Sunday, January 21, 2007

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)
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:-)

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