View From The Top

January 30, 2011

Soon we’ll be heading down to our spiritual home, that lovely place we spent so many days and nights over the last few weeks. It’s pretty and blue and full of little hidey holes where fun times can happen. There’s that back end towards Hiisense, on Court 22, where the practices happen and the umpires stroll and the Serbians win on Court 18. There’s the other back end near my favourite court, Court 13 and her sister Court 14, where qualifiers and top seeds battle it out in the first few days and even the security guys can’t recall who is playing next. There are the concrete pot plans, where many a crazed fan has climbed for a better view of the practice courts. And there are the little trees where you can dash for a bit of sun or rain shade, depending on Melbourne Mother Nature’s whim of the day.

There are the big screens of Grand Slam Oval and Garden Square, and the joyous beer taps of the Heineken Garden and Jacob’s Creek Wine Bar. The fancy corporates keep to their side of Margaret Court Arena and the unwashed plebs, aglow with face paint and wrapped in flags, queue up to fill up their water bottles on the concourse outside Rod Laver Arena.

It’s Melbourne Park, my lovelies, and I am so sad to farewell it tonight.

Pics: Court Thirteen aka Mine.


Better late than never – Day 2 recap

January 21, 2010

Day 2 Recap – Better Late Than Never

It’s 3am and I’ve just returned from what was once again an epic match. I think I need to stop using that term – epic match – because so far all I have seen this tournament has been just that.

I haven’t written on this blog in two days, but for my tweet peeps out there, you would know that the last few days have just been one thrill after another. From racing around the outside courts to watching the Magician’s swan song, catching the last set of Soderling’s upset and supporting Baghdatis with the crowd, and checking out the many talented players on the outside courts, Day 2 was a whirlwind. Let’s not forget my exciting catch up with two of my favourite umpires on tour, and of course, the EPIC late night thriller between Youzhny and Gasquet.

Day 3 was a little quieter, with my day job taking over and the majority of the day session observed via the genius IBM slam tracker. It was only later when I came up to Rod Laver for a supposedly innocent Round 2 night session that the action began. Let’s put it this way – it was lovely getting to watch a final for the price of Round 2! Then I assumed the night would end off quickly, with Cilic demolishing Aussie upstart Tomic – but what a surprise. It’s now 3.19 am and I have decided to write up more details of the Day 2 and 3 highlights.

You ready? Here goes.

Now usually in Australis come AO time, Day 1 is the day to go. The area is packed with Swedes, Serbs, Aussies and Russians decked out in their national colours and covered in face paint, or even better, zinc. (If you haven’t got zinc where you come from, you need to check it out. It’s like this sunscreen face paint stuff. Potent and awesome, reminiscent of school sports carnivals.) Everyone is wrapped in their flags and the vibe is so thick you could cut it with a knife .

This year on Day One, thanks to the temperamental Melbourne weather, the crowds weren’t as predicted. Now that didn’t turn off the hardy Melbourne crew – instead, they all turned up Tuesday instead. So we had a record crowd Tues, which was amped up again on Wednesday. By the time we got into the grounds, the place was teeming with the vibrantly dressed crowds.

The problem with Days 1 and 2, aside from overcrowding, is the incredible choice of matches available. Everyone is on the outside courts, the show courts are definitely the most fun, and of course you get the big names on centre court that can be watched in the gorgeous Garden Square. This year, Grant Slam Oval has been set up to shorten that annoying walk from Hiisense to Rod Laver and is full of deck chairs, bars and massive flat screens. You could sit there all day with a glass of wine and a good match on.

The girls and I started our morning with a lovely surprise – Baghdatis and Soderling having a hit on Court 9. Soderling is our favourite enemy on CourtOneThree thanks to that fateful night in June when he stole the heart of our beloved Rafa and proceeded to eat it for dinner. But he was hitting with Marcos, who is basically part of the furniture in Melbourne Park and beloved by all. We tried for a signature on my shiny new copy of the Australian Open program but he was in a hurry – the match against Lorenzi was scheduled on MCA later.

We continued perusing the outside courts – Ana Ivanovic was finishing up on MCA and the queues too long, so we headed to Court 2. Aussie wildcard Nick Lindahl was finishing off his match against Nieminen from the night before. Interestingly enough, young Nicholas beat Bernard Tomic in the wildcard playoffs, but in comparison, his sojourn at the Open wasn’t as exciting as Tomic’s. What was exciting, however, was the sight of who was in the chair on Court 2- None other than favourite umpire of all time for our crew, MR CARLOS RAMOS!

If you are hardcore tennis fans, people, you will understand the joy and the excitement of seeing Mr Ramos. For those of you who don’t, I will save it for a guest post that L plans to write, explaining the umpire enigma. Being that the lovely M had already met Mr Ramos the day before, I went over to him as he walked off court and mentioned I was her sister. Of course he remembered her, and told me he’d be on court in 2 matches – the upcoming Soderling match. I of course had no interest in dealing with said player coupled with the irritating Swedish chair squad but would do anything to see our Ramos.

Then the news came over the wires – with Israeli crowd favourite Dudi Sela playing over in the HIisense courts, my clever mates in the stands had spotted Rafa practicing on his favourite, Court 16. Believe me when I say I have never run faster. On our way, we passed Court 17, and who is there flaunting his skinny chest, none other than Andy Murray. So we’ve got Murray on 17, Rafa on 16,  and it’s a feast of young virile men under the age of twenty five. Oh, who happen to play tennis, like, really really well. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

We left Murray playing footy or whatever he was training in that day and came to the crowd by Rafa. Standing by the court triple-deep, with one side closed off, L and S hatched a brilliant plan. Climbing atop the little concrete pot plant tree thingies courtside, L had a perfect view of not only Rafa, but the magnificent Uncle Toni in his sunglasses, clenching his racket. Methinks he doesn’t like our Aussie sunshine – not sure why its not as good as Mallorcan sunshine, but maybe he detected the lack of ozone. Then Rafa decides to leave, but being the gorgeous soul he is, there are autographs happening. And the next thing you know, I have gracefully forgotten my age and am pushing and shoving with the rest of them…..

The rest is history….

Well, not really. Two minutes later Andy Roddick strutted on court and the practice fest continued. With Sela on his way to a loss, we moved back toward the outer courts and caught the end of Santoro’s match. It was really special to see a piece of history in front of our eyes. In his traditional tennis whites and with his old-fashioned grip, the Magician said his last goodbyes to the Grand Slam circuit after participating for the span of 4 decades. The match had been delayed due to rain the night before, but now with the sun shining brightly overhead, the stadium was close to full as the crowd gave a standing ovation, shouting “Allez Fab!”

After a quick look at the schedule, the matches on Margaret Court were too tempting to overlook – Aussie home favourite Casey Dellacqua, renowned for making her way through the 2008 Open with no sponsor and Target clothing, was making a comeback after shoulder injury. Her match would be followed by another home favourite, or adopted son, Baghdatis, whose matches are always a huge party with the massive Greek presence supporting the Cypriot.

I think at this point I started to envy those watching at home. I was missing good matches  – big matches – because the lines were out of control. James Blake on Court 6 had no access and there was no atmosphere at the Federer big screen. The MCA queues were so impossible that the girls at the door had to let people in individually as others left their seats. So I went for a stroll around Grand Slam Oval and tried to catch what I could – Andreev was doing unexpectedly well and there were signs of strain for the unflappable Mr Federer. I gave up though when I heard the girls had finally gotten seats in MCA. I’d get to see Marco, and Casey had won which made it a happy day.

The minute I got in I was instantly wishing I spoke Greek. Nothing like a hundred odd followers draped in blue and white chanting “Marcos Baghdatis” to inspire some ethnic envy! The Aussie Freakinators were still going at it from the afternoon’s Aussie match and the vibe was completely electric. Baghdatis just loves having his crowd at his feet and he milks it for all he’s worth. The Greek songs were sounding amazing and for the eightieth time I wished I knew even a little bit.

Luckily I was just across the way from Soderling v Granollers. Even though Ramos was on the chair, I honestly couldn’t stomach staring at Robin’s awkward, grinning face. The man just gives me the creeps. But lucky I was doing my tweet thing for @betfair_aus, and the fabulous RD_TennisTalk gave me a heads up that I was about to see something very special if I just ventured ten metres north.

And sure enough I did!

Let me flash back to a night some of you may remember – or it might have been day – a night back in June 2009. I was merrily doing my university assignment while listening to RG Radio and occasionally checking my Slamtracker screen. I didn’t really know who this Robin guy was, but I knew one thing, which was that Rafa is invincible. Having watched the AO 09 final, I really thought the crown had been passed on, and there was no stopping the Spaniard. To see him start losing was a shock to the system, and I think there was a point I thought I might be dreaming. I headed to Twitter – as always, my group audience is there for validation – to check I was seeing right. Yes, I was. I couldn’t find a good link to watch it onscreen, but hearing what was happening was close enough. Watching Soderling’s irksome, superlong runner-up speech at the final had me close to nausea and his post match comments irritate me to this day.

So I can’t say I was unhappy to see the Swedish cheer squad left speechless as the lovely Mr Ramos gave, “Game Set and Match, Marcel Gronnellers.” I think I may have cried… or at least hugged L in a very excited manner.

Now we were tired and hungry and had no idea what to do next. Like kids in a candy store with too much to choose from. We headed to the outside courts where we sat with the lovely Melanie Oudin, watching her do well in that first set before it all went downhill, eating dinner and checking out the rest of the evening’s schedule.

After that it was a whirlwind. I wanted to see Moya since the end was nigh, and check out Ferrero at some point as well. Dent was playing, as was Ginepri, and we passed by a fabulous final set between Koellerer and Veic. The guys were trading insults and the Aussie bystanders were three deep. One of my favourite things about the outside courts is the Aussie tendency to pick out anyone – any random player in the entire tournament – anglicise or Aussify their name, and pick them out to support them. Exhibit A, in 2009, had been our favourite, Dimitry Tursunov. Unhappy with our Russian nickname for him, Dima, the Aussies passing by had dubbed him “Darren”, or “Dazza” for short, and were making it known they thought Dazza was a top bloke.

Koellerer had taken similar honours and with his messy hair flying and aggro temper unleashed, the Aussies were roaring for their new best mate “Dan” all through the third set tiebreak and on to the last two sets – where Viec won, probably because his surname was unpronounceable to the self-proclaimed cheer squad.

We moved around form court to court, and then I chanced upon, once again, favourite umpire ever. This time we got to chatting, and let me just say that Carlos Ramos is just as lovely as he looks in the chair. Totally sweet, very nice and funny and really interesting to talk to. He discussed Agassi’s book with M, having both just read it, and gave us some insight into life on tour and working for the ITF. I’ve got to say it, I love the guy.

Moving to Court 14 where two Spanish players were in battle, I found we’d really hit the jackpot in terms of umpire stalking – here was Enric Molina, other favourite umpire of the tour! This time we got to casual chatting, where I let him know that he does great Youtube (you know he does…) and he was riveted to hear about the spectator benefits of visiting the Aussie Open.

It’s moments like that, sitting on Court 14, that I realise why I love the Aussie Open. There is truly nothing like sitting out on a far away court, with only two rows of chairs and a handful of spectators, watching the sun start to set and hearing the call of the line judge and the thwack of the ball. This is tennis at its best. It’s an international tournament and the outcome means so much to say many – yet right now, over here, in this little corner of Melbourne Park (and trust me, court 14 is a corner), it’s just this little point that matters.

It felt that way even more a few moments later, after Hernandez retired and the next match began. Having just returned to the court after a brief visit to quasi-countryman Robbie Ginepri (we’re half American, but whatever, don’t hold it against us), we found a chair umpire setting up shop but no players in sight.

“Any idea who’s playing now?”

“Umm, the Italian girl.. and that other one.”

Great! That was really helpful.

The lovely Mark from security was heaps more helpful. He happily confirmed that indeed, there had been an ‘altercation’ over at Court 10 earlier, when I had witnessed a stream of yellow clad jackets head in one direction – and that yes, the word ‘altercation’ is the one that is utilised by security professionals. He also confirmed that the inciter of the alteraction was likely to have been the same drunk guy who had irritated me earlier. There’s nothing like tying together a story’s loose ends! Mark wanted us to take his schedule, but since the court schedule had actually been rearranged, it didn’t help us much.

The girls had come on court, and weren’t being very friendly. Even when I shouted out, “What’s your name?” to the girl in the pink skirt she didn’t crack a smile. I wonder why! But L and I felt sorry for these two girls, alone on Court 14 with no one but a singular coach for company. So L picked green, and I picked pink, and we vowed to cheer those girls to the end!

Well, as far as we could. The scoreboard was finally updated and I used the wonders of modern Google Mobile to find out their names were Alberta (Brianti) and Varvara (Lechenko). Now, cheering “C’arn Alberta” isn’t too difficult to roll off the tongue, but try saying Varvara and you’ll get what I mean! Needless to say, we didn’t stay very long. Of course I couldn’t leave our two girls without some type of support, so two very kind Court Services kids offered to step in – or more like, I asked them, and made them promise they wouldn’t leave.

The idyll on the outside courts was over for us – there were still a few battles going on, and I found out later I had missed the ballkid peeing pants on court during Daniel v Falla, despite passing by hundreds of times during that match. But our time had come to see what we thought would be Gasquet finishing off Youzhny, even though as the granddaughters of Russian immigrants, we’re quite fond of letting a Russian song or two into the fray at sporting events.

We came just in time for the turnaround – Youzhny was wrapping up the third set and the calls of “Allez Richard!” were getting a bit much. The skinny teenager in front of me wanted tips on pronunciation of the very difficult European name Mikhail.

It’s like Michael, sez I. Michael, but in Russian. So, pretend you’re in Russia, and say Michael.

That didn’t work.

Next attempt:

It’s like Mick. You know, Mick, the nickname for Michael. And then Ale, like, beer that you drink. Got it? So it’s, Mick, Ale. Mikhail. Right?

Clearly not.

We got lots of “come on Michael!” a few “Youse-knee”s, and in general all types of cheering to get the Colonel back on his feet. But back on his feet he was, and we sat it out through one of the most exciting tennis matches I’ve ever been at.

First of all, there is no holding back the crowd at MCA. Rod Laver might be Centre Court, but he’s got nothing on lady Margaret, who was envious when he won a tea set and she only got a mere token after they won the slam together back in the day. Margie knows how to party, and the Aussies had turned around for the underdog as they characteristically do.

After the third set tie break, we settled in for what looked like it’d be a long night. The noise from RLA stopped and started as Alicia sadly cashed in her chips and lost all chances against Julie Coin, but once the match was over the crowd swelled again and Youzhny finished off the last two sets, with difficulty. We missed the last train, but what else is new when you’re at the tennis. I do think that something needs to be done in conjunction with Connexx – I mean Metro – and the Aussie Open but that’s not my dept – or not tonight at least.

I wanted to do you up an update on Night 2 but it’s already the morning of Day 4 and I need my beauty sleep. Match update will come, and so will pics.


January is here!

January 17, 2010

In this country, everyone loves the tennis. The minute the calendar turns to January, the TV screens turn to blue as all the pre-Aus Open tournaments start hitting Channel Seven. Tabloid press have a field day spotting players shopping on Chapel St or eating at Crown Casino, and the serious sports reporters who’ve been itching since Aussie Rules wrapped up in September finally have a focus.

Mums and dads are strolling up Swan St with the kiddies, esky in hand, and Richmond station doubles its presence of Connex “customer service” men in the little orange singlets. Hordes of teenage girls in homemade sequinned singlets with photos of sexy “Fernando!” or “Roger” teeter through Garden Square and queue up at the Garnier tent. Blue rinsed corporates sling their passes around their shoulders and sit in their cushioned chairs for the first three quarters of a match before heading home for 9pm bedtime, throwing out their passes in the process. And of course, the players descend. Muscled Latinos and hunky Russians, lithe Scandinavians and hot tempered Balkans all make Melbourne Park their home and win the hearts of the Melbourne crowd.

It’s the happy slam, and its two weeks we look forward to every year.

Who are we?

We’re three girls, sisters in fact, who appreciate sport in all its poptasticness. Don’t ask us to kick a footy or pick up a racquet, but we can recite our stats and remember our history – usually because we were there. We love our footy in winter and our tennis in summer, cricket and soccer whenever we can get it. And we love our history and our stats, our stories and our random moments at sporting events that makes it all real. We like to watch the WAGs and the coaches in the box, but we also notice the injuries (injies for short) and psychoanalyse our favourite players. We make friends at sporting events, and tweet and facebook our way through major events.

Last year, I was watching the Wimbledon final without my usual sisterly posse. Suddenly, I found my commentating falling on deaf ears. “Brooklyn should be wearing some sunscreen, she’ll age before her time.” “Mirka is getting Braxton Hicks getting nervous over this situation!” and so it went. That was when I realised there’s a poptastic side to sport, and everyone should get a chance to hear it.

This year, we’re taking you along for the ride.
M will be responsible for site imagery, including the sneaky shots of Tsonga training shirtless and Rafa’s wedgie picking at today’s exhibition. L is our fabulous Editor at Large, who knows how to sniff out a story and can stalk a player from mile off. And finally, there is myself, R, who will be tweeting, blogging and essentially keeping you all up to date on our antics in Melbourne Park.
We won’t be in the press room, or hanging out with the players in the locker room. We’re coming to you from Court Thirteen, near the back end of Melbourne Park. We’re on the pulse in Garden Square, and we’ll be sussing out Grand Slam Oval this year for the first time. We’re Court Thirteen, and we are beyond pumped for the two weeks ahead.
Bring on Australian Open 2010!


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