Day 3 – Tomic, Tomic

January 25, 2010

So Day 3 was meant to be a chilled one for me. Being that I do have a day job, at least for now, until I find a way to make a living off other people reading my random thoughts, I spent Wednesday with my friends at IBM Slamtracker. I wasn’t particularly worried – and based on the straight sets wins for all the major players that morning, I needn’t have been – but I couldn’t imagine not knowing the scores. Kimmy and Rafa made it through okay, as did my new favourite Tweeters, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka.

The highlight of Wednesday was of course, the “final” – oh wait, Round 2 – between Henin and Dementieva. As a sporadic follower of women’s tennis (I like Wozniacki and that’s about it) I wasn’t all over it, but my fellow fan R had been so excited over Henin’s comeback he’d booked these tickets three days in advance, anticipating the draw. Yes, he loves Henin. I’m ambivalent towards the woman, and being that I like the idea of unseeded finalists, I wouldn’t have minded seeing her progress. Then again, that was before I saw she was up against the lovely Elena. Elena is a great sportswoman and a truly brilliant player. She does all the right things and it’s a true shame she hasn’t won a slam yet. She hasn’t got the same glamourific associations as Masha or Serena but deserves the same accolades they get, if not more. So I was really hoping to see a win from her, but at least, some awe-inspiring tennis.

Let’s say I most certainly got that. We headed in at 7pm on the dot to watch the warm up and both girls were truly in fine form. The place was pretty empty but of course, those lazy corporates like to take their time getting in.

Simultaneously, I was trying to get through the gateways of Planet 3 on my beyond outdated mobile to find out what was going on in Hisense. Juan Martin and Blake were battling it out and it was promising to turn into an epic – one that I would have to miss. Even if I could have found someone leaving Hisense – which is officially a day session only, meaning that any session going into the night is half empty with people walking out all the time – there was no way I could make it out of the packed Rod Laver. It was literally a finals crowd. I felt like I was at the footy.

As always, the Aussies didn’t disappoint in their support either. The crowd was divided pretty evenly, and shouts of “Go Justine!” and “Come on Elena!” were called throughout the stadium. The best bit, however, was the quintessentially Aussie pronunciation of Justine. This was no French “Allez Richard” or Russian “Davay Mikhail!” that I’d witnessed the previous night. These were true-blue, dinki di Aussies, and they wanted both “Alayna” and “Justiyne” (I was expecting Juzzy but that didn’t make it in, unfortunately) to have a crack at the title. It really made me love my sporting nation.

Let’s not forget during the set break. Suddenly, everyone could hear a hoarse voice come from across the place: “Good everyone, everyone and welcome to Rod Laver Arena!” It was a hazy, blokey, ‘been drinking beer out all day in the sun’ type of voice, but you could hear him crystal clear. “Now, who here is going for Elena Dementieva?!!” Cue cheering. “And, who here is going for Justine Henin!” The crowds went wild. Seriously, the guy was running an informal pep rally, right in the middle of the match. Only at the Aussie Open.

So between Elena saving all those match points, and Delpo battling it out down the road, it was a bit of a nailbiting evening for us spectators. Once Delpo made it through, thanks to the random guy’s iPhone on the row behind me (I know, poor sod was in the back row of the whole stadium in his Aussie singlet. But he made up for it later when I saw him climb back from being front row at Tomic – obviously at 1am the rules change), I was focused on willing Elena to get through, but alas twasn’t meant to be. That doesn’t say anything about the quality of the tennis though. It was fabulous.

The next match was little Bernie’s turn. I’m going to call him little Bernie because I think I’m just about the only one. In a crowd full of Aussies barracking for the guy, I think I heard his first name once. I love how in tennis the cheering gets really personal. There’s no “Carn the Blues” like you get in team sports, or a bit of “Get him Juddy!” with the surnames and nicknames you find in the blokey footy culture. In tennis, it’s all class, and we go for Rafa, Fenja, Nole and Kolya, with each player a personal mate. (Then again, M’s favourite technique for grabbing attention during signings: “Mister Djokovic!” and you get an automatic eye contact with Nole.) But with Tomic out on court, the Freakinators, or some distant relatives of theirs, were all over Tomic, Tomic, to the tune of the Ants go Marching.

I guess we are sad country in a way. Sports mad, religiously indoctrinated in the culture of sport, and host to several world class events. One in particular, held every January, is one of only four in its class – and we have no one halfway decent representing us. Ok, I’ll correct that, because Lleyton is halfway decent – in fact, we’ll call him decent for now – but there’s nothing like what those Spaniards have going on, or those bloody Russians! Now luckily I love Spain, and I have a Russian background, so good on those guys, but Come on Aussie Come on! I did have a chat with my new best friend, the umpire Molina about it in our Court 14 rendezvous on Day 2. Apparently, state and federal funding for tennis is huge in Espagna. Every tennis club has over 200 kids playing, and tournaments are easily accessible because they’re in Europe, for heavens sake, not thousands of kilometers away as Aussies are. So the parents don’t have to pay all that much for the kiddies to learn, and they get all their match practice in, and the next thing you know you have young bucks like Rafa and Fenja and Granola Bar Marcel; and old bucks like Daveed and Carlos and Juan Carlos; and Hernandez and Montanes battling it out on Court Fourteen with all of five spectators present.

So I suppose the moral of my story is that Bernard is our hope, our flame, our dream. He is the saviour who is going to bring us back to the glory days, like that morning I woke up to my radio alarm clock in Year 7 to hear that Pat Rafter had won the US Open and was Number One. Being a little bit behind in the following of sport, I thought everyone who wins a grand slam becomes automatically Number One. But what I remember was reveling in the fact that one of our blokes, our Patty, was best in the world at something. It gave me something to feel proud of, even though at the time all I knew about tennis was that it was something we watched while on family holidays in the summertime as that was all on TV. And then came our Lleyton, and we still had the Scud doing his thing on occasion, and for a while all was good. But now we’re lost and bereft, and for heavens sake the votes on Heraldsun dot com dot au had Bec Hewitt as the number one female that came to mind when people heard tennis. Seriously – Bec Hewitt? It makes me cry.

So Bernie had played through the wind and rain on Day One, and beaten an old mate from the Juniors circuit. He’s got arms and legs that he hasn’t figured out what to do with as they keep on growing, and a massive mouth on him. I thought Marin would carve him up and serve him for dinner. Honestly, I was petrified because we weren’t far from Daddy John again this time and I had no interest on being in the receiving line for his tirade against Tennis Australia’s scheduling.

Turns out it was Bernie who had the tirade… seriously, someone put a muzzle on that kid.

It’s been all over the Aussie news – instead of being grateful for getting a match on prime time, in Centre court, he couldn’t stop whingeing about the scheduling. It’s what we like to call unAustralian, though truthfully which Aussie doesn’t love to whinge?


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.


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