Monday, January 31, 2011

50 Thoughts on the 2011 Australian Open

The flags have come down, the stadium is empty. The people are all gone. It is quiet. Rod Laver Arena is still. The Australian Open is over for another year. The slate that was so clean a few weeks ago has been written on, rough sketches of things to come beginning to take shape.


It’s time to reflect. Or try to forget. Or drink. Any of the above.


I could do some in depth analysis of the tournament and what it all means and stuff, but that sounds like it would take a lot of energy and as much fun as deconstructing is, two weeks of solid tennis really takes it out of you – even if you’re only watching and not playing. So instead of actual, like, paragraphs and stuff, let’s make a list of stuff. Stuff that I noticed, stuff that I think is cool, stuff that I think is not cool. Stuff.


1. When Li Na is done with tennis, she needs to have a stand up comedy career where she just makes fun of her husband all the time. She is COMEDY GOLD.

2. Why haven’t I noticed how cool Li Na is before?

3. It was nice that Kim Clijsters got to celebrate her victory as Kim and not as Jada’s mum. Jada is adorable and all, but Kim did this all on her lonesome.

4. Thank you, Kim Clijsters, for that takedown of Todd Woodbridge. It was awesome.

5. I can deal with Todd Woodbridge as a commentator. I’m fine with him. Love Jim Courier, surprisingly love Lleyton Hewitt. HATE BRUCE MCAVANEY. FIRE HIM AT ONCE. HE FILLS ME WITH RAGE.

6. Novak Djokovic was genuinely the best player on the men’s side this fortnight and was definitely due another title.

7. I had never, ever realised that Djokovic was such a speed demon. Or that he could do the splits.

8. Djokovic has improved over the years. He is no longer my most hated player. I’m never going to be a fan, but am glad to see he’s maturing.

9. I look at Djokovic, all I can see is Bert from Sesame Street. Or Screech from Saved By The Bell. Can’t help it.

10. There is a real chance Andy Murray might be the next Ivan Lendl.

11. There is a real chance Andy Murray might be the next Dinara Safina.

12. Dinara Safina is indeed the player I feel most sorry for all tournament.

13. Except for maybe Svetlana Kuznetsova, because NO ONE deserved to lose that match.

14. Francesca Schiavone is a FREAKING LEGEND. Seriously, how awesome is she? She rocks the kasbah.

15. Just because Caroline Wozniacki was funny in press conferences doesn’t mean I like her game any better.

16. I think Ekaterina Makarova really might be something in the next couple of years.

17. Same goes for Aleksandr Dolgopolov.

18. Actually, how freaking awesome is Sasha D? I am filled with so much Dolgopolove right now. Any man who is man enough to wear an Alice band is a man indeed.

19. I never realised how much I loved Rafa till he went down like that in the quarters.

20. Roger Federer will always be my favourite, no matter what happens in the rest of his career.

21. That said, the rest of his career is going to be pretty damn sparkly.

22. The world unfairly maligns David Ferrer. He is much more awesome than people give him credit for.

23. One good semi final does not a career make. Fernando Verdasco is the anti-Ferrer.

24. I’m not quite ready to jump on the Milos Raonic bandwagon yet. Sorry.

25. I am, however, quite ready to jump on the Anastasija Sevastova bandwagon, because I liked what I saw.

26. And then there’s that Dolgopolove bandwagon, which I have primo seating on.

27. And Richard Berankis, even if he got to the third round via Nalbandian-fail.

28. It was worth the Nalbandian fail to get to see that epic first round match against Hewitt. Best match of the tournament, second overall after Franlana.

29. Lleyton Hewitt is really a very good commentator. Never thought I would say this, but MOAR LLEYTON.

30. Did I mention how much I hate Bruce McAvaney?

31. Did I mention how much I hate Viktor Troicki? Because it is A LOT. I like fiery players. I’m a Safin fan. But he is vile.

32. Not just because he knocked out he of the anime-hair, Nicolas Mahut.

33. A great love of Nicolas Mahut seems to be the one thing all tennis fans can agree on. Fedophiles, Rafanatics... everyone loves Nico.

34. He should have got a wildcard to the Australian Open.

35. Sabine Lisicki should also have got a wildcard.

36. In fact, there should be an official Wildcard For Awesome.

37. Even though it failed, #wildcardformahut was an awesome experience. And it’s going to keep popping up every time he needs one.

38. I just generally think Mahut is the bee’s knees. In case you hadn’t noticed.

39. You know who else is awesome? Andrea Petkovic. There needs to be more people like Petkorazzi.

40. Petkorazzi has had an awesome summer and is due for a big rankings rise. Watch this space.

41. Likewise the tall left-handed space shaped like Petra Kvitova, because she is rocketing up so fast she will leave you in her dust.

42. Sandra Zahlavova’s screech is worse than Michelle Larcher de Brito’s. Yes, I’m saying it.

43. Venus Williams is a freaking WARRIOR.

44. Even if her dress did look like a pie.

45. Ernests Gulbis is not a warrior. I think I’m off the bandwagon.

46. Andrey Golubev was also disappointing, but there’s no way I’m giving up on him.

47. Marin Cilic was surprisingly un-disappointing. Good times.

48. Insert something vaguely complimentary (with conditions) about Bernard Tomic here.

49. Tobias Kamke is going to be so awesome so fast it will BLOW YOUR FREAKING MIND.

50. We are going to miss Justine Henin so, so much.


What would you add to the list?


I liked the result of last year’s tournament better. Any tournament with a big fat RF on it is a tournament I love. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a better time than I did at the Australian Open this year. Good tennis, good wine, Federbitching friends... these are the things that make a real Grand Slam experience. And I was lucky enough to have all three.


And now the countdown to Roland Garros begins, and I cannot wait. Not just because I finish work the Friday before, either...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Duck Unbroken

Well, that was a bit... anticlimactic.

Despite not having a horse in this race, I was - I confess - a tiny bit excited against this final. I thought we could see five sets. I thought we could see a real battle. I thought we would finally see British tennis break its 150,000 year old duck.

Being half a Brit myself and having a British tennis playing cousin, I was pulling for Murray tonight. A little bit. Andy Murray is emphatically not my fave. But considering Djokovic definitely isn't either, I had to pick one of them, and Murray it was.

And he was so freaking disappointing. There is a name, and the name is Safina.

Sure, Ivan Lendl took four finals to win his first one. Kim Clijsters was sitting on zero for many for a long time. But they are the exception, rather than the rule. And just like last year, the question has to be asked - will Andy Murray EVER win a Slam?

But enough of this. I don't want to be too mean. I have a British tennis playing cousin after all, and knowing what the media are going to do to Murray tonight, I don't want to add fuel to the fire.

Novak Djokovic was genuinely the best player this week. Anyone who beats a member of the Great Fedal Bromance has got something going on, and he was totally superior this week.

I don't normally break into paeans of praise for Djokovic. It is not a secret that I am not a fan. But he deserved this one. I felt, before the match, that it was Murray's turn, but once I saw the match, I knew it wasn't to be. Murray didn't play great, but that doesn't take away from the fact that Novak played awesome. Like, majorly awesome.

His defense in particular this tournament has been out of this world. I still rate Rafa as the best defender on tour, but Novak is up there in the ranks. Some of the shots he played tonight - and, indeed, this fortnight - have been incredible. He has played amazing tennis. And he has showed why he has consistently ranked higher than Andy Murray.

It's been a long time coming - congrats on your second major, Nole.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Battlers (not little Aussie ones)

This was a women's final worth waiting for.

It wasn't the match of the tournament, because hello, Franlana. Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova definitely take the cake on that one. But it was a damn good match between two ladies that definitely deserved to be there.

I think what I liked most about was that it was a freaking battle. I like both women - I was pulling for Li, but Clijsters-hate, you will not find it here - so my investment in the outcome was not as major as it might have been. Instead of making me nervous (yes, Roger, I am looking at you), this time, the battle was kind of exhilarating.

After she pulled herself out of that 2-0 hole in the first set, I thought no one was going to be able to take Li Na down. She was on FIRE. Like WHOA. I'm not surprised she started a little slow - first Grand Slam final and all, but boy, did she make up for it with speed and power after that. Like CRAZY. Seriously, there are no words to describe the awesomeness of her play in the first set.

Clijsters didn't know what hit her - and faced with an opponent so obviously streaking, and to whom she had lost so recently, it would have been very easy to fall off the pace right there and let Li run away with it. But she did exactly the opposite - she stepped it up majorly.

And that is the difference between Kim 1.0 and Kim 2.0. Kim 1.0? Fragile, mentally. She did lose four Slam finals before she won one, which must have taken a toll. Kim 2.0? Made three finals, won all of them. The Second Coming of Kim Clijsters is made of stern stuff, and she showed it in this match, because with the way Li Na was playing, I didn't give her a chance. Shows what I know.

Li did fall back to earth a little. This is not to say that she suddenly played awful or anything, but no player can be on fire forever. But she was right in there - right in there the whole way. Even during the third set, where Kim got on top quite quickly, there was always a possibility that Li could come back.

Even though it was three sets, the scoreline - 36 63 63 - doesn't truly signify the battle this match was. Kim Clijsters expressed in her speech that she wouldn't mind playing more Slam finals with Li Na, and you know what? I wouldn't mind seeing a few.


(And also, I was so happy that Kim Clijsters got to celebrate this victory on court on her own. Not that her family aren't adorable or anything, but I think it's time that we celebrated Kim for Kim, and not just for being Jada Lynch's mum. Jada is cute as a button, but Kim is so much more than this supermum label she's been tagged with! And also, can we please stop calling her Aussie Kim? Can we just let her be Belgian? WHY MUST WE TRY TO STEAL PEOPLE ALL THE TIME? Remember how that attempt to poach Baghdatis turned out?)

Friday, January 28, 2011

No Accident

If I have learned one thing from this Australian Open, it is this: never, ever underestimate David Ferrer.

I have been guilty of doing this for a long time. He's sort of my anti-Kohlschreiber - I always expect Kohlschreiber to do better than he does, and I always expect Ferrer to do worse than he does. In fact, if you asked me before this tournament who I genuinely thought I was a better player, I might have even said Kohlschreiber. David Ferrer is the ultimate under-the-radar guy.

It's amazing how he's managed to stay under the radar when he's made multiple Slam semis. I knew this, and I still continually underestimated him. I didn't even notice he was in the tournament till he played Raonic in the first round, and even then I had a mental asterisk next to him that said 'bunny'.

'Oh, he will lose to Rafa easily!' thought I. Obviously this was not to be. Sure, Rafa was injured, but he was still moving, still fighting. It must be very easy to lose to a wounded warrior - to get so excited about them being on the ropes that you forget about the business of winning the match. And Rafa, while obviously hampered, wasn't quite on crutches yet.

Ferrer kept his head. He played smart tennis, and he won - deservedly so - in straights. There was a lot of attention on how humble Rafa was, refusing to talk about his injury and giving credit to his opponent. Sure, he was very humble - it was a great press conference. But he was also right. Ferrer won this match. Full credit.

But still, thought I, 'oh, he has no chance against Andy Murray! Muzz will hand his arse to him!'

And yes, Ferrer lost. But he went down swinging like a real champion. He played amazingly to get that first set, and if he had taken that set point in the second set, who knows what direction the match would have taken?

This has been a great tournament for Ferrer. But he didn't get to the semis by accident. And I - and everyone else - need to remember that Ferrer deserves all the glory he can get. No more under the radar. Let's stand up and applaud David Ferrer.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Is Tennis

Sometimes the other guy is just a little bit better.

And that is what happened to Roger Federer tonight. No excuses. No rhyme, no especial reason. Novak Djokovic just played better than him tonight. And that is tennis.

Federer didn't play his bestest match ever, but even if his level had been a little higher, I don't know what would have happened. Novak Djokovic played better than I have ever seen him tonight. He was a backboard in some points - I don't know what his unforced error count was, but I bet it was pretty low - and in others he ripped some spectacular winners. His forehand has long been lauded as his weaker wing - it did not seem weak tonight, when he hit crosscourt forehands with consummate ease.

His serve was a weapon. His backhand was sublime. Djokovic played like a man who deserved to win the match - and he deserved every bit of it. It's no secret that I'm not exactly his biggest fan, but there is not one element of his game I can fault tonight. He was the better player on the court, plain and simple. And after three years, it might finally be his turn again to win a Grand Slam.

It's strange to be in a world where Roger Federer does not hold a Grand Slam title - but it's not necessarily a bad thing. Roger has been on top for so long - now he has things to work towards, new mountains to climb. It can be depressing or it can be exciting, and I choose the latter. And there is a particular year in my mind - 2009. In that year, Roger didn't win the Australian Open either - but look at how it turned out.

But even if Roger never won another title ever, he would still be my favourite player ever. There is no loss that can take away what he has done and what he is.

So I can remain upbeat about this loss. He was outplayed. This is tennis. It happens. And he is the greatest tennis player ever. He has a lot of career left in which to play beautiful, wonderful tennis, perhaps win another couple of Slams, and to generally continue being awesome in.

Congratulations, Novak. All the best for the final. And Roger - we'll see you again soon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Here Be Monsters

Today is not a tennis day that made me happy.

There is Rafa. Oh, Rafa. I didn't actually realise how much I loved you until I saw you struggling to play through pain - and it must have been a lot of pain to hamper you so badly. What a sad way for your quest for the Rafa Slam to end.

And then there is Justine, retiring for the second time. Her elbow is too fragile for her to continue. I guess we can just be grateful for the time we had.

These are obviously not exactly connected issues, so let's start with Rafa. In fact, let's start with David Ferrer, who played an outstanding match. I want to take absolutely nothing away from the killer performance he put in here. I have seriously never seen him rip so many winners. And even though I knew he was the Energiser bunny, I had no conception of how fast he was. That seriously surprises me every time.

And when you're Rafa, and you're clearly injured - even if you are being so gracious and not talking about it - the Energiser bunny, who will make you play ball after ball after ball, is the last person you want to play.

Rafa was such a gentleman about his performance. He didn't want to talk about his injury, he said, because he didn't want to detract from the performance of his opponent. Full credit here. More than full credit. This is the kind of behaviour that led him to getting the sportsmanship award as voted by the other players.

Murray's road to the final suddenly got a whole lot easier. He may have lost a set to everyone's new favourite Dolgopolov (whom we all Dolgopolove) but he is still the form player on this side by a mile. With Soderling and Nadal swept out of his path, he practically has a free ticket straight to the final. Great as David Ferrer played - and even though he has a winning record over Murray - I don't see Ferrer doing much to hurt the Muzz.

But I would have said that about Nadal, so go figure.

And then the other tragic news - the second retirement of Justine Henin. I thought there was no way she would ever come back from her first retirement, but this time it's final. Her body physically will not let her play. She can't. And so we have lost her.

I adore watching Henin. Her backhand is the most beautiful shot in women's tennis and now we have lost it forever - and when he eventually lose Francesca Schiavone, we may lose the one-handed backhand altogether. But it's not just her backhand - and her game - we're losing. We're losing Juju. We're losing everything she has brought to tennis. And she's losing her chance at a Wimbledon title.

We'll miss you, Justine. I cannot tell you how much we will miss you.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Flat Stanley

Okay, so I chose the headline because I thought it was funny. The book Flat Stanley made me cackle with mirth for many hours as a child. I actually don't think Stanislas 'Stanley' Wawrinka was that flat at all. I just can't resist wordplay.

Let me qualify. Stan wasn't playing his bestest tennis ever, that is for sure. But it wasn't necessarily his fault. He wasn't playing his bestest tennis ever because his ol' mate Rog wouldn't let him.

It's hard to play your friends. Stan talked a bit about how he had to imagine there was no face on the other side of the net. Roger clearly doesn't have the same problem - nor could he afford to, being on the top of the game and having a committed bromance with rival Rafa. But quite apart from that, it's hard to play your friends because they know all your tricks.

Roger knows Stan's tricks. He knows all about the backhand down the line, and the angled backhand crosscourt, and the backhand in general. He knows about Stan's serve and his forehand and his volleys. This goes both ways, of course, but Roger has a LOT more tricks. You just have to look at the game played at the end of the second set to know that.

In a way, because Stan knows all his tricks, Roger had to play exhibition style tennis to beat him. This is a Stan very different to Stans we've seen before - this is Lundgren!Stan, who is aggressive and not afraid to get in his opponent's face and who rips winners like whoa. It reminds me a little bit of the early days of Dinara Safina and Zeljko Krajan, actually. This is a Stan like we've never seen him before, using his gifts - his backhand in particular - and his mind to play smart tennis.

So Roger had to play smarter. He had to reach into his bag of tricks and pull out some magic. He had to pull a rabbit out of his hat. And he did. Several rabbits and a few of those really long scarves with all the different colours and oh, what's this? a straight sets win! And next to that, Stanley - even the new, improved Stanley, who did not play awful - looked a little flat.

Roger will play Djokovic next, who overcame Berdych in straight sets in the Battle of Sesame Street. (Bert vs Big Bird, in case that is unclear.) Djokovic played some scintillating stuff, though he should probably never take up a career as a poker player - he hammed up rather than played down his vision problem, and it is to Berdych's detriment that he didn't take more advantage of that. But Djokovic wouldn't let him play well, at the end of the day - he played really, really well.

And so the semi-final will be a festival of frazzles for the Federer fan!

In the ladies, Li Na is firming as my tournament favourite - she played awesomely against Petkovic and has proved she can get it done against Clijsters, who will probably be her finals opponent. And then there was Schiavone - oh, Frankie. She played so valiantly against Wozniacki - winning the first set in very stylish fashion - but fell in the end. After you play nearly five hours, this is understandable. But the heart, the courage and the willpower she displayed to stay in this match was astounding. She is the kind of player that young tennis players should aspire to be - the type of player who never, ever stops fighting.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Alexandr Dolgopolov is going to be a top ten player. Maybe even top five. And it is going to happen soon.

Robin Soderling did not know what hit him when he walked out on Rod Laver Arena. At first, I'm pretty sure he thought it was fat nothing, when he walked all over his opponent 6-1 in the first set. And even when he was broken in the second set - hell, even when he lost the second set - I'm pretty sure he was still feeling all right.

We were all applauding. 'Wow, Sasha got a set!' we cheered. 'A set from Soderling! He really is going to be something special one of these days!'

But Sasha was not content with 'one of these days'. No, Sasha wanted today.

And that is what he got.

When Soderling lost the third set... he knew he was in a match. And even after Soderling won the fourth set, and when he went up a break in the fifth... this was somehow Sasha's match. After he won the third set, there was not a moment in this match when Dolgopolov was going to lose.

Andy Roddick called him 'aggressive to the point of psychosis'. Sasha Dolgopolov has all the shots. He can rip winners from anywhere in the court - like, ANYWHERE, in that manner that only Federer and Nadal can do on a consistent basis. I can see how, on an off day, it could all go horribly wrong, and I suppose that's why he isn't higher ranked right at this second, but (first set aside), it was all going right for Sasha against Soderling. And if he can play like this on a consistent level, it is hard to imagine too many people who could stop him.

He has a huge forehand. He has a scintillating backhand. He can volley and slice and has a nice serve too. He can hit with spin, he can hit flat. I saw his match against Becker the other day live and after his match against Soderling, I haven't seen a shot he can't hit and hit with panache.

He plays the type of tennis which is most watchable when it's on and agonisingly painful when it's off. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to make sure he can keep his level up week in, week out. Because if he can play like he played against Soderling all the time, he will be into the top ten with a rocket.

In other news, Nadal seems to have recovered from his illness woes - he really played a good match against Cilic, who couldn't really hurt him too much. Murray absolutely mauled Melzer in a terrifying way - that will be a really tough match for Sasha next. And a Murray/Nadal semi - that could be an absolute cracker. (Or totally anticlimactic, depending on how well both dudes play.)

In the ladies, the Kim Clijsters train rolls on - she put out Ekaterina Makarova, whom I really liked the look of and hope we see more of in the future. Vera Zvonareva continued to slice through the draw quietly (hot knife, butter, etc) and Agnieszka Radwanska had a very good win as well and Petra Kvitova is looking very nice as well...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fighters. History. Tennis.

There were a lot of matches yesterday. Wozniacki won. Wawrinka won. Federer won. Petkovic won.

But it was really only about one match.

Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsvoa played an instant classic. It was somehow more instant than an instant classic - it was a classic while it was still being played. Three long sets - well, two normal sets and an epic. The longest women's Grand Slam match ever, clocking in at four hours and forty-four minutes. A testament to these two wonderful players and to two fighting spirits.

There is a lot to be said for people who simply refuse to lose.

Schiavone, in the end, came away the victor... but even though Kuznetsova lost, this match was a wonderful one for her. It's like Isner/Mahut - any victory in a match this long is Pyrrhic. The W next to one's name becomes inconsequential, even though it's the prize being fought over. A match like this transcends a tournament. A match like this is a match for history.

Not that that would be particularly easy for either player to come to terms with right at this second. Frankie must be elated (and exhausted). Sveta must be crushed (and also exhausted). But later on, when they look back at this tournament, the wins before this one will not be what is remembered. It will be this match - a match that was more than a victory, much more than a loss. A match that was a celebration of tennis.

Unless Frankie goes on and wins the tournament. That memory might be a little sweeter.

Much as I would like Frankie to go on and win the tournament, I think that this match will do to her exactly what it did to Isner, and she will go into her next match super-tired. I know five-odd hours is not quite eleven hours, but it's hours enough. However, if she does pull out the win over Wozniacki, I will CHEER MY FREAKING LUNGS OUT. Because someone who played in a match like that deserves to win a(nother) Slam.

And the same goes for you, Sveta. You're not going to win Australian Open 2011, but there are three other Slams this year. May one of them be yours.

Brief sidebar - Wawrinka played TERRIFYINGLY well against Roddick. When did he suddenly get so awesome? As a Federer fan, I am officially scared. Glad that his friend Stanley has come through, but SCARED.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tomic In Transit

I did not get to see much tennis yesterday due to being in transit for most of the day - there was a whole incident with a cancelled flight that left me hanging around Melbourne Airport for six hours and then having to wait for a train for another two hours (quite apart from the two hours I spent on said train)... suffice to say it was a long day, and if I'd known it would be that painful, I would have somehow contrived to stay in Melbourne another day. As a result for this twelve-odd hour transit drama, the only tennis I got to see was the second two sets of Nadal and Tomic.

And much it pains me to say it, because we all know I can't stand the kid, I was impressed by Bernard Tomic.

I was not only hoping for a triple bagel, I was vaguely expecting it. I was convinced that there was nothing in Tomic's game that could hurt Nadal - that Nadal would eat up those dinky little tap shots Tomic is so obsessed with, that Tomic didn't hit flat enough to even begin to mess with Nadal, nor did he have anywhere near enough power, that Nadal would exploit Tomic's movement and drag him around.

But it didn't happen. Nadal won - and won comfortably in the end - but Tomic genuinely did play an excellent match.

There were signs in this match of the player Tomic could be. Jim Courier was very insightful earlier this week when he said Tomic was very mentally developed for a player of his age but not physically, and I definitely think that's true. Tomic hasn't grown into his height yet - though it certainly did help him neutralise (to some degree) the high bounce on the Nadal lasso forehand. And because he is so gangly his movement - particularly up and down to the net - isn't the best that it can be. Because he is so tall, maybe it never will be world-beating.

But his tennis brain is outstanding. Simply outstanding. I read somewhere else that he has a high tennis IQ but a low social IQ, and I think that's definitely true. If he behaves in the locker room like he does to the public, he's not going to be that popular. And that could really affect him in the long term.

It pains me to say it. It really does. But Bernard Tomic really did impress me last night.

Speaking of things that are impressive, you know what would be impressive? More Nicolas Mahut in a dress. Some of Venus's dresses, in particular. Melinda Samson (aka @GrandSlamGal) and I were discussing this on Twitter, and basically we concluded that they should have their own reality show. You can read her post on Mahut, Styled By Venus here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Life On Show Court 2

Today was my last day at the Australian Open - sadface. I finished it off with wonderful drinks with Dootsiez and PJ from All I Need Is A Picket Fence, which was the perfect way to end what has been a wonderful tournament for me. I have had the time of my life, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be back for 2012 - for even longer, if I can possibly afford it!

I spent a great part of my day on Show Court 2 today - first for Almagro vs Ljubicic and then for Azarenka vs Scheepers. Herein is my report.

Almagro was playing as well as I have ever seen him on a hard court. We all know that he is the Prince of Clay, but he was absolutely on fire today against Ljubicic. If you'd asked me to place a bet before the match, I would have said Ljubicic in straights. Instead, it turned out being the other way round.

I never realised Almgaro had such massive shots - he can hit the ball HARD. I think the only person I've seen hit the ball that (noticeably) hard is Soderling. And maybe Nadal. Seriously, his strokes were MASSIVE today. He has a real flair for the passing shot and the angled forehand. And he played a totally fierce second set tiebreak. That tiebreak was the real key point in the match, and it was Almagro who held tough. I was very impressed. I totally understand how he gave Tsonga such a good run for his money last year! Actually, Almagro has a pretty decent record in Australia, and I totally get why.

Ljubicic, on the other hand, was doing something weird with his shots. I don't know if I was influenced by his grunt, which made him sound extremely like he was in pain, but he seemed to be collapsing inwards on a lot of his shots - sort of curling up, which seemed to be really hampering his movement. I don't know if I've missed, like, his entire career, and he's always played like this, but I felt very much like he was playing through big pain. I was kind of glad Almagro put him out of his misery, to tell the truth.

And then it was time for the ladies. This was the first full ladies' match I have watched outside of Rod Laver Arena, and it was suitably compelling, even if the scoreline did not suggest it.

I have not been a big fan of Azarenka in the past. I don't know if I have changed my opinion, but I was pretty impressed with her today. Scheepers possesses some big shots - like, BIG. She can hit winners like nobody's business and she has a lot of power. But Vika didn't panic and deflected all that power straight back at her. It was great tennis from Vika, combined with a bit of inexperience from her opponent, which won her this match. And in a women's draw more wide open than ever, why shouldn't it be time for Vika to make a charge?

And then it was time for Federer. I didn't have Rod Laver Arena tickets, but I watched on the big screen in Grand Slam Oval. And had twenty minor heart attacks, even though Federer was in front virtually the whole time.

Federer played this whole match like he'd left the oven on - distracted and wanting to get off as soon as possible. He managed the latter, but it was a strange, nervy match. He oscillated between extreme brilliance and Federror, his evil shadow-self. And then there was his strange obsession with the drop shot...

But he'll be right. He's Federer. And that is the truth of the matter.

I'm watched the Rod Laver Arena night session as I write this. Stan Wawrinka has just put paid to an awful Gael Monfils. Seriously, could Monfils have played any worse in this match? He possibly has the worst mentality in tennis. I came to this conclusion after watching him tank the third set against Gil the other night, and it was only reinforced tonight.

We've watched Federer and Nadal. We know that tennis champions have minds of steel. Monfils demonstrated tonight that he does not have one. He fell apart, totally and completely. He might have the talent, he might even have the game, but unless he works on what he has upstairs, he's not going anywhere.

In short, it is time for Gael Monfils and Roger Rasheed to BREAK UP. Rasheed is infecting him with douchiness.

Stan, on the other hand, played wonderfully. He may be a little douchey in his personal life - I cast no stones, I said 'may' - but his backhand is a freaking work of art. That thing is gorgeous.

And then the second Rod Laver Arena match... poor Venus. That poor girl. Poor scheduling decision, considering her injured-ness, but oh my goodness. That girl was HURTING. Get well soon, Lady V!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tales From The Outside Courts

The side of the draw playing today is my non-emotional investment side (ie. no Federer, no Mahut), so today was sort of my off day at the Australian Open. This is not to say, however, that I did not have excellent times watching excellent tennis. Because I did.

Walking through the gates at Melbourne Park (and walking out again fifteen-odd hours later, knowing you'll be back there not long after) is magical. I've been to a few of the tournaments around Australia - Sydney, Brisbane, Hopman Cup - and while they are all excellent (especial props to the Hopman Cup) there's a buzz at a Slam. There are good vibrations in the air. Things are going to happen. Magic is going to be made.

And magic is made - not just on Rod Laver Arena, not just on Hisense, not just on the show courts. At every court there is magic. One of the most magical moments I've had this week was on Court 14 (arguably the most remote court in the complex) watching Mahut win his first round match. Watching tennis on TV, it seems like the main arenas are all there is. When you are there, there are so many other stories to be told on the outside courts that you miss otherwise.

Like Alexandr Dolgopolov. The media has been silent on him - he hasn't played anyone big yet - but MAN, has this guy got game. He took four sets to beat the also very talented Benjamin Becker (aka Becker-no-relation) today, but I was super impressed. He has a great serve, a massive forehand, and he can volley like nobody's business. He plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga next, and I would not be surprised at all if he gives the big guy a run for his money. Watch out for this kid in the future. He has MAJOR talent.

And he is man enough to wear an Alice band. I respect that.

I also saw Youzhny play today. He earned his membership to the Roger Federer Let's Win Two Sets Then Lose Two And Give People A Heart Attack Club by winning the first two sets over Blaz Kavcic, then dropping two before coming back to see the fifth. I only saw the fifth set, so I can't talk about the rest of the match, but Youzhny certainly played very well. And I saw his salute live!

But that wasn't what I meant to talk about. Kavcic is another one of those stories that you only find on the outside courts. I saw some of his first and second round matches, and he is an absolutely outstanding talent. I really think we are going to be seeing a lot more of him in the future. He is a story that is not going to be on the outside courts forever.

Same with Santiago Giraldo. I saw him play - and lose to - Marin Cilic today, but he has some massive potential. He hits the ball hard and hits an excellent slice... and when he hits it, he makes a whoosh sound. How can you not love that?

For the first time this week, I sat and watched an entire match that did not involve Nicolas Mahut on an outside court. I don't normally do this - I'm flitting from court to court to court - but it was so hot today that there was no way I was giving up the patch of shade I found! Luckily for me, the match was a great one - John Isner vs Radek Stepanek. Throughout the match, you could actually see the cogs in Isner's mind turning as he figured Stepanek out. He played crap in the beginning - he lost the first set and smashed a racquet in spectacular fashion - but then... he worked it out.

There is a lot to be said for a thinking tennis player - indeed, any good tennis player needs to be one. I feel like Isner sometimes gets dismissed as being just a serve, but he really does have a multidimensional game. His volleys in particular are outstanding. I think he will make mincemeat of Cilic in the next round - Cilic was better than I expected him to be against Giraldo, but he's nowhere near where he was last year - and might even take a set off Rafa in the next one, if Rafa isn't zoning.

I'm really hoping Rafa is zoning in the third round, though. But even if he isn't, he is going to take Bernard Tomic TO F%^&ING SCHOOL. And that is all I have to say about that.

Tonight was my last night in Rod Laver Arena, and there was no way it could live up to the previous two. But it didn't do so bad. Stosur had a really high quality win over Dushevina - definitely the best I've seen her play this year - and then Baghdatis/Del Potro was entertaining, if a little short. I would have loved to see the fifth in this match, but JMDP couldn't do it for me. I am a little concerned about his ongoing wrist problems, however - he had the trainer out three times for it, and there was one instance where he actually DROPPED HIS RACQUET in the middle of a service action. On a break point. Has anyone ever seen that before? I haven't.

But I missed, it seems, the moment of the day. However, I've heard alllll about it. Good on you for taking Todd Woodbridge to task, Kim Clijsters. You are awesome.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Federer At The End Of The Mahuniverse

Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were just a fan of tennis instead of a fan of tennis AND some particular players. Yes, Mr Federer, I am looking at you.

If I weren't a Federer fan, I would be able to be excited about the prospect of a fifth set in the second round against Gilles Simon. I would be glad to see more tennis, to see the battle, to see who would blink first, whose game would stand up to it. I would be able to objectively analyse the match, saying, 'oh, Simon raised his game there, Federer stopped playing so aggressively on the return there, and that is where the problems started.' I certainly wouldn't be trying to curl into the foetal position in my seat in Rod Laver Arena, so nervous that I was almost shaking.

But then, if I weren't a Federer fan, I wouldn't have had that brilliant rush of adrenaline when he finally did win the match. I wouldn't have screamed and laughed and almost cried, and I certainly would not have hugged four random strangers who were doing pretty much exactly the same thing. Perhaps I might live longer if I weren't a Federer fan. But the highs - and yes, to have the highs, we do have to have the lows sometimes, though I'm glad it wasn't tonight - make it worth it.

Take out Federer, substitute Nadal or Djokovic or Murray or the player of your choice. It works with anyone. Sure, we can appreciate a great tennis match, a real battle - something like Hewitt/Nalbandian last night, in which I had no real emotional investment, so I could enjoy almost objectively - but when your heart is in the match (and your throat, half the time)... well, those are the ones you remember.

What I'm trying to say is this - we need our heroes. Tennis isn't the same without your guys to get behind. (Or 'root on', as Wilson ads on Facebook keep telling me today. Insert 'yes please' type innuendo joke here.)

Federer is mine. And in tonight's match, I smiled, I laughed, I was almost calm... and then I raged and screamed and almost cried. And then, at the end... it is more than relief, more than joy. When your hero pulls through, it is euphoria. And I was, believe me, euphoric.

And I was also pleased I managed to survive a Federer five set match live. I never thought I would be able to do that. I am stronger than I think.

And I have another hero in my stable, of course, who was not quite so lucky. I watched all four sets of Mahut and Troicki today, and I cheered my lungs out. But I suppose having a journeyman hero is a little different from having a champion. If Federer had lost today, there would have been tears and bitter retribution. With Mahut out in the second round, I can simply be proud of what he has achieved.

Because seriously, that dude is AWESOME. His ranking is definitely going to go up after this tournament, considering he didn't play it last year, and he deserves it. He has been taking it to players who should probably be crushing him all year - and can we forget, of course, John Isner, ranked about a hundred places above him? He challenged Murray in Perth and beat Starace. He put paid to Dabul. And he played Troicki hard today - he played well, and even though he did not win, getting a set was a great result. I think he can be proud.

But I do have to talk a bit about villains, in all this talk of heroes, and after watching the Mahut match today, I think it is definitely true to say Troicki is in my stable of villains. He is probably the worst behaved tennis player I have ever seen. I seriously thought he was going to punch one of the linespeople today - he screamed right in her face. He argued with the ref, he argued with the crowd, he argued with Mahut... the guy just cannot get enough arguing. I mean, I understand that he's a 'volatile player' or whatever, but I seriously thought there was a chance he might get defaulted from the match for bad behaviour, because he was behaving foully. We saw the same thing in Sydney where he played Simon (who is definitely not in my villain's stable, despite taking Federer all the way) and if he continues like this, I really hope he gets in some serious trouble.

That is the end of the Australian Open for Mahut, because his doubles partner, Benneteau, is out with some kind of Serena-esque injury. I'm really sad about that, because it means I probably won't have the chance to see him again... which means I have failed in my tournament goal, which was to touch his hair. (I want to touch the Ma-do more than I want to touch the Federlocks, and that is saying something.) But just because Mahut is out does not mean I am jumping off the bandwagon.

Oh no, gentle reader. You will be seeing A LOT of Nico Mahut this year. Trust me. He's a blog hero now. You cannot escape.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sleepless in Melbourne

Sleepless is the best way to put it. It's 1:30am as I write this, back in my hotel room, after just having returned from the exhilarating Nalbandian/Hewitt five set match. I've been at Melbourne Park since 10 in the morning. That's a very long day of tennis - and I'm going to do it all again tomorrow!

I started my day with a leisurely wander around the practice courts (harder than it might sound, as there are eight, four on each side of the site, and it takes about ten minutes to bash your way through Grand Slam Oval to get there) before settling down for a bit to watch Kai-Chen Chang and Bojana Jovanovski. Yes, I went to a WTA match. I upheld my word. I caught the first set, which Chang totally let slip out of her grasp after being a break up. But Jovanovski... well, she is one to watch.

I then intended to catch some of Youzhny and Ilhan, but it was crazy full there with shouting Turkish fans, so I opted for the slightly tamer (in crowd size, not in tennis) Kavcic/Anderson, where I saw Anderson take the first set. I then thought he was destined to win the thing, but I was wrong. Oh, how I was wrong. As I will elaborate later.

It was back to the back courts after that - yes, I was trying to stalk players in their practice sessions; no, it didn't entirely work - where I caught about a set and a half of the all Brazilian battle between Thomaz Bellucci and Ricardo Mello. This might have been my favourite back court match of the day, because this match had it all - extreme tension and big hitting and some real flair that you don't often see outside of the Frenchies. Bellucci was on top when I was watching, but looking at the score, Mello came back and took a couple of sets before Bellucci closed it out. I'm not surprised. He was playing very well. These are seriously two very watchable players.

...but I stopped watching them after a bit, because, you know, trying to catch some matches and practices and suchlike. I caught a bit of Schwank and Mayer, but the all-Argentinian battle didn't have anything on the all-Brazilian one, so off did I take myself, intending to go and see Falla/Lopez, but ending up...

...back at Kavcic/Anderson, where ALL HAD CHANGED. Seriously, Blaz Kavcic. Watch out for this guy. He has tons of game - like, tons. I understand why he was #1 seeded qualifier! He has mad skillz. Anderson serves out of a tree - as seen in the first set - but by the fourth set, which was what I saw, by which time Kavcic was up two sets to one, Kavcic had almost totally neutralised it. He worked it out, and he played an outstanding fourth set tie breaker after coming back from a break down. He is going to be awesome soon.

Then away! for Federer was practicing. Not much to say here, except that I nearly got crushed in a Federiot. Seriously, it was crazy. People who want autographs are deadly.

I tried all day to find Mahut practicing, but it didn't work, so I gave it up after a while and decided just to watch some bits of matches instead... except for one small thing. Every match I walked into seemed to immediately end. I caught the last couple of games of Isner's match, the same with Gilles Muller's... then I caught a whole set of Alisa Kleybanova's, which would have been awesome if the set hadn't been 6-0. I betook myself round to Clement/Seppi after that, which was only just starting, but lo! no sooner had I done that than it was time to head into Rod Laver Arena.

There's not much to say about the Safina/Clijsters match. Kim played great. Dinara really didn't. It was a bit embarrassing. (Though considering what was coming next I'm glad it was short, or I'd still be there!) I will say this, though - while Safina's ball toss is still ridiculously high, it is not as high. Nor as wonky. Progress has been made. Though Clijsters is clearly not the one to try it out on!

And then... the match.

Hewitt and Nalbandian were always going to go five sets. Everyone knew this. It was always going to be an epic. It had the potentially to be Isnutically long, though thankfully it wasn't. But what I wasn't expecting was the real, incredible quality of this match. Seriously, it was OUTSTANDING.

This wasn't a good draw for either guy in the first round. Hewitt deserved better than this, with the way he was playing - put him against another one of the players seeded in the 20-odds and I think the result might have been different. But I suppose there's always going to be that history between Nalbandian and Hewitt, that old tension, and I really think that is what pushed Nalbandian over the line in the end - the desire not to lose to someone he doesn't like.

But their history aside, this match was outstanding. It was literally impossible to pick the winner - Hewitt had two match points on which he did not capitalise - and it see-sawed dramatically. The crowd were behind Hewitt, of course, but it didn't seem to bother Bandy at all - if anything, he fed on it. The length of the rallies was astounding and the shotmaking, well...

...suffice to say it totally made up for the not-so-good night session the night before!

Win of the day: Nalbandian. That had to be sweet. Though I'd like to put my hand up for Bellucci as well.
Loss of the day: Ivanovic. Didn't see it, but this is not a good thing to happen for Miss Muffet.
Players in dangerous form: Both Nalbandian and Hewitt, not that Hewitt will get a chance to show it. Also Nadal.
Players to watch in the future: Kavcic. Bellucci. Mello. Jovanovski.
Things for Jodi to do tomorrow: Watch more WTA instead of just a token match. And also FIND MAHUT PRACTICING.

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!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rally For Relief

It wasn't quite Hit For Haiti. I don't know if anything could match the glorious spontaneity of that Sunday afternoon last year. But Rally For Relief this afternoon was big fun, and the cause was extremely important. (If you haven't already, please donate - you can do so here.)

It was only a short event but it felt longer - probably because of the masses of time we spent queueing and then sitting in the arena, waiting for the players to come on. (Though there was a Federer practice session going on, so who was complaining? NOT ME.) There were a lot more players than last year - the event opened with ten players walking on.

The Gold Team: Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Justine Henin, Lleyton Hewitt (c)
The Green Team: Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, Vera Zvonareva, Victoria Azarenka, Pat Rafter (c)

All ten of the players were micced up, and they were hilarious. I can't really convey the humour of events like these in words - perhaps you can try and YouTube it, if you weren't lucky enough to be there! - but it was in great spirit, great fun, and was great tennis. Honorable mentions have to go to Andy Roddick for taking on linesman duties and Novak Djokovic for both conducting a rally while sitting down and getting into the press pit. Dishonorable mention goes to Andy Murray for substituting grunting for humour and Lleyton Hewitt for trying to bring his son Cruz onto court (Cruz promptly burst into tears!) even if it was epically cute!

And then this lot went off and four more came on for a match of doubles - Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters against Roger Federer and Sam Stosur. These four weren't micced and I feel like this was a bit of a failing - all four of them were micced up last year and were good value for money (though Stosur was a bit quiet). However, you have nothing to complain about when you have seen... drumroll... FEDAL DOUBLES.

Yes, it's true. Yes, it happened. The players pretty soon switched sides and we had girls against boys. I'm sure I'm not the only tennis fan who thinks it would be legendary for these two to play some matches together, and this may be the closest we ever get to it! And they're not a bad team, either... even though they were holding back a bit... but not so much that the girls didn't beat them fair and square!

All in all, I cannot overstate the value of events like these, both for tennis and the wider community. This kind of exhbition allows the players to cut loose and put their personalities on show - something we don't see enough of - which really does attract new fans to the sport. And much more importantly, it was a major contribution to alleviating the crisis currently felt in Queensland. Over $1.5 million was raised by Rally For Relief, and that total is still rising. Please donate - support tennis and support Australia.

(Sidebar: Nicolas Mahut plays Brian Dabul third match up on Court 14 tomorrow. I will be there. Anyone else?)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Things We Don't Need, Things We Do Need


...yes, I am a little bit excited about it. He overcame Danish dude Frederik Nielsen in three sets. I don't mind what happens now - I'm just glad that he got to the main draw and I'll have a chance to cheer him on! (Though if you want to win a round or two that's fine with me, Nico.)

Someone I will not be cheering on, however, is Viktor Troicki. I went to the final of the Medibank International, which was won by Gilles Simon, and Troicki's behaviour was absolutely atrocious. Any respect I ever had for him... gone now.

I have no problems with fiery temperaments. I don't even have any problems with racquet smashing. I'm a SAFIN fan, for heavens' sakes - I freaking love that stuff, if it's done with Safinesque panache. But what I don't like is blatant abuse of the linespeople and other court staff, as well as constant remonstration and blaming other people for your f^&* ups.

The crowd did not warm to Troicki - there was a large Serbian contingent cheering for him, and that was about it. I think everyone else was going for Simon - not because he was especially good on his own, but because he wasn't actively abusing anyone. When Troicki got called for a foot fault late in the second set, I seriously thought he was going to pull a Serena on the lineswoman. It was... it was nasty, and that's not something we need in our sport.

What we do need is awesome people like those who are playing Rally For Relief - suppport this awesome cause if you can! You can make contributions here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I'd like to register my complete lack of surprise at Kim Clijsters losing to Li Na in the Sydney final. I saw Li play when I was there on Monday, and after that display against Kleybanova from Kim, well...

...I don't think it will damage her Australian Open chances at all. Indeed, I think she will go in the favourite, and she merits that. This loss might actually be good for her in a way - the way she was being talked about was as a favourite so overwhelming any misstep would have brough enormous pressure down on her head.

She has an interesting first round opponent at the Open - one Dinara Safina. Remember her? I hear she used to be #1 in the world... once upon a time. This is an awful draw for Dinara, who is trying to make her comeback... and the sad truth of the matter is that if I were Kim, I wouldn't really be worried at all. That's not a good thing to say about a former #1 in the world - but it's also a true thing.

Now, the draw has just been done, and I could spend some time looking at it and breaking it down like I often do before Slams. But a) everyone else has already done this and b) I couldn't be bothered, as I am writing this on a train, so what I will do instead is this:

Things I Find Interesting About The Draw
- Federer has a nasty second round match, whether he gets Gilles Simon or Yen-hsun Lu... not to mention his first round match, against Lukas 'I fed Rafa a bagel' Lacko.
- Hewitt/Nalbandian should be an absolute cracker... but will probably be disappointing.
- Tsonga/Petzschner is the Thinking Tennis Fan's favourite first round match up.
- There is no way in hell Caroline Wozniacki is winning the Australian Open, and I don't even particularly like her chances of getting past the first round.
- Poor Dinara.
- Will the real #4 please stand up? I love that Muzz and Sod are in the same quarter. I love it a lot.

Okay, that's done. Now onto the far more interesting bitching about the draw ceremony.

Seriously, WHO KEEPS LETTING BRUCE MCAVANEY OUT OF HIS BOX? This is why we can't have nice things. Not only is he not one of great tennis minds of our time, he is FREAKING ANNOYING. I'm sure Jeremy Chardy and Anna Chakvetadze really enjoyed being trask talked by this nasty little man. And I'm sure all the people in the room who were genuinely interested in tennis all wanted to punch him.

Because, let's face it, Ivan Lendl certainly did. I now love Ivan Lendl.

I know the draw is not the Oscars and I was not expecting it to be anything of the ilk. But please, ye powers that be, get rid of McAvaney. You have actual tennis players floating around - tons of them. USE THEM.

Maybe now #wildcardformahut has wound up (though #supportmahut still lives) I should start #firebruce...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Things Get Weird For Kim

Rally For Relief at the Australian Open sold out in a matter of hours. That is about 15,000 tickets, gone like that. And one of them is mine!

I am seriously so proud of the tennis community for this. Hit For Haiti last year was absolutely extraordinary and Rally For Relief sounds like it will be exactly the same. And the support that it's receiving... well, it's a testament to the generosity of both tennis players and fans. The community has pulled together incredibly. Well done, everyone!

It feels like I've talked more about wildcards and rallies than actual tennis in the last couple of days, so probably I should do something about that. Though one brief wildcard note before I do start talking about tennis actually happening in this actual week - Sabine Lisicki is playing qualifying. WHAT. IS. UP. WITH THAT.

It's people like Sabine Lisicki and Nicolas Mahut that illustrate SO CLEARLY why we need a Wildcard For Awesome. As a tennis fan, I feel like it's a serious injustice on both of them. Here's hoping they both qualify - I will be at their matches for sure!

Now. Onto Sydney.

That match between Clijsters and Kleybanova was... well. Whenever people start talking about how excellent Kimmie's looking - including me - it always seems to me like she pulls out a match like this one. The shoulders slump, she gets dejected, and no matter how invincible she's been looking, weird things start to happen.

The classic example is, of course, that loss in Melbourne last year to Nadia Petrova, where she got totally hammered. She managed to pull out the win over Kleybanova - she did wake up enough to play an excellent tiebreaker - but it is concerning.

The only tournament where this doesn't seem to happen is the US Open, where Kim is charmed. I think Kim has a really good shot at being #1 if she makes a good run in Australia, so here's hoping that she's got her weirdnesses out in this match and brings it in Melbourne. With Serena out, the Australian Open genuinely is anyone's tournament - and why not Kim's? (Though I must confess that, in my heart, I am pulling for the other Belgian lady. Justine Henin for the win!)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Roger, Rafa and Friends Rally For Relief

If there is one thing I think I have really learned in the past week, it is the capacity of the tennis community to pull together. I saw it on Twitter this week, when one little late night hashtag turned into a Twitter love fest for Nicolas Mahut. (#wildcardformahut is now #supportmahut, in case anyone missed it!)

And now, on a much larger and more important scale, we have the Federer-originated Rally For Relief.

We saw Hit For Haiti last year. We saw how the tennis stars of the world, as well as the tennis fans, pulled together to raise a huge amount of money to go towards the Haiti earthquakes. This year, the need is much closer for the host country.

In case anyone has been living under a rock and missed it, there have been massive and incredibly destructive floods in Queensland. An inland tsunami has swamped Toowomba, rivers have peaked at depths of 22 metres in some area, large parts of Brisbane are underwater and sharks have been seen in what were once streets in Ipswich. The death toll is rising and a large number of people are still unaccounted for. The area underwater is equivalent to more than six of the United Kingdom. It is huge and destructive. There are no proper words to describe it.

But there are ways to help, and the tennis community, as it did with the Haitian tragedy last year, has pulled together to do it. Roger Federer, as he did last year, has organised a charity exhibition to be played on Rod Laver Arena at 2pm on Sunday afternoon. Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Lleyton Hewitt, Kim Clijsters, Samantha Stosur and Pat Rafter - whose arena in Brisbane is now underwater - will all be playing. Like Hit for Haiti last year, it should be a whole pile of fun for a very serious cause. And the tennis community will rise to this challenge.

So, if you are in Melbourne, get along to the Rally for Relief! I will be there along with a whole bunch of other tennis folk, including Dootsiez from All I Need Is A Picket Fence, and hopefully the whole arena will be sold out. Tickets are $20 a head - a small contribution you can make to the flood appeal (and getting a whole lot of awesome tennis into the bargain!)

You can buy tickets here. And if you can, PLEASE donate to the Queensland Flood Appeal, which you can do here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Where Is The Wildcard For Awesome?

Dear Tennis Australia and all ye in charge of giving out wildcards -

I get it, OK? You want to give your discretionary wildcards to Australians. You want to support homegrown tennis and build a Davis Cup team and whatever. I totally understand.

But it doesn't mean I have to like it. And while you may have done a service to Australian tennis (such as it can be said to be), you have done a disservice to tennis overall. Because - as you have heard very loudly over the last few days - the tennis community has been pushing hard for one thing. One wildcard.

We wanted a wildcard for Nicolas Mahut.

I know he's not Australian. I know he's not exactly an up-and-comer. I know he's not going to play Davis Cup for you. But what he is is PURE 100% AWESOME. And we wanted him to have a chance.

Tennis is gladiatorial. Mahut is a gladiator. He played an eleven hour match - how many of your other wildcard contenders could claim to have the legs to do that?

Tennis is entertainment. Um, were you watching the Hopman Cup? Mahut put on a dress and walked out there and entertained his heart out. You want tennis to be watched? You want tennis to be popular? You want to encourage kids to pick up a racquet? You want to entertain them. You need a showman. In short, you need someone like Mahut.

Wildcards are for those who might do something with them. Two words: Hopman Cup. Mahut beat Potito Starace, ranked almost a hundred places higher than him, and pushed Andy Murray very, VERY hard. You want someone who might actually win a match or two? How about Mahut?

Wildcards are for those who deserve to catch a break, who deserve a shot. Look at Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. Clijsters got a wildcard to the US Open in 2009, Henin to the Australian Open in 2010. Both players who needed a chance. And look how that turned out. Now, I'm not saying that Mahut would have gone on and won the Open if he'd been given a wildcard. But honestly, what more does he need to do? This one is on his own tennis federation as well - Rufin in the US, Paire here... why does Mahut get NO recognition?

There is a reciprocal wildcard arrangement with France and with the US. A wildcard is given to Asia, in the spirit of the Australian Open being the Grand Slam of the Asia Pacific. One is given to the winner of the Australian Open playoff. And four are discretionary. Paire. Harrison. Devvarman. Matosevic. Ebden. Luczak. And, as of yesterday, Ball and Tomic.

It would be very, very easy for me to take potshots at Ball and Tomic - Tomic in particular. But it's been done and it's been done eloquently, and so I will refrain. (Except to say that, REALLY, Tennis Australia, you thought it would be a better idea to give a wildcard to a kid who complained that his centre court match went on past his bedtime than to a man that played eleven hours without complaining?) Instead, I have an alternative proposal.

I propose that every year, one of the discretionary wildcards is set aside to be the Wildcard For Awesome.

This is the wildcard that does not care about some kind of Davis Cup developlement ideal, that's not dangled above the head of misbehaving youngsters like some kind of delicious biscuit. This is the wildcard for someone who has proved, time and time again, that they are awesome. Maybe they... I don't know, have been injured and don't qualify for protected ranking. Maybe they've had a bad season and are on their way back. Maybe they're just very entertaining and obvious fan favourites. Maybe they played a GODDAMN ELEVEN HOUR TENNIS MATCH and survived.

There is only one criterion - that the recipient of this wildcard be AWESOME.

I have very much enjoyed being the captain of the Good Ship #wildcardformahut - which has now become #supportmahut. As I write this, Mahut has just won his first qualifying match - a 6-0 6-1 win in about 45 minutes. He is well on his way to the main draw - one down, two to go. I'd much rather he didn't have to go through this qualifying rigmarole, but now that he has to, he has started off his campaign with style.

I am sad that #wildcardformahut didn't work, but one thing it did do was draw the attention of the tennis community to a player who really is genuinely 100% awesome - as a player, as an entertainer, and as an all round cool dude. Nicolas Mahut, there is a whole bunch of people out here who think you are basically the Lord of Awesome. And even though we didn't succeed in getting you a wildcard into the main draw, I hope some ripple of the #wildcardformahut campaign reaches you - because we want you to know just how awesome we think you are.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Woes Of Being Feli

WILDCARD FOR MAHUT WILDCARD FOR MAHUT WILDCARD FOR MAHUT #wildcardformahut. Yep, that's still happening. Wildcards are due to be announced Tuesday, so get aboard the bandwagon for one last push!

The bandwagon was largely pushed by other people yesterday, as I was incommunicado while taking my younger brother to the Medibank International. It was his first time at an international tennis tournament - though he is, like his sister, a big fan (and unlike his sister, an excellent player) - and the tournament did not disappoint. We were lucky enough to be treated to the entire three hours and twenty minutes of the epic clash between Juan Martin del Potro and Feliciano Lopez.

I really, really feel for Feli Lopez. You come into a tournament, you're seeded, you hope to start off easy, with a qualifier maybe, and hey - you get drawn against a guy ranked #259! Awesome! But oh... hey. You look at his name. Juan Martin del Potro.


And then you play really well! I'm serious, you play REALLY well. The crowd's not especially behind you or anything - there's not many of them anyway, and most of them are supporting your opponent - so this one is all you. Your opponent is directing a few wide into the tramlines - he doesn't seem to have his timing quite right yet - and you are pouncing. You are playing awesome stuff.

But he is a world class player, even if he is a bit down on his luck, and he's sticking with you. All right, you think, I'll just hang on and do it in the tie break. And you do it! You take that first set breaker and then - guess what? You keep playing awesome! But he keeps sticking with you, so you're like, fine, another breaker, I've done this before.

And you bring up match point! ...and he saves it. And you two play an absolutely electrifying tie break. And he gets it.

And then you get to the breaker AGAIN. No one can pick a winner. But he gets you. After a long, LONG time, he gets you. He gets the glory. And what do you get? Upset in the first round. A seeded player, beaten by #259 in the world.

It must suck to be Feli right now.

But seriously, this was an awesome match. You will be hard pressed to watch a better tie break than the one that was played in the second set. It was a small crowd on Ken Rosewall Arena, but I think everyone was pretty fully engaged in that match. It was exciting stuff!

My brother and I also caught the twenty seconds it took for Li Na to beat Anastasia Rodionova (seriously, that was... quick), Stosur/Wickmayer, and some of Ebden and Luczak playing doubles, and all in all, it was a fantastic day - and I was very glad there was no movement on the #wildcardformahut front while I was away! But seriously, it was worth it just for that second set tie break between Lopez and del Potro. That was some tennis right there.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Soderling Makes A Different Sound

Given as the draw for Australian Open qualies is released on Tuesday, I'm betting the final discretionary wildcards for announced on Monday (conveniently when I am at the Medibank International and electronically incommunicado - annoying). Let us keep hoping for a wildcard for Nicolas Mahut (and tweeting vociferously to that effect)!

Now, over to some finals. We had two yesterday, in Chennai and Brisbane, and they were both very good results for those involved.

Newly-family-leaving Stan Wawrinka (if he wanted to make his image different to Federer's, I'd say he's succeeded now) won in Chennai, which is a great result for him, even if Chennai is a bit of a Mickey Mouse tournament. He beat super-talented but super-sketchy Xavier Malisse in three sets. And... I didn't see the match, so that is all I have to say about that.

I did, however, see the Brisbane final, and Robin Soderling is looking DANGEROUS. Capslock merited. He fully merits gaining the #4 ranking. He has been untroubled on serve all week, and he totally dominated Andy Roddick with his flat forehand - and he ripped a few awesome backhand winners too. And it's hard to conceive of just how HARD he hits the ball - I swear it makes a different noise to when other players hit it. I wouldn't be surprised if he managed to burst one one day.

Roddick did not play badly - it certainly wasn't his bestest performance ever, but he didn't suck or anything - but Soderling left him dead in the water. If he continues to play like this in Australia, there are going to be precious few people who are able to stop him. I would actually love to see Murray drawn in his quarter - we could have a battle for the REAL #4. Now that would be something. (Basically, I hope he doesn't draw a be-wildcarded Mahut first round. That would make me sad.) Suffice to say, Soderling is going to do better in Australia than last year... where he lost in the first round.

And speaking of Kim Clijsters, she is also looking VERY dangerous. But after her showing against Petrova last year, I'm not putting any money down.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

#wildcardformahut and Other Animals

WILDCARD FOR MAHUT WILDCARD FOR MAHUT WILDCARD FOR MAHUT GIVE HIM A WILDCARD NOW WILDCARD FOR MAHUT. #wildcardformahut, sorry about that. I've been typing #wildcardformahut and various permutations so often for the past couple of days that it has become second nature. It takes a bit of dedication to captain a Twitter campaign to (hopefully) victory. But if anyone with the wildcarding power happens to read this - make my day! make the day of everyone else who wants a wildcard for Mahut! and, most of all, make the day of Nicolas Mahut! WILDCARD FOR MAHUT 2011. It's a thing.

Now, other business.

The Hopman Cup has finished up, with the USA very deserving winners. The John Isner/Ruben Bemelmans match was a bit of a non-event - which is not surprising, given the ranking difference - and it certainly wasn't the best mixed doubles match ever, but the match between Justine Henin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands was as good as I've ever seen.

I kind of love Bethanie Mattek-Sands. I never expected to, and I've laughed my arse off at her crazy fashion over the years, but I've discovered this week I sort of love her. I love her totally aggressive game, and her determination, and I especially love her backhand down the line. She seems pretty chilled out and yet totally focused on tennis all at the same time, and she was a really great addition to this year's Hopman Cup. If she can play in Melbourne like she did in Perth, then she can definitely get to at least the fourth round. It all depends on draw, of course, but there's no reason why she can't put up a great show.

And it was a great performance from Isner as well. He came back well from his shellacking by Murray to play very well against Bemelmans. Good stuff. Well done, USA - this was a very well-deserved win. And well done Belgium, on a well played final. And well done Hopman Cup, for bringing Nicolas Mahut into the spotlight for a week... #wildcardformahut.

Ahem. Back on track.

Petra Kvitova won in Brisbane, which was a great result for her, and she did it in style - she played an absolutely great match. Like Mattek-Sands, if she keeps her head in the game, there is no reason she can't make a tilt at a second week appearance in the Open. She totally dominated Petkovic and if she continues to play like this, well... with the state of the WTA, there is no reason why she couldn't be top ten rather quickly.

And then there was Doha. F^&* YEAH ROGER FEDERER.

It was a good win for Davydenko to beat Nadal - even an ailing Nadal - but Federer showed here today why he really is a worldbeater. He played very aggressive - and accurate - off the return, and it made a huge difference. That banana paddlepop outfit he's rocking is clearly giving him good mojo - and whatever Paul Annacone has been telling him, it's been good. I don't think there's going to be anywhere near the same amount of buzz this year about Davydenko as there was last year - which is a bit sad, in a way, because he is constantly over looked - but that doesn't mean that this wasn't an awesome win over a tough opponent for Federer. I loved every second of it. He played wonderfully. Even if he could do with upping his break point conversion rate.

And you know what else would be wonderful? AN AUSTRALIAN OPEN WILDCARD FOR MAHUT. DO IT. #wildcardformahut 2011! It's a thing.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wildcard. Mahut. Now. DO IT.

I'm serious, Australian Open. I'm so serious I started a Twitter campaign about it. You may have noticed it. It's grown a lot pretty quickly. The hashtag is #wildcardformahut. And the aim...?


Mahut's already been passed over by his own federation in favour of Benoit Paire (still not entirely sure who that is) so it is up to the Aussies to do right by this guy and give him a wildcard. And he deserves one - more than anyone else I can think of. Let's review:

- He flew all the way to Australia just to play the Hopman Cup.
- He did this to replace someone else, out of the goodness of his heart.
- He has been one of the crowd favourites, if not THE crowd favourite, all week.
- He beat Potito Starace, who is ranked nearly a hundred places above him, in very handy straight sets.
- He gave Andy Murray a very big scare.
- He is a wonderful player to watch - and people WANT to watch him.
- He is all aggression and French flair and dynamic tennis - he plays tennis in the spirit of the game, so to speak.
- He has been inside the top hundred and has the talent, game and desire to get there again - which would be helped by a wildcard.
- He played the longest match ever last year, so it's not like he's some nobody that isn't any kind of drawcard.
- He got absolutely shafted by the US Open last year.
- He got shafted by his own federation, who wildcarded someone else.
- He wore a dress in the mixed doubles at Hopman Cup. Seriously, enough said.
- About a bazillion people want him to get a wildcard (seriously, check Twitter. It's a LOT of people.)

I would write a longer list, but it is two thirty in the morning and even those of us righteously campaigning for the Mahuts of the world to get wildcards need sleep. But please, Australian Open, do right by this guy. He has got the rough end of the stick so many times, and you are in a position to be benevolent. Give Mahut a wildcard. He's not going to win the tournament, but he will play some very stylish, watchable tennis - and people will watch it. They will WANT to watch it. Because Nicolas Mahut is seven kinds of awesome.