Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sweet Sixteen

He is the man. He is the master. This is his moment.

He is Roger Federer, and he is now the winner of sixteen Grand Slams - an achievement that has never before been seen, and may never be seen again. And we are lucky enough to watch him play, to live his era, to experience his greatness.

Let me talk about the match before I go waxing too lyrical and making obscure literary references again. I don't think anyone expected this match to be straight sets, but I think the scoreline belies the competitiveness, especially in the third set. That tiebreaker may have been the most epic one I have ever seen, even if, at 13-11, it didn't numerically live up to Jo Tsonga and Andy Roddick's 20-18 incident a few years back. It was epic because every point was vital - it was a set point, a match point, a point to stay in the match, a point to take the match. And it took a really long time before someone blinked on serve.

It cannot have been easy on Andy Murray, coming into this match having a realistic chance of winning and having the entirety of Great Britain hoping and praying for him. Channel 7 ran a piece on the Dunblane massacre before the match that I pray he didn't see - I get their thought, but talk about putting pressure on the lad! They made it sound like he was the one good thing that had happened in that town since that terrible tragedy and that him winning would bring joy and light and healing into a dystopic post-apocalyptic world. He did not have the luxury that Federer had of winning his very first Slam final, and he will be aware of people like Dinara Safina, who crumble repeatedly at this level. It's not good pressure.

And he showed, with his tears, that he feels it. I'm not normally a Murray fan, but I loved him a little in that moment. I have a terrible weakness for crying men... as evidenced by AO '06, when I became Jodi the Fedgirl.

But Andy Murray will win a Slam one day. I think we can say this safely. Just not this one. Not in this moment. His time will come, but it is not quite now.

Now belongs to Roger Federer, the undisputed king of tennis. This is his sweet sixteen, and he played beautifully tonight - much better than he has played against Murray in many matches in the past. I confess - I didn't expect him to play this well.

But even when I doubt, even when heaps of people doubt, even when the entire nation of Great Britain is sticking pins in voodoo dolls of him, Roger does not doubt. This is why he is the greatest of all time - not just the greatest tennis player, but possibly the greatest athlete alive on the planet today. This is why he is a champion.

This is why he now has sixteen Slams, an incredible, unbelievable record. And I do not know if we will ever see his like again.

Today belongs to the Maestro. Today belongs to the King, Today belongs to Roger Federer. And ain't it sweet?!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Justine Serves Notice

I don't think Justine Henin has anything left to prove to anyone. She might have lost this match tonight, but she has sent a message to the WTA world - JuJu is back, and she means business.

There was only one difference between Serena and Justine that I could see today, and it was on serve. If Justine could get a few more free points on her serve (and if Serena hadn't had quite so many) then the result could have been quite different. JuJu needs to get her percentage up on her first serve, though she is getting some great pop on the second. Because, seriously, I think that was the only real difference here today.

Perhaps the things that were lacking in JuJu's serve were highlighted by the excellence of Serena, because, seriously, she served like a real champion today. Probably because she is a real champion. She was especially great on the break points and assorted other big points - when it counted, she came up with those excellent serves into the corners. She played some really excellent stuff today - I agreed with the commentators that said she'd peaked when she played Stosur and hadn't been quite so good in the two ensuing matches, but she really came to the court tonight.

And so did Justine. These two are clearly the two greatest female tennis players of the noughties, and it is so great that their rivalry can continue into the next decade. Both have the minds, the games and the hearts of champions, and it is only appropriate that they faced off here. And I don't think this is the last we've seen of this rivalry.

Bring on Roland Garros. Bring on JuJu on clay. Bring on - I'm going to say it - the WTA. Because JuJu's home and she's going to make everyone play better. Because she is one of the best there is.


Friday, January 29, 2010

His Mine of Precious Stones; His Empery

Watching Roger Federer playing in the zone is like watching tennis porn. And the only person who feels dirty afterwards is the dude on the other side of the net, who has been made to look comprehensively ordinary.

Jo-Dub Tsonga is not an ordinary player. He is one of the most obscenely talented players on tour right now - save Federer himself and the now-retired Safin, I can't think of anyone with more natural talent. Today he was not at his best - he was a half-step slow, exhausted by the two five set matches he played to get through to his match.

But against a lot of other players, that might have been good enough. It would have been good enough to compete, at any rate, to grab some games, maybe a set.

Against Federer, he looked like a schoolboy.

There is an aura around the zoning Federer that is palpable. It is tangible, you can sense it , almost like a smell. When he dances around his (excellent) backhand to crunch that forehand in the corner, when you know that the next serve is going to be unreturnable, that that backhand is going to sail sweetly into the corner, that that volley he hits is going to be untouchable... you can sense it. As viewers, you can look at Federer and know exactly what he is thinking. Because he is not thinking. He just knows. He knows that this court is his kingdom and there is nothing he can try that will not work.

He is John Donne's To His Mistress Going To Bed with a tennis racquet. And it is achingly, achingly perfect.

Across the net is a guy trying to turn Donne into Marvell, to mute the perfection, to make it look less than it is, to mitigate it, to combat it, to do something, anything. But unlike Marvell, there is no one that can succeed when Roger Federer is in his happy place.

And here's hoping that when Roger Federer lines up in the final on Sunday against Andy 'Toothface' Murray, that he is not thinking. He is knowing - knowing that he is home, in his happy place.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Has The Real Andy Murray Finally Stood Up?

I am going to come out right now and say it - Marin Cilic will win a major one day.

I don't think it will be this week, as he is now two sets and a double break down to Andy Murray. But had he not played three five set matches this week, and had Murray not managed a shot (which gave him a break) which can only be called miraculous, I think we might have seen a match more in the mode of the US Open, where Cilic blasted Murray off the courts in straights. Because this kid is seriously good.

Serve? Sweet - even though the deep backbend he gets makes him look like he's in The Matrix. Forehand? Pretty damn excellent. Backhand? He can hit some great winners off it. Volleys? More than capable. Wingspan? Huge. Temperament? Calm. Mind? Bob Brett is his coach, so you want to bet that he's a thinking player.

Cilic came out and absolutely dominated Murray for a set and a bit - and had not Murray pulled off that over-the-shoulder pass, he could have easily been up two sets to love, I think. He did this by aggressive play, forcing Murray to play his game and also understanding the Murray game very well (cutting off the cross court pass, for example). But three five setters is going to take it out of anyone, and about halfway through the third set, Cilic hit the wall. Had Tomic and delPo and A-Rod not taken him the distance, this would have been a really different match.

I realise I'm making it sound like this match was on Cilic's racquet - and you know what? I think it largely was. He's got bigger weapons than Murray, when it all comes down to it. And in the long run, I think he's going to get the better of their head to head. And although Murray certainly lifted - he won (or, to be fair, is about to win) this match, Cilic didn't tank it - I think there have been some interesting questions raised.

Especially this one from Jim Courier - what is Andy Murray's A Game? What kind of tennis does he like to play?

Murray is an amorphous player, becoming whatever is necessary to defeat his opponent. He doesn't have one game that he tries to impose on his opponents at all costs, like someone like Rafa does. He doesn't necessarily play tennis in his own terms all that often because no one really knows what Murray's terms are. And I don't know if Murray really knows either.

He just won, by the way - he hit a round the netpost winner in his last service game which was totally stupid. And maybe this is what Andy loves - stupid winners. It is certainly what fired him up tonight. His extreme aggression against Nadal was what won him that match, even though Rafa's knees gave out at the end of the second set. And yet we often see him playing counterpunching tennis that is Hewittesque. The thing is, Hewitt wasn't capable of too much more than counterpunching, excellent as he was (is) at it. Murray is clearly capable of so much more, and he doesn't often go for it.

Perhaps this is the next stage in the evolution of Andy Murray - when instead of being reactive, although he's been excellent at it, he becomes active. What we have seen in this tournament is the beginnings of Murray really dictating the way he likes to play tennis - and it's working for him. And when he stands up on Sunday - he is in with a good chance. Even if he stands up against my beloved Federer.

Oh, and we're getting Serena and Justine in the women's final - I can't believe I nearly forgot! (Though to be fair, if you blinked, it wouldn't have been hard to miss JuJu's match...) Now that should be a barnburner...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fix the Roger, Fix the World

I have a terrible nervous tic with Federer Slam matches that I'm sure a psychologist would find interesting. When things get tight - when Roger's not looking good - I start trying to fix things.

Not him, obviously - as he is far far away and, you know, on a tennis court, away from my frazzling. But things around me. I distinctly remember the Federer/Tipsarevic match a few years back that went deep into the fifth - in fact, there's a ye olde worlde blog post on here about it somewhere - going out into my overrun backyard and weeding. I couldn't fix Roger, so I had to fix my yard.

The same thing happened today. Roger was down a set, he was down a break, and he was playing like what could politely be described as 'absolute crap'. He was misfiring off every possible wing and would have made a few shots... if the court were three metres wider. Added to which Nikolay Davydenko was on fire like whoa. It was completely depressing.

So I started cleaning.

I started with the last vestiges of my unpacking from the Epic Tennis Adventure. I put on a few loads of laundry. I folded some only ones. I sorted through epic stacks of paper on my desk and threw most of them away. I put books back on bookshelves. I rehung clothes. I went all spring-cleaning-like.

And while I cleaned, while I fixed up my house, Roger fixed up his game and won a casual thirteen games in a row.

Then I stopped cleaning and all of a sudden! Kolya held serve. Well, we couldn't have that, so I started the pile of mending that had grown up around me over the past few months. I sewed on buttons. I hemmed things. I mended torn seams. I fixed things up.

It didn't work immediately - apparently it's not a fine art, my fix life = fix Roger act - and Davydenko won some games, and did some breaking, and it was all on serve. I looked up nervously from my mending and looked for more things to clean. But I persevered with the mending and Roger persevered with his winning. He got one break and was serving for it... but Davydenko suddenly became a zombie who wouldn't lay down. I set down my mending for a second to polish my window sill before I picked it back up again.

And it worked. I fixed it. As I sewed on the last missing button, as the last vestiges of sun set over Canberra, Roger Federer defeated Nikolay Davydenko in four crazy sets to reach his twenty third consecutive Grand Slam semi final.

I don't want to claim any credit for this (well, maybe a tiny bit). But it did seem oddly poetic. And made me wonder whether I should check myself into a mental hospital.

Back to, ah, more sane tennis talk - this was a really topsy-turvy match, but it really did show just what the difference is between Roger and Kolya, and the difference is this: gears. Roger was playing craptastically, so - seemingly without warning, after Kolya missed one single shot - he shifted gear and suddenly became King Roger of the Land of Fedgasm. Kolya certainly missed more after this, but it was a combination of forced errors and what I saw called 'mentally forced errors' the other day. Kolya played worse because Roger made him play worse.

Kolya did lift his game in the fourth set - and considerably - but it was kind of like he found himself (and the lines) a bit more after being shellshocked for thirteen games there. Federer came down from Cloud Nine (to approximately Cloud Seven) and so Kolya was able to compete more. But what is so good about his game - his consistency - may also be what is stopping him from going from extremely good to great. He has no upper level to shift to. This also means it's harder for him to go down, but if he can't work out the answer to a player, then he's in big trouble. He doesn't, at this stage, have anywhere to go.

I know one thing he can improve. He can get rid of those Viking axe chop two handed volleys and get some nice new ones. Then we'll be cooking.

But all this criticism aside, Kolya had a great tournament, and had he been in a different section of the draw, I think he could have gone further. I would have been very interested to see Murray and Davydenko play each other. That would be a really interesting match up of games.

But I digress. Kolya has found himself lately and while I think he's still getting used to some aspects of it - his newfound status as media darling, for example - he is here to stay. I would not be surprised at all to see him win some more big tournaments and to have some more deep Slam runs. And Irina Davydenko might just be my favourite WAG since Mirka. Any man that can pick Kolya up by his head (see photos from Kolya's victory in Shanghai) is fine by me.

Roger will now play the winner of the currently-in-progress Djokovic/Tsonga match. Who comes out of this match is anyone's guess at the moment - it's a total gunslinging shootout at the OK Corral at the moment. I'm not overly fussed over which it is - I think Roger can beat either of them. But I wouldn't mind them tiring each other out a little.

And a quick word to the women - Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka, you should be ashamed of yourselves. You both had your matches completely won today before you threw them away. Not to take anything away from Li Na and Serena Williams respectively, who stole these matches back, but there has to be some serious losing going on to throw away leads that big. Oh, WTA. What a sad little place you can be.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Please, Knees

As rightly noted by Dootsiez of All I Need Is A Picket Fence, people are fond of calling Rafa the 'fittest guy on tour'. Toughest, I would agree with. Most resistant to pain - you have an argument there. Fittest? I think David Ferrer would have something to say about that.

Fitness and injury are inextricably linked. And with Rafa's injuries... through no fault of his own...

We are in the third set of Nadal/Murray at the moment. Murray is up two sets to one and Rafa has taken a mid-game medical timeout. This is not a happy thing and I am worried about the big man from Spain. With his game, with the way he grinds, just how long can Rafa hold up on tour?

We've always known he's not going to have the longevity of a Federer - his game is not easy on the body. But he is only 23 years old. That is younger than me. And he has been carrying this pain for years. Just how long can he sustain his style of play before he has to a) retire or b) change his style of play to something more sustainable?

I worry about him. I really do.

I've been experiencing something of a Rafa renaissance lately, ever since the Hit for Haiti, where he was so adorable. He really is a worthy heir, a player in the style of Federer when it comes to gentlemanliness and statesmanship for the sport. He is five years younger than Federer, and, given this, the heir apparent. He's been nipping at his heels and even overtaking the great man for five years.

Please, Rafa's knees, don't give up on him before his time is up.

The winner of this match will play Marin Cilic, and whether it is Murray or Nadal, the winner will start a big favourite, especially since Cilic went five against Roddick. Cilic did upset Murray at the US, but you can't think that this deep in a tournament, that he can challenge either of these guys.

Please, Rafa's knees. Please.

Over in the girls, Henin is through, as well as Zheng Jie. That ought to be an interesting match - but you have to favour Henin.

Please, knees.

ETA: My pleas went unheard. The knees went. Rafa retired.

Oh, Rafa. :(

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reverse Psychology

Channel 7 have this thing every year where they try to convince the world that Lleyton Hewitt is going to win the Australian Open, despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary. This year was no different, but they managed to do it via the most ridiculous 'inspirational' montage I have ever seen.

'Roger will beat Lleyton.'

'Lleyton might get a set if Roger gets so bored he falls asleep.'

'Lleyton has no chance.'

'Roger will smash Lleyton like a guitar'.

(Words mine, but message = everyone they interviewed, from Jim Courier to Brad Gilbert to Darren Cahill to Roger Rasheed).

And this was supposed to be a pro-Lleyton inspiration montage. Perhaps reverse psychology was involved? Or something?

Anyway, no matter what was involved, the predictions of Everyone Who Means Anything came true and Federer's victory over Hewitt was total. There is nothing that Hewitt can do that really troubles Federer - he doesn't have the arsenal. His speed used to be his biggest weapon but he's a good half step short of where he used to be.

And then there is that whole thing where Federer has now beat him fifteen times in a row. There's some psychology for you, Channel 7.

Hardly any of the other men's quarters were quite so simplistic, however. Roger will now face his recent bugabear Nikolay Davydenko... though he will be very glad to see that Kolya went five sets when he really shouldn't have. Jo Tsonga also played a completely unnecessary five sets. Both Kolya and Jo were up two sets to love before Verdasco and Almagro, their respective opponents came back strong.

It's the first time I've ever seen Kolya spray so much, and I think it might have something to do with his mental strength rather than his game. This is his first experience of being talked about as a serious chance and I don't think he likes it much. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in his match against Federer - I think he will either be incredibly strong, because of his previous two victories, or incredibly weak, because to a degree, there is expectation that he will pull off the upset.


I felt a bit sorry for Nando getting knocked out... but then I realised that he hit over twenty double faults and nipped that in the bud at once. Almagro really had no right to take Jo so deep so he can justifiably be proud - that was a great achievement from the little claycourt dude.

In the women, we - surprise, surprise - have the Williams sisters through, and I think you justifiably can predict a Serena/Justine final at this point. We also, for the first time, have two Chinese women in the quarters - great achievement! - and Vika Azarenka came through in a tight one, though Caz-Woz, her fellow teen queen got knocked out.

I blame the pom poms on her socks.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Godzilla Is A Forehand

Oh, Dinara. Whenever I think you're getting back to something halfway decent, you go and get injured. It's great for MariKiri to get through to the quarters and all, but it's sad that Safina's finals defence had to end with her limping off the court.

Take care of her, Zeljko.

Match of the day yesterday surely has to go to Roddick and Gonzalez, though Henin and Wickmayer come in a close second. Let's talk Belgians, before I get off the subject of women's tennis altogether. I'm very glad Henin won this match, but Wickmayer is swiftly rising up the ranks of the players I like. She's got serious game, but I think her biggest asset is her intensity. She may have dropped off a touch in the third set, but that was coupled with a lift from Henin so obvious it must have been very discouraging indeed. She's made the US semis and now a fourth round here. I wouldn't be surprised to see her go even deeper at Roland Garros. I think her aggressive game would suit clay very well.

The queen of Roland Garros, Justine, was incredibly impressive. I don't know what's in the water in Belgium, but how do they produce these incredible comebacks from women that have been out of the game for such substantial periods of time? JuJu surely has to be one of the favourites to take the title now - but to get the final eight in itself is absolutely massive!

...though I'm sure she'll be measuring herself against the Clijsters yardstick, which is very demanding.

Also through to the quarters is Petrova, who is looking very, very dangerous - she'll face Henin next in a rematch of their Brisbane first round encounter. Petrova will be wanting to turn it around and she'll have the advantage of having played Henin recently, so I think that match is going to be a blockbuster to watch! The other quarter will be MariKiri vs Zheng Jie... so no matter what happens there, we're getting an unseeded surprise semi finalist!

Over to the boys, and we've set up a blockbuster quarter final with Nadal and Murray - though Roddick and Cilic has the potential to be epic as well. I forgot about del Potro/Cilic when I dubbed Roddick/Gonzalez match of the day before, because Delpo/MMC could definitely claim that title. Both these matches went to five sets and both totally could have gone either way - I was convinced that Gonzalez was going to beat Roddick in four, because he was completely zoning throughout the second, third, and most of the fourth sets. But then Roddick lifted his game right where it mattered, deep in the fourth, and after a handful of set points, managed to clinch it. Gonzo was never the same afterwards - he folded pretty badly in the fifth.

It was an interesting match, watching Larry Stefanki's two most recent prodigies going at each other. Roddick's serve frustrating Gonzo, but not as much as Gonzo's forehand bothered A-Rod. Seriously, that thing is Godzilla. It's terrifying. It could destroy Tokyo with one well placed swipe. And it really is the reason that Gonzo's been around so long, because pre-Stefanki, it was really all he had. Stefanki has certainly developed him into a more complete player - he's five times the player he was before - but the destructive power of the forehand... whoa.

But it's to be seen no more this tournament, with Roddick the victor. I actually think he has a real shot at making the final, even though his draw appears sort of nightmarish - at least he doesn't have to make it through JMDP now. Though, to tell the truth, JMDP, injured as he is, might have been an easier task than Marin Cilic, for whom this quarter final has definitely come at the right time in his career. He's shown a real maturity in his game this tournament, wearing down both Bernard 'whinger' Tomic and JMDP in five, and it'll be interesting to see how he plays Roddick now.

Whichever of these dudes win, I reckon they have a shot against the winner of Nadal/Murray. Nadal, by his own admission, is not feeling especially confident, and if Roddick or Cilic zone, I think they are very capable of wearing down Murray, especially if Rafa's been running him around the court for hours. But whatever happens, Rafa/Muzz should be an epic match - and I think it's the last time we'll see them play in the quarters for a loooooooooooong time...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Writing From Afar

Usually, the dude that sneaks through the draw totally unnoticed until the fourth round or so is Nikolay 'playstation' Davydenko. This year is a bit different, because everyone's talking him about it (and I don't think he likes it much, though it hasn't hurt him at all so far - he's sliced through his opponents like a knife through hot butter). But it means that the role of 'dude no one talks about' is vacant.

And it's been filled by a pretty unlikely contender - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

I haven't seen much of Jo-Jo this tournament - largely because he's been playing on Hisense, where I have not been. But he's been quietly coming through the draw, and he's suddenly looking ominously good. He played very well against a dangerous Tommy Haas last night and came through in four, though it could very easily have gone five (Tommy was up 5-2 in the fourth before Jo-Dub came back to win it 7-5). I don't understand why he hasn't always been a major contender at Slams with the way he plays... injuries, I suppose.

But he is a scary good player. I'll be interested to see how far he goes!

Lleyton Hewitt also won in a prematurely-ended match against Marcos Baghdatis, and will now play Federer in the next round. He's already posturing about how he can beat Roger... which he hasn't done since 2003. Roger had a battle in the first round but he's been cruising over Hanescu and Montanes, who are not crapulent by any standard. I don't want to jinx Roger or anything... but let's say I will be very surprised if we see an Australian man in the quarters.

I also will be surprised if we see an Australian woman, though Sam probably has a better chance against Serena than Lleyton against Roger. I think there's one more round before Serena hits that Grand Slam place where she's virtually unbeatable and if Sam doesn't get too tight, I think she could take a set at least. But thinking is one thing, wishes are another... so we'll see.

I write this from my parent's house in Wollongong, having left the Open yesterday morning. I miss Melbourne already. There is nothing quite like being in the thick of it. Next year, next year, Jodi.

We had a lot of retirements in the men's draw yesterday - three, in fact. Baghdatis, Koubek and Youzhny all pulled out... I feel for Mikhail Youzhny in particular. He had a really good shot against inexperienced-at-this-level Lukasz Kubot, who, by virtue of his inexperience, has practically already given Novak Djokovic a pass into the quarters. But we have a lot of the top guys left, and so we're in for a blockbuster week!

Surprisingly, most of the top women are still in as well - the only huge names to topple have been Clijsters and Dementieva, which is not bad for the WTA these days. Both men's and women's tournaments are unpickable at the moment. It is going to be so, so interesting to see how this tournament plays out...

...I wish I was there to see it!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.8 - Why Tennis Needs Gossip Girl

Well, it is the final day of my epic tennis adventure... something which I would like to forget, because I have loved every second of it. If only I could be a professional tennis writer instead of a public servant. I would give anything for that to be a reality. So if any professional tennis writers need an apprentice... call me.

I write this from my hotel room, watching Rafa Nadal take out a ballboy on TV in his not-so-secret desire to be a soccer player. I tried to get tickets to this match but, alas, failed... oh well. I have seen both Rafa and Kohli live before and I suppose it is someone else's turn now! Though on this match - this is sort of live-blogging, I guess - Philipp Kohlschreiber would be awesome if he could only convert break points. And Rafa needs to stop doing those Gael Monfils splits. I've never seen him do them before this tournament - noticed it when I saw him play Luczak on Monday - and it seriously cannot be good for him. I mean, he must know how often Gael gets injured. And it's not like his legs have been stunningly healthy of late either.

But enough of what I am watching on TV (that way I can pretend that Clijsters' loss to Petrova NEVER HAPPENED). More on what I did today.

I opened the day watching Caroline Wozniacki practice for a bit, before settling in with some lunch and a glass of wine to catch a bit of Safina on the big screen - who, despite playing on the big arenas, is flying totally under the radar, and I think it is doing her the world of good. Sure, she hasn't faced any major tests yet... but remember the US Open. She got taken all the way by Olivia Rogowska and then lost to Petra Kvitova. She's into the round of sixteen without dropping a set, and that is very respectable. I still wouldn't pick her to win the tournament or anything, but I don't think she's going to embarass herself. Which is new and exciting for her, much as I hate to admit it.

I saw some of her practice yesterday, and she and Zeljko are as in each others' faces as they ever have been. There was a shaking of the racquet under Zeljko's nose and a whole lot of shouting. It is relationships like these that make it clear to me just how badly tennis needs a Gossip Girl style blog. 'Spotted: D and Z, passion on court, passion off court'.

Yes, I have this pet theory that Dinara and Zeljko are having an affair. Yes, I am very aware I am miles off base.

And tennis totally needs an insider to start this blog IMMEDIATELY. A player would be ideal, but a coach, a physio... actually, you know who would be great? A masseuse. They must hear about the woes of all the players. 'Rumour has it that Marcos is Karolina's new Sprem'. 'Is MariKiri angling for a proposal from Bigor?'

This needs to happen. If only someone would pay for me to travel on the tour around the world, I'd be completely happy to do it myself...

But back to tales of What I Did Today. After catching some Dinara and then some Justine, I headed off to Court 16 for Roger's 1pm practice sesh. I am now the owner of not one but two signed caps, one RF cap, one RG cap. RG was courtesy of Tuesday, RF today, and yes, in case you're wondering, Roger is very pretty close up. ('Spotted: swooning fans at Roger practice session, Mirka somehow completely unthreatened'... okay, maybe that's not newsworthy.)

After I had finished hyperventilating, I headed to Margaret Court Arena for a couple of afternoon matches. I caught the last set and a half of Wickmayer/Errani, and despite it being a WTA match and thus error-strewn, it was very entertaining. Both these players are aggressive wheeler-dealers, and that is always good to watch. There were some absolutely exquisite winners from both ladies, and I enjoyed it a lot. Wickmayer won in the end - she'll face Justine Henin in the next round - and she is looking very good. This will be a very interesting battle of the Belgians, mark my words.

After this match, I sat through all four sets of Isner/Monfils. I confess, I kind of understand what the big deal is about Monfils and why people like him, but he leaves me cold. Maybe it's because his coach, Roger Rasheed, is such an enormous douchecanoe. Maybe it's because he's always injured and I forget about him a lot. But I am just not in Camp Gael.

And then John Isner played at Hopman Cup, and that generally endears me to players a lot. As I discussed with Dootsiez afterwards, big servers usually = totally boring, but Isner has some real game to match his serve, especially in the volley area. This was a totally great match... albeit bittersweet, because it was the last match of my Australian Open adventure.

Every year my tennis tour gets longer and longer. I took in four major cities this year - Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Will I do it all again next year? You bet your bottom dollar. Will it be even bigger and better? YES YES YES... if I can afford it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.7 - Fedgasm

It struck me, as I was walking back to my hotel from Melbourne Park tonight, how very sad the week I spend each year at the Australian Open makes me. It makes me sad that every week of my life is not this great. Is there any felicity in the world superior to being at the heart, feeling the pulse, of one of the things one loves most?

No, I didn't think so.

I think I've become so introspective because I got to witness a Federer match tonight, a match where he was in full flight and it was so incredibly beautiful it was almost painful. Yes, I know I am waxing poetic about a second round match where the opponent wasn't that great, but there is something incredibly special about being there, seeing that ball come off his racquet and knowing that he knows he's going to win.

He was absolutely sublime tonight - fifty two winners to seventeen unforced errors. He made the point himself that his opponent's style - this was Victor Hanescu, for those of you who are unaware - allowed him to play this way, but it didn't make it any less beautiful. After the nerviness of the Andreev match, this was a total breath of fresh air.

And it is always an honour to watch this man play. Even Prince William thought so. (Kudos to the prince, by the way - he was great with the crowd tonight. Though I suppose he's had some practice with crowds).

His post match interview with Jim Courier was also good fun - and Mirka was a very good sport about it as well. And it was just SUCH A FESGASMIC MATCH.

Okay. Federer drooling over now.

There was actually another match in the night session... it just wasn't very interesting. Seriously, the sesh started out with the sublime and ended up with the so-boring-it-was-ridiculous. Seriously, whose fool idea was it to put Dellacqua/Sprem on Rod Laver Arena. That match belongs on Court 11. Or something. Margaret Court Arena, max. But Laver? When there are Williamses and all other kinds of interesting women?

I did stay for the whole match, I confess, but it was more nostalgia than anything else, as it was my last night on Rod Laver Arena. I'll be wandering the grounds again tomorrow, but the night sesh will be viewed from the comfort of my hotel room. If only Kuznetsova were on tonight instead of them! Seriously, Dellacqua/Sprem was the most boring match I have ever witnessed. It was dull in the first half and then WTA-typical (read: no one could hold serve) in the second. Dellacqua won in two tiebreakers. I think. I might have fallen asleep.

I did catch some good tennis around the grounds during the day, however... though I was very, very disappointed in my WTA fave Sabine Lisicki, who I saw crash out in the second round to Alberta Brianti. Seriously, Sabine? I expected so much more of you. I want to take you and Ernests Gulbis and put you on a tennis court with Larry Stefanki and not let you both out again until you stop doing stupid things, like making 3028402834 errors per match.

So that was disappointing - as was Yaroslava Shvedova's loss to Tathiana Garbin. I caught the first set of this, which Shvedova won, but evidently there was a bit of a crashing and burning incident when I left. Iveta Benesova was also disappointing - I expected her to lose to Vera Zvonareva, but I caught some of this match, and Benesova added a lot of losing to Vera's winning.

Oh. Ana Ivanovic. It's impossible for her to disappoint me any more, because I have no expectations. But she did even worse than last year. Yeesh.

In the 'not disappointing' camp, I saw the first two sets of Nikolay Davydenko versus Illya Marchenko, and JMDP was not lying when he said that Kolya plays like Playstation. Seriously, he got so many balls back it was just not funny. And he's developed a really excellent sliding serve which I haven't seen from him before - Marchenko got no play on it at all. I think there's a possible Verdasco/Davydenko fourth round clash, and I would be really interested to see how this turns out. Nando is in pretty decent nick himself, but this is a different Kolya to the one we've seen before...

But match of the day on the outside grounds for me definitely went to Almagro/Becker on Court 8, which Almagro took in five. This was a real battle of different styles (and fans!) and I was sad to see Becker-no-relation lose it, to tell the truth. Almagro on hard courts doesn't really do it for me, and he was no good at all last year. But it was an extraordinarily entertaining match - and that is what tennis is all about!

Oh, and addendum - only interesting thing to come out of the Dellacqua match. Marcos Baghdatis was in Karolina Sprem's box. THEY ARE SO DATING.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.6 - Return of the Queen

I really do love the Australian Open. And Melbourne. And tennis.

That is all.

It was a traditional Australian Open summer day, warm and sunny. I am unsure whether I will ever scrape the layers of sunscreen off, but the tennis was worth it. And, in addition, one of my favourite Australian singers was performing - the incomparable Kate Miller-Heidke - and I got to sit and watch her with Dootsiez of All I Need Is A Picket Fence fame. Fun times.

I opened the day with a leisurely Nadal practice session and then spent most of the rest of it wandering the grounds, catching bits and pieces of various matches. I saw a bit of Yaroslava Shvedova's victory over Kimiko Date Krumm - boy, I do like both these players! And I spent a significant amount of time on Court 18, watching Nadia Petrova and Kaia Kanepi and then Andrey Golubev and Ivan Ljubicic.

The most notable thing about the Petrova match was the penultimate game, Petrova serving - this was the longest game I can ever remember, in any match, ever. Seriously, it had at least fifteen deuces, and Kanepi had at least ten break points. I am not exaggerating. The game itself went for about twenty five minutes. Petrova finally held and then broke Kanepi for the match. I was on Team Nadia, but I felt a bit sorry for Kanepi after that.

My latest love affair, Andrey Golubev, lost to Ivan Ljubicic, but it was a noble defeat. It was four sets and he showed a lot of the flair that has earned him a special place in my tennis esteem. I am sad I'm denied a third round showdown with Nadal, because I reckon that could have been awesome, but there is no shame in going down to Ljubicic. That Ivan/Rafa match should be a good one, actually - if Ivan can take down wheeler-dealer Golubev, he'll be a good test for the Raging Bull.

But as usual, it is all about the night session... which is still going on. Yes, I left early. It is one thirty in the morning. So sue me. Cilic and Tomic are locked at two sets all in a really fascinating match - even if Tomic doesn't win, he will take a lot of positives away from this match. He plays frankly weird tennis - I rememebr Courier saying of Tomic's first round win over Guillaume Rufin that he 'softshoed him off the court'. He doesn't hit the ball hard from the back of the court at all, though he can certainly accelerate through it when he wants. He gives the opponent a lot of different looks... he's got vague similarities to Andy Murray, though he's obviously not as good yet. When he gets some legs... Tomic is going to be something.

If only he could solve his Bad Dad problems.

But why am I rabbiting on about Tomic?

Today was all about Justine.

I saw that Henin/Clijsters match in Brisbane. This one wasn't as good, but it wasn't far off. Justine... wow. Look out.

She had some service yips, especially at the beginning - a lot of doubles thrown in there. That, combined with the excellence of Demetieva's returning, gave me some pause. But given as Elena's serving wasn't so great either, meant it all worked out okay. And that backhand... OH THE BACKHAND.

Let us spare a thought for Lena D. This was a tough, tough draw for her. And she didn't play badly - not at all. You don't play two sets that go for almost three hours together if you're not fighting, if it's not tight tight tight. But let us face facts. Lena is good. She's very good. Even if she's never won a Slam, she is a good, good player.

But Justine, even after spending two years sitting on a couch eating chocolate, is great.

And so it is onwards and upwards for the pocket rocket Belgian delight, and it is another entry into the Grand Slam annals of woulda shoulda coulda for Elena Dementieva. The tennis gods have not smiled on her, just as they never seem to smile on her at Slams. To see Justine lurking in your draw... wow.

Justine is back. She came OH SO CLOSE with Kim, and now she's pulled it off with Lena. Watch out, ladies. Queen Justine is back.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.5 - Fedophilia

I've sat through tight Federer matches before. I've been to live Federer matches. But I've never been to and sat through a tight Federer match, and it just about killed me.

On paper, it wasn't that tight. Four sets, with the fourth a very tidy bagel... fine, right? Just a brain fart for a set and then an otherwise fine day at the office... but no. Those of us who were there can tell you an entirely different story.

First of all, tennis gods, what kind of first round draw is Igor 'I took you to five sets at the US Open that one time' Andreev? I know he hasn't exactly been in form lately, but if nothing else, his girlfriend beat Sharapova yesterday. Hello, inspo? And his forehand is an evil beast machine. That's all I'm saying.

I didn't actually have tickets to this match, but was gifted with one by a kindly passerby about halfway through the third set... aka 'most nervewracking set of the year so far (and yes, I know it's only January)'. This was the most topsy-turvy bastard of a set ever, and I had about five heart attacks in it. Andreev was up a break, and then Federer came back, and then he was serving for it, and then Andreev came back, and then Andreev was serving for it, and then it went to a breaker... honestly, I think Federer won this one on will alone.

Though that shouldn't be underestimated. Will. Andreev certainly lost his when he lost the third set - you can bet that if he was two sets to one up, he would not have been taking a bagel in the fourth. I guess that's part of what makes a real champion.

But this wasn't the only match I saw today - so let me expound. It didn't rain today - hurrah! So I spent the majority of my day wandering about the grounds (where every second person was wearing an RF cap - he's a brand name as well as a person now!) and I opened my daily account with a Federer practice and a Nadal practice. My Roland Garros cap is now my most prized possession, as Roger signed it... yes, I am a sad fangirl.

ANYWAY. Tennis. Today's Maria Sharapova Award for most random upset went to Robin Soderling, who managed to lose a match he'd pretty much already won when Marcel Granollers came back from two sets to love down to win it in five. I saw the first set of this match and although it was 7-5 to Soderling, it was far less close than the score suggests. So I really have no idea what happened here. I hope the Yoker isn't injured, because that would be completely crapulent. Better luck at your next Slam, I guess, Robin... and I do believe that is a little Slam called 'Roland Garros'.

Runner up for this weird loss award goes to Juan Carlos Ferrero, who was also two sets up, whom I also saw early in the match, and who managed to lose when winning seemed inevitable. Bizarre. Again, hopefully no injuries for JCF.

I caught the end of Ernests Gulbis's match as well - I know he was the Great Disappointment of 2009, but I just can't quit him. Unfortunately, he didn't provide me with much ammunition here... he lost in straights to Juan Monaco (who bears a resemblance to those old Catholic school pictures of Jesus - if Jesus was totally buff). He smacks the cover off the ball, and when his shots go in, then wow, Ernie... but his shots weren't going in. And this isn't the WTA.

I was also very disappointed in Dominika Cibulkova. She should be able to do better than losing to Vania King. And Mr Tommy 'I beat Andy Murray to win the Hopman Cup' Robredo should not be losing in the first round to Santiago Giraldo. I was not disappointed, however, in Tommy of the Haas variety. I caught the third set of his match against Simon Greul, and I have never noticed what beautiful hands he has at the net before. Absolutely stunning. I'm not sure what section of the draw he is in, but whoever is in it should watch out. He is such a talent... just so unlucky. I confess, I looked at the sky to see when the piano would fall on him.

Someone else who is massively talented - hello, Julie Coin! I've just returned from the night session and I was so, so impressed with her, even if her victory came at the expense of Alicia Molik. She's got a real wheeler-dealer style that appeals to me - similar to Gulbis in that sense, I suppose. She is very aggressive and goes for everything. When she misses, she misses badly, but when she doesn't miss... whoo boy. And she has hands at the net like... like... someone with really good hands at the net.

Simile fail.

Molik will be kicking herself, and rightly so, because she should have won this match. You don't get a set and 5-2 up and get away with not winning a match, really. Coin did start to play with more confidence, but Molik should have squashed her before she really let loose. Nonetheless, Molik could have played a lot worse, and for a comeback, well... I've seen worse.

This was not the most interesting night session ever. It was full of Australians, and largely, I am not that interested in the major Australian players - not when you have a whole world full of tennis personalities to choose from. The first match up was Hewitt versus some Brazilian called Ricardo Hocevar - you'd be lucky if this made a show court at another Slam, but in Australia, bam! Rod Laver. It was a good match from a Hewitt perspective - he totally whaled on Hocevar, which has got to be good for his confidence. But I really would rather have seen the (still ongoing) Gasquet/Youzhny clash.

Tomorrow's night sesh looks like big fun, however - and I will be there! It opens with Henin and Dementieva and then we have Tomic and Cilic. Fun times!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.4 - Rain, Rain, Go Away

There are few things more miserable and frustrating than being on a grounds pass on a rainy day at a tennis tournament - particularly when you've packed for blistering heat. Today was a soggy start to the Australian Open, and I was right there in the middle of it, getting soaked. Both Hisense and Rod Laver arenas had their lids on... but outside, there was nowhere to go. Suffice to say that I am pretty sure I am wet through to the bone and would not be surprised if I started developing mildew.

This said, a lot of tennis still happened and it was all very exciting - the upset of the day being the epic takedown of MaSha by MariKiri. I saw bits and pieces of this match on the big screen (read - hiding under the nearest umbrella) and I think it really was a mercy killing by MariKiri. Sharapova's dress looked like a peacock had spewed all over it. No one needs that kind of fashion disaster in their life.

I'm sure the organisers had their hearts in their throats after that match went for, like, several centuries... having flashbacks to the night they finished at 4am! But no, everything else on Rod Laver Arena was very straightforward - straight sets, in fact. Clijsters polished off Random Canadian Whose Name I Can't Remember, Murray completely humiliated Kevin Anderson and, in the night session (f0r which I was inside) Rafa Nadal scored a straight sets win over a competitive Peter Luczak and Jelena Dokic fell to Alisa Kleybanova.

Let's talk night sesh, actually, given as I was, you know, inside for it. First off, men's match first = BEST IDEA EVER. I loved it. The scoreline of the first match might look like it was all Rafa, but I think Luczak has a lot to be proud of in this match. He really troubled Rafa, particularly in the first set, and he returned like a demon. He didn't let Rafa pin him in the corner (to paraphrase Roger, he didn't let him 'go to my backhand, and then with the forehand, forehand, forehand, and when I'm all the way back here, he goes down the line'.) His game matches up relatively well with Rafa's, I think... it's just that Rafa's - well, he's Rafa.

I've always nursed some Rafa love, but after the Hit For Haiti - 'you serve this one - I have no confidence!' - I'm having a Rafa renaissance. And he took his shirt off a lot. Rafa Nadal: break me off a piece of that.

On that subject, Jelena Dokic totally picked the wrong Bikic brother. The coach, Borna? Smokin' like a steam train. That's all I'm saying.

Dokic herself seemed to be a little out of spirits tonight - she had pretty negative looking body language right from the start of the match and Kleybanova came out all guns blazing. There was a glimpse of the Dokic from last year towards the end of the second set, and she hit some sweet winners, but I can't help feeling her heart wasn't in it. Oh well. Next year, Jelena.

I did actually catch some tennis round the grounds during the day as well, in the four seconds it wasn't raining. Watch out for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - I saw a fair bit of her match against Sevastova, and she was looking awesome. Big kudos also to Ivo Karlovic, for toughing out an epic against Radek Stepanek, and to Yanina Wickmayer, for doing the same over Alexandra Dulgheru. Bernard Tomic also had a good win, though sixteen year old Jason Kubler lost - but it was his first ATP match ever, so whatevs. And my favourite around-the-grounds result today - a match so fun to watch that I stood there for a set, transfixed? Andrey Golubev over Mardy Fish in four.

This is a big win for Golubev, who is rising up through my 'favourite players' list like a rocket. He's in Rafa's little section of the draw - I think they could potentially meet third round - and given the insane goodness of Andrey right now, Rafa could be in for a fight. Just as he was in Perth, Golubev was ripping winners like a crazy person. He started slow after the first rain delay, leading to him losing the second set, but when he found his range... bam. BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM. Watch this guy. He has 'I will upset big name players' written all over him.

But the grounds pass is really all about the practice courts. Everyone knows this. And who somehow managed to book the 1 o'clock slot, the one slot where it miraculously did not rain a drop? Why, that would be Roger Federer. And who had an excellent spot, right up against the rail on the baseline? Why, that would be me.

Soderling was due to practice after Federer, and as Roger was finishing up, I could see the Yoker warming up behind the fence - his little Soderhead bobbing up and down as he ran. He has a weird, weird warmup. There was skipping. That's all I'm saying. And then the second he stepped on court... bam. Heavens opened. No practice for Robin.

Just for Batman. (Sorry, I had to).

More from the hopefully less wet Aussie Open tomorrow!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.3 - Hit For Haiti

I wasn't expecting to see any tennis today. I was going to fly down from Sydney and spend the day leisurely poking around Melbourne shopping and buying far too many clothes, which I usually do the second I set foot in Melbourne. I also intended to spend at least three hours drinking coffee on Degraves St.

But Roger Federer had a little something to say about that.

I can honestly say that the Hit for Haiti was the most fun you could ever dream of seeing on a tennis court, and that it was the best fundraiser I could possibly imagine. Federer and his team of stars amassed more than $200K for the people of Haiti - $10 entry fee for a sell out Rod Laver Arena and then additional donation. And boy did these guys deliver.

The exhibition featured two teams - Team Red, which was Roger, Serena, Sam Stosur and Lleyton, and Team Blue, which was Rafa, Djoko, Kimmie and A-Rod. They started off with the four guys playing, and then subbed in the women (which, as anyone who was there can tell you, included Nole) and kept subbing throughout. Bernard Tomic made a late appearance for Team Blue, which was kind of... random. But fun.

All the players were miked up, and - with the possible exception of Sam Stosur, who I think was a little intimidated - all of them had a lot to say. Whoever would have thought that Roger Federer was an undiscovered comic genius? Djokovic tried to steal the show, of course, and despite my dislike of him, I warmed to him a lot. Rafa was also totally hilarious - I loved his mock crises of confidence! And Kim was great, and Serena and Nole had a great rapport, and...

This was SO MUCH FUN. My previous tennis fun benchmark was set up the mixed doubles proset played by Dmitry Tursunov, Anabel Medina Garrigues, Tommy Robredo and Nadia Petrova at Hopman Cup a few years back - but Hit For Haiti totally had it covered. I would competely give up real tennis for these awesome exos... not that these exos would exist without tennis.

All credit to the players - especially Federer, who pulled this whole event together in a day. It's a testament to his personality and to tennis in general that this exhibition was able to fill, and fill easily, a massive stadium like Rod Laver Arena. I don't think anyone begrudged a single dollar. It's lovely to see the players having fun and getting a sense of their personality. "Serena's got her serve, and I have a massive smash," quoth Roger. "Is easy for us!" Nadal declared after he made some ridiculous shot.

I can't imagine a better way to spend the annual Boring Sunday, on which there is no tennis. Hey Roger, how do you feel about making this an annual charity event...?

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.2 - Sparky Marky

I've just returned from the men's final of the Medibank International - and one thing's for sure, I am looking forward to Melbourne, where my hotel is within walking distance of Rod Laver Arena. To get from Central Sydney to Ken Rosewall Arena, it's two trains and a hike. But whinging aside, yay tennis!

Baghdatis and Gasquet was always going to be an intriguing match up - if we had to have two unseeded players in the final, these are probably the two I would have picked. Actually, the seeds in the men's draw weren't that great anyway, so all things considering, this was a good final. And it was certainly a more entertaining match than the women's match the night before, which, despite featuring two Big Name Players OMG, was not exactly a blockbuster.

So we have an intriguing match, a final in balmy Sydney, what could possibly go wrong?


Of all the nights to rain and force the match to go late late late, it had to be the one where I'm catching an early flight the next morning. Typical. It started to fall at 30-0 Gasquet in the second set, Baghdatis having just won the first, and persisted for the better part of an hour. And it's pretty dull when you're there all by yourself and there's no tennis and there's rain... though you do get to eavesdrop on the people around you and wince at their tennis (and other) faux pas. (What is the plural of faux pas? I have no idea). My favourite one was 'Feliciano Verdascus', who apparently won Kooyong today... though there was a 'Twilight is extremely well written' one which made me wince. But my feelings on tweenage literature are not the subject of this post.

As you can tell, I am rambling, because I am tired and need to sleep before aforementioned early flight. I will be concise. Gasquet did not play badly at all - in fact, this is the best I have seen him for a long time. I don't know if we'll see him in the top ten again this year, but he should definitely better his ranking significantly if he stays out of trouble. He played some backhands tonight that... whoa. Yeah. They were pretty amazing. I think Gasquet should have a special exhibition against Wawrinka one day. That would be like... backhand porn.

So his backhand was great, his forehand was pretty solid - he didn't do a whole lot wrong. If one shot let him down, it was the serve - he served two doubles in a row in the tiebreak which probably didn't help him a great deal. Baghdatis, on the other hand, was cranking the serve - he got a lot of cheap points off it. This match was definitely won by Marcos and not lost by Richou, because both of them played pretty well. The difference was in the serving and hitting the lines - I haven't seen the error count, but I'd imagine Marcos would be pretty economical, considering the level of aggression he played with.

Gasquet started out with the wrong game plan, I think, which cost him his very first service game, which end up costing him the set. He was playing a lot of junk balls around the service line, and Baghdatis was just eating them up. I couldn't tell whether he was just sort of feeling out the court or whether he was trying to lure Baghdatis in - he did set up a couple of points beautifully where he lured Marcos in and then passed him. Baghdatis started off playing a lot deeper and it paid off.

This was a match with long rallies and it was very entertaining. I hope to see more of both these boys at the Open! And congratulations to Marcos - it's really something being in a crowd that's full of crazy Cypriot fans, and I really loved the atmosphere. Keep smiling, dude.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.1 - Look At Me, I'm Lena D

It seems that I've been chasing Elena Dementieva across the country for the past two weeks, and you know what? there are worst players to chase. After a bad bad start at the Hopman Cup where she got whaled on by Sabine Lisicki ('bad bad' said, Lisicki can whale on anyone if she has her day) she played some lovely stuff - including the match I saw her play against Laura Robson - and she followed it up tonight.

I was at the Medibank International tonight watching the women's final. I only just got there in time for the 7.30 start and worried I was going to miss the beginning, but the men's semis ran long, so all was well. (Gasquet/Baghdatis will be the final in the men's draw, which I will see tomorrow. There are worse finals - and I was expecting a lot worse!) Considering Serena/Elena at Wimbledon was the women's match of the year, but both are capable of fizzling spectacularly, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had a hunch in the Dementieva direction, but Lisicki was at the back of my mind...

It certainly wasn't an Epic Clash OMG. It was more towards the fizzle end of the spectrum, but I don't think it was true fizzle. Serena looked out of sorts, especially as the match went on - but I don't think it's because she wasn't trying. There's just something about Dementieva's game that troubles her. Sometimes she can steamroll over it (Australian Open semis last year, for example) but sometimes it just sort of gets to her.

This is, I think, why that Wimbledon semi was so epic tonight, and why Lena D won tonight. If I had to say exactly what it was that irks Serena, I think it's the fact that Dementieva is extraordinarily aggressive off the return of serve. She certainly was tonight, that's for sure - she was hitting the ball hard and flat right back at Serena a lot, and it was fast fast fast. This, coupled with Dementieva's speed, meant it was really hard for Serena to get cheap points off the serve and one-two punches... and when Serena started dumping serves into the middle of the net, you knew she wasn't exactly on the 'I Am Extraordinarily Invested In This Match And You Will Have To Shoot Me To Win' Bandwagon.

This has been a pretty confused rambling - sorry, I'll try and be more concise. Let's start with Serena. In this match, she didn't play great and Dementieva did. Because Lena D is a good player with the capacity to trouble Serena a lot and this tournament is not a Slam, Serena lost the match. When it comes to the Australian Open, I don't think this damages Serena's chances one bit. However, it's not an odd numbered year...

For Lena D... she is looking as good as I have ever seen her, is steelier than usual with few, if any, signs of the mental fragility that has been her downfall in the past. This does not mean, however, that they will not come out at the Open, but that remains to be seen. She's moving well, returning very very well and the serve... is not the creampuff it used to be. It's still not great, but she hit some service winners off it.

However. However however however.

The reason, in my opinion, that Lena folded so badly against Serena in Australia last year was that she had just played too much tennis. She'd won Auckland and Sydney and then through to the semis of Oz, which was something like fifteen matches. That is a lot lot lot, and more than I think she would have expected to play.

This year, she played Hopman Cup. No points or anything, but a good warm up. Three singles matches, three mixed doubles matches. Plus a tournament win in Sydney. Hopman Cup is low key, but she's still played a lot of tennis coming in. And then...

...she's probably going to play Justine Henin in the second round in Melbourne. And if I had to pick someone to get through that match, it would be JuJu. Sorry, Lena.

That said, I think Lena is a good investment bet for the Open - if you were the gambling type and wanted to back a dark horse that might pay out big. She's certainly capable of beating anyone, I think - like I said, she's playing as well as I've ever seen her. But will she? Time will tell. She's got all the elements in her game to win a Slam (even though that serve will never be great). But her draw is most emphatically not a cakewalk, and if she wants to lift that first Slam trophy, she's going to have to go through a pint-sized-in-reality-but-huge-in-mentality Belgian.

As to the actual experience of the tennis on this first night - Ken Rosewall Arena is a nice arena, but it's not as atmospheric as either of the venues I was in last week, I feel. It's too big to be intimate, too small to be spectacular, in a way. That said, I still had a great time and look forward to going back there for the men's final tomorrow!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lena Under The Radar

It's the day before Jodi's Epic Tennis Trip Mk 2 starts - I'm flying off to Sydney tomorrow night for the men's and women's finals of the Medibank International before heading down to Melbourne for the first week of the Aussie Open. And boy, am I excited!

I'm even more excited now that we should have a half decent women's final for me to watch. I was a bit worried for a moment there that we'd have Aravane Rezai vs an exhausted Victoria Azarenka. Dementieva, to her credit, never gave me a moment's worry - she disposed of Azarenka quickly. But Rezai really should have won that match against Serena - and Serena should not have had to pull a Houdini to get out of it.

To Serena's credit, she did pull the Houdini, and I wouldn't be surprised to see her win the final tomorrow (though I really do have my money on Dementieva - she's definitely been the steadiest player all week). These two girls were responsible for the Best Match Evah of 2009 on the women's side (though in my humble opinion, it didn't have anything on Clijsters vs Henin in Brisbane - I WAS THERE I WAS THERE). And here's hoping they can pull out another big one tonight.

I've seen a lot of Dementieva in the last couple of weeks - I saw her play live at the Hopman Cup, and I was sitting quite close to her. There's things you can tell in real life that you can't off a telecast, and let me tell you, Dementieva is looking good. I don't want to pull the big claims and say that oh yes, Lena D will win her first Slam in Australia? but you know what? she has a pretty good shot. I think it's in her favour that Clijsters/Henin, with a side of Serena, will take the spotlight. Lena does her best work when she's under the radar, in my opinion, and I'll be interested to see how she performs.

I'll also be very interested to see how Serena performs when she runs up against a Belgian, but that will be a whole other story.

The men's final is on Saturday, and will feature either Gasquet or Benneteau against either Baghdatis or Fish. (Fish has just beaten Peter Luczak in a tight one - Lleyton Hewitt totally crashed out to Marcos Baghdatis after being up a set and a break). Personally, I'm pulling for Gasquet/Baghdatis - that could be totally entertaining, and good for both of their respective comebacks as well.

Before I go, a shout out to my boys John Millman and Matt Ebden in Melbourne, who are both through to the final round of qualies. If we can get just one of these boys through to the main draw, that will be awesome... but you know what? I reckon we can get both.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mr Milkshake Brings All His Game To The Yard

Honestly, if any of the blokes on the ATP tour served like the girls on the WTA, they would be laughed out of the game. Honestly, how is it possible to serve at 40%ish with 97378409238 double faults and still win matches?

Urgh. But no more whinging about the WTA for today. I have done that time and time again over the past few days. (It is bad, bad, bad. Just in case you hadn't gathered my views on this by now. I am declaring myself Belgian when it comes to women's tennis).

Instead, let's talk about Peter Luczak.

I watched him fall down the rankings last year. When he fell down to #160ish, I gave up following him... and thus did not notice when he crept back up again, higher than ever. And let me tell you, I think it's going to climb higher, even if he takes a bunch of first round losses, because he's going to get into main draw tour events and get points points points. Not that I think he's going to take a bunch of first round losses. Because Mr Milkshake has GAME.

I was there in Brisbane last Saturday when Berdych absolutely pummelled Roddick for a set. I watched that match where he had his foot on Federer's neck last year. I know he's a headcase, but I also know he's extraordinarily talented and can play amazing stuff. This makes him kind of tricky to play, because if he's on fire there's not much a guy can do about it but wait it out, keep your calm and hope the storm breaks.

And that's exactly what Peter Luczak did today. I'm putting him on my official 2010 Late Bloomer list with Andrey Golubev - though in Mr Milkshake's case, it's a little later! Golubev is 22, but Luczak is 30. But seriously, Pete has never played better. He got killed in the first set because Berdych caught alight. But he didn't lose his head, steadied himself in the second and then ran off with the third.

Berdych is ranked fifty-odd places higher than Luczak, so even with the home court advantage and Berdych's headcaseness, you'd pick him to win. But Luczak's age is, I think, one of his strongest points. He is mature on court now. He plays calm tennis now, and that calmness, that serenity, that knowledge that he is at his best, has done him so much good. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mr Milkshake did what Chris Guccione did a few years back and make a surprise run to the final. If he can beat Berdych - the highest ranked player in the draw - I think he can beat anyone in the draw.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One Step Away From The Worst

How, I ask you, how, is it possible to stage an epic comeback from 5-0 down when you are playing as badly as Dinara Safina was today?

I've made no secret of the fact that I just can't quit my Dinara fanhood. But she deserved to lose that match today with the way she was playing, especially in the first set. If you're 5-0 down then you pretty much deserve to lose a set. This is not troll logic.

I guess it only happens if your opponent suddenly starts playing worse than you do. Which Agnieszka Radwanska did.

Honestly, it was completely embarrassing for the WTA - especially coming a day after the match where Li Na beat Caroline Wozniacki, #4 in the world, by hitting 70-odd errors. She shouldn't be allowed to make that many errors. She should be beaten before she's had the opportunity. Just like Dinara really should have been beaten today - though Aggie Rad obviously deserved the loss more. It's one thing to come back from 5-0 down, it's entirely another to be serving for a bagel and end up losing a set 7-5.

I think everything I don't like about the WTA has been crystallised in Sydney this week, especially coming on the heels of that amazing Clijsters/Henin match (I WAS THERE! I WAS THERE!) It shouldn't be possible to win matches playing that badly. Half of the seeds should not be out of the tournament within the first three days. (Seriously, we've only got Serena, Dinara, Elena and Vika left now - and only Serena has looked anything like convincing). The Belgians would never have tolerated this in their former heyday and I sure as hell hope they don't tolerate it now.

I can't imagine what the ATP would look like if its top ten were all such headcases. Berdych, Grosjean and Gasquet would probably be the top three. (Who else is a notorious tennis headcase? I'm sure I've left out a few). The strength of the ATP also shows up the poor form of the WTA - we're definitely in a Golden Age in the men, but there's only assorted Belgians and Williamses saving us from the official Worst Era Ever in the women.


On a happier note, how great was Peter Luczak's win tonight? He really turned the screws on Jose Acasuso, who's ranked a good twenty places above him. Mr Milkshake has a career high ranking right now and I reckon he can get higher, if he keeps playing like this...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just When You Thought It Was Safe...

Just when you thought it was safe to say nice things about the WTA...

...Sydney happens.

Honestly. It's a new year, new decade, and we've just seen one of the greatest women's matches of the latest five years. You'd think that this might be enough to restore some semblance of order to the permanent misrule that is women's tennis. But no, in the first couple of days of Sydney we've lost three of the eight seeds and come so close to losing another one it's just not funny.

Sigh, WTA. No wonder players like Clijsters and Henin can come back and pummel you into submission. If JuJu had played this tournament, I would have backed her for sure.

We lost Vera Zvonareva to injury - seriously, is this girl ever going to sort her injury woes out? That makes it sound like it's her fault, which it's obviously not, but she retires hurt so often it makes one think she's coming on court hurt to begin with. The mummy bandages don't exactly belie that assumption either. Maybe she needs to sit out for a while until she's completely healed - though who knows how long that could be?

Then Jelena Jankovic lost to Agnes Szavay, a qualifier. I used to think that Szavay would be a real big thing one day. I've since changed my mind, and this match doesn't really alter that at all. Szavay played some great stuff, sure, but JJ really lost it. I'd like to blame this one on first-match-of-the-season yips, but it's too much of the same to do so. Pull yourself together, JJ.

And then Caroline Wozniacki lost a match she never should have lost to Li Na. I know Li Na is one of the girls who pulls upsets, like, every four seconds, but Wozniacki was all over her in the first set. And then... watch that tumbleweed go past. Caro needs to get herself some grit, stat. That's all I'm saying about that.

Victoria Azarenka went through, but she came OH SO VERY CLOSE to going out to Sabine Lisicki. As I'm pretty sure Lisicki will be top ten soon (if she can keep her error count down - that's her Achilles heel) this isn't quite so bad, but still... oh, and Nadia Petrova lost to Kimiko Date Krumm, making it two first round exits in two weeks (even if the first one was to JuJu). Come on, WTA. Pull yourself together.

We have Dinara Safina and Serena Williams in action today. Let's just say I won't hold my breath.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

ATP Afterthought

It was always going to be a tough act to follow for the men in Brissie. There was no way A-Rod and the Worm were ever going to be able to live up to Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, simply because they are A-Rod and the Worm, and not, say, Sampras and Agassi, back from beyond the tennis grave.

But they did their level best. Some of the drama in the match was so improbable it seemed manufactured, but at least there was drama and it wasn't a one-sided blowout, a la Stepanek's previous victory over Gael Monfils. I watched this one from the comfort of my couch in Canberra rather than from the lofty heights of the upper tier in Pat Rafter Arena, and I'm almost glad I did. Clijsters/Henin was a great way to end Part 1 of the my Australian tennis tour. This match would have been an unnecessary epilogue.

But back to the match. Roddick started serving strongly and Stepanek started reading it well and playing all court tennis, and it was very tight in the first set. The set really could have gone either way, but it had a Roddick-esque flavour to it... even though I felt like Stepanek really hadn't finished opening up his box of tricks yet. However, I was wrong about the box of tricks, because Stepanek absolutely collapsed in the first set breaker and for the first half of the second, during which time Roddick spanked him like a red-headed stepchild.

So Roddick's up 4-1 with a double break. So, coincidentally, was Clijsters yesterday. Maybe that set some kind of precedent, because Stepanek paused, steeled himself, and woke up again. I don't want to make any kind of comparison to Clijsters/Henin here, but it was odd how the second sets of both finals featured this kind of epic comeback. This is what I meant about some of the drama seeming manufactured - it seemed so unlikely that both finals could have risen-from-the-dead second sets.

Except they didn't, really. Stepanek lost the tiebreaker (after being down 6-1, saving five match points, then eventually losing 8-6). So this was a straight sets affair, and it was a fun enough match to watch. But after Clijsters/Henin, it just felt... bah.

Now how often do people compare an ATP and a WTA match and say that? Slightly left of never, I would say.

For some reason, these Australian tournaments attract big name women and not so big name men. I am not sure why this is. Like Sydney - Alisa Kleybanova, at #29ish, was the last direct acceptance to the draw and something like nine of the top ten women are there. The men... not so much. They seemingly only play in the Middle East and if they play anything, they play Kooyong. (Though not Roger this year... he's withdrawn from the big K.) I wonder why the blokes and the ladies feel the need to prepare so differently...

Other weekend winners include Nikolay Davydenko (in imperious fashion), Marin Cilic and Yanina Wickmayer. Good news for Belgium!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 1.4 - Belgian Delight

And then there was Brisbane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it was all about the women's final.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 1.3 - Back to the Future

Little Laura Robson is a revelation. Well, I say little - she's probably got a good half a foot on me, if not more. But she is just fifteen, and I find that unbelievable. Instead of whinging about high school, gazing at posters of boys and singing that annoying Taylor Swift song about being fifteen, she is travelling around the world playing tennis.

And she is damn good.

I was lucky enough to be there to see her play Elena Dementieva on Friday at the Hopman Cup after a lovely second night in Perth, and although the second set was a bit of a Dementieva 'no, this is how you hit groundies' clinic, in the first set, Robson seriously troubled her. She managed to break her twice - Dementieva doesn't have the bestest serve ever or anything, but she's #5 in the world, and Robson is fifteen. Fif-frigging-teen.

And then yesterday she beat Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, a match which I didn't see, but which I wish I had. She is going to be epically awesome in a few years. Just you wait.

But back to my day there. I was on the other side of the court this time (non-umpire side) in the lower deck and I had a great view. It was really interesting to analyse the way the Dementieva and Robson games matched up, because Robson is going to grow into a similar player, I think. They're both heavy groundstrokers - Elena has the experience that comes with age and practice and stuff, but Laura (fifteen! fifteen!) definitely held her own. Where I really noticed the difference is where their shots landed in the box. Dementieva hits very deep, and although Robson was clearly trying, some of her shots were more in the service line area, particularly if she was on the defensive. But she has time to work on this. On account of she is fifteen.

Murray was totally clinical in his dismantling of Igor Andreev and it was excellent to watch, even though Andreev is clearly not in form and not looking at all threatening for the Australian Open. (Meanwhile, Muzz, losing to Robredo? WTF?) But the real match of the day was the mixed doubles. I wish there was more of this played, because it is SUCH a good spectator sport. Murray was quite paternalistic towards Robson at the beginning, trying to do everything himself, but she soon proved she was quite capable and he let her alone, to his credit. Robson held her own in forehand rallies with Andreev admirably, and Dementieva's hands at the net were great, and... yeah, this was a really good match.

That said, I kind of wish the Brits had lost, because I would have loved to have seen the scheduled Kazakhstan/Germany match, mostly because of my newfound love for Andrey Golubev. And also because it would have delayed my trip to the airport, where I had to spend a very long time before my plane to Brisbane left. And let me tell you, Perth airport is not an especially interesting place.

All in all, I loved my time in Perth - even the time I spent sitting next to a guy who kept persisting in trying to explain things like let rules to me even though I had already said I was a tennis blogger and that I knew all the rules, thank you very much. (A classic mansplainer - spew.) It's sometimes hard to watch tennis when people around you are talking about tennis to each other, pretending they know what they talk about when they obviously don't.

But there is nothing like watching real live tennis. Nothing at all.

I don't know if I will go back to the Hopman Cup next year - Perth is a long, long way away from everywhere, and is pretty expensive. However, the year after, I am so there. I want to see it in the new stadium!

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 1.2 - Eating Humble Paella

One of the problems with Australian tennis - I think, anyway - is our overweening sense of domination, even though we pretty much suck at it currently. It's been clear for a number of years that Lleyton Hewitt is not going to win another Grand Slam, and yet the question asked every time a Slam rolls around is 'what are Hewitt's chances?' No one ever seems to answer 'tiny' despite huge amounts of evidence (and precedent) in that area.

I don't mean to pay out Hewitt here - this is more a comment on the Australian perception of sport. We as a nation are used to being good at sport. Australia is one of the jocks of the world, used to beating up other countries and stuffing them in lockers on the sporting field. But I think the heart of this lies in the fact that Australia is very good at team sports. When it comes to individual sports... not so much. Not at the moment in tennis, anyway. But no one seems to realise this...

...which is why people get so damn cocky about the Hopman Cup every year, and get all disappointed when we don't win. It's 'Australia's Hopman Cup Shame', as I saw one headline read. To be fair, this year we did have a good team who had a good shot, but most years we don't have a prayer and no one seems to realise.

As a fan of tennis the sport, watching as a fan of tennis the sport and not necessarily of Australia, it is supremely uncomfortable to hear the stuff coming out of people's mouths when Australia is not doing well. I noticed this particularly during Samantha Stosur's match against Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. I really enjoyed the match - Stosur didn't play particularly well once MJMS started to read her kicker, but MJMS had a beautiful game and I loved watching her play.

The people around me? Not so much. There was one woman behind me who was convinced that MJMS was somehow cheating and that Stosur should get three goes on serve instead of two because of it. I'm not quite sure exactly how she thought MJMS was cheating, but there you go. Amusingly, she also thought faults were called fouls, so I'm not sure her grip on the rules was too good. Another one labelled MJMS 'grunty' and would oink like a pig every time she got up to serve. (FYI, MJMS does grunt a bit, but I didn't even notice until this woman pointed it out - I think it was only noticeable because Stosur is completely silent. She's certainly no Michelle Larcher de Brito). Sport is pretty much a universal religion in Australia and it made me sad to see that appreciation of good play gave way to sledging and hyper-nationalism. Apparently it can only be good play if it is Australian play.

Look at me, sounding all miserable. I cannot tell you what a good time I had, this first day at the Burswood Dome. The majority of the crowds were not dickheads like those mentioned above and there is, quite simply, nothing quite like watching tennis live. I was viewing the court from above on a diagonal, which was not the best angle, but it was interesting watching tennis from a different perspective.

I also have a newfound respect for Tommy Robredo. This has been compounded by his victory over Andy Murray in the final of the Hopman Cup - I confess I wanted Murray to win so Robson could have her diamond ball, but this was an awesome match for Tommy. I saw him play Hewitt on this Thursday, and one thing you realise in real life that you never quite see on television is how fast he is. Robredo and Hewitt actually have quite similar games. Robredo probably hits the ball a little harder, but they both have great wheels and are dogged, chasing down anything they can find. The scoreline was relatively one-sided, but it was actually a great match, with lots of long points. Even if I wanted to turn around and smack the bogan Lleyton supporters behind me. (Not that all Lleyton supporters are bogan. But these ones, well...)

As a venue, the Burswood Dome is probably not ideal for tennis, but it's certainly unique. I love the ceiling, high and arching, and the fact that it is temperature controlled is excellent, because Perth is very, very hot! And Burswood is not out in the sticks (which, I confess, I thought it was) - it was one short train ride from the city of Perth where I was staying. I fell in love with Perth while I was there and am dying to go back one day. It has to be one of the world's most isolated cities, but it is beautiful. It seems very relaxed and laidback and chilled out... probably something to do with the fact that it is three hours behind the rest of the country and so any news that reaches it is inevitably old. But it is sunny and gorgeous and would be a lovely place to live and has an excellent public transport system and stuff.

But back to the Dome itself. It exists in this strange place between stadium and showcourt. During points, it feels like a stadium. However, when it's a sitdown and play is not in progress, you can actually walk right up to the edge of the plexicushion. There are security guards, but effectively you can be one, two metres away from the players as they have their sitdown. It has this wonderful intimacy but also this feeling that it has been haphazardly thrown together - Court 1 is separated from the central court by a big curtain. It is also really, really hard to get from one side of the stadium to the other. If you come in the wrong door (which I did on this Thursday, not knowing the venue at all) the only way you can get to your seat on the other side of the court is to go through a tunnel. However, this is also the same tunnel that the players use when walking about, so whenever they're coming, they close the tunnel off. Which means you can be stuck for up to about twenty minutes, which is kind of a pain.

The Hopman Cup is going to be at Burswood again next year, but the year after, I understand that they're moving to the new stadium they're building in Perth proper. Which, I noticed, happens to be across the road from my hotel. Perhaps I should book my accommodation now...?

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 1.1 - Golubev Flying High

Well, I am back from the first leg of my epic tennis adventure! Hence the no blogging for a few days - I've been busy watching tennis instead of writing about it. But I am back now to tell you all about it - for oh! what adventures I have had!

Wednesday night, I left work early to catch a plane to Perth. This is no mean feat, because I live in Canberra, which is pretty much as far away from Perth as you can get. Australia is a very big place and crossing the country is no small thing. But there is very little I will not do in pursuit of tennis, and so eight hours in transit it was, starting with a Canberra to Melbourne leg, waiting around for a bit, and then settling in for the Melbourne to Perth journey.

This is a four and a half hour plane trip, so it had the potential to be very dull. I had a trashy book with me all ready to wile away the lonely hours, but a fortuitous flick through the satellite channels on board led to a wonderful discovery - coverage of the Hopman Cup tie between Russia and Kazakhstan. More particularly, this meant coverage of the match between Andrey Golubev and Igor Andreev.

Andrey, Andrey, where have you been all my life?

I don't know if Golubev is one of those players who just comes alight when representing his country or whether something has clicked for him and he has suddenly become awesome. But that's what he was - on fire and completely, utterly awesome. And it wasn't just this match against Andreev, though he had him tied up in all sorts of knots: can you believe that Andreev struck only three forehand winners for the match, and that he didn't have a single winner - NOT ONE - until about halfway through the second set? Incredible. I had the opportunity to see Golubev play in the flesh on Friday - I caught the second set of his match against Philipp Kohlschreiber on Court 1 under the Burswood Dome - and this doesn't look like a one match fluke. If he can consistently play at this level, look for him to make an excellent run in Australia. His performance completely belied his ranking (#133, fyi.)

Let me expound. This dude dominated Igor 'forehand' Andreev from the baseline. He went backhand to backhand with Philipp 'backhand' Kohlschreiber and came out ahead. And he came into net and demonstrated some incredible volleying skills, both in the singles and particularly the doubles. And I'm not just talking one or two sweet shots. I mean shots so good they were freaking terrifying (and can make a cross-country flight seem as short as anything).

His problem in the past has to have been mental and it has to have had to do with consistency. I have never seen him play before so I don't know for sure, but if he had been playing like this in the past, I would have heard about it. So consistency it was. He was very nervous in his first match against Andy Murray and rolled over pretty easily, but to smack down both Kohlschreiber and Andreev like that was pretty special. So if he has suddenly toughened up mentally... watch out for him. Because he will be a wrecking ball of destruction hammering right through the top fifty, mark my words.

He's twenty-two, so he might be a little old for me to adopt in my Stars of the Future fold. But I'm making him my Late Bloomer for the year. Look out for Andrey Golubev. Because you'll hear his name again. Guaranteed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My New Homeboy

Matt Ebden is my homeboy.

I didn't know anything about him until he beat Bernard Tomic at the December Showdown this year. Then I got the inkling that he could be a bit of all right, because Tomic is a bit good. And then I followed him through qualies in Brisbane, where, among others, he beat Marinko Matosevic, one of the higher-ranked Aussie players. And I thought he was pretty good.

And then he beat Jurgen Melzer today, ranked several hundred ranking places above him. And that was made of awesome.

He served stupidly awesomely. And to pull a Chris Eaton and win a match like this is pretty awesome. Please, Australian Open, card him in. Give him that last wildcard. If nothing else, let him into qualies. Because he's a total dude.

Speaking of Australian tennis, Stosur and Hewitt managed to win their tie in the Hopman Cup today, even though they let the doubles get away from them in a bad way. It's pretty hard for them to make the final now, and frankly, they don't deserve to. If Spain don't make it, I will be very surprised indeed - they are, as I write this, one rubber up over Romania, with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beating Sorana Cirstea in the women's singles.

Carsten Ball is also through to the second round of Brisbane, but Nick Lindahl, Bernard Tomic and Alicia Molik are all out. Molik got absolutely crushed by Kim Clijsters - Kimmie is looking like she is in absolutely dangerous form. Here's hoping she makes the women's final...

...because guess what! I will be there!

Due to this tennis trip, posting here may be a bit scattered over the next few days, but I promise I'll update with all my news when I get back. I'm doing two days at the Hopman Cup and then the men's semis and women's final in Brisbane, and it's going to be MADE OF AWESOME. Catch you on the flip side!

Today's Results

Hopman Cup (Perth)

Australia 2, USA 1

Samantha Stosur def. Melanie Oudin, 6-2 6-4
Lleyton Hewitt def. John Isner, 6-1 7-5
Oudin/Isner def. Stosur/Hewitt, 2-6 6-1 10-4 (match tie break)

Spain 3, Romania 0

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez def. Sorana Cirstea, 6-4 6-4
Tommy Robredo def. Victor Hanescu, 6-3 retired
Martinez Sanchez/Robredo def. Cirstea/Hanescu, walkover

Brisbane International (Brisbane)

Men's Draw

Gael Monfils def. Taylor Dent, 7-6 (7-1) 6-7 (5-7) 6-2
Carsten Ball def. Mischa Zverev, 7-5 6-1
Matthew Ebden def. Jurgen Melzer, 7-5 6-1
Tomas Berdych def. Nick Lindahl, 6-2 6-4
Marcos Baghdatis def. Mardy Fish, 7-5 7-5
James Blake def. Sam Querrey, 4-6 6-3 6-4
Florent Serra def. Julian Reister, 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (7-5) 7-5
Oleksandr Dolgopolov Jr def. Bernard Tomic, 6-4 6-4

Women's Draw

Kim Clijsters def. Alicia Molik, 6-0 6-3
Andrea Petkovic def. Vania King, 4-6 6-2 6-1
Melinda Czink def. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, 6-3 2-6 6-1
Ana Ivanovic def. Timea Bacsinszky, 6-2 2-6 6-4

Qatar ExxonMobil Open (Doha)

Roger Federer def. Christophe Rochus, 6-1 6-2
Andreas Seppi def. OScar Hernandez, 6-4 7-5
Nikolay Davydenko def. Mikhail Kukushkin, 6-2 6-0
Lukasz Kubot def. Karim Maamoun, 6-0 6-2
Steve Darcis def. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 6-4 6-1
Younes El Aynaoui def. Ryler DeHeart, 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-4)
Rafael Nadal def. Simone Bolelli, 6-3 6-3

Chennai Open (Chennai)

Robby Ginepri def. Robin Soderling, 6-4 7-5
Lukas Lacko def. Yen-hsun Lu, 6-4 6-3
Kevin Kim def. Daniel Brands, 6-2 6-2
Dudi Sela def. Denis Istomin, 6-1 6-2
Stanislas Wawrinka def. Rohan Bopanna, 6-1 6-4
Michael Russell def. Prakash Amritraj, 6-3 6-1
Stephane Robert def. Louk Sorenson, 6-2 6-1
Michael Berrer def. Santiago Ventura, 6-3 6-2
Robin Haase def. Tsung-hua Yang, 6-4 6-3
Somdev Devvarman def. Rainer Schuettler, 7-5 6-2
Marcel Granollers def. James Ward, 5-7 6-2 6-2

ASB Classic (Auckland)

Carla Suarez Navarro def. Edina Gallovits, 6-4 7-5
Francesca Schiavone def. Stephanie Cohen-Aloro, 6-2 6-3
Sania Mirza def. Stefanie Voegele, 5-7 6-1 7-5
Alize Cornet def. Marina Erakovic, 6-4 6-3
Elena Vesnina def. Alberta Brianti, 6-1 6-4
Virginie Razzano def. Monica Niculescu, 7-5 6-4
Ioana Raluca Olaru def. Elena Baltacha, 6-2 6-2
Shahar Peer def. Polona Hercog, 7-5 6-3
Maria Kirilenko def. Tatjana Malek, 6-2 6-3
Kaia Kanepi def. Na Li, 6-1 6-3