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.


The Thunder from Down Under

March 10, 2011

Qualies at Indian Wells finished up this evening and what do you know – we have some very familiar names on the list.

I mean, obviously Flavio Cipolla had to qualify – when does he not? The kid is like a qualify-and-lose-in-the-first-round machine.  The Americans have gone all out and enriched their home-town arsenal, with Donald Young, Ryan Sweeting, Alex Bogomolov Jr, Mike Russel and Tim Smyczek all ready and able to lose in the first round while spectators clutch their hot dogs and cans of Bud (blatant straight-up stereotyping, admission).

But wait, who else is coming through from qualifying hell, girding their loins and shaking off the dust, striding across the grassy knolls of Indian Wells with big muscles rippling, ready to take on the world with their Aussie brawn?

Look who’s playing Indian Wells main draw, biatches?

Marinko “Australian Number Two” Matosevic

Chris “Gooch” Guccione – Let us hope, finally, injury-free

Matthew Ebden, also known as one of Australia’s highest ranked players, higher than Tomic and anyone else whose song you want to sing.

Oh yes, speaking of Bernie? He’ll be there too. Along with Lleyton. Fun times ahead.

A few more Aussies played qualies and missed out, including Sam Groth and Greg Jones. Which makes me think someone’s been paying attention to Lleyton’s grumblings during the summer, where he basically asserted that young Aussie players aren’t doing enough to make it on the ATP Tour. The piece from The Australian describes the difference it can make to take a risk by qualifying for a main event rather than staying in a challenger, picking up guaranteed points. Looks like they’re finally doing something about it, and of this I am proud.

For the record, just so I’m not accused of forgetting my Commonwealth kinsmen, Rik de Voest of South Africa along with this past weekend’s Indian Davis Cup battlers Somdev Devvarmen and Rohan Bopanna are also through. Which is also perfectly lovely.

Now, get ’em, Aussies.


And The Crowd Goes Wild

January 19, 2011

There’s a reason the Australian Open is the greatest slam of all. (What, am I biased?)

It’s not the happy slam because of the beer gardens everywhere, the costumed fans, the easy access to transportation, the gorgeous sunny spaces and the sparkling blue courts. It’s not the friendly staff everywhere, the fun off-court entertainment and the variety of outer-court matches.

The Australian Open is what it is because of those amazing fans that make up the best tennis watching crowd in the world.

The crowds.

Melbourne Jewish community doing their thing for Dudi Sela against Del Potro.


The crowd gathering in Garden Square to watch Alicia defeat Roberta Vinci at match point. Only drawback: You can kinda tell how a point is going to end, because the cheers erupt from Rod Laver behind you a second before the TV shows the end of the rally. At the same time, you gotta love that.

“We are yellow, we are blue, we are Swedish, who are you?”

The Swedes, always hands-down best costumed at the Open, going insane for their man Robin Soderling on Margaret Court Arena. As for me? I was watching Carlos Ramos, and noting that Robin’s black outfit with fluoro yellow trim was looking decidedly evil, particularly if the yellow was substituted for red. Flames. Owww.

And my favourite thing about the Open, hands down: The Hellas Fan Club at Marcos Baghdatis matches. Granted, earlier I’d seen some stupid Greek kids, wrapped in flags, asked to sing for a Channel 9 camera. They promptly belted out a very obviously anti-Turkish racist chant, which had all the nearby Greeks in titters. The grownups do it better, and they did, all through five sets of Marcos against a random I cannot name. Sorry. And yes, I now have favourite Greek chants. No, I cannot tell you what they mean. But I do know it’s not worth watching Marcos anywhere else other than the Australian Open. The crowd belongs to him.

Marinko’s Main Men: A crew of who I could only assume were Marinko Matosevic’ mates cheering their lungs out for their boy on Court 6 against the Lithuanian army cheering their boy Richardes Berankis. Sitting next to his couch, I could only just mumble “oi oi oi” to their Aussie Aussie Aussies, but was also busy listening in to Pat Cash’s commentary. “Great serve,” he sez, before elbowing L out of the way. Marinko put on a great fight but lost the match, but those Aussies were on fire. “We love Marinko because he is Victorian!” Love.

Tsonga on Margaret Court Arena

Blurry for a reason. Margaret Court Arena is known as the hub of insanity. The Bay 13 of Melbourne Park. MCA at night? Take the craziness and double it. MCA, at night, with crowd favourite Jo-Wilfred Tsonga?

I’m talking hardcore.

The Frenchies had forgotten compatriot Mikey Llodra on the court next door, so we did the dutiful and watched the lovely Mika – always fun for some volleying action – before heading to MCA for the fifth set. And I was afraid for my life. The picture above is blurry – if you were there, you’d know why.

And finally…

A packed house at 1am on Rod Laver Arena getting behind our man Lleyton Hewitt. I hate when matches are called “thrillers” and “epics” but usually because I’m jealous I wasn’t there. This match had everything: The ancient rivalry, the two big players, gorgeous tennis and a passionate, formidable, fired-up crowd. And the essential RLA late finish just made it all the more Aussie. And similar to the Tomic loss at 2am last year, we all went home unhappy. And then waiting in long taxi queues in the freezing.
Because that’s what we do, tennis fans.

Your job is easier

January 18, 2011

Like any good exho featuring the hilarious antics of Andy Roddick (I’m actually being serious), there comes the predictable umpire/linesman ribbing, and today was no exception. Andy was insistent on proving that the linesman’s job is easier, and even had him come up and serve for us.

Between tennis players posing as catwalk models (Caro), in the photographer’s pit (Nole and Rafa), calling lines (Vika and Andy), playing soccer (Nole and Muzza), being a proud father (oh wait… that’s Lleyton), and even baseball (Andy), the guys tried to prove to us again and again that they’re good for anything but playing tennis.

But we know the truth, sez we. You kids are tennis players, and here’s the Class of 2011 picture. Stop giggling.

Rally for Relief Stars

Like any good wedding photographer, I did the bit where you zoom in bit by bit.

 

Courier, Lleyton, Rafter, Murray, Ivanovic

Courier’s sad because he’s not with his best mate “Rog”. Why does he call him that?

Vera, Caro, Rafa, Andy Roddick, Kim

Ah, the racquet clutch. Perfect defensive position without looking too “arms-crossed” in an awkward situation. Like when you and your numerous “classmates” are forced to lineup for a cheesy pic. Why clasp each other’s stomachs and kiss on cheek politely if you can’t even put an arm around for a photo op?

Roddick, Clijsters, Henin, Federer, Stosur

Obviously, Roger has the friendly arm-wrap down. Dammit. He’s touching Sam. HE’S TOUCHING MY GIRL!

Tennis stars at Rally for Relief

the family all together

Looking gorgeous and playing gorgeous tennis vs looking at gorgeous pictures? My job is easiest.


Rally for Relief: Part 2

January 17, 2011

You can’t have too much of a good thing… So here’s the second lot of pictures and storytales from today’s epically awesome piece of tennis joy.

Let’s start with the favourite snap of the day, of which I may or may not have several more in the arsenal:

Analysis from US Weekly’s Body Language Experts….

Moments before the shot of the tournament, pretty much:

Let’s just say shutter speed is not my strong suit.

 

I believe the boys just hugged. Wooooooooot. Wait, you mean you haven’t seen that pic? Gasp.

The two Andys, being awesome. Muzz, being kinda funny. Everyone, playing tweeners. Because they can.

Ana: “Okay, so can we discuss the tactics in Serbian?” About to pull another muscle, not in her abs…

As expected, the Andy footfault reference.

Vera being funny. Who woulda thunk it?

Run, child, run ,far far away.

Paty recreating ancient days of school sunhats in the playground.

Lleyton being a dad.

Justine getting all clucky. Like a real person.

Caro making kids cry. Mirka unimpressed.

Nole in the photographer’s pit…

Andy manipulating the net. I can’t get past the hat and sunglasses.

Nole doing the polite thing and kissing the umpire. Um, Jim Courier, the umpire.

 

 

You will now be charged two bucks for the above picture of Hewitt children.

Pictures: @rishegee (that’s me). I know they’re fuzzy, but do me a favour and link me/ask me. Gracias.

 


Tennis is the best, chuck out the rest.

January 17, 2011

Rally for Relief was basically a portrayal of all that is awesome in our sport.

Par example:

It started with Johanna Griggs, who waited patiently for all the kids to be quiet. The announcement for each tennis player came with plenty of cheers, but we were sad to see the Rafa and Roger announcement in one breath. Did that mean that the cheers for Rafa really went to Roger? A conundrum.

The kids made their entrances, and we kept our eyes peeled for awkward exchanges. None of the same standard as Lleyton/Kim last year, sadly.

Ana strolled on in her purple ensemble, complete with sexy capelet.

 

Ana and her capelet, ready for her ride to the ball.

“You! What are you  doing here?”

To be joined by Nole, who clearly had sympathy of those of us who missed Hopman and treated us to a peek of the mixed doubles awesomeness.

Nole

A man among boys… ahem… girls. Watch me strut.

Then a mini Justin Bieber that none of us had heard of sang the Aussie anthem, we blinked back tears, and Ms JG gave us a speech. Anna Bligh probably had the biggest cheer out of everyone to be announced – Rafa and Roger included.

Spotted: The Andys having chats. Vika and Vera pretending to be very engrossed in Julia Gillard’s speech.

 

NoleCamera

The camera followed Nole around, who as per last year, was dumped with the ladies. Jim Courier, attempting to explain the scoring system, had everyone stumped. “Okay, you call the score,” was Novak’s compromise.

And in some weird alignment of the tennis gods, Nole and Justine were paired up. Strange is not even the word. “Justine, make a winner,” was Nole’s tactical suggestion.

Apparently Pat was ringing in for some extra help.

Classic moment of the day. Nole playing drink in hand, lying on the floor.

Not sure what’s going on there. Do you?

Nole’s specially-procured towel, courtesy of the camera.

Wardrobe malfunction, Ana Ivanovic.

Get girlie with Caro, then.

Andy Roddick. Serving. Because that’s what he does.

Nole and Lleyton. This was NOT one of the epic chest bumps of the day.

Justine feeling like the uncool kid at school. I could’ve sworn she missed a shot and Nole looked at her and mimicked the way she should’ve swung. Coach Novak? Methinks so.

And the classic line of the day: “Novak, get behind me.”

Part 2 to come.

Photos: @rishegee. Please don’t reproduce without asking/linking me like nice people that you are. 🙂


Oh No. They Don’t Show This Stuff on TV. :(

January 16, 2011

After escaping the skirmishes of the #fangirlstampede, we were ensconced in our front row seats in Rod Laver – yeah, no biggie – and had two hours of time-killing ahead of us.

Lucky we had the shirtless – and surprisingly fit – Lleyton to entertain us, ripped torso atop wobbling hips, and the always lovely Tomas Berdych.

Lucky we could see….ooooh oooh wait, whoozzaat? It’s Roger Fedeerrrreeerrrr. Yeahhhhh Federrer. Heee’s like, oooh, you know, the gr8est tennis playaahh evaaahh. Whooooo. Federreeerrr, come here, ROGER!

We did a good job applauding all those glorious winners… The ones made by his hitting partner, of course, who we later confirmed was Richard Berankis. Good work.

And then finally – FINALLY! – this man came on court, and we could settle down into the smooth tones of his rich voice, announcing in my very favourite way, Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to Rod Laver Arena!

And the party began.


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