TOURNAMENT REPORT:
HOPMAN CUP XVIII
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It had been almost a year since I had attended a tennis tournament and it is fair to say I was having withdrawal symptoms! So, as the Australian tennis season drew closer, I started getting more and more excited until it finally arrived! First up for me was the Hopman Cup in my home town of Perth. I was very disappointed to find out a few days before that Marat Safin had had to withdraw due to a knee injury but, as disappointed as I was, I have to say it came as no surprise. At the moment, no one is even sure if he will be able to make it to Melbourne. So after getting over the initial disappointment, I headed down to the Dome on Thursday 29 December to pick up my Media Accreditation. Yes, for the first time in my 10 years of attending the tournament, I was going to be getting accreditation here! Some of you may already know I write news articles and weekly tournament previews for inside-tennis.net and because of that, I was able to get a media pass at this year's Hopman Cup! I was given a briefing of where I could go and what I could do and was told I could even go into the players' press conferences after the matches. I think it will be a great experience for me, as well as a super way of meeting new people and seeing what sports journalism is all about. After that, I headed briefly to the hotel (which is next to the Dome) to see if there was anything happening, however, apart from seeing Peter Wessels come back from a practice, there was nothing to report, so I went home.

Friday 30 December, the first day of action. It was the qualifying play-off between China and the Netherlands. China were making their Hopman Cup debut and the Netherlands were trying to make it through qualifying for the second consecutive year. I made it down to the Dome in time for the men's match, and saw
Novak Djokovic on my way in. Before heading into the main arena, I checked out the practice court and saw Wayne Arthurs and Taylor Dent having a hit out. Todd Woodbridge was also giving an interview, as he has recently been appointed coach of Thomas Johansson. Johansson was there too, having just finished practising. After a while, I headed to Centre Court. There was quite a big crowd at the match, despite it being just a qualifying tie, which was good to see. China were 1-0 up after Shuai Peng defeated Michaella Krajicek 3-6 6-4 6-3, so the Netherlands' hopes rested on Peter Wessels as he took on Peng Sun (no, you are not the only ones confused by the two Pengs!). This was the first match I had ever attended where Hawk-Eye was in use. For those who don't know about Hawk-Eye, it's an electronic officiating which uses cameras to track the ball's trajectory and can be used as an instant replay to challenge any dubious line-calls. I had to get used to hearing the umpire announcing a "challenge" every so often by one of the players. ..but I have to say, it turned out to be very useful, as some calls were proven wrong when viewed on the big screen! Wessels ended up winning 6-2 6-2 to even the tie for the Netherlands. I headed back to the hotel and again saw Novak Djokovic, this time with his Serbian team-mate, Ana Ivanovic. That was the end of my sightings for the day though, as I headed home soon after. Later in the evening, I heard the news that the Netherlands had defeated China in the live mixed doubles and so had qualified for the main draw. Another bit of breaking news was that Teimuraz Gabashvili, who was Russia's replacement for an injured Marat Safin, had also sustained an injury in Doha, where he was currently playing, and that his participation at the Hopman Cup was in doubt. The Russians sure appear to be jinxed at this tournament! If they have to forfeit, China might yet get another chance to play...but it would definitely be a huge blow for the tournament, considering Russia was the number 1 seed. We'll just have to wait and see what happens...

Saturday 31 December, the last day of the year, but the first day of main draw action at the Hopman Cup. The first piece of news was that Russia had found a replacement for the injured
Teimuraz Gabashvili in Yuri Schukin and so would not be withdrawing after all! Hopefully that would be the end of their jinxes at this tournament! Today's tie was between Australia and Germany. I went down to the Dome and first headed to the practice court. Taylor Dent was practising, so I watched him for a while and then Gisela Dulko and Sofia Arvidsson came on, so I watched them for a short time too. I then chatted with my friend, who was working at one of the bars, before going over to Centre Court to watch the men's match. Samantha Stosur had already beaten Anna-Lena Groenefeld, so Australia were 1-0 up, but Wayne Arthurs was going to have a tough match against Nicolas Kiefer. As it is, Arthurs had heavy strapping on his calf after tearing it badly a few weeks before, and Kiefer did not give anything away. He ended up winning quite easily 6-3 6-4, leveling the tie for Germany. I then went back to the practice court and watched some more of the Dulko-Arvidsson practice session, as well as a bit of Kuznetsova's practice before heading home to watch the mixed doubles on tv. As I was getting into my car at the hotel, I again saw Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic briefly but after that, I had to head home and get ready for New Year's Eve!  The night was also great...I went clubbing with my friends, but we did take some time out around half past midnight to head into the hotel to see some of the players returning from the Hopman Cup Ball. We saw Thomas Johansson and his wife, Ana Ivanovic (who looked stunning), Samantha Stosur and Novak Djokovic (in a dashing white suit, haha). Obviously, the Serbs could not have a big night, given the fact they were playing at 10am the next morning. That was something I didn't understand. There was only one day session on January 1...I think it would have been better to have a later start or even a night session to make it a bit easier for the players, but rules are rules I guess.

Somewhat bleary-eyed, I did make it down to the Dome on New Year's Day, though it was a struggle to get there for the men's match! Before anything else, I was advised of the news that
Wayne Arthurs had withdrawn from the tournament and was to be replaced by Todd Reid. Wayne had aggravated his calf injury in yesterday's match against Kiefer and could not play any more ties at the tournament. So it seems the injury woes continue at the tournament, which is not entirely surprising, given it's the first event after the off-season. I did my usual ritual of checking out the practice court first and saw Gaston Gaudio there. It was my first sighting of him at the tournament...I assume he had only arrived the day before. His girlfriend was also there watching him practise. I stayed for a short time before making my way into Centre Court. Taylor Dent was thrashing Novak Djokovic, but, I have to say, I think Djokovic will be a good player in a few years time. He has a lot of potential and is very young, so it will be interesting to see how he develops. I first saw him play at the Thailand Open in 2004 and again at the 2005 Australian Open. He also has a great personality, and I think he will make tennis quite interesting over the next few years. For the third time in as many days, the tie was decided by a live mixed doubles. I was looking forward to seeing Ivanovic and Djokovic play and they appeared to gel pretty well, despite it being their first time playing together. Ivanovic in real life is really pretty and she plays extremely well too. Her ranking skyrocketed in 2005 and it looks set to continue that way in 2006...at times she even gave Taylor Dent a run for his money in the doubles! In the end though, it was the Americans who won, their combined experience clearly showing. The oncourt interviews were funny too, with Djokovic joking about his party antics at the New Year's Eve Ball, where he was standing on tables and singing on stage. He admitted he was pretty "dead" against Dent though...I knew how he felt, I was also fading due to lack of sleep and decided it was time to call it a day.

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