Wednesday 26 January – Raw
A part of me felt like the tournament was all over after Rafa’s devastating withdrawal last night. I felt a little raw this morning. I had said previously to xta, if I feel like this following Rafa, what must his Mum feel like watching his matches?! I’ve avoided the news, the internet, everything except Nadal News since the loss because I can’t bear to hear all the speculation about career-ending injuries. I should have remembered some ear plugs though, because guess what everyone was talking about on the way to Melbourne Park? By the end of the day I was close to dumping a hot cup of tea over the people in the queue behind me who were going on about it.
Anyway, I still had tickets for the Quarter Finals, and although I couldn’t face another Serena match, I wanted to see Venus v Li Na and was also hoping to catch Laura Robson’s singles match before the Federer v Davydenko QF and of course, the match of the day: Tsonga v Djokovic. The only two of my favourite players still left in the draw on either the Men’s or Women’s sides. Of course, they’d have to playing each other wouldn’t they?!
12pm Venus Williams v Li Na
I was a bit late arriving and missed the first set, but thoroughly enjoyed the second. I came in not knowing which way my loyalties were going to lie. I quite like Venus, but had never really seen Li Na play before. It didn’t take long before I was really getting into the match. She has spirit that girl, and doesn’t back down, I like her. It was a tight set, and went to tiebreak and Li Na managed to take the second set. The third set was a battle of wills – neither player able to hold their serves and trading something like 6 or 8 breaks in a row. Li Na plays some great angles and was able to keep wrong-footing Venus and eventually got the break to take the third set 7-5 and win the match. It was a great contest, and I really liked Li Na’s fighting spirit. I’ll make an effort to watch her matches in future, and she’s just won herself a place in my Top Ladies list. Good stuff.
I was hoping to catch Laura Robson’s girls singles match (scheduled 2nd on one of the outside courts) but unfortunately it had already concluded. Fortunately she’s through the Quarter Finals – you go girl! Britain may very well get another number 1 player eventually… may be on the women’s side rather than the men’s?!
So instead I went to see the last few games of the Legends Doubles 45 and Over match between Henri Le Conte (FRA) and Mats Wilander (SWE) v Peter McNamara (AUS) and Paul McNamee (AUS) on Margaret Court Arena. The place was barely a quarter full, and although the grounds were certainly a lot quieter in general, legends matches like these are more than worth the cost of a grounds pass. If you’re ever in a position to go and see these types of matches, I highly recommend it, because they’re lots of fun, and that’s exactly what I needed to cheer me up. Unfortunately I only saw the last two thirds of the final set, but cheered hard for Henri & Mat before they lost (there’s a shocker, I support people, they lose, Li Na being the only exception in the last few days)! But with Henri hamming it up at every opportunity, it was very entertaining and I got to wave my French flag a bit, which hasn’t had much use.
After that, I did something I hadn’t yet managed to do and had a stroll around the grounds. I know where to buy maps now – you have to buy an official program (which costs $16) and there’s a maps of the grounds inside. Or, go to one of the information desks and they have maps on the wall, which if you have a digital camera you can photograph and use to find your way around. Wish I’d discovered that on my first day, not my last! There was some wheelchair tennis matches going go, which I watched for a while with interest – extraordinary what they manage to do! And then I stopped for a while at one of the back courts and watched Jie Zheng working with a coach to put more spin on her backhands. Fascinating to watch. I don’t know if that was her regular coach – there was also a rather attractive young shirtless Chinese man (coach? partner?) watching – but he was really motivating her and it was interesting to listen. I stopped and watched for a while hoping to pick up a few tips, before heading off in search of some lunch and a browse through the Australian Open shop.
One of the advantages of buying a program and getting a map is that you can actually find where all the food concessions are, and I was finally able to find some curry as a change from fish/pies/burgers and chips (etc). It wasn’t too bad either, though a bit expensive. I sat for a while outside at some tables until people talking about Rafa’s injury drove me nuts and I had to get up and move. Still feeling a bit raw…
4:30pm Rod Laver Arena – Roger Federer v Nikolay Davydenko
Okay, here’s a tip… if you don’t support Roger Federer don’t go to watch his matches live. It’s safe if it’s against an Australian in Australia, or perhaps against Murray at Wimbledon, or Novak in Serbia (etc), but otherwise, you’ll be lucky to get out alive! Not being a Federer fan, I found myself in the rather uncomfortable position of being the only person supporting Davydenko probably in my entire section of the arena. The absolute insistence of Federer fans that their man is the greatest tennis player of all time, ever, end of story, no discussion, gets on my nerves. I love Rafa, he’s my favourite player ever, but I am happy to discuss his faults and what he can do to improve, and I’m sick of being told repeatedly that Roger is superior to everyone else in every way. Really? So why does he have a 7-13 losing record to Rafa? And a 4-6 losing record to Murray?! Aaaargh!!! Sorry, had to get that off my chest, now I am with colm again now.
So, surrounded by Federer fans I kept my mouth shut for a while, not wanting to rub it in / risk a lynching by vocally supporting Kolya when he trounced Federer in the first set. But eventually, when he was fading, I couldn’t help but start adding my voice to the handful of Kolya supporters scattered around the arena and got some very filthy looks from the people around me. Kolya supporters were not allowed to have the last shout on any point! Federer fans always had to have the last yell, despite vastly outnumbering the few of us. The two guys behind me obviously favoured The Fed, but were giving some credit to Davydenko too, and the three of us were getting seriously pissed off by a guy a few rows back from us, who, before every single Federer serve (and I mean every single serve, the entire match) yelled “C’mon Roger! Let’s Go! Serve an ace!” and at some point in the third set I couldn’t hack it any more and turned around and said “What the hell do you think he’s trying to do?” and the guys behind me started saying, “Yup, great idea, you go, Roger stays!” on a regular basis.
I know that not all Federer fans are like this, but so help me, I can’t face all the “Rafa’s career is over, Federer is the greatest thing to have ever walked the earth”, that we’re all going to have to put up with now. Please Davy, please save me from all that?! Please divert the talk and press attention away from Rafa and his knees…. maybe he heard me, because Davy started to put up a fight in the fourth set, and it looked like it might go to five, but in the end Roger took it 7-5 and that was that. Federer is through to his 26th (?) consecutive Grand Slam semi-final. Bugger. The match went on well into what should have been the night session and I dashed out before Federer’s interview to try and catch up with Mary who’d arrived earlier in the day, but I’d rather selfishly decided to continue watching the match (Davy needed all the support he could get ;) rather than duck out and meet her. We had a bit of a mix up but eventually managed to catch up for a few minutes before the night match started. Good to meet you Mary! Sorry your tournament started after the agonknees.
8:30pm Rod Laver Arena – Novak Djokovic v Jo Wilfried Tsonga
My final match at Melbourne Park was a rematch of the 2008 Final. Since then, when I was firmly supporting Tsonga, I’ve got to know Novak a little better, and he’s worked his way up in my affections, not only for his sparkling tennis, but also because I’ve grown to like him much more as a person with his growing maturity. So, basically, this was my No. 4 (Novak) against my No. 5 (Tsonga) and I wasn’t quite sure where my loyalties lay, as I like them both a lot, so I brought my French flag and my Serbian flag, which being the bigger, I wrote “Nole, Tsonga, could one of you please win?!” on.
The previous day, xta helped me figure out what it is I like so much about Tsonga, apart from his awesome smash – it’s his joy, his incredible capacity for and expressions of joy – he’s like a great big ray of sunshine – especially in that lovely bright yellow. Talking of tennis fashion, I couldn’t help but notice how smooth and sophisticated Nole looked in his slinky black outfit. Well done Adidas, coolest, sexiest outfit on a male tennis player since the fresh young days of Rafa’s pirate gear. Like it.
I was in the same seat as I was the night before. The people next to me were Tsonga supporters, the quiet Chinese guy on my left was apparently Mr. Neutral Mk. 2 (but as the match progressed seemed more interested in Novak) and the arena was split pretty much 50/50 with a big block of Novak supporters between me and the players box, and several large groups of Tsonga supporters spread around as well. Definitely the most electric (and balanced) atmosphere of any match I’ve been to, right from the start. Yells of “Allez Jo!” and “Let’s Go Nole”! rang through the crowd and the people behind me though it was hilarious as I waved first the French flag, then the Serbian, etc and yelled “Allez Jo, C’mon Nole”.
Unfortunately, there’s always a few people that have to spoil things, and a Tsonga supporter not far from me, who thought it was funny to whistle loudly just after Nole tossed and began his serve (he subsequently lost the point) was escorted out to the approval of most of us. Shortly after that, mid-point, someone in the crowd yelled out “Stop using the flash on your cameras” (or something about flashes anyway) and Nole subsequently lost that point as well. The umpire rather nicely suggested that he didn’t know why anyone would want to call out mid-point, but if they were thinking of doing it again, please don’t. Well put. The people next to me were as thoroughly sick of the “Let’s Go, So-and-So, Let’s Go!” chant as I was after six days of hearing the same thing, with which ever player’s name they were supporting substituted in the middle. Time for a bit of creativity people. The Serbians and French both stepped up to the mark with their own chants and songs and cries of “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaallez!” but I’m afraid the Aussies are a bit stuck in their ways sometimes. I might have to listen the semi-finals and finals on TV with the sound turned down, because I’ve heard it about as much as I can take.
Anyway, the first two sets of the match were absolutely fantastic, down to the wire, tiebreak sets, one a piece, with scintillating tennis, superb shot-making, ridiculous Rafa-like recoveries, instant classic, right up there with the AO semi-final 2009, possibly even the Wimbledon Final 2008 (don’t shoot me!, but not because Rafa wasn’t playing) but it really was ridiculous tennis. I can’t tell you how much it cheered me up that my last match was one like this, what a privilege to watch tennis played like this. I ducked out for some food and a cup of tea, because it was now around 11pm and I hadn’t eaten since 2pm, and by the time I came back with a cup of tea and a burger in hand, Novak was up 4-1 and took the third set with surprising ease, and I was waving the Serbian flag again. Then something seemed to go wrong with Novak and he started to struggle. I can’t remember exactly what point in the match he walked off the court, but the fact that he simply left the court followed by a trainer, rather than sitting at his bench for an assessment first had me worried. Not a repeat of last night, please, I thought. I really can’t handle two of my favourite players retiring on consecutive nights. When he came back he looked like he wasn’t going to make it, and Tsonga took the fourth set with relative ease.
At this point I retired my French flag, much as I love Jo, and began to really get behind Nole. In the end, I was really quite disappointed that he lost, particularly with a question mark hanging over the stomach problems. Indigestion? Injury? I hope not the latter. The agonknees are quite enough to cope with.
So, at the end of my Australian Open experience, Novak withstood the test of loyalty, and remains at No. 4 on my Top Men’s list while Tsonga stays at No. 5. After due consideration, at least until he gets his shit together ;-) the inconsistent FeVer, despite the hotness, incredible shot-making, and awesome running forehands, has been nudged out of my No. 2 spot by my former No. 3, the crowd-pleasing Feña Gonzalez of the fearsome forehands, fiery tantrums and charming smiles. What this means is that I will now be more likely to get up at 4am to watch a Gonzalez match than a Verdasco match. I don’t need to tell you who remains my No. 1 do I? It goes without saying, no?
There’ll be some hard-to-swallow changes in the ATP rankings next week (particularly for me, because if Rafa can’t be No. 1 I’d like to see Federer replaced by Nole, and that won’t happen now). But que sera, sera. I hope and pray that Rafa’s knees are okay, pleased that he has learned not to keep playing through the pain no matter what, and hope that the next time I watch one his matches (and because I had so much fun this year, I’m sure there’ll be a next time!) I’ll get to see him win again. Until then, fuerte Rafa, and fuerte Rafa fans.
Thursday 28 January – It’s a Wrap
6pm, Cairns, on my sofa
I landed back in Cairns this afternoon, and turning my phone on as I entered the airport, there was a message from the coach of the ladies tennis group I started going to, to say that sessions resume after the school holidays on Monday. Excellent! Can’t wait to try out those tips on backhand spin, although it’s help with getting my serve in that I really need! One day I will win a set, but not until I stop double faulting worse than Hot Sauce. I still have a roof on my house, although we are still early in the cyclone season and the region is suffering from heavy flooding after all that rain. And I’m delighted to see that Maria, my little sunbird, is still sitting on her egg(s), and the nest, while slightly disheveled, is still hanging exactly where it was when I left. Fingers crossed there’ll be a tiny little baby sunbird to look forward to in a week or so.
Some final thoughts on my Australian Open experience.
I’m physically exhausted after several late nights of tennis and emotionally exhausted after the last few evening matches, but I had a blast, and despite still hating crowds, I would absolutely go again. And I would highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t been to a tournament before and watched live tennis of that calibre, to give it a go. But don’t just go for Rafa. He was definitely the main reason I decided to go this year, but not the only reason. Go because you love tennis. Watch some Legends Doubles or exhibition matches if you get the chance, they’re good fun. Do not pass up an opportunity to watch Henri Le Conte – or Fernando Gonzalez! Get behind your favourite players, cheer them on, make them feel appreciated, buoy them up through difficult moments but remember where the lines are. Don’t cross them. Shut up before play starts. Take a cushion – those seats are hard when you’re sitting on them all day (as I discovered on the last day after losing mine the day before).
I’ve heard that the Australian Open is the easiest Grand Slam to get tickets for, and also the cheapest. I bought my tickets as soon as they came on sale, but xta was able to upgrade her ground passes to most of the sessions she wanted, once the schedules were released for the next day. She even managed to get a ticket to the Rafa match I missed (because it was sold out) simply by waiting at the ticket office for someone to return a ticket (tickets can only be returned / refunded if a session is sold out, so sometimes returns happen at the last minute and if you’re patient you might luck out). However Middle Saturday / Sunday day tickets for Rod Laver Arena can be hard to come by, and night sessions on Rod Laver from Middle Weekend through to the Finals are usually sold out. There is a fantastic atmosphere on HiSense and some great matches there before the QFs (but probably not Rafa or Roger’s). If you come to the Australian Open, remember that it is illegal to buy up tickets and then sell them on. This is called touting (or scalping, if sold at a higher price), and although it is apparently common in the US there are very stiff penalties for it in Australia. Don’t risk it.
Take plenty to drink and some snacks to eat because lines can be long at the food concessions and it’s possible to miss half a set while waiting for your snack / coffee. A phone with internet access is also very handy so you can keep an eye on live scores for other matches and what’s going on around the grounds. I’m very glad I upgraded mine the week before the tournament. Make sure you charge your batteries and don’t leave the charger at home ;-)! Try and schedule some time off from the tennis, if it’s your first/only visit to Melbourne (or where ever)! Your bag will probably be checked on entry so make sure you’ve read the regulations on what you can / can’t take into the tournament. In Australia, fans like to dress up and do stuff to get themselves photographed or on TV (I ended up on TV a couple of times and wasn’t even trying!) so why not have fun and join in? The players (or those that like to interact with the crowd anyway) appreciate it, and national flags are a great way to show support if you don’t want to do anything too crazy.
But above all – enjoy! In between the moments when you’re chewing your fingernails and can’t bear to watch the next point, it’s a lot of fun being a tennis fan surrounded by thousands of other tennis fans instead of watching at home on your sofa!
Highlights of my AO experience: meeting other fans (esp. Atch, Mary and most of all xta), the joy I got out of seeing Rafa play live for the first time, and then him blogging about how much he appreciated the support of his fans at that match (with me knowing that he’d actually seen me, and that I was the first person to start yelling for him!), Henri Le Conte’s hilarious antics in doubles – not to be missed – and getting to see some of the Legends in action, like Pat Rafter, Mats Wilander and Todd Martin, FeVer’s shirt change (even if I could only see it on the big screen), watching Carla Suarez Navarro run Serena all over the court and reduce her to screams of frustration, adding Li Na to my list of favourite players, Venus’s apparent lack of knickers(!), and of course, the crazy Chilean fans and the smiles from Feña Gonzalez. I won’t be forgetting those in a while!
Lowlights: retirements and injuries and question marks (Nalbandian, Novak, and of course, Rafa), the inappropriate behaviour of some fans (talking and calling out during play), and not getting to see Ferru, Tommy, Juanqui, Moya, Nalby, Monaco, Monfils, Gasquet, Chardy, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, Kim Clijsters, Laura Robson, Melanie Oudin, and Elena Dementieva. Next time I won’t take any chances and will try and be there for the earlier rounds and hope they’re not all scheduled to play at the same times!
Summary: worth every penny of the month’s salary it cost me, can’t wait to go again, and I’m really looking forward to the new international-standard tennis centre they’re building here in Cairns capable of hosting Davis and Fed Cup ties… I’ll be there!
Thanks for reading, and for all your comments… that’s all folks! Over and out!