2009 Australian Open
Check back daily throughout the Australian Open as our resident blogger, James LaRosa, offers up his humorous and poignant take on the day's action.
Catch up on James' past grand slam blogs as well as his weekly column, LaRosa's Sweet Spot (new columns every Wednesday) | LaRosa's Sweet Spot
Day 15 - Feb 1 - 1:07 PM PST
Better close the roof, it's time for the Dunlop Awards! No campaigning necessary, kids. You've earned these. Best Match (ATP):
Rafael Nadal/Fernando Verdasco. Over 5 hours of irresistible force battering immovable object. By finding yet another gear, Rafa fought his way into his first hard court Slam final. Even if they had to carry him there on a stretcher... Best Match (WTA):
Jelena Dokic/Alisa Kleybanova. 3 hours of big time hitting and big time guts. Like in the Verdasco/Nadal match, no one cracked. They just outright collapsed. The old cliché is that it's a pity someone had to lose, but in this case, it was. Worst Match (ATP):
What do you get when you mix friendship, hateful shot selection, nerves and self-inflicted injury? Gael Monfils/Gilles Simon. Worst Match (WTA):
Luckily I have a rule about giving first rounders a break or else Daniela Hantuchova and Casey Dellacqua would be crying more than I was watching their encounter. Actually, I'm breaking that rule. That's right babies, cry. Breakthrough Performance (Male):
Fernando Verdasco may not be new to the scene, but he might as well have been. A whole other guy stepped out onto that court in Melbourne, thanks in equal parts to clinching the Davis Cup, rubbing Agassi's belly in Vegas and voodoo. Hope does more than elect presidents... Breakthrough Performance (Female):
Welcome back, Jelena Dokic. Breakdown Performance (Female):
Jelena Jankovic. No #1 should be so dominated. Breakdown Performance (Male):
David Nalbandian. A no brainer. Get it? Best Dressed (Male):
Rafael Nadal. Daring! Just like the man wearing it. Best Dressed (Female):
Nadia Petrova. Hot Dog in a Stick never tasted so good. Worst Dressed:
Ana Ivanovic. You should've worn it with a mullet, because you needed a lot more business in the front and a lot more party in the back. Biggest Choke (ATP):
Tomas Berdych, who was thisclose to bouncing Federer, only to lose a tiebreak and lose his mind. Biggest Choke (WTA):
Alize Cornet, who was up 5-2 in the third on Dinara Safina in the fourth round and, in Safina's words, was maybe "just not ready to win this match." Jelena Jankovic Cockroach Award:
What does it take to beat Jelena Dokic? How about having to rally in nearly every match you play, having your opponent serve for it in the quarters and only making it there in the first place when the chick kicking your butt in the prior round nearly passes out on court? Oh, and you win the tournament. Add another medal to the pile, Serena Williams.
Most Cringe-worthy Moment:
Watching Victoria Azarenka stumble around the court on the verge of collapse. Dominik Hrbaty "Can I Sit With You?" Award:
Nadal, embracing a tear-soaked Federer during the trophy presentation. The Rafael Nadal Wedgie Pick Award:
Alisa Kleybanova, who accompanied her brilliant play with wringing bucketfuls of sweat from her bun. Delish! Best Quote:
"There's that old saying that service yips are like Herpes. You can't ever really get rid of it. You can manage it, you can control it, but it always tends to come back at the worst possible time. I don't speak from experience." - Chris Fowler after the Serena/Dementieva match. The Shut Yo Mouth Award:
To those saying American tennis is in trouble. The U.S. almost went four for four, nailing women's singles (Serena), women's doubles (Venus and Serena) and men's doubles (all hail the Bryan Brothers!), and made the final four in men's singles (better luck next time, Andy). Sure there's no one else playing for the U.S. right now, so let's just call that a good player-to-win ratio! Most Overhyped Topic:
The heat! The heat! Most Overhyped Topic, Runner-up:
The roof! The roof!
OW! CRAMPS! CRAMPS! Gotta wrap this up. On behalf of Dunlop and myself, thanks so much for making us part of your Australian Open experience. We laughed, we cried, we wrung our buns.
Of course, come back Wednesday (and every Wednesday for the rest of your life) for your weekly dose of the Sweet Spot.
Until next time, suckas.
Day 14 - Jan 31 - 2:00 PM PST
Dunlop here! James is off organizing big sleep donation program so Rafael Nadal will have fair final, so I am in charge of important ladies championship match. How you say, holla at your boy!
:01 - Ladies start playing in same old clothes. They should dress up, no? This is important day! Wear hat, gloves maybe. At least Serena does not wear crazy gray outfit she make with computer program. She must read James call it print of couch cushions since she never wear again. He is tastemaker.
:08 - After return by Serena that makes ME duck, Giant Woman double faults to give Serena game. Is already not looking good for giant woman.
:10 - Giant Woman gasping already.
:11 - Red headed boys bring out trophy already. Is sign?
:13 - Giant Woman wins point, crowd goes wild. Somewhere Maria Sharapova is giggling like school girl.
:15 - Smash means Serena up 4-0. I feel sorry for Giant Woman. I also think what I need from store. Bread, butter, Milk Duds…
:16 - Venus watch from stands. She seem scared too. Where are other celebrities? I miss No Doubt lady from Wimbledon final picking at her nails.
:20 - Giant Woman win another point. Crowd clap for her like she is child who manage to hit right key on piano.
:22 - 6-0, Serena. Mary Joe Fernandez say things can only get better for Giant Woman. Other commentators silent.
:26 - Giant Woman! Somewhere Natasha Zvereva is crying like big baby.
:30 - Serena breaks back. Did I leave iron on?
:33 - Orange juice, cheese, Milk Duds…
:34 - Mary Carillo say Giant Woman "just putting out grease fire now." Zing! Smart glasses, Mary. Help you see sport with clear eyes!
:39 - Giant Woman get first game point on own serve. Chris Fowler say "This is news!"
:41 - Serena breaks back. Film at 11.
:42 - Serena up 4-1. Giant Woman look to coach about to cry. Maria spits milk from nose.
:44 - Big Russian holds serve for first time. Crowd take to streets.
:48 - Serena holds for 5-2. Mary say "She must feel she is watching from stands at this point." Zing again!
:50 - Celebrity sighting! Geico caveman in stands! Oh no, that is commercial. Come on, not even Olivia Newton John?
:55 - Swing and miss by Giant Woman. How embarrassing. This is like dream when you show up to school naked. Yes. Dream. Still, she holds, 5-3. Party!
:58 - Party is over, Serena wins tournament. Giant Woman commits hara-kiri with own racquet.
1:19 - Serena thank big sponsor Jehova.
This match is copy of Maria match in '07. Except Maria at least get mad and hit balls at Serena. Giant Woman just, as she say when she accept big silver frisbee, ballboy on court. Oh well, now I can donate my sleep to men's final!
Champagne wishes and caviar poljubacs,
Day 13 - Jan 30 - 7:50PM PST
When I was 15 and learning to drive, I remember that feeling of panic going out on the road for the first time (after I graduated from the cemetery, where my parents took all their kids because "they couldn't kill anyone"). I thought, please, other drivers, be patient. Remember that some of us are just learning. And be kind.
Fast forward to today when I silently curse out anyone and everyone for a whole host of vehicular infractions. Get off the road ya moron! I grew up forgetting my own lesson (and grew into a jerk, but that's a story for another blog). But this Australian Open brought that lesson back.
The Happy Slam routinely reminds us that patience pays off in the most unlikely ways, with the most unlikely of candidates. Marcos Baghdatis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were slightly yellowing wunderkinds when they stormed to the finals here in '06 and '08 respectively. Fernando Gonzalez was darn near graying when he went from Big Hitter to the Big Time here in '07.
Last night, Fernando Verdasco joined the club (and nearly the final) by getting a B-12 shot of belief in a little town called Hope. No wait, Sin City. I've already written about Fernando in verse (it was explained to me afterward that some of you might not know the 1975 top ten hit Fernando by ABBA, and to that I say, youtube it and shame on you), so I'll just say I was a) right to worry about Rafa, b) right never to question Rafa, and c) right not to go to bed. What a match! Fernando took the #1 to an AO record shattering five hours and 14 minutes of grueling, mucho macho slugging. Viva Espana!
It got me thinking of some other players who some (okay I) may have considered draw filler, players with talent who I grew bored waiting for them to do something and told to get off the road ya moron.
Tomas Berdych for starters. He's got all the talent in the world, all the power. He's shown that to Fed on more than one occasion, and Nadal, and Murray. He's just a boy in a man's body. But he's drinking milk.
And Richard Gasquet. How close has he come to some big wins, only to watch them slip away to bolder players? He's the Amelie Mauresmo of the men's tour. He'll get there. He's just going to have to suffer a lot more to do it.
And Lucie Safarova. She took out defending champ Mauresmo at the AO in '07 and beat Kuznetsova and Henin in Paris that year when they were still at the top of their game. She's showing flashes of that brilliance still, all she needs is to string those together.
And Nicole Vaidisova. It may take the jaws of life, but it's in there.
There are others, of course. The Andreevs, the Ancics. The Szavays and the Peers. All capable of being more than spoilers. They could give us great tennis like Verdasco did last night. They just need a little patience. A little kindness. If we pulled the plug on something just because of a shaky start we'd never have 30 Rock, Kathy Griffin or Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. Or Dinara Safina, into her third major final (including the Olympics) in 9 months.
So everyone, on the road. Just avoid the cemetery.
Day 12 - Jan 29 - 2:41PM PST
Can you hear the drums Fernando?
I remember long ago another steamy night like this.
In the flood lights Fernando
Rafa was humming to himself and softly stringing his Babalot.
He could hear Sunday's final
And the sounds of Chris Fowler coming from afar
Then he faced Jo-Willy, Fernando
Every point seemed to last an eternity
I was so afraid Fernando
He was young and full of life and none of us were prepared to see him lose
And I'm not ashamed to say
The roar of your guns and cannons almost make me cry
There is something in the air tonight
Your hair's upright, Fernando.
Your self-doubt with your clothes you shed
For that Cosmo spread, Fernando
Though I use my God to pray you lose,
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando
Are you heartbroken Fernando?
You and Ana Ivanovic have sadly parted ways
I wouldn't know if you told me, Fernando
I've never understood a word you had to say
But at least it lasted long enough for you to drain her of her winning ways
There is something in the air tonight
That gives me fright, Fernando
Powered by your Davis Cup odyssey,
And Agassi, Fernando
Though I don't think that Nadal could lose,
He's been upset,
If we got the Wimby final again,
It would be heaven, Fernando.
There is something in the air tonight
Your hair's upright, Fernando.
Your self-doubt with your clothes you shed
For that Cosmo spread, Fernando
Though I use my God to pray you lose,
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando...
Day 11 - Jan 28 - 3:02 PM PST
They say the mark of a champion is the ability to get through a match even when you're not playing your best. And have we not seen that in spades this AO. It may not make for great tennis but it makes for a mind boggling buffet of options for the Jelena Jankovic Cockroach Award.
And the nominees are...
Perhaps the most shocking, ROGER FEDERER:
Down two sets to Tomas Berdych, the man who denied him his first shot at an Olympic medal, it was a third set tiebreak collapse by the Czech that let Fed back in. That's all Roger needed to put his heel on Berdych's neck and snap it like a twig, along with his hopes, dreams and any feelings of self-respect. SERENA WILLIAMS:
She was down 2-5 in the second set against Gisela Dulko. She was being utterly dominated by Victoria Azarenka before Mini-Maria had to retire with a virus. And Svetlana Kuznetsova served for it. Either Serena made a deal with the devil to close the roof or God just couldn't watch anymore. JELENA DOKIC:
Her professional life was in shambles, she was a punchline thanks to the whacked out antics of Daddy Dearest, and she was bouncing from country to country looking for any place that would take her in. But Jelena just wouldn't quit. Not in any of her five (!) 3-set matches that took her to the Australian Open Quarterfinals. And to think, she was nearly bounced from the wild card tournament that got her in when she lost in round robin. That's a good cockroach.
DANIELA HANTUCHOVA & AI SUGIYAMA:
They lost the first set tiebreak 0-7 to top seeds Black & Huber in their QF match. Over the course of three hours, they managed to take it to a third set tie break. One which found them down 7 match points. They fought off each and every one, sealing the win 12-10. DINARA SAFINA:
Down 2-5 in the third to Alize Cornet in the fourth round, Safina afterwards said maybe Cornet "was just not ready to win this match." It's a good thing, huh? FERNANDO GONZALEZ:
Down two sets in the third round, Fernando had one tiebreak to stay alive in the tournament. And did he make hay with it. His work wasn't over, needing to scratch and claw to 12-10 in the fifth before finally getting the W. Sadly, his next opponent would be Rafa, who kills bugs dead.
To find out who's such a cockroach that they survive such stiff competition, check back on Day 14 for the Dunlop Awards. Wear something pretty.
Well look who's here. It's Tennis Channel's own JUSTIN GIMELSTOB. Oh behave. |
JL: American men fell like dominoes this AO. What the heck happened?
JG: We had four into the third round, so that's a solid effort. And we've got one in the semifinals. It's no secret that American tennis does not have the depth it used to. But a lot of countries would be happy to have two in the top ten. (Editor's note: Thanks to Fernando Verdasco's sizzling run, we're now down to one as James is forced to take a powder.)
JL: Who's bringing home the hardware?
JG: Roger Federer and Serena Williams.
JL: I asked Martina this. Shanghai, Dubai and Sydney have all been sniffing around the Aussie Open to take over host duties from Melbourne. It is The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific after all. What are your thoughts?
JG: It will never happen. Players love Melbourne. The government is incredibly committed to this event. Melbourne is a perfect venue.
JL: You're part of the ATP board that chose new head Adam Helfant. Why was he the man for the job?
JG: Adam speaks the language of worldwide sport and entertainment. He has great people skills and underrated familiarity with [tennis]. He can help us maximize our sport.
Spoken like a true politician. Justin, you've come a long way baby.
Day 10 - Jan 27 - 2:20PM PST
Another one drops!
Novak Djokovic couldn't take the heat, so he got out of the fire. The fire being Andy Roddick's serve and (more shockingly) ground game. Can 15 pounds really make you that much better of a player? I guess at the top echelon of tennis, the answer is hells yeah.
I'm a little embarrassed. I went on a public search for a new fave male player and ended up with Novak. He's a tremendous player and, until recently, had at least a sense of humor and a sense of honor (maybe I was projecting?). Both were missing when he packed it up in the fourth set. It was the fourth time in a Slam Djokovic pulled the plug on a match. Said Federer: "He's not a guy who's never given up before...it's disappointing. I'm almost in favor of saying, you know what, if you're not fit enough, just get out of here." Of course, there was never any love lost between Fed and Djoke, but there is with me. I feel like I brought a bad boy home to meet the parents and now I'm knocked up and alone. Come back soon, Nole, don't let my baby grow up to be a bahstad (that's how we say it in Boston).
Speaking of a magical 15 pounds, svelte superwoman Dinara Safina is now into her very first Australian Open semifinal. Her match against Jelena Dokic was the polar opposite of Jelena's against Kleybanova. High quality was replaced by high tension and general exhaustion, as the women fought more with themselves and their serves than each other. But at least Jelena played to the end, 5 three-set matches and a twisted ankle to boot. Ya done good, JD. See you on the tour.
Safina's reward for nerving her way through that match may be more of a punishment, in the form of Vera Zvonareva. She utterly demolished Marion Bartoli, winning the last 11 games of their match and serving up a tasty bagel. Efficiency indeed! To watch Bartoli go from hunter to hunted, terminator to terminated, in back-to-back matches was fascinating. If it's down to form, Vera should be into her first ever Grand Slam final (and frankly, perhaps her first win). Or will she crack? Either way, get the Kleenex ready.
That is, if Del Potro didn't use all the Kleenex up himself. A double bagel! On the men's side! In a Slam quarterfinal! Things change so quickly Down Under. One day I'm concerned for Roger and the energy he's expending and the next I'm wondering if this guy breaks a sweat. We've had a couple lemon "marquee" match-ups thrown at us this AO, in the forms of Roger/Marat and Andy/Novak, but Roger/Andy has popcorn written all over it. And a finish line. Always a plus.
Svetlana Kuznetsova really is a genius. I looked ahead at the draw and paid the price. When it comes to taking it one match at a time, there's no one better than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The gang of four is now a gang of two. And all is right with the world.
At least until someone impales themself on a net post.
Day 9 - Jan 26 - 3:05Pm PST
|Legend in the house! Welcome Friend of Blog and Queen of All Things, MARTINA NAVRATILOVA. |
JL: Martina, you play, you commentate. You can even paint with a tennis ball. And now I'm hearing you'd love to coach if the right offer came along. What player or players would you love to get your hands on?
MN: No one specific, but I would work with players that have a great attitude, who work hard. And are not afraid of learning new things.
JL: I could maybe get a couple names on a sign up sheet. I'll ask around. Melbourne is on fire, literally. Who has what it takes to beat the heat and take the title?
MN: Federer. And Safina.
JL: There's been some jockeying by other places to maybe get their hands on the Open. Shanghai, Dubai and Sydney are all reportedly interested in replacing Melbourne as host of The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific. Good idea, bad idea? What do you think?
MN: There's no reason to move this event. But it does need to move to another time of year. A month later.
JL: Maybe there'd be less need for stretchers and I.V. bags on the court. Okay, I don't have any other 18-time Grand Slam singles champions to ask this of. Please, tell me. Is someone finally going to take Henin's place at the top of the women's game?
You heard it here first, folks.
Is this a Grand Slam or an ER? The last 24 hours in Melbourne have required nothing short of a clown car full of doctors and a needle full of atropine slammed directly into my heart.
It all started with Fed. Fed! Two sets and a smattering of tiebreak points from being bounced from the AO. Great for Roger for coming through (not so great for Tomas Berdych, who so emphatically let him off the hook. I'll have to facebook Lucie to find out how he slept that night). I won't lie, I'm concerned about Roger's chances here. The Roger of old didn't need five sets in the fourth round (certainly not to come from 2 sets down). He was very economical, that's how he had all that energy for the final. The harder he works, the further away that finish line seems.
Speaking of efficiency, Rafael Nadal is playing like he has a fuse up his trasero. (Maybe that's what he's constantly picking at?) He was my emotional pick to win from the beginning and now it seems to be spinning that way as he's the only guy left who hasn't dropped a set. As if he needs to be fresher.
Making Nadal even more attractive is the bye bye bye of popular pick Andy Murray. What an effort from Fernando Verdasco last night! Have you ever seen Murray made to run around like that? He was huffing and puffing like me at a buffet (I won't lie, watching me eat is like dropping a cow into Jurassic Park). There was talk about Murray walking onto the court under the weather, but he was just outplayed. Something Murray refused to deny. Good on him.
Besides, there were actual cripples to talk about. Like poor Jie Zheng, who fell on her wrist and had to retire against Svetlana Kuznetsova (see, you don't see that coming when you look ahead in the draw!). As if that's not bad enough, it was Australia Day so the hospitals were closed. Zheng had no idea how serious it was.
Incidentally, when do hospitals CLOSE? The beer tent is 24 hours there, can't they slide like a med student there or something?
Looking less hurt but retiring nonetheless, Gael Monfils. Frankly I was getting ill from his shot selection against Gilles Simon. As charismatic as Monfils is, he flails around way too much on the court. I wouldn't insure him, much less bet on him. If he wants to be the clown prince of the men's tour, he's got my vote hands down. But if he wants to be a serious contender for a Slam title, he's going to have to grow up.
The definition of trooper (and my scariest moment yet), Victoria Azarenka. After taking the first set off of Serena, she began succumbing to a virus she'd picked up in the second. Okay she didn't actually pick up the virus in the second set, though at the rate this AO is going I wouldn't be surprised. Victoria was like a punch drunk boxer out there refusing to give up even though her body was demanding it. People ask me what I would've needed to see from Justine Henin back in the '06 final here in order to cut her some slack for her abrupt "no mas." Well take a look.
It's like Seattle Grace Down Under, people. Who's going to drop next?!
Day 8 -Jan 25 - 4:15PM PST
Checking in with Corina Morariu
Our favorite roving reporter takes time from dodging chairs and side-stepping streakers to give us an inside peak at the Happy Slam...
JL: Corina! Tell us about that crowd. Do you need a bodyguard?
CM: When Cilic played Tipsarevic, a Serbian versus a Croatian, the crowd was definitely getting into it. And that was, I think, the day the big chair throwing incident occurred. It was 10:30, we're out there rehearsing, and the Serbians are coming down with beers in hand. I think by the end of the day they had more than they should. But we were on the grounds all afternoon yesterday and everyone was supportive and enthusiastic. I didn't get a negative vibe at all. You know, they create a great atmosphere here, that's one of the great things about the Australian Open. Melbourne has such an international community, people come out and support their respective players, they dress up, they paint their faces...
JL: Pam Shriver suggested maybe taking away the booze. Would you take it that far?
CM: I wouldn't take it that far. For the most part people enjoy themselves, and that's part of the Aussie culture. (laughs) I think to take that away...
JL: It's just cruel.
CM: I was doing these interviews with all these Australians asking what makes you proud to be an Australian and 75% of the answers had drinking in the answer at some point. It's about more than the drinking, it's cultural differences that have been ongoing for a very long time. Maybe the booze exacerbates the tension but I don't think you can go so far to deny everyone enjoying themselves because of a few rogue fans.
JL: So they can keep their booze. What's your take on Dokic, then and now? You were in the locker room with her as a player and now you're reporting on her incredible comeback...
CM: For me, the most impressive thing as far as her tennis goes and watching her play is she's as mentally tough as she always has been. I remember watching her play Hingis in the first round of Wimbledon and she beat her 2 and 2. Jelena kept going after her shots. I'm sure she was nervous somewhere deep down but she didn't play that way at all. I noticed that in all her matches here. It's a great story. I think everyone can relate to, not exactly what she's been through, but going through tough times, dealing with adversity and trying to work through that. It's an inspirational story for everyone.
JL: From what you've seen and experienced yourself as a player, how hard is it to face an Australian, as Dokic is, on these courts?
CM: It's funny, because of all the years I played the Australian Open, the toughest time I've ever had with the crowds, and it was even tougher than playing an Australian, was playing Kournikova. We played on Margaret Court Arena and it was just the most insane atmosphere I've ever seen in my life. Fans are banging, yelling...there was a lot of testosterone flowing in that crowd. When you play in a country you sort of expect the crowd to be for their players and that's understandable. And usually it's not too bad here. But that was unexpected when you're playing someone not from that country. It was 3-all in the first set before either of us settled down because neither of us were used to playing in that kind of environment.
JL: So who's taking home the trophy?
CM: (laughs) That's funny, because I picked Venus. That draw is posted online. Leif and I were joking on air. After Venus lost, he said "well you're not looking like much of an expert now are you..." Maybe Safina. It would be nice to see someone win this who hasn't won it before.
JL: Does the same go for the men?
CM: I'm still going to say Federer. Though Nadal looked insane [against Haas].
JL: Thanks Corina. We worry about you out there in those crowds with chairs flying. It's good to know you're safe.
CM: (laughs) I'm safe. Thank you.
It is Dunlop. James make appointment for me for the, how you say, anger management. Why? See for yourself, pictures of the lady with Adam's apple I give my heart to at U.S. Open playing in snow with other men and the little 42-year-old midget con artist who say he's my son spending all my money in Caribbean. I am furious! But my appointment not until next week so all I can do is swing wild with Shame Stick until somebody dead. DAVID NALBANDIAN:
People wonder why you not win Grand Slam yet. I play them tape. Once I get back from Juan Martin Del Potro, who show it at parties. - 4 whacks with Shame Stick. YANKEE DOODLES:
How many American men does it take to win match in Australia? None. They can't do it! (Ha!) Maybe they should stick to clay. - 3 whacks with Shame Stick.
Last year you hit 100 winners in single match. This time you can't even beat old man! You still manage to beat Yankee Doodle Sam Querrey though. - 3 whacks with Shame Stick. ANNA CHAKVETADZE:
Jelena Dokic just play better. But she does not wear ridiculous headband. – 3 whacks with Shame Stick. PATTY SCHNYDER:
Shh, don't wake Patty, she is napping. She slept right through second round match. I whack her gently so I don't wake her up. (2 taps with Shame Stick.) DMITRY TURSUNOV:
You earn big fines for racquet abuse and verbal abuse. Which I support. But losing to something called a "Flavio Cipolla?" - 2 whacks with Shame Stick. NICOLE VAIDISOVA:
You lose 2 and 1 against French powerhouse Severine Bremond, then you become first woman ever fined at tournament when you refuse to go to press conference. That is okay, I do not want to hear what you have to say anyway. I am too bored with you to lift Shame Stick. Here, whack yourself.
So much streaking to do, so little time!
Day 7 - Jan 24 - 4:20PM PST
|James and Leif|
I'll be checking in with random peeps over the next week, including Martina Navratilova, Justin Gimelstob and Corina Morariu to get a taste of the Melbourne Madness. First up, the Superfly of the Tennis Channel Commentator Booth, Leif Shiras.
JL: Leif! On the men's side, all eyes are on the top four. Yet the AO is known for spoiler finalists. Could there be one this year, and if so who?
LS: The potential for spoilage may come from France. The top half is loaded with possibilities. You can pick any of the three, Monfils, Simon, or Tsonga and they are all real threats. Tsonga has been there before obviously, but no one is talking about him -- have they forgotten just how good he plays on these slow hard courts? And the free lesson he gave Nadal last year, that was a first rate thumping. Simon is a legit spoiler because of the year he had in 2008 -- and the match he played in Madrid, beating Nadal. Not many people beat Nadal in Spain, and in my eyes, that was the second best match of the year, behind Nadal and Fed at Wimby and ahead of Murray and Fed in Shanghai. Monfils is also in the mix because of the raw and unrealized talent he possesses.
JL: What's the best match you've ever called at the Australian Open?
LS: Federer and Tipsarevic last year. I enjoyed that one because it showed how Fed can win when he is not at his best. He showed that he is a warrior, and not just an outrageously skilled athlete, which we all know. Do not forget that he is a competitor par
JL: When you're watching tennis in your downtime, do you find yourself commentating in your head?
LS: Great question, I do sometimes. If my sons are watching with me I will say something like, brilliant play -- which they respond to by rolling their eyes and saying Dad, you are such a dork. When I listen to any sports, I am curious to hear the work of other commentators. I listen to how they manage information, take programs in and out of breaks, even how they say goodbye. Like a good tennis player, in broadcasting you can never stop learning, so I try to soak up as much as possible. There are brilliant voices in sport, and too often they are not acknowledged for the good work they do.
JL: We acknowledge you Leif! Okay, last question: In two words, who's bringing this home?
LS: Murray. Serena.
And it was spoken.
We laughed, we cried, we threw chairs. It was a memorable first week in Melbourne, thanks in large part to the following rock stars. Feel free to hoist your Bics and throw your underwear at them.
Not only did the American deliver two taut 5-setters, and not only did he hit the skin off the ball in his match against defending champ Novak Djokovic. What elevated him this tournament is the responsibility he took in trying to make his Bosnian/Serbian clash against the Djokester a peaceful one. He posted a plea on his site and even went up to Novak in the locker room to suggest they set the tone on court. With that sportsmanship, he announced himself not only as a player, but as just a stand up guy. JELENA DOKIC:
Speaking of everything old. The story of the tournament so far has been the triumphant return of Dokic, who fell from higher heights to deeper depths both on and off the court. But she's doing it on her terms now. She may not be the most polished of champions, she may make missteps, but she's doing the best she can with what she's got. And that's taken her to the fourth round of her home Slam.
They're calling the young Russian who bounced Ana Ivanovic "L'il Lindsay," but I might add "L'il Jennifer" to the mix, just by the way she throws her entire body into her shots with the aggression of a street fighter. Either Alisa or Jelena is going to be an Australian Open quarterfinalist, and there's certainly justice in that. FORMER FINALISTS:
Still alive going into the second week, three players who've had much success Down Under. JO-WILFRIED TSONGA
is picking up right where he left off in '08, FERNANDO GONZALEZ
is recapturing some of the magic that took him to the final here in '07 (what a grueler between him and Richard Gasquet, coming back from two sets down to take it 12-10 in the fifth!), and most shockingly (and welcomely) MARCOS BAGHDATIS
, who famously tumbled to #100 in the rankings to find himself facing Djokovic in the round of 16. Everything old is new again! YEN-HSUN LU:
David Nalbandian was feelin' fine when he showed up in Melbourne. He was not that way when he left… FRENCHIES!:
Allezes to the aforementioned TSONGA
, GAEL MONFILS
, GILLES SIMON
(making his first fourth round Slam appearance), MARION BARTOLI
and ALIZE CORNET
, all into the second week. Sure, they better enjoy it now as MONFILS
next take on each other and BARTOLI
take on JANKOVIC
respectively. But for now, wave that flag suckas! CARLA SUAREZ NAVARRO
: This proves the French was no fluke. Carla, this is the last time you'll be appearing on this list. Because from here on, I'm expecting this from you. Welcome to the big time.
Day 6 - Jan 24 - 11:02PM PST
Picture it The U.S. Open. 2007. Maria Sharapova had just been upset in the third round by an unknown Agniezska Radwanska. Which meant Svetlana Kuznetsova's half was, after perhaps the most bizarrely lopsided draw in WTA history, completely wide open. I remember sitting in Kuzzy's next press conference and all anyone wanted to know was what she thought about that.
She claimed she hadn't looked ahead and didn't want to talk about it. Surely she's seen-- No. She must have at least glanced-- No. Yeah, but-- Next question please.
That stuck with me. I get the idea that you don't want to count your chickens, but, I mean, come on. You've got to just be DYING, right? But in my neverending quest to see the world like Svetlana Kuznetsova, I decided to live in a tennis bubble this Australian Open, not look at draws and take each match as it comes. Which is why you haven't heard me mention Racquet Bracket, seen me in any prediction contests or heard me make a guess as to who I think will win the whole shebang.
I've spent the first week doing this. And it's been wild. Everytime the draw comes out, it's like Christmas morning. I get to unwrap the possibilities and savor each match for the moment in time that it is. It's very "living in the now." There's no tomorrow. Only today. When you're a lower ranked player, that's how you have to do it. What's it to you if Andy Murray is in your half, you've got to get past Blake and Gulbis to get there. Good luck. But when you're Venus Williams or Ana Ivanovic, you can look a little ahead. Can't you?
Living in the moment is exactly what you have to do in tennis. Something Carla Suarez Navarro, Alisa Kleybanova and Jelena Dokic are certainly doing. (Incidentally, what do you think bothers Caroline Wozniacki more, that she lost to Dokic or that she's picked up the nickname of a dog? Okay, probably the loss. Poor Great Dane.)
Both Venus and Ana seem like obvious picks for a Dunlop Award for Breakdown Performance, but let me go on record (and against the grain) and say neither of these top seeds should feel bad about the way they went out. Sure, they were expected to win, and had they done a few things differently, they could have. But these were simply cases of being outplayed.
Digression: What's gotten into upstarts like Navarro and Kleybanova, thinking they can win against any of the top players? Because the top players are letting them. While everyone struggles to take Henin's place, the shine is off the top ten and now everyone thinks they can break in. So not only are the struggling top seeds fighting themselves, they've got an army of three-named Spaniards and unspellable Russians coming to kick their xxxes. (See, I can self-censor too!)
A quick word about Alisa. Chick can hit a ball.
Where was I? Oh God, I'm all over the place. That's what happens when you live in the moment. It's messy. It's chaotic. There's no structure, no consequence, no meaning! That's not how I like my blogs, and that's not how I like my tennis.
With apologies to Sveta, I'm looking at the draw for the first time.
Before I see what's ahead, I see what could have been. Did you know there was supposed to be an Andy Roddick/Phillipp Kohlschreiber rematch of last year's 5-set epic? Or a Venus Williams/Flavia Pennetta rererererererererererematch in the fourth round? Or a Federer/Safin AO '05 rematch? (Okay that one happened, but did it need to?) My point, and I do have one, is this: how much more fun is a Slam when you've got something to look forward to? Even if it never comes to pass?
How about what's to come? Wow, Dinara Safina has such a smooth road to the final, especially if Jelena Jankovic keeps playing the way she is. I say Dinara faces Elena Dementieva, but unlike at the Olympics, this time she'll come out on top when Elena cracks under the pressure of trying to (finally) win her first Slam title. (Predicting is like slamming Red Bulls-- I've missed you!)
On the men's side, Nadal just has too tough of a path, with Monfils, then Murray, then Fed or the Djokester in the final. I think it's going to come down to Murray and (!) Djokovic. Had it been Fed facing Murray, I'd say Roger would be tying Pete's record in Melbourne. But with Novak on the other side of the net, this should indeed be Andy's for the taking.
Looking ahead just makes for a better trip. Still, as Svetlana learned moments ago beating a Bondarenko who seemed to own her, anything can happen.
Day 5 - Jan 22 -4:15PM PST
Everyone knows it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you look doing it. So we're tackling the very serious subject of AO fashion today. And we're lucky enough to be joined by THE tennis fashionisto and general gad about town Erwin Ong, CEO of style site Tennis Served Fresh. Anyone who's been to his site knows what they're in for. To everyone else (including the players discussed), apologies in advance. JL:
Erwin, let's get this party started. Serena Williams. Go. EO:
This dress makes me think of days gone by, when I would spend a lazy afternoon with my hippie parents making tie-dye shirts. And I love geometry. And that motorcycle scene in Tron. This is the best dress ever! JL:
Sounds less like an endorsement than a drug flashback. The pattern and color scheme reminds me of a hotel couch, I just want to sit on her. How about Venus? EO:
Venus? She's gorgeous. Finally, the F-school grad figured out how to design a dress that works for her body. Extra props to her mensy hot pants. Big hair, loud colors -- the 80s are definitely back.
You're crazy. It's the same dress over and over. Design me a space suit or something, V. Mix it up. Speaking of wild colors, how about Nadia Petrova? She's ready for the big top and I love it. EO:
Wild colors are in for the Russians. The turquoise Fila print on Kuznetsova (she looks like a cupcake) and Chakvetadze are too loud. I've never seen such happy colors on such grumpy women. JL:
Jankovic is always smiling. She could make a pillow case look good. Which, in fact, she's doing this week, no? EO:
I'd be smiling too if I just got a new sponsor. What do melamine, brittle schoolbuildings, underage gymnasts, and Jelena Jankovic's clothes have in common? JL:
They all smell like chalk? EO:
Yes. That is true. They all smell like chalk. JL:
Okay, enough girl talk. The elephant in the room, we've got to address it. Fed's haircut.
Roger's trim makes him look younger, cleaner, gentler, more endearing. Like Dumbo. Marcos Baghdatis' haircut, on the other hand:
(He shows me a youtube clip of a wild Sri Lankan elephant crushing a minibus with its head.) JL:
The top dogs aren't really rockin' the runway this AO. No tuxedo shorts, no cardigans, no nuthin. Is Radek Stepanek really the ATP's only hope? EO:
Changes are more subtle, but they are happening. Rafa is wearing a shirt WITH SLEEVES! How crazy is that? JL:
I'm choking on my own tongue. Mostly because covering up those guns is like throwing a tarp over a bazooka. Let your enemies see what you've got and tremble in fear! Okay, this is going on longer than a Nalbandian match. Who's your prom king and queen? And who needs to be trampled by a wild elephant? EO:
Tiaras goes to Maria Kirilenko and Venus and the crown goes to Rafa. Everyone else is lucky not to be voted off. We'll withold judgment 'til Indian Wells. JL:
Venus! I thought I knew you. I'm going with Nadia for her fast food cashier-wear. It makes me smile. EO:
She does look very Hot Dog on a Stick, doesn't she? JL:
And Rafa for the men, but only because of a lack of depth in the field. I could give a pass to the others but I'm not as benevolent as you are. Ana, look out above you. It's mama Jumbo.
Thanks for visiting the runway with me Erwin! You really are an Asian male Anna Wintour. I mean, a more Asian male Anna Wintour.
Day 4 - Jan 21 - 10:54PM PST
You feel lucky punk? Do you?
Who cares. Fortune favors the brave, so if you want to make a dent in this world, you have to take chances. Day 4 showed players of every ilk just outright going for it. It also showed what can happen when you're a big ole wuss.
In this corner, Amelie Mauresmo: Grand Slam Champion. In this corner, Elena Baltacha: Complete No One. Anyone who's followed Amelie of late knows not to count on her for anything. Reason being, the once fearsome fighter has lost her mind. Along with her willingness to take a rip on even the shortest ball. Where is the Amelie that wailed? Stuck in 2006 it seems. Baltacha on the other hand smells fear and is just bashing away like you wouldn't believe. Until, on set point, when Baltacha flips the script and attempts a risky drop shot. And it's a clean winner. Baltacha's a set from the third round. Her back against the wall, Amelie has no choice but to take some chances, and (surprise!) they pay off with a win. Lesson learned? I hope so, each and every time.
In this corner, Gisela Dulko: Twig. In this corner, Serena Williams: Devourer of Worlds. This one should be over before I finish typing this sentence. But the minute it's clear Serena is unwilling to put her foot on the gas, Gisela shoves her aside and puts the pedal to the metal. As a result, Serena is spending the entire second set five feet behind the baseline, with the gutsy Argentine going up 5-2. Serena being Serena, she claws her way back, but it isn't easy. (Their game at 5-3 is a 20-minute 12-deuce extravaganza that sees me through two drink boxes and a box of Whoppers.) Ultimately the twig snaps, but that has more to do with outright fatigue than Serena going for it. Something Serena knows, which is why she marches right back onto the practice court immediately afterward.
In this corner, Rafael Nadal: The Bull. In this corner, Some Guy From Croatia. I can't decide if Rafa takes as huge of risks on the court as it appears because he just makes it look so damn easy. He seems to bend time and space to make his balls drop in. Everyone else plays two-dimensionally while Rafa is in 3-D, curving down the line shots so they head to the stands then dive back in again to kiss the corners. Bless Some Guy From Croatia for hitting blistering winners, but he hits just as many blistering errors. (Going for it isn't always pretty.) All that said, the lesson in taking a risk here lies not on the court, but on the practice court, where Rafa dared to tweak his game to give him a better shot at the Melbourne title.
That's an insanely risky thing to do before a Grand Slam (I mean, not as crazy as say switching racquets before having to defend your first and only Slam title...). Nadal is the #1 player in the world! Why mess with success? But he doesn't play it safe and rest on what he's got. He's constantly trying to evolve, including making his serve more of a weapon and flattening out his forehand so it penetrates the hard courts Down Under. So far, it's a risk that appears to be paying off. And, I'm starting to get the feeling, to this risk-taker may go the ultimate spoils. UPDATE: Talk about glory! Carla Suarez Navarro puts an exclamation point on her French Open run by taking out many pundits' pick to win the whole tournament. That was one gutsy performance. Venus Williams, your miserable karma down under continues. Did you kick a kangaroo back in 2003 or something...?
You know who else took a chance? The Marcas
, who entered last year's Slammin' Down Under sweepstakes and, wouldn't you know it, are at the Australian Open and you're not. (And look who just popped up in the comments section below – last year's winners the Cokers! Hey ya'll!) Want to be flown to Melbourne to run wild with a camera to show everyone at home that they suck and you rule? Enter here.
Good luck! Remember, no guts, no glory.
Day 3 - Jan 20 - 10:25PM PST
Tennis in never shy of storylines - the young upstart with the hopes of a nation on their shoulders, a veteran's last Slam, a champion attempting to break a record... But this Australian Open is bursting at the seams with my favorite storyline of all: the phoenix rising from the ashes.
I'm an unmitigated sucker for any kind of tale of redemption. Because we've all come from crap, haven't we? Or didn't grab that chance we had years ago, or just made a huge mess of something (or, hell, everything) in our lives. Second chances are more valuable than gold and more moving than a hundred laughing baby clips on youtube.
Day 3 seems to have jammed all them all into one place, so I get my box of Kleenex ready.
On Court 3, we've got Daniela Hantuchova, one inability to defend AO semifinal points away from her own Lifetime movie of the week (Mother May I Sleep with Whale Trophies?). She barely squeaked by an even nervier Casey Dellacqua in the first round to face Mathilde Johannson. Showing the grit that says, hey, don't write me off just yet, she guts out a tough three setter. Daniela will live to fight another day.
A French Open trophy and a print-out that says you were recently the #1 player in
the world is hardly something to have to rebound from, but Ana Ivanovic just had that bad of a last six months, so she needs some redemption fast. By beating Alberta Brianti (and quite impressively!), she's just advanced to her furthest round in a Slam since Roland Garros. Adje.
Then there's Dominik Hrbaty, who in the past couple years couldn't win a thumb war with a swing set. Suddenly he gets a shot of B-12 in the form of Hopman Cup (I'm telling you, it's magical) and now he's back in the mix where he belongs. He tore through qualifying and the 6'9" John Isner and now faces David Ferrer (another guy choking on ash). Unfortunately it's not Dominik's day, but it's clear his comeback story is only just beginning.
That's the thing, not every phoenix's flight plan is a smooth one. Some struggle a little, like the resurgent Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who came from numerical nothing to meet her goal of making the main draw at this AO, only to find herself bounced before the dinner bell. Or Kimiko Date Krumm, though her even qualifying for qualifying, much less getting through it, is accomplishment enough. Ditto Taylor Dent, who came back from three back surgeries to give fellow American Amer Delic a 5-set run for his money (Delic clearly loves the 5-set runs).
And then there are the phoenixes that fly from the ashes, get caught in some power lines and fry till they pop, taking out an entire city grid in the process. Nicole Vaidisova has Redemption Story written all over her, but it appears it's been done in lipstick and smudges easy. But what has she been struggling with besides herself?
Which is why my redemption story to end all redemption stories at this year's AO belongs to Jelena Dokic. She of the former #4 ranking, of the Wimbledon semi run, of the abusive father who alienated her from the rest of her family and all of tennis. By sheer force of will, she pulled herself up by the boot straps, fought and fought and fought and finally made it back onto the big stage.
Her win over Tamira Paszek in the first round meant the world to her, both on the court and in her press conference, where she broke down in tears talking about her depression and isolation and breaking through all over again. "It's really a miracle for me," Dokic forced out the words. "Really emotional to win. What I had to go through, it's really great to have this win. I don't think a lot of people know what it means to me..." I think we do. Whatever happens to her on Rod Laver tonight (against another phoenix-in-waiting, Anna Chakvetadze), she's shown amazing grit and strength of spirit, and in doing has earned her at least one cheerleader for life. UPDATE: Dokic does it! And so does #97 ranked former finalist Marcos Baghdatis, who takes out top 20-er Robin Soderling. Kleenex for everyone.
Day 2 - Jan 19 - 11:23PM PST
My name is Dunlop and I am a rage-aholic.
These have been terrible terrible months for your favorite fuzzy yellow friend. I find love with gorgeous lady with Adam's apple at U.S. Open, which end in big shock when baby Dunlop is left on my doorstep. (I name him "Dunlop 2" which I tell people is very clever.) Dunlop 2 end up being 42-year-old midget grifter who take all my money and flee to Caribbean.
I think things looking up when James get super fancy weekly column on Tennis Channel. I make him famous so now I get reward$, right? But where am I? He tell me, no visits by Dunlop, this is serious journalism. I read it. It is serious garbage, with garbage topping.
Worst of all, yesterday James leave me in the Milk Dud coma. That is fine, he does this all the time. But I sleep through all my Serbian brothers' and sisters' tennis games! I do not see my Ana in the dress I design for her (is new hobby - fierce!). I do not see Jelena in her green maternity dress that I did not design (the bagra!), or Janko, or my Nole! My Nole who work so hard he must take off shirt after, and he give it to stranger! I would have taken better care of it. I do not let anyone touch the shorts I take from his locker in Paris. So see, I am good friend.
I am also good friend of James, and that is why I almost feel bad for being in his chair when he went to sit down earlier. He run away in pain. But I do not feel any better. I do not care who I insult today. Not Snow White Andy Murray, who cannot be bothered to play today so he injure his poor opponent. Not Elena Dementieva, who play almost as bad as James' weekly garbage column. Not Agniezska Radwanska, who they say is tournament's first big upset but I never even hear of her.
I even take on scariest person of all. Yes you, Serena Williams. You do not fool me with your gray blue outfit. You are trying to blend into the court, just like you did two years ago when you came dressed as giant lime. You steal U.S. Open from the bagra, you even say she is not number one player in world, but she will show you in the final. If you get that far! (ha ha!)
At least Serena wins match. American men are limping off courts bloody and battered. Vince Spadea and Wayne Odesnik join all the Yankee Doodles that lost yesterday. It is almost as bad as '07 French Open when they all fall on their straznjicas. Isn't hard court their easy court? (Stop it Dunlop, you are killing me!) No American is limping more than Christine McHale. Her cramps are so bad they spread to Fernando Gonzalez. Those faces! They remind me of James…
Oh, James is back! He feels bad for how he upset me and is going to do something wonderful to make it up. He taped a match from yesterday and saved it for me to watch. He say unfortunately it is not any of the Serbians, but it is even better. Daniela Hantuchova v. Casey Dellacqua! He is strapping me in chair because he say it is so exciting that he is afraid I will jump out of my seat and hurt myself. He is not so bad after all. Ooh, it is starting!
Wait, what is this? She is broken already? The other one is broken right back? Why does this keep happening? Why will they not hit the ball in the lines? Not another drop shot skinny one! Bozanstvo, make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!
Day 1 - Jan 18 - 10:45PM PST"I come from a land down under,
Where women glow and men plunder.
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."
- Men at Work
What is it about the Australian Open that gets me so fired up? Is it food to a starving man after a nuclear winter of an offseason? Is it the ridiculously high-quality matches it churns out year after year? Is it the storylines it launches for the next twelve months? Is it the heat?
Before this year's AO has even started, there's already heat. Roger Federer bristling over all the Andy Murray favorite talk. Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic sparring over who is, truly, the #1 player in women's tennis.
I need to share Day 1 with someone, STAT. Half of you have questioned how I could spend my Grand Slam viewing time with an abusive good for nothing tennis ball. (The other half wondered how he could spend his time getting similarly abused by me, but those people are mouthy and are primed for a smack.) So I let Dunlop sleep off his pill addiction (or Milk Duds, either way it's a coma) and invite my good buddy Eileen over.
Eileen's pretty tense when she gets here, mostly because I may have lured her with the idea that there was some sort of emergency. The truth is, she's not a tennis fan. And when she sees it on the TV, and the seat I've cleared for her right across from it, she's ready to bolt. I point out Andy Roddick. Girls like Andy, no? No. Okay, how about Milk Duds? She sits. But I better keep 'em comin'.
"Who's that?" she asks me. Ana Ivanovic. "Where did she get that dress, Forever 21?" That's tennis fashion. She's actually considered one of the lookers on the women's tour. "Really? Eh. Who's that blonde in the camera commercials? She's prettier. Prettier than that blonde from a few years ago who ended up dating the guy with the mole..."
My goal becomes clear. Make this girl a tennis fan. She's going to fight it. I have to be stronger.
"Is there an age limit on ballboys? That guy's like a hundred years old." That's a line judge. "What a boring job that would be. 'I'm watching a line!'"
Fight it, fight it.
"Ooh, Mardy, I like him. Except for his dumb last name. Why do women wear so much jewelry when they play? Isn't it always hitting their face? Why is she screaming every time she hits the ball? Do you think she screams when she, like, opens the car door?"
I'm weakening. I need to pull out all the stops, blitz this girl with all the high quality tennis I can. The backhand brutality of Juan Martin Del Potro and Jelena Jankovic. The forehand fireworks of Novak Djokovic. The human interest bonanzas that are comeback kid Jelena Dokic, actual kid Bernard Tomic and borderline grandma Kimiko Date Krumm. The Feliciano Lopez/Gilles Muller five-and-a-half-hour epic (the longest is Aussie history, in 130 degree heat). You will love tennis, you will love tennis!
Finally, at 14-all in the fifth of said epic, she leaps to her feet. "OH MY GOD!" My heart swells. Success! "The Eagles lost?!" She was reading the crawl. She's mildly intrigued when they cut to Djokovic and Andrea Stoppini exchanging sweaty shirts, but by then I'm doing the crawling.
I miss Dunlop. He serves more than one purpose. He's not just a comic relief sidekick. He's a weapon. One I could be beaning at this woman in my living room right now.
I thank her for coming and show her the door. Can she take the rest of the Milk Duds? No.
I'm saving them for a friend.
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