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 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, 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.

Tastes Like Candy

May 3, 2011

I’ll catch you up on my tennisy thoughts in the morrow, but for now… how spectacularly finger-lickin’ tasty is tomorrow’s line up in Madrid? Buh-bye, sleep.

Let’s Talk About: Frederrrico.

April 15, 2011

I think about Frederico Gil sometimes. Not because I have too much of a clue who he is, because I don’t (though that should change by the end of this piece). I mean, it might be because he’s Portuguese, and I love humans from that side of town, but no really, it’s because I like to extend out people’s names as far as possible to create some semblance of an interesting nickname. I have a friend called Freddie, he is called Frederico, and as any other deranged tennis fan can tell you, it’s not uncommon for a first name associated with a tennis player to automatically conjure up said tennis player in one’s brain at the time. Try it. Andy! Okay, that was too easy. Let me try a different one. Marat! Okay, I was tricking you (actually not, because for some reason it still conjures up the evil old French revolutionary, but that’s for another day when I finally get to write a weird history blog). Um, okay, let’s try… Frederico! See? I bet it worked for you too.

(PS. One name that tends to defy but also conform to this convention is Guillermo. Only because Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is so scarily similar to Guillermo Garcia-Gomez, that I’m not sure if I’m doing a tennis or a weeds reference. Try it.)

So let’s talk about Frederico Gil. We’re gathered to talk about him today, ladies and gents, because he’s the sole Portuguese player, and we love Portuguese people nearly as much – in fact maybe just as much – as we love Spanish people, because they’re so goddamn nice. And since we never had a chance to talk about him before, I’m taking advantage of today’s achievements to talk about this dude.

Frederico Gil, the highest-ranked Portuguese player ever, beat Gael Monfils today in Monte Carlo to make it to his first ever ATP Masters 1000 Quarter Final. He’ll play Muzz next tomorrow, which, in other breaking news today, is an exciting thing because it means Andy Murray is in a Masters Quarter Final. Who woulda thunk it.

I know he’s not pretty, but he sure has got some guns.

It also means we could be seeing more of this gentleman this week, which is great form from the 26-year-old, who has finalist points to defend in his home tournament of Estoril coming up shortly. Last year in his run to the final in Portugal, he became the first player of his country to reach an ATP final, so let’s hope he can ride on the confidence of what this week’s given him – and what may be yet to come – and go one better in 2011.

In an excellent Deuce profile from 2009, Gil discussed his goals for the future, his changes to his game, his family, and the meaning of his sport in a country like Portugal, where football rules (hi, Cristiano) and tennis is more of an afterthought.

Since we’re playing a getting to know you game here, I thought I’d snip out some extracts of the article so we can understand a little more about the dramas of playing tennis in a country where it isn’t part of a particularly strong tradition… Especially one such as Portugal, that has an insanely strong tradition of another wee little sport that a few people like to play in their backyards – football slash soccer (no I will not capitulate!)

The article quotes Manuel Perez, an RTP television commentator and a writer for the Portuguese sports newspaper O Jogo:

“For me Frederico’s rise up the rankings has been a great surprise. If you asked me two or three years ago if he could reach the Top 100, I would have said ‘no’. But now I must say everyone in Portugal is surprised by his current ranking.

“I have never seen a Portuguese player so mentally strong in 23 years of following the sport,” admitted Perez. “His greatest strength is his mentality. He isn’t a talent like Nuno Marques, who everybody said could be a Top 30 player but [who] made mistakes during his career. Frederico knows how hard the tour is. He knows how to practise and how to manage the press intruding in his personal life.”

“My parents had no experience of playing tennis before I was born, but my father started when he was 31,” explained Gil. “In his youth he had played football for Benfica juniors as he had been inspired by my grandfather, Rui Gil, who played professionally for Benfica. I started playing tennis at the age of five, when my parents built a court in the courtyard garden of our home. Another grandfather had built four houses together and had given one house to my mother and another to my uncle.”

I highly recommend reading the entire piece, as it gives an insight into something most tennis articles fail to cover: The plight of the journeyman tennis player, struggling between winning challengers for a place in the top 50 and then falling back out as mandatory tournaments have him losing again in the first round. It also highlights the difficulty of playing tennis in a country with little history: Every small victory means a huge amount for the populace (yes, I said populace, like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess) but also a huge weight of expectation for their next move.

So, I dunno what’s happening in Portugal right now, but I kinda love Portuguese people, so I’m gonna strap into my supersonic travel machine and hang with them for the next couple days. That way, instead of people hanging their heads “oh no Muzz lost again” tomorrow, we can be happy for someone else. Someone called Frederico, to be precise. Or, Muzz can win, and we’ll all live happily ever after.

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