I love you man

We had 15 hours of live tennis coverage today, and these photos capture the moment of the day for me:

the Delpo/Fish cuddle

Just so sweet and adorable. My heart melted watching it on TV (especially Delpo patting Mardy on the head after they hugged) and these pics are just awesome. 

Brotherly love, sigh.

Oh Pico

Me loves Juan Monaco aka Pico. And how fab that he was not blown off the court today vs Fed, losing 7-6 6-4. There were a heap of breaks in that first set but none in the second until Pico got broken at 4-4 and Fed served out the match.

Pico's expressions crack me up...he's so adorable.

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Vika and Domi - WTF?

Anyone have any idea why Vika and Domi looked at each other like this after their long three set battle today?

I am very intrigued if these two don't get along  or if something perturbed Vika during the match? Vika looks pretty fierce in this pic and Domi looks a wee bit scared? Or is it just me and my imagination?
 Either way, Vika was damn happy with herself after her come from behind win.
Images: Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Nole: A Challenge

I didn't love Novak Djokovic from day 1. I think it's natural to need time to warm up to the new kids on the block and there aren't many tennis players I can think of who I just instantly 'fell for.' The old me thought Nole was a bit too cocky when he was young, and then I thought he was a wimp. Just seemed like he always had a health issue that prevented him from finishing matches (at slams no less).

But Nole has grown on me so much that I can't believe I never really appreciated what he brings to the game. He is an entertainer like no one else on the men's tour and we are so lucky that he has finally broken the Rafa/Fed stranglehold. 

The personality...the smile...the amazing talent.

Just check out pics from Nole entering the court for his first match in Miami yesterday. I challenge you to look at these pics and not start to love Nole!


Best sport on Earth

I'm so proud of tennis. In the past year, we've seen the players band together to help raise money for a trio of countries in need: Haiti, Australia and now Japan.

Today's soccer (fine, football) match was a great fundraiser and although I haven't seen any footage, the pics alone are enough to warm the heart. 

Hope Match for Japan featured so many top tennis stars: Rafa, Nole, Ferrer, Muzz, Lopez, Verdasco, Tsonga, Pico, Bagdatis, Melzer, Troicki and of course Japan's Nishikori. These guys all took time out of their busy schedules (during a massive tournament no less) to help raise money to aid devastated Japan. It's so heartwarming.

Pretty funny to see the players kitted out in soccer attire and I hope highlights from the match will end on Youtube. Shame they couldn't have had some of the ladies on the field. I reckon players like Sveta, JJ, Stosur and Schiavone could have kicked some bum on the soccer field!

Until then, here are a few of my fave photos:

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Total caption fail

Oh Yahoo! Tennis, this photo caption needs some serious work:

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 22: Anna Kournikova (R) of Russia and friends pose during the Players Welcome Party for the Sony Ericsson Open at Paris Nightclub on March 22, 2011 in Key Biscayne, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
And whoa I had forgotten all about Elena Likhovtseva!

Tennis fever!

How do any tennis fans in the UK (or Europe for that matter) get anything done in May/June? There are so many tournaments to see within such a short distance I would be tempted every spring to just quit my job and be a travelling tennis nut for two months.

I'm heading to London in mid May and will go to the French Open and Wimbledon. You'd think that would be enough tennis for me, but no I'm seeing if I can get any tickets to Queens Club, or Eastbourne or Birmingham. The most likely will be Queens, and I'll see about a grounds pass or two when they go on sale in April.

So, three out of four slams this year would be damn good, but how amazing would a 'fan slam' be? Stay tuned.

I cannot stop laughing at this pic

This makes me happy on so many levels. Tennis, I love thee.

Photo: Fanfeedr

Rough day for Rafa

Think this photo pretty much sums up Rafa's day:

I haven't watched the match yet but may save it for a rainy day. Sounds like Rafa got a bit lucky to win that first set as he wasn't making many first serves and Novak didn't take advantage.
However, the serve would prove to severely screw up the rest of Rafa's game and it all just fell apart. Shame to hear but sounds like there was some amazing tennis despite the anticlimatic third set.
All props to Nole - he continues to show us how much progress he's made in the past few months and as much as I like him I feel like it's a bit early to say he'll dominate all year. Let's see how he transitions to clay before getting too carried away!

Day 14 at the Aussie Open: 30 January

Men's singles final

I am pretty certain I teared up as I made my final walk from my hotel on Little Collins, down Exhibition Street, across Flinders Street toward Melbourne Park. 
I skipped the men's doubles final and had one more long walk around the grounds. After 13 days here I felt I knew every inch of the grounds and could probably give tours! :)
One fun part about the day of the men's final is that all the sponsors just give away all their freebies as they need to get rid of them. I got heaps of the little ANZ fans, lots of Imperial Leather products and various bits and pieces. I wish on the last day of  the tourney they would put some of the AO merchandise on sale, but I know they make a heap of money selling them online afterward. 

So onto the final - how in the world would Andy Murray do in his second Aussie Open final? I was there in 2010 when he lost to Fed and was pretty emotional afterward. I hoped his third final would settle him down a bit and give us a great final. But, Nole was too good and despite a lot of crowd support Andy just, well, stunk. It was hugely disappointing and as much as I like Nole deep down I was hoping Andy could win just to get him over that hump. But Nole is playing too well and he chased down everything Andy sent him and made some ridiculous gets. 

One such point created this expression from Nole:
Sad for Andy but he needs a coach, or some mood relaxers, I don't know. He's still young but he should be in his prime now and he has the tools to win a slam but not the temperament or mental toughness at the moment. Here's hoping.

Nole said he kept his reaction tame in respect to his good mate Andy, but I thought his stripshow after the net embrace was pretty funny. He took everything off bar his shorts and gave them to the crowd. Even his shoes! Such a great reaction by the crowds - the Serbian fans were very vocal and added a lot of atmosphere which I really enjoyed.
As I left the arena there were some huge celebrations going on and the excited Serbians kept chanting and it provided the perfect environment for our exit out of Melbourne Park.

So I made my final walk out of the gate and past the former champ displays. It was an unbelievable 13 days of tennis and I just can't believe I was able to do it. Thanks Melbourne, you never disappoint.

Day 13 at the Aussie Open: 29 January

Women's final day.

It's a pretty amazing feeling to walk into Rod Laver Arena on finals night and there was such great energy as I think most of Melbourne was pretty happy with the women's final. I haven't been there personally to witness one of Serena's five wins at the Aussie Open but I get the sense she probably isn't as well loved as she should be. 
I imagine not many tennis fans dislike Kim or Li. I knew there was going to be a massive amount of cheering for Kim Clijsters who of course the Aussies were pulling for. The Chinese fans were there but not in huge numbers so I did my best to cheer for Li Na.

She started off badly but would take the first set as Kim was a bit erratic. I admit I hoped sloppy Kim would remain but she started to pull it together in set two. Li Na certainly had her chances but I noticed a few poor parts to her game. One, she cannot put away balls at net! She had a lot of high balls and she kept hitting backhand swing volleys to try and put them away and she missed a lot. And her overheads were shockers - just no power to them. I don't recall her putting any overhead away for a winner. I was puzzled. She's got a wicked forehand but most times she hit her backhand I cringed. Her serve and forehand are certainly her strengths.
Meanwhile, Kim is one player who can handle Li Na's power and props to her she was steadier in this high pressure situation and Li Na just couldn't make it happen. Kim has a lot of grand slam finals under her belt and I think that experience was the deciding factor.

Even though I was pulling for Li Na, I was happy for Kim. It's good that she was able to win a slam outside the US Open but I guess I'm still bitter than Serena wasn't here to defend her 2009 and 2010 finals. 

Kim of course was emotional to have broken through in Melbourne

Li Na continued to charm in her oncourt interview but I don't recall seeing a grand slam champ talk as much after a win as Kim did. It was on and on and I thought it was too long, but I realise Kim is pretty chatty.

So there it was - the women's final:

Day 12 at the Aussie Open: 28 January

Day 12 was a late start as things were winding down to the final days of Aussie Open 2011. As I walked from my hotel to Melbourne Park for the umpteenth day in a row it started to hit me that there were just three days left. I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd ever attend two full weeks of a grand slam (okay I technically didn't at the Oz Open because I missed day 1) so I still can't believe the number of matches I saw in my 13 days.

The best part of the walk into Melbourne Park, for me at least, is walking by the displays of former champions. This one holds a special place for me, as 2000 was the first year I went to the Aussie Open and even though I only saw fourth round and quarterfinals - two of my top faves ever both won that year.

Things were pretty quiet around the grounds today given that it was a Friday and there's no point of having a grounds pass as there's little going on on outer courts other than juniors and practices.

Li Na was hitting with her hubby/coach when I arrived so I sat and watched her for awhile. She looked pretty annoyed with her hubby which was funny.

First up on Rod Laver Arena was the women's doubles final - Vika and Kiri vs Flavia and Gisela. Talk about four hot ladies on a court - all attitude and glamour which of course is what sport is all about! I've always loved Flavia so was hoping she and Gisela would win their first slam - they only paired up last year and have been playing really well. But they were getting beat up pretty handily and faced match points in the second set. But then for some reason the highest ranked singles player on the court, Victoria Azarenka, completely lost the plot. She started missing everything and before ya knew it Flavia and Gise were grand slam champs!
I felt bad for Kiri and on the doubles court she always seems the better player and she deserved to have won this match. But c'est la vie.

Look how cute they are:

I left the site to go have real food with @cb_s and kill time before the Muzz/Ferrer semifinal. I will say that if you go to a grand slam for more than three days you will quickly tire of the food available. By the 11th day I couldn't face another sandwich or piece of bland sushi. 
Back to the tennis, Muzz vs Ferrer was a battle. Ferrer got off to a better start and won the first set and easily could have been up two sets to none but Fer historically plays horribly in tiebreaks and he'd lose two of them tonight. After losing the second set Ferrer just went away! All the shots he was nailing in the first two sets started missing and it was a complete meltdown - hard to watch. But he came back to nearly force a fifth set but again lost a tiebreak and the match in four sets. 

Muzz was pretty happy to be back in the final...

Doubles = amazing

Check out this point from today's men's doubles final at Indian Wells. What an unbelievable get from Dolgo and just a jaw dropping point.

Day 11 at the Aussie Open: 27 January

I definitely had a hangover of two varieties on semifinal Thursday. It was a bummer to wake up to the reality that Rafa had lost, and my night had ended at 3am (thanks @rishegee for the great night!) so definitely wasn't feeling my sharpest.
I had a fantastic seat in the sun in Rod Laver Arena in the fifth row for the women's semifinals. The day kicked off with a special tribute to Aussie Rennae Stubbs who was retiring after Fed Cup (even tho she said she may change her mind). A whole heap of current players came out to wish her well: Alicia Molik, Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko. Even Kim Clijsters ran out even tho she was playing later in the day. It was all very lovely and emotional for Stubbsy. 

 The first semifinal was Caro vs Li Na. I love Li Na and was so hoping she could become the first Asian player to make a grand slam final. I was also pretty keen to see how the WTA number one would play in a pressure-filled semifinal. I for one am so tired of the ranking dispute and all I can say is that Caro has won a heap of tournaments in the past year so she's on top. Deal.
With my great seats I was really able to appreciate how well Caro defends. She really is a backboard which is why she does get a lot of stick for not being aggressive enough. Li Na hits the ball so much harder than Caro, so when she was able to go for a winner there was nothing Caro could do, but Li Na missed a lot of balls and went down a set and break. I still don't know how Li Na overcame the match point and win that second set, but by the third set she was hitting so well and Caro probably never got over the fact she had a match point.
Li winning was the best moment I witnessed at the Aussie Open. I spent a few years living in China and my work has dealt with China so it's a country close to my heart. And when I lived there tennis was not on anyone's radar - there were no players in the top 100, no tourneys in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou as there are now. It is just amazing to see how quickly things can change. And Li Na has such a fun personality and she won a lot of fans thanks to her super cute press conferences and on court interviews. So when Caro's final shot went wide I was tearing up watching history happen. Li Na jia you! I'm still so proud.

Next up was Kim vs Vera and Kim had no trouble getting through - her shots were clicking and Vera couldn't really hurt her. So the final was going to be Kim vs Li Na, a repeat of the Sydney final.

That night, I had an even better seat to watch Nole vs Fed - right at the baseline about six rows back. What can I say about this match? Nole was unbelievably good and Fed just seemed to lose the fight. Ana Ivanovic was in Nole's box again. I was in shock at the number of Nole fans - so vocal and I reckon he had more crowd support that Fed which is saying something. 
I thought for sure it would at least go four seats - Roger was up a break in that second set but let it go and Nole was relentless. He chased down everything - I was so impressed and so thrilled that he was in the final.

Smiles all around

Well, if yesterday all my tennis wishes went awry today I got them all!

Rafa got off to a bad start with Delpo with a lot of errors but he went on a tear to win five straight games to take the first set 6-4, and would win the second by the same score. I haven't seen the entire match yet (it's airing delayed here as we speak) but Rafa looked pretty Rafa-like for most of the match and his accuracy just outdid Delpo.

What can you say about Nole vs Roger? To be honest, I couldn't believe what I was seeing from 2-2 in the third set. As much as I don't much care for Fed, I hated watching him lose, what, 11 straight points? That was awful to watch - error after error. But all credit to Nole, he showed us why he's unbeaten in 2011 and though this match was pretty up and down I still reckon he's the favourite tomorrow.
I think my biggest smile of the tennis day was for these boys:

Huge congrats to team bun, team ponytail, what have you. The title went to veteran Belgian Xavier Malisse and youngster Alexandr Dolgopolov from the Ukraine. This was Dolgo's first title of any kind on the ATP and it was a joy to watch him on the court - all smiles! Such joy on his face.

This was super cute too

These boys had never played together before the tourney, and as Dolgo said during the ceremony, Xavier asked him to play together 10 minutes before the deadline. Not sure if that's really what happened but either way what a great way to finish the week.

And as much as I like Bethanie Mattek-Sands, I was damn happy to see Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina take the women's title. I've always like Sania and she's had a rough go of it since her wrist injuries. And Elena was doing so well on the singles tour but has really been in bad form in 2011 (a mere 2-6 on tour).


Day 10 at the Aussie Open: 26 January

When I told people I was attending 13 full days of the Aussie Open, a lot of people kept asking me if I was getting sick of watching. Ha! But Day 10 ended up being a hard one, definitely the worst day of the tournament for me.

Rod Laver action during the day session wasn't too eventful. Petra Kvitova took on Vera Zvonereva in the quarterfinals. I can't remember anything about this match six weeks later, but I was hoping Vera would win. I enjoy watching Petra's shots but she's pretty inconsistent which isn't always the best for spectators. Bepa was the better player and won 6-2 6-4.

Next up was Kim Clijsters vs Agnieska Radwanska. This was actually my first time seeing Kimmy live, but my third watching Aga play in Melbourne this year. I really enjoy Aga's game - she uses the court well and although she's not exactly a powerful shotmaker she's a great athlete and can get a heap of balls back. Kim, as we all know, is a superb mover and can wallop the ball. Pretty to watch when she's on but hideous when her timing is off. Kim was pretty steady in this QF and even though the second set was tighter she won it 6-3 7-6.

I am just not in love with Kim Clijsters. Yes, she's a nice girl, well spoken and lovely to everyone. Maybe I'm just tired of the whole 'amazing mom' storyline continue to play out, or the fact that she is 'Aussie Kim' despite the face she not only never married Lleyton but has since married and has a child with someone who is not Aussie. I dunno, I think it's fine for the crowd to cheer Kim because of her history but the nickname kinda grates my nerves. I always preferred Kim to Justine in both of their first careers and I do like her but I have heard enough about her amazing fitness post-childbirth. Giving birth doesn't automatically make a woman unable to be superbly fit!

On to happier thoughts, like ones from this man. I went to watch Nole practice after the ladies' quarters were over. Thanks again to Twitter and @ibmscout for letting us know when the top players were practicing. I watched a lot of player practices and without a doubt Nole was the one who looked like he was having the most fun. I have about 20 pics of him from this practice and he is smiling in them all. Clearly he is in great spirits and was still on a post-Davis Cup high. It's not a surprise he was doing well on the court. 

Unlike, this man, who I'd next watch playing 'Dolly' aka 'Dolgo' aka Alexandr Dolgopolov from the Ukraine. I watched Dolgo in his second round match having not really known much about him. I only saw part of his QF with Murray but man did he frustrate Muzz. I have warmed up to Muzz but he's so emotional on the court and I just don't think it helps him. Dolgo would take him to four sets but the Scot held on to make the semis.

Today marked Australia Day, so to start the night session on RLA there was a lovely oncourt ceremony. That was the last part of this evening that would make my smile. I did not enjoy my seat at all tonight I don't mind going to the slams alone and most of the time there are nice people around to chat with. But for Rafa vs Ferrer QF, I had a weird man to my left who sat with a mini computer on his lap meaning his elbows were well outside his 'space.' He barely looked up from this computer and when he did he started having a convo with himself. I also had a really tall dude in front of me, and a larger than her seat woman to my right. I could barely see the match without contorting my body.

I did my best though, and was ready to welcome Rafa and Fer to the court:

So that set the mood for tonight's match. I hadn't been to one of Rafa's matches yet at the AO so was really keen for the match. I was a bit late to the Rafa obsessed fan stage. I liked him well enough when he started winning slams but when I saw him last at the Olympics in 2008 I wasn't quite a crazy fan like I am now. I can't explain what made me transform but I started to admire his fight, intensity and the way he could move around the court and hit the most amazing shots. I love watching him hit passing shots and run around to hit his amazing lefty forehands. So, yes. I'm a massive fan, and after having watched him play on TV so many times I got goosebumps as he came onto court, especially when he did his traditional baseline sprint.

This was the last pleasant moment as the match, as everyone knows, was not good for Rafa and his fans. He had some tough rallies at 1-1 when he was serving and ended up injuring his thigh in a marathon service hold that seriously lasted 15 minutes. He left the court after that game and was gone for ages - it was all a bit of a mystery and thankfully I had Twitter so I could find out what the commentators were saying. It was all hard from then - he didn't move as well but honestly I don't know if Rafa would have won even uninjured. Ferrer was playing so well and was riding a good winning streak since he'd started the year winning in Auckland playing some great tennis.

But it all got really hard to watch, and when fireworks interrupted the match I decided to take a break from my terrible seat and the general sad atmosphere. And I wouldn't go back, opting to watch the last bit of the match like this. Not exactly what I paid for but it was so sad and when they showed Rafa at a change of end in tears I lost it. Luckily, @rishegee responded to my Tweet asking if anyone felt like drinking, and we met up and ended up drinking many beers and eating chocolate to try and numb the pain.

But it still hurts - history on the line and of course selfishly I was going to be there to watch it all unfold if it happened. I joked before the AO to my Twitter family that I was sure Rafa wouldn't win the AO because I was going to be there, and I seemed to jinx my faves.

So my fondest Rafa memories from Aussie Open 2011 would remain getting his autograph and watching him practice. And a few shirt changes of course.