. The evening matches featured Serena Williams vs. No. 27 seeded Mara Santangelo, to be followed by Marat Safin vs. Benjamin Becker (no relation to Boris, but I think he had a win over Agassi in 2006).

Knowing how to dress in Melbourne was a challenge in itself. It was supposed to be rather hot (30 degrees C., which translates to high 80s F.) and people had told me to be sure to wear lots of sunscreen, a hat, and cover up as much as possible. I couldn't imagine wearing clothes that would cover me up if it was going to be that hot. But it did not take long for me to realize how hot it would be after sitting in the sun for the first set of Vince Spadea's match against Igor Andreev. Spadea won the first set 6-2, although it looked at first like Andreev would outhit him. I am not sure what the final score was because after the first set, I decided to check out Vodafone Arena to see if I could watch some of Roddick's match. When I checked earlier, Roddick was down a set and 2-4 in the second, so it looked like he could have an early exit. Fortunately, he had righted himself when I checked back; he was up two sets to one and 3-1 in the fourth set. Unfortunately, there were no available seats in Vodafone, so no one was permitted entry. But since there were some good matches to follow, I decided to queue up for the subsequent matches after Roddick's match finished. Apparently, there were still too few seats available, so we were later informed that we would not be allowed in even after his match ended. That was when a curious bit of timing occurred--the kind that never ceases to amaze me. As I was standing in line, speaking to an Aussie couple behind me, three young tennis fans walked up to us and asked if we would like their re-entry tix to Vodafone. They had been inside for Roddick's match and were given the re-entry passes which would allow them to go back in to the stadium, but they had decided they did not wish to do that. Instead, they asked if we would like to use them. As a result, we didn't have to wait in line, but could go right into the stadium and find seats:-)

The match after Roddick's featured an American, Jill Craybas, who defeated Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2005, against Nicole Vaidisova, the 17 year old phenom from Czechoslovakia, who made it to the semis of the French last year. Both players hit a high number of errors, but fortunately for Vaidisova, she outhit Craybas in winners, and that made the difference, as she won in three sets. The next match pitted No. 4 seeded Ivan Lubjicic against another American Mardi Fish. I was interested in that match for several reasons-it was out of the sun, I had seen Fish in several other matches on t.v., and the Croatian contingency had proven to be rather rowdy (I need to talk to Antonia Meek about this:-). In fact, shortly after I had arrived at the Stadium, before I had decided which match I would watch, I heard several groups of young men chanting in their native languages. One group had red and white checked shirts that looked like the Croatian flag. They seemed to be facing off against a second group that was chanting (I later found they were from Slovenia). As they got closer to one another, the chanting grew more intense until someone in one group launched a plastic bottle toward the others. After three more bottles exchanged sides, the security stepped in to separate the two groups. Apparently it was reported on Australian t.v. as rioting, although I would say that those reports were a bit exaggerated. Still, I would be interested to know how it was covered on U.S. t.v. if anyone happened to see it (probably at 3:30 a.m.).

The night matches were great, although Marat Safin seemed less than inspired. Still, it was nice to be inside Rod Laver Arena to sense the crowd excitement. I actually missed the first three games of Serena's match, since I had gone to find something to eat and people were only allowed into their seats during the changeover. I was able to watch the first three games on the t.v. monitor, and thought Serena looked a bit tentative. Inside the stadium, I had a great seat, Row H, and a wonderful view of the play. Serena just seemed to get stronger as the match went on, and she ended up winning in straights. After the match, she was asked if she had any more Australian Opens in her future; she said that was why she was here. It would not surprise me at all to see her go deep into the tournament if she continues to play the way she did tonight. As for Safin, they described him as the "enigmatic Russian," and that pretty well captures how he played in the one set I saw. He has such talent, but Becker clearly outhustled him and broke late in the first set to win that one.

All in all, there was some great tennis, perhaps more unforced errors in some cases, but still a great day of tennis. Gotta run, so good day to everyone!