TOURNAMENT REPORT:
AUS OPEN 2006
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Well, I had barely had time to catch up on everything from my busy week at the Hopman Cup and it was time to leave for Melbourne a few days later! My Australian Open report is quite long (as usual), but hopefully you enjoy it!

Wednesday 11 January:
We left for Melbourne mid-morning and arrived early evening, thanks to the 3 hour time difference between Perth and Melbourne. We were quite tired by the time we had settled into the hotel, so we decided to have a quick dinner at the Crown Entertainment Complex and get to bed early, as we had a big day at the qualies the following day. We did see Feliciano Lopez sitting in the Crown lobby on our way in...he seemed to be in deep discussion with his stringer, Greg, (whom we also know) and some other guy, so we just said hi quickly and moved on. We also caught a glimpse of Maria Sharapova coming out of the lifts with a group of friends (most probably on their way to watch Andy Roddick playing poker in the casino), but that was it for the evening.

Thursday 12 January:
First day of qualies...I couldn't wait! I've decided qualies are my favourite part of a tournament because you get to see lesser known players (whom I like to support), as well as some of the other bigger names practising. We headed down to Melbourne Park around 11am and had a look around to see who was playing where. We put our heads in at Gilles Simon's match and saw Gilles Muller and his coach sitting in the crowd. I didn't realise Gilles Muller had changed coaches and his new coach turned out to be a French guy called Norbert, whom I had met in Bangkok in 2003 when he was the coach of Dick Norman. He is really nice and we talked to him for a little while. Mathieu Montcourt also came to watch the match for a while, but we didn't end up staying very long after because it was time for Olivier Patience's match!!! Those of you that know me will know how much I like Olivier, hehe. He was playing out on Court 22 against Victor Crivoi and there was hardly anyone there, so we made sure we cheered him on with a few "allez"s. He ended up winning quite comfortably and was very sweet after the match when I went up and congratulated him. Afterwards, we headed over to watch Julien Benneteau's match. There was some confusion at the start when Julien came on court and sat around for what seemed like ages waiting for his opponent to come. The scoreboard said he was playing Cristian Villagran but Michael Kohlmann finally ended up making an appearance, so not sure what happened there! It was a pretty good match anyway and, though Julien got a bit frustrated at times, he was able to pull through and win.

That night, we headed to Crown for dinner. As I was walking through the hotel lobby, I saw this guy waving from over the top of a sofa. I had no idea whom he was waving at until I realised he was actually waving at me! It took me a while to realise who it was, since I could only see the top of his head, but it turned out to be
Juan Carlos Ferrero!!! I felt so bad because I must have given him the blankest look, but I went up to him and apologised after and we chatted briefly. Juan Carlos is a really nice guy. I first met him in Bangkok 2003 and ever since then, whenever he sees me at a tournament, he will always say hi. It's usually the fans who recognise players and not the other way around, so I really did feel bad at not having recognised him first! But it was all good. He was sitting with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and their coaches, Andres and Antonio, also came down and we chatted to them for a while. They seemed amused when we told them we referred to Guillermo as GGL, as they had never heard that nickname before. After dinner, we went into the casino for a while and spotted Andy Murray, Xavier Malisse (who seems to live in the casino) and Robby Ginepri. We also saw Juan Ignacio Chela, Mariano Zabaleta and Juan Monaco having a good time (I think they were doing Roulette), but after that we headed home.

Friday 13 January:
It might have been Black Friday, but there was nothing black about today. The atmosphere was building up before the tournament and more and more players were wandering around the grounds. When I first got to the site, I got an sms from a friend to tell me Fernando Verdasco and Richard Gasquet were practising on Court 16, which was unfortunately RIGHT over the other side of the complex from where I was...typical! I hurried over and watched them for a while, but couldn't stay too long, as Olivier's match was due to be starting soon (back over the other side of course!). He was playing Rajeev Ram and I wasn't sure how he would go, as Ram is not a bad player. However, he won comfortably again, much to our delight. I asked him for a photo after the match and he kindly obliged. Happily knowing Olivier was into the final round of qualies, we headed off to watch Nicolas Mahut's match for a while. It was quite hot and we felt a bit drowsy, though we perked up when we saw Olivier come and sit in the crowd a few rows down from us! Julien Benneteau was playing on the neighbouring court too, so at the conclusion of Mahut's match, we all went over to see Benne's match for a while (including Olivier!). After that, we thought we would take a wander around to see what else was going on and we happened to see Fernando Verdasco practising topless in the distance. Of course, we couldn't let that opportunity pass, so we made a bee-line for that court to get a better view. Fernando's coach/friend, Garry Toussaint, was there too. I had met him several times before when he had been with Marat Safin at other Australian Opens and also in Dubai last year, so we chatted with him for a while. He is a really nice guy. At the end of Fernando's practice, we had photos taken with him and he was really sweet to us. I don't usually take many photos with players, as I know quite a few and it becomes a bit awkward, so 2 in one day was a good effort for me! Finally, we watched the opening games of Mathieu Moncourt's match, but by then it was getting quite late, so we decided to head back to the hotel and freshen up.

We went to Crown for dinner again and saw
Tatiana Golovin buying chocolates in one of the shops, as well as Franco Davin (Gaston Gaudio's coach), Kristof Vliegen, Xavier Malisse, Flavia Pennetta and Carlos Moya in the casino.

Saturday 14 January:
The final day of qualies...and it was going to be busy because, first of all, we were to meet Nicolas Almagro and his coach, Antonio, at 11.30 to organise the accreditation. We took a car with them (and Oscar Hernandez also happened to be there) to the accreditation area, since the security guard (who turned out to be a control freak) would not let us into the player area to get the accreditation despite the fact that we were with Nico and Antonio. When we did finally get into the accreditation office, we saw David Ferrer and his coach, Javier, in there. It was the first time I had seen David since the Aus Open last year, so I congratulated him a lot for his fantastic 2005. He gave me 2 kisses on the cheek and was very appreciative. He is another really nice guy...he is usually quite shy, but now that I have met him a few times (including once in the local supermarket in Valencia when I was living there!), he is fine and always says hi. It's great to see that his amazing year last year and the fact that he is now on the verge of breaking into the top 10 for the first time has not made him arrogant or rude, which cannot be said for certain other players, who shall remain unnamed. Once the accreditation was finally sorted out, I raced over to Court 7 where Olivier's match was in progress. He was playing Alex Bogomolov Jr. and I had had bad feelings about the match all day. Alex is a really dangerous player and this match was not going to be easy. When I got to the court, Olivier had already lost the first set, so I freaked out a bit. He played better in the second, going to a 4-1 lead, so my nerves were calmed. Unfortunately, this did not last long, as he was broken back twice, diminishing his lead and somehow, in the blink of an eye, Bogomolov came through and won the match!
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