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!

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