HOPMAN CUP XX
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|Friday 28 December 2007:
Yes folks, it's that time again. I cannot believe the tennis season is starting again. It feels like just yesterday I was writing my reports from the last Australian season. But here I am again, and the tournament has already been hit by 2 blows in the lead-up. First, it was the news that Gael Monfils, who was due to represent France, would be unable to play due to an injury (I have to say that this was no surprise to me), and would be replaced by Arnaud Clement, which I think is great because I like Arnaud. And the second bit of news was that Serena Williams would be unable to make her first match due to illness and would be replaced by Meghann Shaughnessy for 1 session, who was happy to fill in on her way to the Gold Coast. Everyone is now hoping Serena will be able to make her other matches - but I won't hold my breath. So anyway, I headed down to the Dome today to pick up my media pass, and it was pretty dead, only saw Mardy Fish walking back to the hotel after a practice session and that was it. But the action starts tomorrow, so let's see how it all pans out. After the 45 degrees celsius day we had 2 days ago, I really hope it won't be as hot next week, because otherwise the Dome will be a furnace! Fingers crossed..
Saturday 29 December 2007:
Day one of Hopman Cup XX, and the opening tie was between USA and India. With Serena Williams still recovering from stomach flu, it was Meghann Shaughnessy who took to the court against Sania Mirza, and made a very successful substitute by winning the match. Mardy Fish continued the US surge, beating Rohann Bopanna and sealing the tie for his country, although India won the mixed doubles, extending their unblemished record here to 4-0. I went to the evening session between Australia and the Czech Republic. The stadium was packed to see the home team, and Alicia Molik did not disappoint by beating Lucie Safarova in straight sets. Peter Luczak was making his debut for Australia at the Hopman Cup and it was great to see him patriotically wearing his green and gold wristbands. When Tomas Berdych went up 5-2 in the first, I thought it was going to be a closed case, but Luczak surprised me, and a lot of others, by fighting back to take it to a tiebreak. He played beautifully and only narrowly missed out on winning the set. The second set was a bit more one-sided in favour of the Czech, but Luczak still played well and should be very proud of his performance. In the live mixed doubles, the Aussies score an upset over the Czechs, who have not demonstrated the best doubles record together at the Hopman Cup...just because they're partners off the court, doesn't mean they team up well on the court! In any case, it was great to see Australia win their opening tie and it would be great to see them reach the final here after so many unlucky attempts.
Sunday 30 December 2007:
The morning session, which I didn't attend, saw the first of the Group A ties: Serbia v Chinese Taipei. Serbia are the top seeds this year and Chinese Taipei are the "qualifiers" after winning the Asian Hopman Cup in November. It appeared to be a very unbalanced match up, but both Su-Wei Hsieh and Yen-Hsun Lu both put up great fights against Jelena Jankovic and Novak Djokovic respectively. Particularly in the men's Lu really had Djokovic under pressure, and Novak also appeared to have some back problems, which saw him take an injury time out and lose the second set. I just want to take this opportunity to say how impressed I was with the Chinese Taipei team. I always knew Lu was a dangerous player but had never seen him play live, and I have to say I really like his style. It's also always great to see Novak on court, he's such a character and loves to get the crowd going. I know a lot of people find him annoying and over-the-top, but I personally think he is good for the sport, and have always found to be nice and friendly. It's been amazing watching his progression since I first saw him in 2004 and will be equally interesting to see how he goes in 2008 and beyond. So, with Serbia winning both their singles and sealing the tie, it's now only Argentina and France who are yet to take to the court at Hopman Cup XX, and I will be going to see them face off against each other tonight...
...So I went to the night session to see Argentina and France make their first appearance at Hopman Cup XX. The women's was a pretty routine affair with Tatiana Golovin beating Gisela Dulko in straight sets. Although it looked like Dulko had some hip problems because she called the trainer twice and appeared to be in some pain. Then it was time for the men between Arnaud Clement and Juan Ignacio Chela. Clement had only been here once before 6 years ago, and Chela was making his debut. I realised I had never seen a full live match of Chela's in all the time I have followed tennis (which is a long time!) so was keen to see how this match went. Although Arnaud didn't play badly, Chela was able to level the tie at 1-1 with a pretty convincing win 6-3 6-1. Although Golovin and Clement had never played together before, they teamed up really well and were able to win the match and secure the tie for France. After the match, Dulko was asked how she was and she said she felt some pain in her singles match and would be getting treatment and would hopefully be able to play her next matches. I saw her in the hotel after and she was limping a bit so hopefully she will be ok because it would be a shame for Argentina otherwise, since I don't think they have much choice when it comes to female substitutes.
In other news, Serena Williams proved me wrong and arrived in Perth today, ready to play her match tomorrow. Full credit to her for keeping her word and flying all this way to fulfil her commitment. I'm sure everyone will be looking forward to seeing her back in action after a five year absence.
Monday 31 December 2007:
The last day of the year, but the first day at Hopman Cup XX for Serena Williams. I didn't go to this tie but watched it on tv and have to say Serena looked pretty fit and toned, despite having just recovered from the stomach flu. It was an intriguing match against Lucie Safarova, with lots of momentum shifts, but Serena was able to display her fighting qualities and come back from a break down in the third to win the match. This was followed by the mixed doubles instead of the men's singles because Tomas Berdych was feeling ill, so the tournament had changed its format to give him some more time. However, after the USA went up 6-0, the Czechs retired, and Berdych apologised to the crowd for not being able to play. He was still kind enough to sign some autographs though, which was nice. So it was disappointing for the crowd, who were not able to see much tennis, but at the start of the year, and when players come to the heat of Australia after the cold of Europe, they often get sick. Knowing how prone the Hopman Cup is to having player retirements and withdrawals, I think they should bring back the substitute team they used to have when they had the qualification format. At least there could have been an exhibition match today for the crowd then. I personally think it is too risky to have no substitute team, especially at a tournament like this. Anyway, tonight is New Years, and we will be heading back to the Burswood Entertainment Complex tonight so let's see if we can spot any tennis players!! I'm sure the Australians and Indians won't be getting too drunk tonight as they have to be on court at 10.30am tomorrow. In any case, wherever you are around the world, have a happy new year and I will report back next year :)