Tag Archives: Aussie Open

Australian Open – my Week One recap

Whilst the majority of people will point to Roger Federer’s loss as the highlight of the first Grand Slam week of 2015, I want to quickly forget it. The peril of buying tickets in advance means that I chose Friday as the day to try out Margaret Court Arena for the first time. After witnessing straight-sets victories for Tomas Berdych and Simona Halep, I could only watch helplessly as the scoreboard updated during changeovers of the women’s doubles match on Court 3, a low point to go with my decision on Monday afternoon to leave Rod Laver Arena to venture to the outer courts to watch one of my A-Team in action – Alison Riske. The misery of her subsequent hard-fought three-sets defeat to French youngster Oceane Dodin was compounded by the fact Ana Ivanovic had succumbed to the biggest shock of the women’s tournament thus far on Rod Laver Arena – when I’d left, she was demolishing Lucie Hradecka, having won the first set 6-1. How things quickly changed. Oops!

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Otherwise, my week at Melbourne Park has been utterly (and I rarely use this word sincerely, but here it has never been more so) awesome. I’ve finally ticked off my very own Grand Slam, having previously been to the other three majors and, from free entry to the final two days of qualifying to seeing Maria Sharapova save two match points in trademark fighting fashion, I’ve witnessed some classic tennis – high quality matches from great vantage points. There have been minor and major quibbles but essentially this is a truly exceptional event. The minor quibble: Melbourne has as many ‘tennis tourists’ as the other Slams; from a woman completing a crossword during a tiebreak to a man watching Nick Kyrgios on his IPad whilst ignoring the exciting match on the court he was at. A major quibble: the line-judging has been pretty consistently woeful. There is a definite leap in standard to what I’ve seen previously at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows, and even at Fed Cup and WTA tour level matches. I’m not talking about the TV courts where Hawkeye/Challenge Review can bail them out, but the outer courts where big money is at stake for the World Number 68s – the standard has been unforgivably bad and Tennis Australia must take ultimate responsibility for that.

Maria Sharapova needed all her fighting qualities to prevail on Wednesday

Maria Sharapova needed all her fighting qualities to prevail on Wednesday

It’s interesting how you attach yourself to players when you come to a Slam, players to whom you had no previous affinity. When I watched Lucie Safarova play Yaroslava Shvedova on Monday evening, I was definitely in the Czech’s camp. However, after Shvedova’s tenacious and intelligent play saw her to a three-set victory, we followed her into the second round where she easily defeated rising star Monica Puig. Unfortunately, the Kazakh’s run came to an end on the same court she had played Monday and Wednesday when the talented Shuai Peng had just a little too much for her. Still, a third round appearance and a new fan – can’t be bad! Jerzy Janowicz’s five-set win over Gael Monfils was my highlight men’s match of the week. If people think the Frenchman is good to watch, then I suggest they catch a bit more of Janowicz; here is a man who actually tries to win tennis matches with attacking prowess.

Jerzy Janowicz in fine swashbuckling style

Jerzy Janowicz in fine swashbuckling style

Incidentally, we pretty much double-handedly ended most French interest at Melbourne Park. On three consecutive evenings, our final act in the grounds was to witness French defeats; Malek Jaziri finishing off Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Janowicz’s conquering of Monfils, and Kevin Anderson’s demolition job on Richard Gasquet. Add to that Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ victory over Kristina Mladenovic and I almost completed a clean sweep on my Gallic cousins. Shame the only ‘L’Hexagone’ victory I witnessed was Oceane Dodin’s tussle with my A-team lady Alison Riske. A word for Riske and Russian Elena Vesnina – respect. Both lost in very different fashions on Monday but both took the time to sign autographs for young and old fans. Extra kudos to Riske who agreed to a photo with yours truly on Wednesday despite her doubles defeat with Madison Keys to the aforementioned Vesnina and her partner Kate Makarova. Ali, you’re a star!

A-Team member Alison Riske and I :-)

A-Team member Alison Riske

From the tennis that I’ve seen in the flesh, I still expect Tomas Berdych to make hay this week and Simona Halep to at least reach the final four. Kevin Anderson could cause bother for Rafael Nadal tomorrow should we see Second Round rather than Third Round Rafa. Dominika Cibulkova could come in under the radar should she successfully negotiate a tough match against a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the Last 16. From TV viewing and report reading, I see no big reason to change my pre-tournament predictions of Bouchard and Murray; there are big chinks in Serena’s, Maria’s and Novak’s games whilst Rafa looks way short of confidence. Berdych v Tomic awaits me tomorrow, followed by, amongst other things, all the women’s quarter-finals and both finals. If they are as good as this last week has been, I’m going to count myself a very fortunate and happy little soul.

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Why must we use men’s tennis as a stick with which to beat the women’s game?

Champ and dazed runner-up

So, the men’s final was another classic and the women’s final was error-strewn. So read the match reports of some hacks that doubtless have it on copy and paste these days. After all, there are some tabloids and broadcasters whose main tennis faces seem to rather enjoy pouring scorn on the leading women. They cover the Grand Slam events and the women merely get in the way of the matches and the faces they are really there to see. Superlative after superlative greets Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer but indifference greets any achievement by a tennis-playing female who doesn’t have the surname Williams.

“There’s just no depth in the women’s game right now, compared with the men’s”. Men’s tennis is blessed right now with four of the greatest players to have ever played the game. Federer held the sport together for several years before Nadal came along to raise the bar. Federer went with him, and eventually Djokovic caught them both and overtook them both too. Now Murray is scampering to keep pace with the Serb. But…….David Ferrer was the number four seed here and in the prolonged period of Nadal’s absence is the number four player in the world. He lost to Djokovic in less than 90 minutes and won only five games in the process. That is not good enough and hardly points to a multitude of depth beneath the Top 3 or 4. The women’s game hardly covered itself in glory though at the same stage. World Number 1 Vika Azarenka caused a furore by appearing to indicate she took a medical time-out for fear of choking to her American teenage opponent Sloane Stephens. In the end Vika won through in straight sets, and beaten finalist Na Li comfortably took care of Maria Sharapova for the loss of a couple of games in each set. But the final was high in tension, drama and not low in quality either. Yes, there were many unforced errors but they came at the end of long rallies, errors caused by the gradual erosion of somebody’s game, rather than a lack of mental strength or quality. Whilst we praise Djokovic’s resilience and never-say-die attitude now, the thought that a bump to the head like Na Li suffered on Saturday evening would have put paid to Novak earlier on in his career was not lost on me. Yes, he would have been forfeiting that match right there and then.

But that’s not fair to compare players of a different gender and of essentially a different sport, right? Well, no it’s not. But respected organisations do so all of the time to bitch on the women’s game. Vika Azarenka’s shrieks? Old news, get over it. You don’t get that in the men’s game. Well you don’t get shrieks, no. They’re men, but some of the guttural grunts that come from Djokovic in most rallies would put you off tennis. The women are mentally fragile, and it takes a little something to knock them off their stride completely. True of lower-ranked players for sure. But not for the likes of Azarenka, Sharapova, Serena and Na Li. They have the mental toughness of the men’s top 4. Ask Nicolas Almagro where he went to once David Ferrer came back to level at 2 sets all. There are more service breaks in the women’s game. True again, it’s simply down to power. Men are more powerful than women, wow what a shocker.

I don’t want to knock men’s tennis because I have never been more interested in it than I am right now. The rivalries at the very top are fascinating and we are incredibly lucky to be witnesses to them. But then if I lazily pass judgment on one part of the sport, you know I may just get called upon by ESPN or the BBC to offer my expert opinion. BBC TV’s commentary team spent chunks of the women’s final discussing one member of the team’s previous marriage to a top female player, like that is relevant. It’s an old boy’s club that refuses to go with the times; their knowledge of the men’s game outside the top 10 is flaky to say the least but their knowledge of the top women is non-existent. I honestly do not believe that either of the men in the commentary box yesterday would choose to watch a women’s match in the privacy of their own home. So don’t let them near the commentary box. Statistics and facts only take you so far, and the line “there’s such a difference here between the women’s game and the men’s game” is unacceptable. Yes because they are two separate competitions. When Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis were trying to fend off the Williams sisters, I heard none of these so-called experts bemoaning the fact that the men’s game was sterile and lacked any of those rivalries that the women’s game had at the turn of the century. Men’s tennis is privileged to have Djokovic and Murray, will be privileged to have Nadal if he comes back, and is privileged to have Federer refusing to go away quietly. But we do not have to make it better by beating up on the women so much. It’s not a stellar era by any means, but let’s give credit to the likes of Azarenka and Na Li for rising to challenges and standards set down by the great Serena. And please let’s not put the good results of Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka down to them having new boyfriends, as one leading broadcaster article did this past week.

Instead, let’s praise a decent Grand Slam on both sides of the gender divide. Not the best, far from it. Not the worst, far from it. But decent, all the same. And let’s remember that only one of the finals went the distance……

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