TOURNAMENT REPORT:
AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2009
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I did not arrive in Melbourne until the early hours of Saturday 17 January, so the two days before the event were spent chilling out and meeting friends. We did spot a few players out and about, such as Radek Stepanek, Tommy Haas, Chris Guccione, Mariano Hood, Tomas Berdych, David Nalbandian and Juan Monaco, but the real action got underway on day 1 of the tournament.

Monday 19 January 2009:
First up, I went to court 8 to see David Ferrer take on Dennis Gremelmayr. The court was pretty packed, so it was hard to get a good spot. It was also quite hot, so we just stood in the shade and watched for a while. Ferrer had taken the first set easily 6-1, and we didn't stay to watch the entire match, but later in the day, I checked the result and it turned out the match had gone to 5, so David was definitely lucky to get out of that one! We then headed over to the side of the complex and saw a few practice sessions - first James Blake, and then Lleyton Hewitt who was training with Juan Monaco, obviously trying to seek out some Latin American hitting partners ahead of his first round blockbuster clash against Fernando Gonzalez. During this time, we also bumped into Peter Lundgren, Marat Safin's old coach who is a friend of ours, and we talked to him for a while. He had told us a few weeks back that he was going to be in Melbourne, and it was great to see him again. He looked really good - had lost a lot of weight and was looking fit and healthy again. According to his tag, he was there as "Coach of Marat Safin", but he said he was just there to give Marat a hand if he needed anything, since he doesn't have a full-time coach at the moment, and Marat and Peter have continued to be friends even since their professional break-up a few years ago. We then popped nextdoor to court 19 where Tommy Robredo was playing Bobby Reynolds. By now, the temperature had risen to about 37 degrees C, with bright sunshine and not much wind, so it was not the most comfortable conditions to watch tennis. It was not the most interesting of matches either, so when I heard that Marat Safin was practising on the court behind the one we were on, my 2 friends and I raced over to check it out. A lot of other (predominantly female) fans had obviously had the same idea, as the fence was lined with camera-bearing people. We ended up having to stand on the seats to get a decent view. Marat was practising with Fernando Vicente, and looked really good in his bright green shirt. He appeared to be getting a bit frustrated with the number of shots he was netting, but all in all, he was looking fit and in good shape to face what was likely to be his last Australian Open. So we stood there drooling over him for a while before returning to Court 19 to see the end of Robredo v Reynolds. After that, we happened to see Nicolas Massu training with Fernando Gonzalez, but we were so dehydrated and sweaty from sitting out there in the heat, we made a bee-line for the air-conditioning vents in Rod Laver Arena to cool down and get some lunch. We then headed out to Show Court 2 to see Carlos Moya v Evgeny Korolev. The 3 of us had been fans of Carlos for many years, and we don't know how many more years Carlos will be coming to Australia, so it was important to see him now! Unfortunately, it was a pretty boring match - there was not really much atmosphere, and Carlos was unable to match the young Russian, who also happens to be Anna Kournikova's cousin. By late afternoon, my friends had to leave, so I went to court 6 with my mum to watch Juan Carlos Ferrero take on Fabrice Santoro. I'm not sure what the tournament organisers have against Ferrero, but he always seems to be scheduled on small courts. In this case, particularly playing against someone of Santoro's ilk, I think it should have at least been placed on Show Court 3. Not everyone who wanted to get in could get in, which is a shame. I also find it a bit of an insult to the 2 great players, who still have pretty large fanbases. Anyway, in the first 2 sets, Ferrero couldn't do anything right. He was hitting unforced error after unforced error, while Santoro was displaying the net skills which have led him to be nicknamed the Magician. It looked like the Frenchman was going to close it out in 3 after securing a break in the 3rd, but Ferrero managed to fight back a little, forcing a tiebreak, which he won, and taking the match to a 4th. It was dark by now, and the temperature was very pleasant after such a hot day. The atmosphere on the court was great - with French and Spanish fans trading chants. I was hoping it would go to a 5th, but unfortunately, the gremlins from the first 2 sets crept back into Ferrero's game, and he lost the set 2-6, handing the victory to a very popular winner in Santoro. It was a sorry sight to see Ferrero skulk off the court. He definitely hadn't deserved to win, and I also wonder how many more years he will be on the circuit. It was now about 10pm, and after almost 12 hours outside in the heat, it was time to head back to the hotel to try and recover for tomorrow!

Tuesday 20 January 2009:
If I had thought yesterday was hot, as soon as I stepped out into the street to catch the tram to Melbourne Park, and felt the hot dusty wind blowing on my face, I knew we were in for worse today. It was about 40 degrees celsius at 11am. My friend sent me an sms to say she was at Show Court 3 watching Richard Gasquet v Diego Junquiera. Knowing that she is a diehard Gasquet fan, I knew she was not going to leave that match. For me, the air-conditioning vents in Rod Laver Arena were much more appealing. So before seeing any live tennis, I just spent a little while inside there watching some matches on the tv. I did not want to sit out in that heat and end up feeling foul within 1 hour of arriving at the venue. The forecast had predicted a cool change coming in in the early afternoon, and luckily, after about half an hour of sitting inside RLA, it had arrived, so I decided to head out to Show Court 3 and catch the end of the Gasquet/Junquiera match, which had lasted longer than expected after the Argentine had surprisingly taken the first set in a tiebreak. The seed eventually prevailed though, and we then all went to get some lunch and cool off. We wandered around for a while and bumped into Amit Naor and Allon Khakshouri and chatted with them briefly before heading off to see some more tennis. Tommy Haas was practising topless on one court, which was rather a nice surprise, and we also saw a bit of the match between Nicolas Almagro and Nicolas Massu on court 8. It was packed with half of Chile and a smattering of Spaniards, with both fanbases trying to outdo each other with their "VAMOS NICO!!" We wandered around a bit more and saw Bernard Tomic practising. Us dedicated tennis fans have known about Tomic for a few years now, but it seems the Australian media have only just caught onto him, and boy did they hype him up. He ended up being put as the Rod Laver Arena night match for his second round encounter against Gilles Muller after beating Potito Starace in the first round. I know Australian tennis is starved of decent mens players now, and it is certainly great that we now have a new talent coming through, but I'm not sure whether it is beneficial to thrust him into the limelight so quickly when he is still at a developmental stage. He does appear to have great composure though, not to mention a bucketload of talent, so hopefully he will do well in the future. We then caught a few games of the match between Albert Montanes and Ernests Gulbis. Albert Costa, Santiago Verntura and Oscar Hernandez were also sitting in the stands cheering Montanes on, but it was not enough to overcome the Latvian. After that, we headed into Show Court 3 to see Fernando Verdasco take on Adrian Mannarino. Verdasco has improved a lot in the last 12 months, and his Davis Cup victory last November in particular seems to have helped his confidence. He was not troubled at all against the young French player, and we soon found ourselves out in the Garden Square again watching part of the Hewitt v Gonzalez match on the big screen. After doing a final round, during which we stopped to catch a few games of the match between Dmitry Tursunov and Flavio Cipolla, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.
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