Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 1.4 - Belgian Delight

And then there was Brisbane.

It would be easy for me to just go on and on and on about Clijsters and Henin, but I'm going to make a real effort to start at the beginning, because that wasn't the only tennis I saw. I arrived at Pat Rafter Arena on Saturday morning just before eleven after having spent the entire night on a plane and then navigating the tortuous route from the middle of Brisbane to the tennis. (It's easy enough to catch the train from Brisbane Central to Yeerongpilly, but did they have to put the Queensland Tennis Centre quite so far away from Yeerongpilly station? Seriously, it could be a marathon). Having spent the night in transit, I was understandably tired, but hoping to exist on caffeine and adrenaline.

The first match of the day made me entirely dependent on the caffeine. To say Stepanek vs Monfils was not competitive would be an understatement, and to say it was an understatement is another understatement. It was a total blowout. Gael couldn't keep a ball in the court and when he did, Radek was merrily hitting winners everywhere. The most interesting part of this match was arguing with the woman next to me about who Stepanek was dating. She insisted it was Martina Hingis and that they were married, because there was a woman with dark hair who vaguely resembled Hingis (as far as one could tell) in the players' box. Some people are so far behind the eight ball.

Anyway, Monfils/Stepanek = v boring. I nearly fell asleep, but kept myself with sheer force of will (and more coffee). Thankfully, the next men's semi was a beauty. There was a group of crazy Czech fans in the crowd supporting Tomas Berdych (quite why they'd kept quiet during Stepanek's match is beyond me, but they did) and there was general crowd sentiment for Andy Roddick, and it was just a good match, all in all.

Berdych came out firing. I've never seen him play live before and it was pretty good. I had him earmarked as a lifetime underachiever... and yeah, I still do, but he's got talent. He ate Roddick up in the first set. He smacked that serve back and everything he did came off and it visibly put Roddick in a bad mood. He smacked a ball into the ceiling at one point - oh my God, the arena! Short digression - Pat Rafter Arena is beautiful. It's somehow magically temperature controlled and exists in a strange hybrid space between indoors and outdoors, and no matter where you're sitting, the rake is such that you can see the court perfectly. Seriously, I love, love, love the arena. Small enough to be reasonably intimate, big enough to be atmospheric - I cannot speak highly enough of it.

Anyway, back to Berdych/Roddick. I got the sense that Roddick and Berdych aren't each others' biggest fans - in particular, that Roddick really wasn't a Berdych fan. This is based on the fact that Roddick was almost aggressively sportsmanlike to Berdych, including ceding a point to him that I really don't think he earned. Berdych was stoically silent - I didn't hear him say a single word the whole time. Roddick chatted to himself a lot in typical Roddick fashion, and seemed bad-tempered the whole time, even when the tables turned.

Despite the bad temper, it was an enjoyable match. It got very tense in the third set especially, and the Czech fans really were very amusing. And then there were some doubles afterwards which were pretty fun - I really dig Jeremy Chardy. Which I have said in the past, but will reaffirm any time I am asked.

But it was all about the women's final.

I distinctly remember it being 4-1 in the second, Clijsters up a double break, where I was disappointed. There had been some fantastic tennis, and I was on Team Kim (though, yes, the occasional 'allez' passed my lips), but I wanted more. And then I thought 'hang on, if anyone's going to go on a tear, it will be JuJu...'

And what did she do? She went on a tear.

I've been to more than few tennis matches in my time, and I've never been to one where the crowd was so evenly divided - and even then, no one was really disappointed. This match was all about the tennis for the crowd and less about the competition. And for Justine to get such a good crowd reception playing Clijsters, whom the nation refers to as Aussie Kim (because she dated Lleyton Hewitt once upon a time) is really something.

On the whole, it was 'Go Belgium'. And 'go comebacks'. (And 'go Kim Clijsters' speech'. Seriously, she is the best speechmaker in the WTA.)

And this match put the rest of the tour to shame. The only match last year I can think of that came close to this in quality was Elena Dementieva vs Serena Williams at Wimbledon, and you know what? I think this one is better. The rallies were crazy long, and split pretty evenly. There were some serving yips, but nothing like the chronic doubles you get with the rest of the WTA. And it was a match played in fierce competition but in good spirit. It was a match for the ages.

And I was there. And I desperately, desperately want a rematch in the final of the Australian Open - and I want JuJu to beat Serena along the way. And I don't care who wins this proposed AO final. It's about the tennis. Because make no mistake - these comeback queens are the best things to happen to the WTA in a very long time.

And I was there when they played each other for the first time in their second careers.

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