HOPMAN CUP XXI
|Sunday 4 January 2009:
With a great sense of deja vu, I headed to the Burswood Dome for Hopman Cup XXI...my 14th year in a row! The tournament started yesterday, but I am only going to Russia's ties this year, so today was my first day. I arrived at the Dome at 10.30am, which was quite tough for me on a Sunday morning, but I made it nonetheless...braving the heat in the process. When I first got in, I went to check out the practice court in case there was anyone interesting practising! I was rather disappointed to find that I had missed Marat Safin by half an hour (who would have thought he would be up so early, especially as he only arrived in Perth last night!), and it was now Simone Bolelli practising. So I decided to head to my seat and watch the women's match between Dinara Safina and Flavia Pennetta.
Marat's agent/friend, Amit, has been a family friend of ours for many years, and he put us in contact with Dinara's coach, Zeljko Krajan, (who also appears to be looking after Marat here this week, as there was no sign of Marat's coach, Hernan Gumy), and he kindly gave us some tickets in the front row, so we definitely had a great view! Dinara got off to a slow start, and found herself a break down in both sets, but was still able to live up to her world ranking of #3 and beat Penetta (who played quite well) in straights. After the match, Flavia's coach, Gabriel, came and said hi - he used to coach Alberto Martin a few years ago, and we had met him back then, and he recognised us, so it was nice to see him again.
Now it was time for the boys. As I mentioned before, Marat, being Marat, did not arrive in Perth until late last night - not ideal preparation, given the long flight and 50 degree temperature change between wintery Moscow and boiling Perth. I was just hoping he would make it out on court and did not have huge expectcations of how he would play. He did make it out on court, albeit with a black eye (!), and I am pleased to say he put in a great performance and even won a tiebreak! I had not seen Simone Bolelli play live before, but people say he could be a future top 10 player. It will be interesting to see how his career goes. I am very pleased that Marat decided to continue playing in 2009 and especially come to Hopman Cup, after saying he was considering retirement at the end of 2008! He is still such a great character and crowd pleaser. In his oncourt interview after the match, he was asked about his black eye - he didn't seem to want to go into too much detail, just muttering something about getting into a bit of trouble in Moscow, or something? In any case, it would take a lot more than a black eye to ruin his good looks!
In the break, I went for a walk with my friend and we checked out the practice court again. This time, it was Casey Dellacqua. Being a Perth girl, there were quite a lot of people watching her. It is great that she has been invited this time, and I have often wondered why she hasn't been invited before, since she is a local. But now she even has a good ranking to back it up, so hopefully she can put in a good performance in her home town!
We then walked over to the hotel (which is just next door) to see if anything else was happening, but there wasn't, so we returned to the Dome in time for the mixed doubles. In my 8 years of supporting Marat, I have never seen him play with Dinara, so it was a world first today when the 2 siblings stepped on court together! I was expecting them to get a bit fiery, knowing their temperaments, but they both managed to keep their cool and not play too badly at all. The match was pretty close, with some great rallies, and in the end, it was decided with a third set match tiebreak, which the Italians won. However, Russia had already sealed the tie with their 2 singles wins - a great start for them. The other 3 times Marat has come, Russia have not been very successful at all, so maybe now the sibling power will prevail and they can live up to their #2 seeding and win some diamond balls! Time will tell.
Wednesday 7 January 2009:
After 2 days away from the event, it was back to the Dome on Wednesday night to see the tie between Russia and Chinese Taipei. We got in to find that Dinara Safina had lost the first set to Su-Wei Hsieh, smashing a racquet in the process. Obviously not a great start for the Russians. Dinara, however, fought back in the second to take the match to a decider, which again saw her demonstrate the trademark fiery temper synonymous with the Safin family. Hsieh was a break up in the 3rd and looked like she was going to claim a huge scalp in the world #3, but Safina managed to calm herself, regain her break, and then break Hsieh in turn to claim the match and keep Russia's finals hopes on track. Full credit must go to Hsieh though - she played superbly.
During the night session, no one else really practises after about 7pm, so there was nothing interesting to report from the practice court. I instead waited with anticipation as to how Marat Safin would play tonight. I was not sure whether the 2 days off would have made him more alert or more sluggish, but was hoping for the former, as Yen-Hsun Lu is a tough customer.
As it turned out, both players came out firing, and there was not much in it during the first set, which Marat eventually won in a tiebreak after squandering an earlier break. I had expected Lu to give Marat a hard time, as the man from Chinese Taipei is a very tricky player on hard courts. Lu appeared a little flat in the early part of the second set, but then revived himself and actually managed to break Marat after the Russian double faulted, so it looked like it was going to go to a third. However, Marat managed to recover and eventually win 7-5 in the second.
After seeing Marat play here 3 times before, during which he had played some fairly ordinary matches, I am really pleased to see how well he is playing this time around. He looks keen, fit and sharp - like he really wants to win. Perhaps there is less pressure on him this year, as he has said it will likely be his last on tour. Or perhaps playing with his little sister Dinara has helped the cause - he said in one of this interviews that she had "inspired him". Whatever the reason, I'm glad he's playing well, and hope he can continue with this form at the Australian Open.
It was going to be a dead rubber in the mixed, and it was already around 10.30pm, so we were in for a late night. But I wanted to stay until the end because it's not every day you get to see professional tennis in a city like Perth. The Chinese Taipei team were all smiles, and were very popular with the crowd - fully understandable, as they have provided some excellent entertainment despite not having won a tie. The communication between Marat and Dinara left a lot to be desired though! I had noticed it on Sunday, putting it down to Marat's fatigue, but it was the same case tonight. They don't seem to gel as well as I thought they would, just saying the bare minimum to each other! Maybe it's a sibling rivalry thing? I wouldn't know. Like Sunday, however, the doubles was again decided in a 3rd set match tiebreak, and it was Chinese Taipei who deservedly took the honours with the winning shot by Hsieh, who had had brilliant touch at the net all night. I am glad they were able to win a rubber, as they had both played excellently all night and had not disgraced themselves at all.