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:-)!


synthia said...

Hey Nancy,
I love reading your blogs-- very fascinating-- this is a compliment to your beautiful descriptive writing, because as you know, I don't usually follow tennis.

If you see an Australian snowglobe (the cheap plastic kind! [they are the best!]) please bring one home for me and I will reciprocate for you too!

Look forward to more of your blogs!

aussietennis said...

Hey Syndy,
I will of course try to find an Australian snowglobe, especially if I can find a cheap plastic one:-) I will bring it to the conference in Champaign in May. Thanks for adding a comment:-)

synthia said...

thanks! Running off to class now! I teach three nights in a row, 3-hour classes. .