Monday, January 17, 2011

Clean Slate

There is something magical about walking through the gates on the first day of the Slam. It is a clean slate. There is tennis to be played, stories to be told, portraits to be painted, hearts to broken, tears and laughter and incredible sadness and joy ahead, but on that first day, everything is clean and new. Anything is possible. And you are there to witness it.

I made a decision this year that unlike previous years, where I have flitted from court to court to court (usually in an effort to make sure I don't miss any Federer practice sessions, because I am a fangirl like that), I was going to try and watch some real proper tennis on the outside courts (ie. more than one change of ends). I also wanted to make sure I watched at least one player a day I had never seen before, preferably one I'd barely/never heard of. So, without further ado, here is my story of Australian Open - Day One.

I'd decided to begin my day on Court 6 with what looked like a tasty match up between Julien Benneteau and Juan Monaco, but then when the players walked on court... hey, THAT's not Benneteau, quoth I to myself. No, it was Simon Greul, whom I presume is a lucky loser. I have no idea what's happened to Benneteau, but he wasn't on that court when he was supposed to be. I hope it's nothing bad... particularly as he is doubles partners with Mahut and I want them to be awesome! (More on Mahut later.)

So I upped and left after two changes of ends (see, I watched some of it! I gave it a chance!) and wandered round to the back courts. For some reason, it is so difficult to get there now that you practically have to answer three riddles of increasing difficulty then fight a troll, but when I did manage to fight my way to Court 16 through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I was treated with Federer practice goodness. I feel like it was the tennis gods rewarding me for being good. La la la.

Then I went to Court 19 (the original aim of my trek to the back courts) and caught a set and a half of Carlos Berlocq against Robin Haase, which was a very interesting match indeed. I've been watching Haase for a while - actually, no, that's a lie. I picked up on a him a number of years ago when he took Hewitt to five at Wimbledon, thought he was cool, then forgot about him (apart from a few 'hey, where's Haase these days? I thought he was going to be good and stuff!). But I've found him now, and I'm glad I have.

I feel like Haase is sort of the thinking tennis fan's Ernests Gulbis. He has big power off both wings, is practically exploding with talent but suffers a little from inconsistency and... well, he has hair that could rival Ernie's. But I feel like he has a better mindset on court - he got down in sets to Berlocq a couple of times and fought his way back every time. One thing I did think was unusual was the frequency with which he played the squash shot - he played it a LOT - but it seemed to be working for him, so no complaints.

After some serious time spent with Haase, I wandered back over the other side with the intention of catching some of Nishikori's match. However, Court 8 was UBER-packed, so I opted for a match that was just beginning instead - Tobias Kamke and Philipp Kohlschreiber. And boy, was this a surprise.

I only caught the first set, in which Kamke TOTALLY dominated Kohli. I mean, SCARY dominance here. I'd never seen Kamke play before (tick!) nor did I know anything about him other than that he won newcomer of the year last year, so this was a real treat. Looking at the scores now, I see that Kohli came back from two sets to love down to win (after a third set breaker), and as all I have to go off is that first set, I was very surprised. Kamke was painting the lines left, right and centre. He was eating Kohli alive out there. But I guess he came back down to earth after I left or something.

Sorry, Tobias, but Federer called. I didn't have a day ticket into Rod Laver Arena, so I caught the first set of his match on the big screen in Garden Square. To say that Federer had things under control is an understatement. (He'll face a bigger test in round two with Gilles Simon - FRAZZLE!) He was powering ahead, so I wasn't nervous at all when I left after the first set to go and spend some quality time with my new best friend, Nicolas Mahut.

Watching this match was my favourite thing of the whole day. I didn't expect Nico to win going into this match. I didn't expect him to lose either. I was very careful to have no expectations. And one of the expectations that I did not have was that Mahut would win the match in FREAKING STRAIGHT SETS!

Seriously, I was cheering my lungs out out there. (Anyone who was there - I was the one yelling 'Allez!' A LOT.) Watching Nico serve, you can understand why he managed to hold serve 68 times in a row - he has one hell of a serve on him. When Dabul started getting a read on it and cracking some returns, he just kept changing it up. He is RIDICULOUSLY talented. I totally understand how he won junior Wimbledon. And it is SO NICE to watch serve and volley tennis. Especially done so well.

But my favourite thing about Mahut was how, even when he was down (like in the third set), he didn't break down about it. He just gritted his teeth, came back, and GOT IT DONE. He did this in qualies as well, but I somehow wasn't expecting to see it in front of me. (Another side effect of 'no expectations'.)

Dabul was ranked higher than Mahut - not much higher, but enough to qualify for direct entry - and he was overwhelmingly outplayed. Considering Mahut didn't play the Australian Open last year, a second round result will definitely boost him up a bit - here's hoping he doesn't need to rely on my 0-from-1 #wildcardformahut campaign at Roland Garros and Wimbledon!

After Mahut kindly took a photo with me (!) it was off to catch a bit of Stan Wawrinka, who had a bit of an up and down match with Gabashvili. To clarify - it was Gabashvili who was up and down, Stan was pretty solid throughout. This is the best I've seen Stan play in a while - he was cranking it against an opponent who was alternately on fire and in the gutter - so clearly that whole 'leaving his wife' thing worked for him. To each their own.

I tried to get in to see Gilles Simon and Rendy Lu after this, but it was packed out, so I went and watched a little bit of Benoit Paire, the French wildcard, against Flavio Cipolla. I have previously bitched about how Mahut should have got the wildcard and who is this Paire kid anyway, and that is ALL STILL TRUE (Mahut should have got a wildcard, even if he didn't end up needing one), but I was seriously impressed with Paire. That kid has got some strokes on him and no mistake. But he needs to stop playing with his necklace in his mouth. That seems silly.

And then it was time for my night on Rod Laver Arena.

I was spectacularly disappointed with the scheduling, but Groth and Wickmayer almost made a decent match of it - or would have, if Groth wasn't doing exactly what Gabashvili had done earlier and alternating between extreme awesome and extreme awful. She started off very poorly, sacrificing the first set to Wickmayer with barely a whimper and then getting down a break in the second, but then flipped the switch and reeled off six straight games to win the set. But then it all came crashing down in the third set...

Jarmila Groth is a player of the type I like. She's aggressive, she goes for her shots, it's great when it works, sometimes it's awful. But she needs to find some chill - or at least direct her frustration in a more productive direction. Gesturing up to your player's box ultimately achieves nothing. If she could harness that energy, well... watch out world.

And then Djokovic came on and totally owned Granollers. It was... not that interesting. Nole is looking very good, though. I will say this.

In a nutshell, here is what I thought of Day One of the Australian Open:

Win of the Day: I'm sentimental. Mahut. It was awesome. I loved it.
Loss of the Day: Davydenko, who lost to Florian Mayer. I didn't see it, but seriously, Kolya? I know Mayer's in form, but remember how you were the one everyone feared last year...? Also Sam Querrey. Baaaaaaaaaad.
Players in dangerous form: Federer. Djokovic. The usual suspects. Wawrinka also looking great guns.
Players to watch in the future: Haase. Kamke. Paire.
Things for Jodi to do tomorrow: Maybe catch a WTA match or two - looking back over this, it was a total sausagefest!

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