|Olivier was clearly gutted. He sat in his chair for ages afterwards staring into space before leaving the court. I felt so sorry for him. I think losing in the third round of qualies is even more heart-breaking than losing in the first round. A lot of people don't realise how hard it is for players of this level. It is not glamourous, it is a living, and to come so close to qualifying for a Grand Slam and then narrowly missing out is really devastating. Thank God we had taken the photo with him yesterday because there is no way I would have asked him today. We were pretty flat after that and mooched around for a while. We saw a bit of David Ferrer practising with Albert Montanes (who is also a sweet guy). I talked to Albert's coach, Marcos, after the practice. Marcos is actually the coach of Alberto Martin and was just working with Montanes for this week. I met him in 2003 when he was coaching Albert Portas, and he is always happy to talk. After that, I went into the players' lounge for a while. It's pretty hard to report exactly whom I saw because basically everyone was in there. You are not really allowed to take photos in the player lounge, but if I had been able to, there would have been some great candid shots! It was so busy in there, since it was prime lunchtime, so I just plonked myself down at the first free table I saw. I talked to Prakash Amritraj for a while, who is a very nice, polite guy...I had met him before at the Thailand Open in 2004. On my way out, I also saw Alex Corretja, who was here doing commentary for TVE (Spanish television/radio station). He was gentlemanly as ever. I then headed out for a while and saw the end of Juan Monaco's practice with Juan Ignacio Chela. Gilles Muller and his coach were waiting to go on for their practice and so I took a photo with Gilles. However, my wonderful camera decided not to work at that critical time and, alas, my photo did not come out. I didn't want to bother them by asking for another so that was the end of that. I stayed for a while to watch his practice before deciding to head back to the hotel.
That night, we did our usual jaunt to the Crown. I saw Robby Ginepri and Andy Roddick (at separate times) walking through the arcade, as well as Flavia Pennetta and Carlos Moya in the hotel lobby. Later in the casino we spotted Ginepri again, as well as Xavier Malisse (surprise surprise), Kim Clijsters, Gaston Gaudio, Mariano Zabaleta and Juan Monaco.
Sunday 15 January:
The Sunday before the tournament starts is usually the day when I go out and do other things in Melbourne, however, this year I decided to go to Melbourne Park and make full use of my accreditation. The public are not allowed in today, only accredited people, so I thought it would be a good chance to see some practice sessions without battling the crowds. We took the courtesy bus from the player hotel (which was a perk of the accreditation even though we weren't staying at the player hotel) and Thierry Ascione was sitting a few rows in front. When we got there, I just wandered around the practice courts. I had always thought the qualifying days were pretty quiet, despite the public being allowed in for free. But today, when no public were admitted, it was even weirder! I saw Nico Almagro practise with Luis Horna and spoke to him and Antonio after the practice. We then went into the players lounge for some lunch but it was so busy that we couldn't find a table, so we decided to come back after a little while. When we did return, it had emptied a little, though there was still a lot of people around. Juan Carlos said hi, as did Olivier and I also spoke briefly to Mariano Monachesi (Tommy Robredo's coach), who is also a nice guy. On my way out, I bumped into Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who is SO friendly. She didn't know me from a bar of soap, but it didn't seem to matter! I told her I had seen her win the Hopman Cup with Robredo in 2002 and she said she was now commentating like Alex Corretja. It was good to see her in Australia again because she has such a great, bubbly personality. After that, we decided to catch the bus back to the player hotel. We thought we'd just stop there for a few minutes before heading back to our own hotel, to see if there was anything happening...and who do I see as soon as I step in? Olivier with some other French players, including Arnaud Clement! So that was a nice way to end the day!
That evening was the IMG player party at one of the exclusive poolside bars at Crown, so there weren't that many players about. I only saw Xavier Malisse and Kristof Vliegen (who I think must have taken up permanent residency in the casino by now), as well as Adrian Garcia, Jean-Rene Lisnard and Stanislas Wawrinka.
Monday 16 January:
Day 1...always a buzz around the city and always a lot of hype. I got to the tennis centre an hour before the matches started, as I had to help Nico Almagro's coach, Antonio, book his flights to Chile. As soon as I walked into the player lounge, I bumped smack bang into Olivier, who I thought would have left by now, but I wasn't complaining! He actually came up to my table to chat a little while after and I had to try very hard not to be mesmerised! He said he was waiting in case he could get in as a lucky loser, which I hoped and prayed would happen! So my day had already been made thanks to that little conversation and I floated out to see David Ferrer play against Florent Serra. That was always going to be one of the best first round matches. It was a shame because I liked both players, but in this case, I had to go for David, though I didn't cheer too loudly, since we had a whole pile of French players sitting behind us, including a certain someone! It was really hot so I almost welcomed it when Antonio called me to help him further with the travel arrangements. When I got back to the match from doing that, Ferrer was about to win. It was a good victory for him, though sad for Florent, who had done so well a few weeks earlier by winning the Adelaide tournament. I then had lunch in the lounge before heading out again to see some more French guys in action. Gilles Simon was playing Nicolas Massu, Julien Benneteau was playing Marcos Daniel and Jean-Christophe Faurel was playing Alexander Waske. All these matches were taking place on neighbouring courts so we circulated between them. My friend and I must have bumped into Olivier and Marc Gicquel about 10 times, and the worst part was that it was purely accidental (really, it was!). We didn't want him to think we were following him so we moved onto some other courts. My friend then had to go to work but I stayed longer to watch Gilles Muller's match against Ricardo Mello. It didn't start until about 6.30pm and it was starting to get cold. He lost the first set but won the second and that's when I decided to leave. I felt bad doing so but it had been a long, tiring day and it was pretty late.
I didn't stay out very long at night either, but in the casino I did see the Rochus brothers with Kristof Vliegen, as well as the Argentine contingent of Gaston Gaudio, Juan Ignacio Chela, Mariano Zabaleta and Juan Monaco.
Tuesday 17 January:
When I got to the players lounge, I saw Mariano Monachesi there and I knew it was his birthday so I wished him and he was very happy! I then decided to head to Vodafone Arena to see a bit of Tommy Haas against Richard Gasquet. That was another tough first round encounter and Haas ended up winning. Back in the lounge, we met Jeff Coetzee, whom I had met several times before at other tournaments and who is a really nice guy. We chatted with him for a while and then headed back out to see Nico Almagro's match against Igor Andreev. It was going to be tough for Nico, since it was his first match in a very long time after suffering a knee injury and Igor was coming off a finals appearance in Sydney the week before. Nico did not play badly at all, but unfortunately lost in straight sets. We then circulated for a while, saw a bit of Paul-Henri Mathieu against Arnaud Clement, as well as a bit of Richard Gasquet's practice (the poor guy was already back out on the practice courts following his defeat earlier on in the day!). I then had to go back into the lounge to help Antonio with his flights again before watching a bit of Fernando Verdasco's match against Kenneth Carlsen. It was already early evening and I was going to be staying on to watch Ferrero's twilight match on Margaret Court Arena later on, so I had dinner in the players' lounge. Andy Murray was also there and looked like he was about to cry...he had lost to Juan Ignacio Chela earlier on, which was a tough first round for him. His Mum was very nice though and we talked to her briefly. During this time, Lleyton Hewitt was also losing to Robin Vik on Rod Laver Arena! The match was being shown on a tv in the players' lounge and EVERYONE was there glued to the tv. As the match got tighter and tighter, players and coaches seemed to come from nowhere to watch it!