The Day That Was, And Other Stories

May 26, 2011

While I would never say no to kicking back in a Heineken Garden or Grey Goose Lounge, watching tennis from an outer court and feeling grass between my toes in front of a big screen, I’ve got to admit there are some benefits I’ve noticed from sitting this Slam out (first since USO ’09, excepting Wimby last year which doesn’t count as I was embarking on a road trip of the universe and didn’t even find out that Australia had a new Prime Minister, let alone the crazy story that is Isner-Mahut). It gives me a chance to keep up with the off-court side of the slams, the stories, the interviews, the photos – oh wait, what did you say about interviews? Never mind then – and cool stuff the tourney websites like to post (aside from interview transcripts, what?) like Road to Roland Garros and the awesome new Name A Player video interview.

So based on the day I’ve had, here’s my little recap of Day 4 on the dirt in Paris, as seen through the lens of the Interwebz:

Woz and Woz: If the umpire wasn’t challenged enough by CWoz and AWoz of Wozniacki and Wozniak name, further dramz were presented when Ms Woz – niacki, to be precise, decided to argue a line call which was determined by many to be “unsportsmanlike” as it was set to distract AWoz, who promptly lost the TB, the set, and the match. I’ve always said Caro is good for the sport and we should embrace her, but like any 20-year-old engaged in high stakes to prove their worth, emotions can take over – talk to your average college kid re. SATs, cheerleading or internship dramz and you’ll know she’s not alone. Nuff said.

So Frenchie, So Chic: Showman Gael Monfils decided to provide the folks on Phllippe Chatrier with some bang for his buck, ably assisted by FFT wildcard recipient Guillerme Rufin, a man I am only aware of due to his first-round exit at the hands of Tomic in a rain-delayed match in Melbourne last year. They battled it out in four sets, but it’s the crowd favourite La Monf who’ll jump-and-fake-tweener on into the next round.

Viktor Hanescu was on the verge of making this clay season all the more memorable, following an impressive run last week in Nice, challenging the undefeated Novak Djokovic in the first set before falling behind and ultimately retiring due to injury. He scored the consolation prize that all Rafole opponents get these days, though – a worldwide Twitter trend. #tennisgoingmainstream, woo!

My Sam maintained her “attitude and composure” with a cool win over Simona Halep, love and 2. Oh yes.

David Ferrer continued his badass awesomeness of the last year or so but still failed to remind half the world he exists when posting his TWO HUNDREDTH win on clay today. For the record, ladies and gents, that’s huge.

Hearts surged, melted and finally broke in an incredible roller-coaster match from the lovely yet sadly stricken Sabine Lisicki against a kinda-slumping-without-her-model-coach Vera Zvonareva. Heart, guts and pretty play weren’t enough for the German who gave up matchpoints as her body gave out, leaving her writhing on the ground and sobbing her guts out before a stretcher carried her off court along with the tears of half the tennis universe.

Julia Goerges didn’t disappoint those who’ve picked her as this year’s breakout despite losing the first set to Lucie “Miz Berdych” Safarova; Richard Gasquet was pretty much the same against Marcel Granola Bar, another Court Thirteen favourite.’Twas a sad day for family Berdych-Safarova as the Tomas-Slayer of Round One, Stephane Robert, failed to back up his birdslaughter and fell to Fabio Fognini. Whatevs.

Badass Bethanie Mattek-Sands emerged from the All-American match against Court Thirteen favourite “Girl in the Pink Skirt” Varvara Lepchenko with her black grease paint still intact – only to tell us all on Roland Garros radio, that actually, kids, it ain’t greasepaint after all – the traditional eye black is actually stickers, which don’t smudge the same in the heat. Also, they serve a purpose beyond mere badassery – despite matching oh-so-well with BMK’s fabulous on-court ensembles of long socks and Gaga-esque outfits, the eyeblack removes glare from the sun. American fans of football and basketball may have been aware, but from this Aussie girl – who woulda thunk it?

It was a good day for our loved ones, come to think of it, with Aussie neighbour Anastasia Rodionova, Canadian sweetheart Rebecca Marino, sexy Russian favourite Mikhail Youzhny and beauty-brains-and-beats maestro Janko Tipsarevic all making it through to the next round, even before breakfast, New York time.

Last mention must go to the match of the day that left my livescoring self hanging at the edge of my desktop as tennis history showed us a brief open page in its books before slamming shut again – refer, of course, to the epic five setter between GEE GEE EL aka Guillermo Garcia Gomez aka Guillerme Garcia-Lopez of Spain, and Marsel Ilhan, the Uzbek-turned-Turkish player who’s already been the first Turkish player into R2 of a Slam and looked close to making history a second time round in the third. They finished 13-11 in the third, not that anyone would know, being on a non-TV court that even RG radio didn’t deign to switch to due to the “lack of ball sound” on court. And that, my dears, is the joy of the interwebz. Lots of stories unfolded – oh yes, not that I will blog about them now – but nothing beats pulling up a chair, grabbing a beer and basking in the sunshine out at Court Number Thirteen.

Bonsoir, mes amies. See you tomorrow for another belle journee of joue de tennis!


Bloody Marvellous

May 26, 2011

While the world mourns the state of American men’s tennis, John Isner goes ahead and takes Rafa Nadal to five sets. On clay. In a first round match. While they’re aflutter over the dearth of women’s aces in the sport, girls like Jill Craybas and Varvara Lepchenko  make it to the second round, teens like Sloane Stephens, Melanie Oudin and Coco Vandeweghe are playing main draw, and surprise acts like Vania King and Bethanie Mattek-Sands have chances to go deep in the tournament..

As the FFT worries over the close to 100% sure fact that there’s no way the prized Coupe des Mousquetaire will end up in the hands of any of their countrywomen, the top 20 – and even top 50 – is chock-full of Frenchies who casually led their country to a Davis Cup final last year.

While Australia mourns over Lleyton Hewitt’s absence and rumours of an impending retirement and places all their guts behind Sam Stosur for this year’s title, Jarka Gajdasova and Anastasia Rodionova, both breakout successes at last year’s event, have made it clean to the third round.

And what of the last Grand Slam nation? The one who pin their hopes on a man sometimes deemed to be British, sometimes Scottish, but always with exceptionally bad hair, an emo attitude and an uncanny habit of taking the best players to the limit only to fold when the stakes get high? Despite the constant whingeing over  how Andy Murray will/won’t/must/can’t/should win a Slam, turns out the Brits have more of a legitimate reason to whinge than any other ‘slumping’ nation over the state of Women’s tennis. Didja know, for example, that no British woman had made it past the first round of Roland Garros since, oh, let’s say, 1992?

Until yesterday, that is, when the lovely teenage Heather Watson and her experienced compatriot Elena Baltacha swept aside their opponents to dance into the second round, creating British history and also reminding the world that some women in tennis are just ‘brilliant’. Bally’s been around for a while and happy to be passing on the torch, but keeping it competitive at the same time as the British women dance around the edges of the top 100 (along with the gorgeous Annie K, or Anne Keothavong).

Pic: Getty.

Bally’s got Vania King next, another surprise win from the first round, which could make Americans very happy. So either way we have jubilating media and casual fans sitting up to take interest. Joy!

“Hev”‘s become a familiar face to tennis fans of late with her excellent featuring  on the WTA Experia Hotshots channel, and the girl looks, sounds, acts, and plays as lovely as any future hope of the nation should be. Pair her up with Laura Robson and it’s not looking too bad, innit?

Pic: Getty.

She plays Kanepi tomorrow. Interesting to see whether Kaia can back up her surprise slam results of late and give the British something to really celebrate about – maybe taking the heat off another young man?

Let’s do this, Ladies.


Paris In the Spring

May 26, 2011

Today in New York we got our first real spring day. I don’t mean a hint of sunshine in the air and no coat weather – I mean full on, summer-is-around-the corner HEAT. And it was lovely.

So while I contemplated the concept of relegating boots to the underbed storage compartment (yeah, I’m fancy like that) I was able to more adequately comprehend the notion that somewhere on the other side of the world, under a blazing sun in a pretty city we like to call Paree, there’s a host of ladies and gents lined up ready to compete for one of the toughest championships in the world (we tennis fans like to call it that. Other sportsmen can step aside, ahoy). There are stories aplenty as we embark on this two week adventure in Paris in the spring, and being that this year I’m not racing around town looking for wifi and streams and friendly bars that will play said streams for me*, I can actually pay a little more attention to the huge rush of mediated content that descends on us starved tennis fans and choose a few pieces for anyone who wants to read it. (Probably being, none).

If you’ve been exploring the sunshine and meadows outside of our very comfortable-thank-you-very-much tennis-fan cave, you might want to catch up on some of the big stories we’re contemplating this week. Such as:

– Novak Djokovic, man of the moment. No, really. The cyborg, crafted by a bunch of mad scientists attempting to see how long it’d take before we noticed that a man was actually a robot, was let out of his lab to wreak havoc over the last six months, winning every match from his December heroic patriotic showdown in Belgrade’s Davis Cup Final to the Australian Open to sweeping the American hard court masters in Miami and Indian Wells, and absolutely demolishing Rafa Nadal – the Rafa Nadal – on clay courts in Europe. That’s a lot of matches – 40, to be precise. So now the streak is on the line, the number one ranking isn’t far out of reach, and everyone who’s spent the last few years facepalming at Nole’s confidence breakdowns and asthmatic breakdowns while falling in love with his clownish, adorable personality is jumping for joy as he delights us on court, Sunday after Sunday.

– Rafael Nadal: Aside from a very sad day in June 2009 that Rafa’s fans try not to remember too often, the man’s been indestructible on the red dirt he likes to call his own, and in the House he has built, also known as Phillipe Chatrier Stadium in Paris. Last year he swept the clay season – this year, he snagged titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona while giving up the Rome and Madrid Masters titles to the man – or machine – who was once the object of a fairly adorable bromance. Rafa’s holding on to the number one ranking, he’s in contention for a number six Roland Garros title (up there with Bjorn Borg), and he’s not quite sure if he can handle taking the respectful rivalry he’s had with Fed all this time to the bromancey, football-watching, doubles-playing love he’s got with Nole in the trivalry.

– Roger Federer: Yeah, remember him? The news outlets are wondering the same thing. Watch those spaces for lots of “is-he-or-isn’t-he” on his way down prewritten pieces, especially when the inevitable “early” round loss happens. But honestly, with Nole running loose and Rafa charging like a bull, is anyone even paying attention?

Then there are the ladies:

– Caroline Wozniacki, The Williams Sisters, and the State of the WTA – Slamless number one is a phrase we’ve uttered before (Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, and a slew of others before they won their maiden titles) but never for as long as twenty-year-old Caro’s been sparking that conversation. The Williams sisters are out, and everyone is bored of ladies tennis. And I’ve just summarized approximately 95% of the tennis-related articles published on mainstream media these days. Wah.

– The Women’s Draw is Wide Open: Said at the start of every tournament but never truer than here. We’ve got the up-and-comers like Julia Goerges and Victoria Azarenka coming off great clay seasons; we’ve got last year’s champ-and-runner-up Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone apparently able to contest it; we’ve got Mommy Kim flexing her Slam-Only muscles; and the “indie-hits” known only to tennis fans who wouldn’t surprise if they made a run here – Andrea Petkovic, Petra Kvitova, Peng Shuai. Last year this time, Vera Zvonareva and Francesca Schiavone were ranked in the 20s and teens. Now look at them. It’s amazing what a good run in a Slam can do, hey?

Other boring stories:

– The Death of American Tennis: Wah, wah, wah. We heard you the first time. You know what, having two men ranked 10 and 11 in the world, or is it 11 and 12 this week isn’t so bad, even if Andy Roddick is the 2nd not the first. And having a bunch of guys trail the skirts of the top 100 isn’t so bad either. Check out Australia and get back to me if you want to talk about a Grand Slam hosting nation being too gracious and granting their trophy to other nations. And, oh yeah, the British and French are moaning too. Woo.

So far the stories are a’creepin’. The British ladies have made history, there are no Aussies left, and despite the whingeing the Americans aren’t doing too badly. Caro is dismantling her opponents and Sam, lovely Sam, has cruised through her first two matches and pleaseohpleaseohplease will stay calm and collected as the week goes on.

So halfway through week one, the stories are still abuzz and now ones are being created every day. So let’s jump into the springtime and waltz down the dark green leafy streets and inhale the red dust and get DIRTY ON CLAY!

* Shoutout to the wonderful staff at The Gov in Jerusalem, Israel for looking after me so well last year, plying me with Stella and keeping me in streams; and the fabulous barstaff slash receptionists at Peace and Love Hostel in Paris for showing me the way to RG.


Awesomeness Overload

May 23, 2011

For the last year and a half, every tennis Grand Slam for me has either been a full body experience that I’ve physically attended, or a close to non-event due to travel, which has limited my reading/blogging/watching.

Today marks the start of the French Open, Roland Garros, the clay slam and a wonderful two weeks for clay fans and those with the American time difference who don’t have to work. It’s also the start of the inevitable Grand Slam Awesomeness Overload that plagues us tennis fans, which I’d forgotten extends out of the stadium to those of us glued to our laptops at home.

Awesomeness overload works a certain way at Slams: You arrive, and there are eighteen courts, maybe more, all chock-full of your favourites. And not just a random favourite ranked 76 in the world (Hai, Dima… *winks*) but every single favourite of yours and others who are ranked as high as top ten and have fans spilling out of the stands plus lone countrymen and countrywomen who have only a few fans and need the support to the random qualifier who has only a few straggling spectators in the stands and need some support so you throw your lot in with them. Between all the awesomeness on court, and the excitement of the practice courts, and the general atmosphere of the slam, you’re running this way and that like a headless chook and although my analogies are out of whack this morning, the fact is, it’s all pretty nuts.

But thinking back to my last two Day Ones at the Aussie Open and the US Open last year, when I ran and frazzled and fretted and queued and ran to catch the end of the upsets and finally gave up and sat down to watch a full match of just one favourite from start to finish (you got me, Dmitry Tursunov, and you stole my heart, Viktor Troicki), and that seems paltry compared to the effort required from the at home fan.

I’ve got my laptop in front of me, which brings with it the responsibilities of IBM Slamtracker, Pointstream and every other statistical measure available online; Roland Garros radio and liveblogging with endless commentary; the incessant sounds of the peanut gallery with my Twitterverse cheeping in unison over every upset, withdrawal, practice court decision, and tweeted photo from a fan on the ground; the general frazzle of watching a match of your favourites; the six-split-screen option of watching five courts at once as you determine which match will turn into “the” epic match that goes five in round one; and of course, the never-ending supply of images that are usually scrounged around from the Internet but arrive in a cascade of awesomeness from our good friends at Getty Images and the tournament themselves. It’s enough to make contemplating the Grand Slam iPhone battery drainage, constant scoreboard checking mid-match and practice-court-decision making of live Grand Slam attendance an easier option.

The clay is most definitely redder on the other side.

But in other news this morning, it’s Roland Garros you guys! Let’s watch some tennis!


So why don’t you… Slide

May 11, 2011

While the US is lamenting the sad state of the first year in just about FOREVER (no really, FOREVER is the word being bandied about) that there are no Americans – male or female – in the tennis top ten, and player development coach Patrick McEnroe (whose book I am currently reading, and let me just say it makes for riveting stuff and you should all grab a copy from Amazon today because it is cheap and fun and tells you things about tennis) is running about getting nervous and everyone is making comments about the future of tennis in this tennis-starved country where fuzzy yellow balls and pretty green courts are the realm of country clubs and college kids who aren’t good enough for track, and Grand Slam finals are cut short by major television networks in favor of other far more obscure sports that involve balls on tables….

Well, while all these shenanigans are happening, the Aussieans have gone – that happened to us already, yes indeed it did, sir! And it won’t happen to us again, no indeed it won’t, sir! (except in Australia no one ever really says sir).

And the lovely folk at Tennis Australia, who I tend to wax lyrical about on occasion despite the fact we haven’t produced a Grand Slam Champion in a year or two or ten (nine, to be precise) have proceeded to try and find ways to make sure that the new crop of kiddies are well and ready to battle the Europeanoid dirt-rat-hard-court-whizz-hybrids who are currently dominating our hearts and our tennis courts… by sending a bunch of kids off to Roland Garros! Yay!

Isn’t it lovely?

There are blogs you can read about it on tennis.com.au and hear all about how the kids went to the supermarket for fruit bars, and heard from a lady who made funny noises, and ate pizza and pasta in Paris and yes! Even learned to SLIDE! ON CLAY! ON CENTRE COURT AT ROLAND GARROS!

That, my friends, can only be a good thing. Go forth, ye young uns! Make friends with Spaniards and Serbs and STEAL WHATEVER IS IN THEIR DRINK.

While the gorgeous Maddison Inglis (whose blog you must read here) has gone to Slovenia to practice her slipping and sliding and being awesomely European, there’s another one of particular adorableness who will be playing in the kiddie version of the juniors event during the actual tournament, the  Longines Future Tennis Aces round-robin, and seriously, 12-year-old Chase Ferguson, I’d like to adopt you.

See you in five years, kid, when the Aussie Open are handing you wildcards and you are poster boy for Court Thirteen.

Pic: Rebecca Hallas


Let’s Talk About Lleyton

May 11, 2011

Remember him?

The Australian media have given us our latest Lleyton update, informing us that he is strong, tough and ready and able to contest the Roland Garros title. According to the excellent Darren Walton, or more likely the subeditors at News Limited, this is an “audacious” bid and a “shock comeback” – and this lady here who is purely a basement clicker-clacker is inclined to agree. Wanna call it the ‘Slam-oriented stripped-back schedule’ a la late-career powerhouses like Kim and last-year Serena? This is one-man bandaid-application operation, with surgery after surgery with a tournament thrown in the middle… and the weight of a nation behind it. Then again, there’s been no retirement announced yet, so why is it a shock comeback? (I’m still waiting for Tommy Haas to debut in singles, personally…)

Based on an interview with Tony Roche, the Aussie supercoach-to-the-stars talked all about lovely Lleyton: He’s big, he’s strong, he’s lean, he’s mean, he’s ready for a comeback and we’ll probably see him win the title at Wimbledon, if that’s what “very, very well” means.

Roche gives Lleyton a title I feel may be credible – “the toughest competitor that I’ve seen” – “prepared to play through the pain barrier” despite recent foot surgery, numerous surgeries last season, and his creeping age (thirty, to be precise).

“I think he’s used to that. Look, he’d be,” Roche told AAP on Monday. “He’s had a lot of setbacks the last couple of years but he keeps bouncing back. He keeps wanting to improve and he’s so keen, which is great for Australian tennis because we need him to hang in there.”

Thing is, even if he’s tough competing, and whatnot – other guys may actually be better, well, players these days….

Of course, this is Roche’s “highly qualified” opinion, so we just need to bite our tongues and say, oh yes, Australia will have another Slam champion one day. And we do need him, because there are Davis Cup ties to be played, and Australian Open posters to pose for, and young ‘uns who need to see a great player on TV much like Rafter and them boys before him, who can say, “I wanna be a tennis player one day.”

History shows that Lleyton has been good at surgical recoveries, this is true – the article mentions his beating Federer for the Halle title during last year’s grass season and coming close to topping Nole at Wimby, all following an earlier half of the season that saw him give the fabulous Aussie health-care system a run for their money.

The stats for Roland Garros are also pretty impressive: According to the piece, here are some handy facts:

–          Hewitt is the ONLY active player, including Federer and Nadal – to have made the last 32 on over the last 10 years in Roland Garros.

–          Four of the last five years, his losses at Roland Garros have been to – guess who? None other than king of the Court, Rafa Nadal

Which means that all going well with seeding, he needs to win a few rounds, get some match practice, unleash all hell in Halle and – here’s the clincher – show his stuff in SW11.

“I know he’s looking forward to Wimbledon, getting on the grass,” Roche said. “He sees that surface as being well suited to his game…. So if he gets the matches under his belt and good preparation, he can do very, very well at Wimbledon.”

But citing tales of previous victories with little preparation or still-lingering injuries  – 2006 US Open quarterfinals with a knee injury, apparently, and a marathon five-setter against Ferrer at Roland Garros in ’08 without any clay-court match practice – isn’t really going to change the fact that the difference between 2006, 2008 and 2011 is a lot of years – and years tend to do things to bodies, if the beauty companies (damn them!) and the medical industries and all them people who know stuff about the human body are to be believed.

I want to believe it, I really do. I want another Grand Slam trophy in the pool room as much as anyone who’s not Spanish or Swiss (though maybe a little less than those scary Brits – I won’t crucify a man to get it, for example). But as Aussie fans once again bust out their yellow-and-green singlets and blue-and-red-flag-printed-headbands (thanks to the girls at Flushing Meadows who lent me theirs) and start hoping and praying for the man we once knew I tend to wonder… will it ever really happen again?

The strange thing about seeing a former top player struggling in minor tournaments and losing in early rounds is that it’s incongruous with our mindset. In my head, and probably many other fans, Davydenko, Ferrero, Nalbandian and of course Hewitt – are supposed to be winning all the time. Ditto for Tsonga, Verdasco and all those others who did their time in the top 10 only to flounder outside it for far longer. Lleyton can meet a seeded player in the first round and out he goes – but it just seems wrong to me, somehow.

Now ranked 64 in the world, Hewitt has only a handful of points keeping him from obscurity outside the top 100 – including his title in Halle last year, where he defeated Roger Federer in the final, bringing hope to the hearts of many Aussies who don’t want to acknowledge that we are without a champion on the men’s side, for the time being. So he’s welcome to Paris, I invite him there with all my heart. If he can scrounge up some points, I will be forever happy and wave my flag and leave it flying. There’s no one who wants to see Lleyton succeed more than me. I spend my days trying to get Aussies to care about tennis – of course I want him flying high. But there are other places I don’t want him either… And it may be time, before that inevitable downslide where Marinko Matosevic becomes Australian #1 – that he hang up that sweaty backwards cap of his and go out with a nice-and-classy, tastefully-farewelled (not holding my breath for that either) – well, bang.


‘Tis a Tennis Lurrvin Nation, we are

May 5, 2011

Instead of actually catching up on the insane week of tennis which is somehow – shockingly – only halfway complete, I thought I’d draw your attention to another, just as important piece of tennis-related news recently gracing Australian shores (and expats who keep up to date with Australian news online for fear of missing out on conversations in dinner parties in ten years time).

Turns out a study done by an infidelity-driven website in Australia has gleaned the most popular names on those laminated (per Ross Geller) “Lists” made by married couples as to which celebrity they are allowed to sleep with outside of their marriage.

While the ladies list is topped by a former Miss Universe and several international supermodels (Jennifer  “Former Miss Universe” Hawkins, Megan “face of everything hot” Gale, Elle “The Body” McPherson and Miranda “Victoria’s Secret” Kerr), the next are a little surprising: After television presenter Melissa Doyle goes Queen of the Aussie WAGS, official CAB and let us not forget, Mum of Mia, Cruz and darling little Ava Sydney: IT’S BEC HEWITT! Though she’s listed as Bec Cartwright on news.com.au, for the record.

Just to put that in perspective, with 6% of the vote, Bec ties with Naomi Watts, and is just 1% ahead of the fabulously lovely up-and-coming-in-America models slash actresses Abbie Cornish and Rachael Taylor. Guess all the Aussie boys fancy themselves swinging a tennis racket with a lady in diamonds cheering them on courtside, I suppose?

The Aussie girls aren’t blameless either. Tailing off at the end of a list that includes hotties such as Hugh Jackman, Simon Baker, Ryan Kwanten and Eric Bana, 4% of the list said they’d sleep with…. Mark Phillippoussis. I guess if Paris Hilton went there… Or if you have a nice long memory, you might recall this:

Well done, ‘Straya.


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