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:-)!

No comments: