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!

2 comments:

synthia said...

Nancy,

I saw Serena Wiliams interviewed on Charlie Rose (PBS) last night-- very interesting-- try to watch it if you can (on the internet??)

Take care and have fun!
I hope you blog somemore as you continue your trip!

aussietennis said...

Hi Syndy,
Thanks for sharing about this interview with Serena. I will check it out on the Internet for sure.

I had been thinking about continuing the blog some more, just to have a record of what has been happening in New Zealand. Thanks for the idea on that.

Hope all is well with you.
Cheers,
Nancy