|So later that night, we ventured back to Burswood to celebrate the new year and, soon after midnight, managed to catch some glimpses of some of the players as they came back from the ball. We saw the entire Argentinian camp, Jelena Jankovic, who was wearing a long flowing blue dress, Martina Navratilova, who is here doing commentary and also exhibiting some of her art collection, as well as some other commentators and tv personalities. As we were about to leave, we also saw Novak Djokovic with his entire family. He was looking very demure in a grey suit and glasses! We didn't see any of the Australian or Indian teams, who had presumably had an early night, nor did we see Serena Williams, who is the other main star attraction this year. In any case, it's funny to see the players all dressed up, particularly the guys in suits, as we're so used to seeing them in sweaty sports clothes. But they'll be back in their sweaty sports clothes from tomorrow because the action continues and a whole year of tennis lies ahead of them.
Wednesday 2 January 2008:
After a day away from the tennis, we headed back to Burswood this morning for the tie between France and Serbia. Before heading in, we saw Gisela Dulko and her entourage on their way to a practice, and Alicia Molik was already on the practice court. Today's tie was tipped to be a close encounter, but things looked to be heading towards disaster when Jelena Jankovic retired from her match against Tatiana Golovin after just 1 game. She had strained a muscle in her upper right thigh and no one knew whether she would be able to play the mixed or not. In any case, the men came out and Novak Djokovic made light work of Arnaud Clement. It was not the most interesting of matches. In fact, the most interesting thing about the match was Novak's oncourt interview after the match. This is what he had to say about playing mixed doubles: "It's always a good experience to play with a female. You can kiss in the end; you can kiss at the start. While you're serving, she's bending for the volley. I think it's a good thing for all guys to see a little bit here in the stands." Hmmm cheeky. At this time, an announcement was also made that Jankovic had had some scans and would be ok to play the mixed, which is lucky because it was going to be live. We spoke with Marian Vajda, Djokovic's coach, who is a really nice guy and he seemed pretty relaxed. I also popped over to the practice court and saw a bit of Peter Luczak's training session. When the teams came out on court, Jelena had heavy strapping on her thigh, but she was able to serve and hit pretty well. Novak helped her as best he could and I have to say it was a very entertaining doubles match. There was a lot to play for and it ended up going to a match tie break, which Serbia won. It was definitely a popular victory, especially in light of Jankovic's injury, and due to the large Serbian population here in Perth, who were very excited waving what is possibly the largest Serbian flag I've ever seen in my life. So hopefully Jelena will be ok for tomorrow night when she has to play Gisela Dulko. If Serbia beat Argentina, they will be through to the final, which would be great. Back at the hotel, we the only player we saw was Arnaud Clement, who seemed pretty preoccupied sending sms! Another thing I haven't mentioned yet is the fact that the court surface has changed this year, just like all the other Australian events. Instead of the usual rebound ace, it is now plexicushion, which is faster and not as sticky. There have been mixed opinions from the players here, but those who have played here or in Adelaide will certainly have an advantage in that they will have had extra time to adapt to the new surface before the Australian Open, unlike those players playing in Chennai or Doha this week. I'll be back at the tennis tomorrow night for the double header with Serbia v Argentina and France v Chinese Taipei.
Thursday 3 January 2008:
I didn't go to the day session, but after USA beat Australia, they advanced to the final, and tonight's double header would decide who their opponent would be. Serbia was taking on Argentina on the main court, while France was taking on Chinese Taipei on court 1. If Serbia won, they would qualify for the final, but if they lost, the winner of the France-chinese Taipei tie would make it instead. So everyone except Argentina had something to play for, and I guess even Argentina was playing for pride and prize money. We got to the Dome at 6pm to see the women's match between Jelena Jankovic and Gisela Dulko. Everyone was keen to see how Jankovic had pulled up after yesterday and, in the early stages, she appeared to be moving ok. She was nowhere near at her best, but it was enough to keep Dulko at bay. First set went to a tiebreak, and it was very close, before Jankovic finally took it 12-10. By now, however, her movement was severely hampered and she was visibly in pain. After two games of the second set, she forfeited the match, giving the rubber to Dulko by default. No one knew whether she would be able to play the mixed or not, but in any case, Novak Djokovic came out on court to play Juan Ignacio Chela and keep his country's finals hopes alive. He dismissed Chela in a clinical display, much to the delight of the vocal Serbian fans. I wouldn't have minded going to see the other match between Arnaud Clement and Yen-Hsu Lu on court 1, but it was pretty hot and humid and I was tired and lazy so I ended up staying put where I was. Everyone was relieved to see Jankovic back on court for the doubles, however I don't know how sensible it is for her to keep playing like this. It's great that she wants to represent her country, but this event is an exhibition after all, and she is jeopardising her chances at the Australian Open for this. Anyway, Djokovic did most of the work for her in the doubles, and the Serbs were finally able to win a very tight, entertaining match against the Argentines, which went to a match tiebreak. So the Serbs were through to the final, though how fit Jelena would be, no one knew.
After the match, we went back to the hotel to try and see Novak and his coach. Novak's agent is a family friend so he had put us in contact with Marian Vajda, Novak's coach, to get some tickets for my parents to see the matches. So we just wanted to see him to say thanks and I also wanted to try and take a photo with Novak. It was pretty late, close to midnight, and quite hot, but after about half an hour they eventually came. I hate asking players for photos because I feel like an idiot, especially when they are tired, but it's not every day you have the chance to take a photo with the number 3 player in the world so I had to seize the opportunity. Actually one of his younger brothers took it, which was nice, because after asking for it, I had a moment of panic as to who would take it!! And thanks to Nole for agreeing to take it despite his tiredness! I also spoke with Marian again, thanked him for the tickets and he was so nice and friendly again. Really nice guy. So it had been a positive night.
Friday 4 January 2008:
The final is not until this evening, but I have just read that Jelena Jankovic will be forfeiting her singles match against Serena Williams to save her energy for the mixed doubles. It is a gamble by the Serbs, but probably quite sensible, as Djokovic is the favourite against Mardy Fish, and is able to help Jelena a lot in the doubles. Let's see if it pays off. There will be a pro-set exhibition with Martina Navratilova and Paul McNamee after the prize ceremony instead.
So we went to the Dome for the last time around 6pm to see the men's singles between Novak and Mardy. It was a close encounter and Novak appeared to flag towards the end, but was able to win it in a third set tie break, meaning this year's championship would be decided by a live mixed doubles. The Serbs fought hard in the first set but were unable to win the tiebreak, and after that they seemed to run out of gas, and the US romped away with the victory to win their 5th Hopman Cup. All players made nice speeches at the ceremony, as did Lucy Hopman and Martina Navratilova. Jelena Jankovic joked that she was jealous of the US team because they got the diamond balls - "Why does Serena always get all the bling bling?!"- and Serena also made the crowd laugh saying how she had been desperate to play against Novak and had found it so cool. Due to the fact that it was already midnight, although only two matches had been played, the pro-set did not eventuate, although the crowd had shown a lot of interest in it...maybe next time. All in all, it had been a nice tournament, and credit must be given to the Serbs for their commitment and determination to overcome injury and make it all the way to the final. I hope to see them back in Perth next time when the tournament celebrates its 21st birthday! I am off to Melbourne in a few days time and will post my report and photos from the Australian Open on my return. Until then, enjoy the Australian summer of tennis!