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.


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.

The Other Side of Town: Practice Pics, Day 1

January 18, 2011

Day one of the Australian Open. No more pretending. Usually Day One arrives and we race onto the premises like thirsty men gasping for water, after a tennis-deprived year. Come today, it was all of a sudden a lot simpler. A week of rain-drenched qualification rounds, a heritage session at Kooyong and an epic tennisgasm at Rally for Relief, and all of a sudden it didn’t seem so strange to waltz toward Melbourne Park at 2pm instead of the recommended 11am.

It’s amazing how much more Grand Slam watching is possible when not actually at a Grand Slam. So this morning, instead of racing between courts and beginning the inevitable descent towards Grand Slam Battery Drain TM, I sipped my coffee, caught up on my life, and watched split screens with IBM Slamtracker and several streams.

2pm, on the premises. Sauntering through the Hiisense gate. Apparently, people still haven’t figured out that it’s okay – actually, recommended – to enter through the gate at Hiisense even with a ground pass. The lines are much shorter, you walk straight indoors, and most importantly – you get to substitute the long, boring (except for the cool bits when you get to play “Recognise the Herald Sun sports editor” on their way back to the train) walk along Olympic Boulevard with a stroll through Grand Slam oval to get from Hiisense and Courts 16-22 to the bulls’ eye, Rod Laver, MCA and the rest of the gorgeous plexicushion surfaces of blue.

Being in the Hiisense neighbourhood also affords you the opportunity to visit an area I often neglect in my Australian Open visits – the hallowed practice courts of Courts 16, 17 and I believe 19. These babies are all the way on the other side of town, but they’re way juicy. The big guys practice there all day long, and you’re often bound to catch a glimpse of Rafa, Roger, Nole or Andy.

Or no one. For precisely 40 minutes today, while I twiddled my thumbs anxiously alongside Mrs Tipsy and a Serbian tennis-related person (best description ever), L constantly ran out to Court 16 to “see who was out there.”

Turns out no-one, except for a swelling crowd… waiting… and waiting. Staring at an empty court.

Lucky we got in early and had the chance to check out these guys in practice:

Milos Raonic

So I went to this practice session thinking it was Dmitrov, and had this post written up that it was him. Turned out I kept my eye on the right guy, because this kid ended up making it through the tournament doing something good, but honestly, I’m horrible at recognition. I just like to pretend I got there first and discovered him while he was fresh. As us tennis fans are wont to do. Thanks to @naughtyT and @grassisforcows for recognising the error of my ways.

Victoria Azarenka

This portion is proudly brought to you by “Silence the Haters” association.

Vika is awesome. She’s gorgeous, she’s funny, she’s sweet, and she’s wearing a lovely pink kit this tourny.

And she was hitting the shit out of that ball. That’s my tennis insight for the day.

With my little practice perve done, I was ready to mosey through the new, bigger and better Grand Slam oval – a great place to take the kids and family, actually – and join civilization on the other side.

Where I promptly encountered this gentleman, to find my heart skipping a beat (or about seventeen beats) and my eyes fill with tears. Sorry, fangirl alert.

J TO THE M TO D TO THE P

DELPO.

He’s back.

I cried.

 


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. 🙂


Practice Porn

January 16, 2011

Friday dawned fine and sunny… oh no wait, that’s a lovely start to a story but I can’t take my poetic license *that* far. Friday dawned in that fine way Melbourne does, with rain and clouds and a helluva lot of showers, basically waving the wet in the face of all the tennis-watching and tennis-playing hopefuls at Melbourne Park and snickering as they donned boots and jackets and brought umbrellas to the site… and waited for the clouds to clear.

That’s what happened on Thursday, and in a very un-Melbourne-like fashion, the clouds never cleared. Friday however, Lady M was back to herself, and showed us her favourite trick. At 12.36pm precisely, the clouds parted and – hola – what on earth is that? Oh yes. Blue skies. And LP’s carefully selected outfit of black tights, boots and a lovely cardigan over her dress was deemed obsolete as it was suddenly tennis weather again.

I love my city, and I adore the concept of Four Seasons in a Day. If anything, it’s great for scaring tourists. I was kinda prepared this time, not even getting dressed until the sunshine arrived.

And it was Melbourne Park time again.

First stop for qualies, we visited Miss Sabine Lisicki. A Twitter favourite of mine and sadly missed during 2010.

Sabine Lisicki

Highlight of the match was all the orange-clad people sitting next to me, who I proudly told LP next to me “Ooh look, Dutch people. Wearing orange” only to realise that we were, ahem, at a Dutch girl’s match. Brain scientist, I tell you. Sabine was also lovely and sweet and won her match and smiled at us and said hi when we congratulated her. All sweetness.

While the qualies had all been carefully scheduled for Courts 1 – 14, on the main side of Melbourne Park, closer to Garden Square and Rod Laver, Courts 16 – 22, namely the famed Court Sixteen and Court Seventeen, were being used as practice courts for the hallowed faces of our sport. They were accessible to media only.

That is, until a full day’s backlog – thank you, Mother Natch! – had the schedule filled to the brim, and including Courts 18-22 on the schedule. Which meant? What’s that? Oh yes, why wouldn’t we stake out Court 16 and see who might grace us with their presence?

As we did. Practice porn for y’all, namely in the form of one Deliciano (we passed Judy, heading in the other direction. Clearly she’d already her fill.)

Check the calves.

Question: Will I ever have too much Feli on this blog?

Actually not enough. Though aside from the multiple female complaints regarded his shirted state, LP and I were riveted by the hairstyle. A little half bun, secured by a headband? Cleo should help us recreate that look.

On the other side of the court, we were riveted to see none other than the Evil One himself, Mr Robin Soderling, performing an exercise that I am only familiar with due to a particularly slave-driving personal trainer who coined them “knee highs”.

But you can call them whatever you want. Because tee hee hee, he looked really funny.

We sauntered over to another court, checked out Simone Bolleli, the famous Grigor Dimitrov, and were about to head over to another side of town – when we dropped past Court 17 (home of our favourite concrete potplant, perfect for climbing to catch a glimpse of a crowded Rafa practice) to find none other than this lad:

The argyle has totally grown on me. To quote the girl next to me, “It’s growing on me as we speak.” It kinda suits his little Scottish personality, and it’s weird to imagine that it’s all athletic and dri-fit – it looks like it belongs on a sweater alongside the crackling woodfire hearth in ye olde highlands of Scotland. So I like.

Let me just say, for lovers of all things Muzza. I haven’t seen the boy up close – really, ever – and I liked what I saw. A few little new sideburns, a little bit of ranga coming through, and some bee-yoo-tee-ful tennis. I’m not going to pretend I understood what he was trying to work on, but he looks well and ready to get over that hump he faced last year. And it was hot, and his vampire skin held up real well. Which is always important.

And then he drank some water. Or maybe Powerade.

Gatorade, perhaps?


Get The Party Started (already)

January 14, 2011

Get the party started

Things I like: I like to start my season with a bang. I like to wax lyrical over the bright blue of the courts, the excitement of seeing blue and white signs all over the city, the thrill of taking the train to Richmond station, the joy of swiping that first yellow Ticketek stub through the turnstiles.

Things I don’t like: I don’t like anticlimaxes. I don’t like to wait all year for a glimpse of my beloved Melbourne Park, try to substitute my Australian-Open-withdrawals with other international slams, and find my own dear city has plotted against me after all this time. I don’t have tournament organisers or ticket sellers or even unsympathetic employers to blame: No, this frustrating anticlimax came from none other than Mother Nature herself.

Now for those of you who have been living under a rock, Mother Nature is not in anyone’s good books at the moment. She’s been throwing a hissyfit up in Queensland and the results haven’t been pretty – people dying, people losing their homes, and most of Australia in absolute shock, sadness and open-pocketed-sympathy. (Which, by the way, you should all do too.)

She unleashed her fury in Melbourne too, providing me – her recently returned daughter, shall I say? – with sticky, wet weather that’s rivalled the worst of the Roman heatwave I endured in July and the snowpocalypse of New York City just last week (okay, that’s a lie, but close.) Sure enough, with qualies happening in Melbourne Park this week and a gorgeous lineup over at Kooyong, she was still relentless.

I can’t stay that stopped us though. Today – Thursday – of Day 2 was a letdown, but we still got in our bit of tennis yesterday (Wednesday). Despite refusing to leave my house until play was confirmed and the rain gone, I made it for only a couple hours of play before the heavens opened.

Ballkids making a run for it in the first rainstorm of many

We left Amir Weintraub, our new Israeli lover, mid 3rd set,  and ruined shoes, lost iPhones and got soaked accordingly in the unfriendly open spaces of Melbourne Park. We frolicked in the rain under the closed Garden Court Cafe, and tried to make it past security guards to check out practice courts. Rushing back to the car (yes, I had a park. At the Australian Open. Across the bridge. Tres, tres, excitement, and reason enough to attend qualies) we decided to “zip along the river” and “check out the scene” at Kooyong.

Turns out we made it. And scored some fabulous Misha time, a Lleyton sighting (first time for me, weirdly enough), Kolya playing actual tennis, and a Tomas-and-Lucie heart-melting kisscam moment. Need we mention the Berdych Army? Oh, it was good.


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