|Wednesday 21 January 2009:
There didn't seem to be much on the outside courts today. I would like to have gone into Margaret Court Arena to see the match between Marat Safin and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, but it was so packed, it was impossible to get in. So we went over to Court 19 to see Tommy Robredo take on Victor Troicki, which was painful to watch because Troicki made a lot of unforced errors, which caused him to self-destruct, and the match was basically a whitewash. I wanted to go and join my friends at court 13 where Paul-Henri Mathieu was playing Amer Delic, but they told me the court was already packed, and the Bosnian fans were again causing trouble which resulted in the police having to be called in. I say "again" because there had been racial riots on Monday with the Bosnian and Serbian fans, and it appears this is now becoming an annual occurence amongst some of these ethnic groups. In past years, there has been problems with Croats and Greeks/Cypriots too, and this year is no exception. It is definitely not cool to bring politics into sport, and these riots are ruining the reputation of the Australian Open. I'm not sure how this can be combatted, but something certainly must be done. Anyway, I met up with a couple of other friends and hung out with them for a while, before we decided to head over to see the doubles match between Fernando Verdasco/Feliciano Lopez and Potito Starace/Jamie Cerretani. There were some excellent rallies, and some funny moments too when the 2 Spaniards displayed a clear lack of communication, bumping into each other while both trying to hit a shot. They managed to win the first set despite having trailed earlier on, but the Italian-American pair fought back to win the 2nd. The Spaniards eventually won the match 7-5 in the third. After that, we just headed back to the hotel. There is usually 1 lacklustre day during the first 4-5 days, and today was definitely it for me. But, after 2 long days of heat, it was nice to get back to the hotel a bit earlier and watch the night matches on tv. I watched Jelena Dokic's match against Anna Chakvetadze, and was really pleased to see Jelena come through and win. The last 8 years have definitely been hard for her, and I don't think most people could even comprehend what she went through, particularly having to deal with it in the spotlight, so it is great that she has been able to gradually overcome that and is starting to do well in tennis again now too. Definitely a positive for Australian tennis and probably one of the stories of this Open. After that was the match between Bernard Tomic and Gilles Muller, which I had mentioned before. The young Aussie handled the occasion exceptionally well, and displayed some really excellent tennis in the 1st set. He dropped off a bit in the 2nd, displayed flashes of brilliance in the 3rd and then lowered his intensity in the 4th. But he is definitely one to watch - I just hope the Australian media let him develop naturally and don't thrust him into the spotlight and hype unnecessarily.
Thursday 22 January 2009:
I awoke to more foul heat and was not looking forward to sitting out in it again today. I feel like a broken record, because I have said this for the last couple of years, but Melbourne Park really needs to do something about the venue to cater for extreme heat (and wet weather too for that matter). There is simply no shade or shelter in the event of heat or rain. I find it ridiculous that there is so much said about skin cancer and the harsh Australian sun, yet nothing is done to provide more shade. I notice they have given the umpires' chairs and players' chairs some snazzy new covers on some of the outside courts, but nothing for the stands. I can't imagine it would be that hard to put some temporary sails or shadecloth over the seats. There are people passing out and being carted off by the ambulance service, and even for people like me who can cope reasonably well with heat, it is still very unpleasant and uncomfortable. I think I am going to write to Tennis Australia about this issue, because something needs to be done. There is no point just handing out suncream for a small donation. There needs to be proper shade to protect from the glaring sun and make the experience pleasant for everyone. I also think that the venue has now become too small. And I know I am not the only one to think this after speaking to some other people. Compared to a few years ago, there are so many more people. Everywhere you go, courts are packed and often impossible to get into. The organisers obviously do not limit the number of ground passes sold, so, with a greater volume of people now travelling to the event, the venue also needs to be expanded accordingly. Perhaps adding a few extra rows to the stands at each court. There is no shortage of space, so, if Australia really wants to keep the event (as there is increasing competition and pressure from Asia to move the event there), it needs to adapt and develop to ensure it can continue to run smoothly and provide visitors with the positive experience they want. Ok, my rant is over, so back to the report. We braved the heat and went to court 6 to see Fernando Verdasco take on Arnaud Clement. On paper, you would have thought it would be a close match. In reality, it was as one-sided as you could get. It was a case of Verdasco playing well, and Arnaud playing badly - which resulted in the ugly scoreline of 6-1 6-1 6-2 to Verdasco. Definitely not worth sitting out in the heat for! We got a bite to eat from Rod Laver Arena before heading to Margaret Court Arena to see the doubles match I had been looking forward to - Marat Safin/Guillermo Canas against Adam/Feeney/Robert Smeets. We knew the court would be packed, but luckily, we had sent the boys there earlier to save us some seats, and they had done well in getting some in the 3rd row. The atmosphere was amazing even before the players came out on court. The Heard was there for a start. For those who don't know, The Heard are a group of Australian fans, similar to the Fanatics but better, who support the Australian players and provide entertainment during the matches. They were here in force, decked out in green and gold, and had every prop under the sun, including their own tennis court on which Captain Tennis and a gorilla played against each other, Harry Potter, a giant mobile phone, and a big present which was passed around the court in a "pass the parcel" game. They were hilarious, and even Marat had a chuckle during the warm-up. The match itself was pretty routine - Marat and Guillermo were obviously not taking it too seriously, although they did have an altercation with the umpire at one point - I'm not even sure what it was exactly about. In any case, the Aussies ended up winning 6-4 6-1. It had only lasted just over an hour or so, but it had been awesome! We then wandered around for a while and saw the end of Anabel Medina Garrigues' match. We bumped into Miguel Margets and spoke to him briefly. I had met him once or twice some years ago when he used to coach Tommy Robredo, and he's a really nice, polite guy. We then watched a bit of another doubles match between Oscar Hernandez/Albert Montanes and Paul Hanley/Jordan Kerr, but it was nothing like what we had just seen, and we soon decided to head back to the hotel again.
Friday 23 January 2009:
My 24th birthday! :) I hadn't planned to go to the tennis during the day, as I wasn't that interested in the schedule of play. We got a message mid-morning from Marat's agent, Amit, to say that he had tickets for me, my mum and my friend for tonight's match between Marat Safin and Roger Federer! What a great birthday present!!! I spent a nice day just relaxing, and then met up with my friend for dinner before the 3 of us headed over to the tennis. We got there in time to see the end of Jelena Dokic's match against Caroline Wozniacki - another great win for Dokic, and the atmosphere in Rod Laver Arena was electric. When we got to our seats, we discovered they were just behind Federer's box, but that didn't stop us from cheering loudly for Marat!! We were hoping for a match like the 2005 semi when Marat beat Federer in 5, and when games went with serve until 3-3 in the first set, we thought it was going to be a close one. But unfortunately, that's when Marat started to make unforced errors, and Federer was quick to pounce and take the set 6-3 in just 26 minutes. Ok, so maybe it was going to take Marat a set to get into it. The second set continued where the first had left off. Marat just didn't seem to be playing the way he had been in his previous matches or how I had seen him play a few weeks before at the Hopman Cup. And of course, this time his opponent was Roger Federer, which also makes a difference. Federer took the second 6-2, and it was clear this match wasn't going to be a repeat of 2005 unless Marat suddenly woke up for the next 3 sets, which was unlikely. Things were a bit closer in the 3rd, and I thought we were at least going to be given more of a match. It went to a tiebreak, and at the best of times, Marat does not do that well in tiebreaks, but when he was foot-faulted on his second serve at 1-4, it was safe to say the curtain had fallen. A few points later, and the deed was done. That may well have been the last time Marat walks off Rod Laver Arena. It was a shame the match had not been a bit closer, but that's how it was meant to be, and it was still a great experience to be able to go to a Rod Laver Arena night match again after so many years. It was a nice way to finish my birthday and to finish my 8th Australian Open, as we were heading home the next day. I hope you enjoyed the report, and look forward to writing again next time I attend a tournament!