So now I'm back, after what was easily one of the best trips in my life. A short trip, yes - I flew out very early Monday morning and flew back Tuesday evening. But what a two days it was!
What they don't tell you about the Australian Open is that the back courts is where all the action is - the practice courts. Of all the tennis I watched, probably 75% of it was practice. It seems funny, when there is all this actual tennis going on around you. But the practice courts... that's where you see the big names. The heroes of the game.
I saw Dmitry Tursunov practice. I saw Marat Safin. I saw Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya practice together. I saw Justine Henin, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. I saw David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Jarkko Nieminen, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Fernando Gonzalez... the list goes on and on.
And yes, I saw Roger Federer.
I had just finished watching Tursunov's practice on Court 22. I was walking back down towards Rod Laver Arena when I saw the crowd round Court 16. 'Hello,' thought I, 'it must be someone famous.' I'm small, so I managed to squeeze my way through to the fence. And there he was, hitting forehand after forehand - that Roger Federer forehand, the most feared shot in the modern game.
I couldn't help it. My eyes filled with tears. There he was - this man, who has meant so much to me - there he was, barely three metres away from me.
(Needless to say, I felt fully ashamed of how lame I was. But it was Roger - and if there's any man who can bring tears to my eyes just by being there, it's Roger!)
I was talking to my friend Erin (she who gave me the idea for this blog) about my Roger encounter, and she gave me another idea for an article: 'Life Lessons I Learned From Roger Federer.' Because I certainly have learned a few lessons, watching his career develop! But more on that in my next post - I'm going to devote one to his match against Hartfield last night so I don't spend this entire post (which is supposed to be about my trip!) rabbiting on about how much I love Roger!
Another thing they don't tell you about going to the tennis is how uneducated most of the people are. I don't mean to sound like a snob, but surely, if you're going to go to something like the Australian Open, you should at least know who some of the players are. From what I saw, people know Hewitt (duh), Federer and generally Nadal. In the women, they know Henin, Sharapova and the Williams sisters, and maybe Davenport. Anyone else, they're lost. There are a few incidents that stick out in my mind. I was watching Juan Carlos Ferrero practice, and someone asked me who he was, and I told them that it was Juan Carlos Ferrero, because, you know, it was, and then five seconds later some other woman tells this person, 'She's wrong, you know. It's Rafael Nadal.' (Which they pronounced 'rafayl nadal'- all short a's.)
Excuse me, but you're wrong! I wanted to turn around and smack her. (Luckily I didn't, or, who knows? maybe I would have ended up pepper sprayed.)
Watching Lleyton Hewitt practice, I heard people behind me trying to work out who his practice partner was. 'It must be his brother!' one said. 'Maybe it's someone that won a competition,' another said.
It was Nathan Healey - one of Australia's better tennis players. Honestly, people don't even know their own countrymen!
Likewise, watching Nadal practice, I heard this priceless exchange. 'Who's that Nadal's practicing with?' 'Oh, it must be his dad.'
It was Carlos Moya. Carlos Moya, who is a French Open champion and former world Number One, veteran and formidable tennis statesman. Why on earth would you come to the tennis when you don't know someone as famous as Carlos Moya?
I think it was summed up for me when, watching Safin practice, I heard this. 'Oh, who's this? They should put up signs to tell you who they are!'
I thought everyone in the world knew who Marat Safin was (and was a little in love with him into the bargain.) Apparently I was naively optimistic!
But this was the only vaguely negative thing that I got out of the tennis (except sore feet!) And, really, it had a bright side. I got to be all smug about how educated I was and feel like I got more out of the experience than everyone else.
Because it was incredible. It was like a buffet, but with tennis. Oh, Nieminen's just finished his match? No worries! Here's Roddick practicing two courts over. And the atmosphere in Rod Laver Arena is amazing. It was much more friendly than at Olympic Park on Saturday. People cheering for Kaia Kanepi (there were not many!) were not looked at like freaks. (I could be wrong, not personally being part of the minority squad this time, but there was a Kanepi supporter two seats away, who seemed to be doing fine!) And I think I might have done a 180 on my attitude to the court. 'Why does it have to be so blue?' Safin moaned, but Federer brought up a point - it's much easier to see the ball, so it's better for both player and viewer.
And no, I'm not just agreeing because Roger said it.
But where else in the world can a Kuznetsova practice seem so passe? I clearly remember thinking, 'oh, it's just Kuznetsova. I'll see if anyone more interesting is around.' And this is the Number 2 player in the women's game! Normally, I'd be glued to it. But at the Open... spoiled for choice. And two courts away, there's Dmitry Tursunov, my personal Number 2.
To conclude - Grand Slam tennis. It's the place to be.
Australian Open Day 1 Results
Jo Wilfried-Tsonga def. Andy Murray, 7-5 6-4 0-6 7-6 (7-5)
Rafael Nadal def. Victor Troicki, 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 6-1
Richard Gasquet def. Nick Lindahl, 6-0 6-1 3-6 6-2
Andy Roddick def. Lukas Dlouhy, 6-3 6-4 7-5
Nikolay Davydenko def. Michael Llodra, 7-5 7-5 6-3
Stefan Koubek def. Carlos Moya, 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (2-7) 7-5 6-4
Paul Capdeville def. Brydan Klein, 6-4 7-5 6-4
Mikhail Youzhny def. Mathieu Montcourt, 6-0 6-2 7-6(7-3)
Tommy Robredo def. Mischa Zverev, 4-6 2-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 7-5
Stanislas Wawrinka def. Julien Benneteau, 6-3 6-3 6-3
Rainer Schuettler def. Arnaud Clement, 6-4 6-2 6-7 (3-7) 6-4
Kristof Vliegen def. Olivier Patience, 6-0 6-1 7-6 (7-3)
Evgeny Korolev def. Marcel Granollers-Pujol, 7-5 6-2 6-0
Michael Berrer def. Donald Young, 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 7-6 (7-5)
Ivo Karlovic def. Jamie Baker, 6-4 6-4 6-7 (1-7) 6-4
Philipp Kohlschreiber def. Roko Karanusic, 6-4 7-6 (7-5) 6-1
Gilles Simon def. Bobby Reynolds, 4-6 6-4 6-2 6-7 (3-7) 6-4
Sam Warburg def. Juan Pablo Brzezicki, 2-6 6-2 6-3 2-6 6-4
Jesse Levine def. Martin Vassallo Arguello, 6-1 7-5 6-1
Andreas Seppi def. Harel Levy, 6-4 6-2 6-1
Marc Gicquel def. Yen-hsun Lu, 3-6 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-2
Florent Serra def. Florian Mayer, 6-3 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (7-5)
Nicolas Mahut def. Jose Acasuso, 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-2 3-6 7-5
Jarkko Nieminen def. Frank Dancevic, 6-3 6-1 5-7 2-6 6-1
Igor Andreev def. Andrei Pavel, 5-7 6-2 7-6 (7-4) 6-3
Agustin Calleri def. Luis Horna, 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 6-4
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez def. Juan Ignacio Chela, 6-4 6-2 1-6 6-2
Paul-Henri Mathieu def. Victor Hanescu, 6-1 7-6 (7-4) 6-2
Feliciano Lopez. def. Wayne Odesnik, 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 6-4
Mardy Fish def. Boris Pashanski, 6-2 6-3 3-6 6-3
Alejandro Falla def. Kevin Anderson, 5-7 7-5 6-7 (8-10) 6-2 7-5
Dudi Sela def. Martin Slanar, 6-2 6-4 6-2
Justine Henin def. Aiko Nakamura, 6-2 6-2
Alicia Molik def. Kaia Kanepi, 7-6 (7-4) 7-5
Serena Williams def. Jarmila Gajdosova, 6-3 6-3
Maria Sharapova def. Jelena Kostanic Tosic, 6-4 6-3
Jelena Jankovic def. Tamira Paszek, 2-6 6-2 12-10
Lindsay Davenport def. Sara Errani, 6-2 3-6 7-5
Amelie Mauresmo def. Tatiana Poutchek, 6-7 (6-8) 6-0 6-0
Nicole Vaidisova def. Ioana Raluca Olaru, 6-3 6-0
Elena Dementieva def. Tzipora Obziler, 6-2 6-2
Casey Dellacqua def. Karin Knapp, 4-6 6-3 8-6
Hsieh Su-wei def. Klara Zakopalova, 2-6 6-4 8-6
Edina Gallovits def. Stephanie du Bois, 7-6 (9-7) 6-3
Jessica Moore def. Julie Ditty, 6-3 6-2
Ai Sugiyama def. Vera Zvonareva, 6-3 1-1 ret.
Meng Yuan def. Ekaterina Ivanova, 4-6 6-4 6-2
Olga Poutchkova def. Monique Adamczak, 6-4 6-0
Patty Schnyder def. Lilia Osterloh, 6-3 6-3
Elena Vesnina def. Julia Vakulenko, 6-4 1-6 6-4
Sandra Kloesel def. Julia Schruff, 6-1 6-7 (1-7) 6-4
Angelique Kerber def. Maret Ani, 0-6 6-3 6-2
Tatiana Perebiynis def. Madison Brengle, 7-5 6-2
Yaroslava Shvedova def. Tatjana Malek, 6-2 6-2
Jill Craybas def. Yung-Jan Chan, 6-4 6-2
Sybille Bammer def. Tamarine Tanasugarn, 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-2
Aravane Rezai def. Kateryna Bondarenko, 7-6 (7-4) 6-2
Anabel Medina Garrigues def. Petra Cetcovska, 7-6 (7-1) 6-0
Francesca Schiavone def. Emilie Loit, 6-3 7-6 (7-5)
Tatiana Golovin def. Stephanie Cohen-Aloro, 6-1 4-6 6-3
Shahar Peer def. Renata Voracova, 6-2 2-6 6-0
Flavia Pennetta def. Dominika Cibulkova, 6-4 5-7 6-4
Virginie Razzano def. Ashley Harkleroad, 6-3 7-5
Victoria Azarenka def. Akgul Amanmuradova, 6-2 7-5