US Open - Day 1

Unfortunately, this isn't a firsthand report of Day 1 as I am unable to get to New York until late afternoon on Wednesday, a full five days after my original flight.

My biggest stress today was Venus - would she survive the first round? Media have been obsessed with her possible retirement for what feels like years and I swear I can handle her losing early in NYC but not the media's reaction to it. She's been adamant that she still loves the game and does not see an end in sight - phew! People forget she was inches away from making the final last year (in a three-set loss to Clijsters that makes me ill thinking about) so I think she's got a great run in her this year.

Being in the US during the US Open is a real treat (even when your airline cancels your flight to NYC and you miss out on actually being there) as I was able to bounce back and forth today between the coverage on both the Tennis Channel and ESPN2. It's so nice to be able to follow two matches on TV at once, and when an obnoxious commentator appears on one channel (yes I'm talking about you Justin Gimbelstob) I can switch to the other. Nice.

Tomorrow night on Arthur Ashe looks to be a great ticket with my faves Rafa and Serena - I'm sure my view from the couch at my parents' house will be heaps better than actually being in the stadium.

This bitterness will soon pass.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Bloody Irene

Well, here I sit, miles away from NYC as lovely United Airlines would not allow us to land as scheduled on Friday night. Still don't understand why as other airlines were still landing without issues as the weather was fine then. Sigh.

So the US Open starts tomorrow, and I will be watching on TV like many others, and am hoping to get to NYC as soon as possible but at this stage my flight is on Thursday.

I haven't looked at the order of play for tomorrow, or the draw for that matter. It sucks to not be there, especially because the first day at a slam is so special and I am gutted to not be there as planned.

New York, New York

A dream is nearly fulfilled - I'm heading to the US Open.

I was here once, in 2002 for the first few days, but this time it's different. I've been to all three grand slams in 2011, and I am mere flights away from completing the calendar 'fan slam'. 

Ever since I started following pro tennis (in 1988-89) I've dreamt about doing all four in a calendar year - but never, ever, EVER thought it would happen.

But, here I am, four (yes, four) flights away from 10 glorious days at the US Open.

Follow me here, on my Facebook page, on Twitter @StephinNZ and check out the videos I'll upload at YouTube. I can't wait to share the adventure!

Post your fave tennis related gif or picture

21 years of watching tennis and I have to pick one fave image?! Heck no - I won't do it.

So I've scoured the net and found the best gifs out there - some of these I personally find hilarious, others are renowned online amongst us tennis fanatics.

Here are just a few reasons why I love this sport:

Amazing athletes

Spirited athletes

Hilarious families

Passionate athletes
Bodies with a life of their own (click to watch)

The joy of victory

Attitude x 302839302

Faulty equipment

Feeling better about my own falls on the court (click to watch)
Thus concludes my 30 Days of Tennis Challenge - what fun! I hope you've enjoyed reading.

What’s your favourite tennis surface

Hard courts

To me, tennis equals hard courts. Yes, I grew up playing hard court tennis and that's the most common surface in the US. I didn't used to enjoy watching clay court tennis but have come to appreciate it now that the surface doesn't play as slowly as it used to. I enjoy watching grass court tennis but the ball doesn't bounce the way it does on a hard court so personally I think the game is better on hard courts (and I imagine I would not deal well with the bad bounces on grass).

My fave slam is the Australian Open, and my favourite parts of the tennis season include the March hardcourt tourneys in the US as well as the pre-US Open season (now known as the US Open Series). So hardcourts all the way baby!

For reference: 30 Days of Tennis Challenge

The Grand Slam you would most like to go to

Hmmm. I'm spoiled I've been to all the slams:

Australian Open - 2000, 2008, 2009, 2011
French Open - 2011
Wimbledon - 2011
US Open - 2002, 2011
    So let me change this question to which slam do I most want to go back to? My answer would be the French Open, tho I didn't really enjoy myself so much this year (see Roland Garros...some thoughts).

    The main reason I need to go back is that I never got to experience Philippe Chatrier stadium as I wasn't able to get tickets. I tried to get tickets - went online the night they went on sale to the public to no avail. Spent literally hours on the viagogo website trying to buy resold tickets to see Rafa on PC but was only able to get a Suzanne Lenglen ticket.

    I also didn't really love my experience and feel that I need to give Roland Garros a second chance, cause we all deserve one eh? 

    For reference:
    30 Days of Tennis Challenge 

    A match that makes you sad

    Rafa Nadal vs David Ferrer
    Aussie Open QF 2011

    Rafa, holder of all three slams, #1 in the world, playing against his countryman Ferrer who was off to a rolling start to 2011 after easily taking down the field in Auckland. 

    Rafa had lost to Daveeed before on hardcourts but this was not 2007, and Rafa had already won two hardcourt slams. The Rafa slam was very much alive.

    So there we were, waiting for this great match up, and all of a sudden a few games in, Rafa leaves the court and we have no idea what's going on. Mass confusion, finally announced he was having treatment and we're all confused. Then it just gets worse and worse - Rafa pulled something. He's yelling something to Uncle Toni. Rafa loses a set, then another. 

    What's even worse is that I've got a shit seat next to a moronic guy on a small computer not even watching the tennis, only mumbling on occasion to no one. Two sets down and no one to share the pain with. I've got two non-tennis fans to my right, and am attending alone so have no one to share my pain with other than my fellow Rafa fans on Twitter. It got to be too much.

    All hope seemed lost, so I left my Rod Laver Arena seat and ended up watching the end of the Rafa slam dream here:
     Here I stood when the TV showed the photo that totally broke my heart:
    Still hurts.

    A match that makes you happy

    Serena Williams
    Maria Sharapova
    Aussie Open final 2007

    It had been a rough few years as a Serena fan when she showed up in Melbourne in 2007. Visibly heavier since her injuries and a horrible 2006, Serena was ranked 81 in the world and when she stated her intention to return to the top of the game, Pat Cash said she was 'deluded'. 

    When Serena made the final, I was housesitting for friends and had full reign of their home which was great as I didn't have cable back then. I literally sat on the floor in front of the TV for the final I was so excited. At the time, I couldn't stand Maria Sharapova. I remember wanting to pinch myself when Serena was just cruising, punishing Maria's shots. After the 6-1 first set, I tried not to get too excited,  but then it kept going. It was a complete domination, and Serena would take her 8th grand slam 6-1, 6-2.

    According to Wikipedia, her performance in the final was described by as "one of the best performances of her career" and by BBC Sport as "arguably the most powerful display ever seen in women's tennis".

    It's certainly a match I vocally enjoyed, fist pumping and calling out in admiration for Serena's winners.
    Match stats: 28 winners. 11 unforced errors. 7 aces.

    "It was an awesome win, because I had so many critics. So many people ... saying negative things," Serena said. "It's like, tell me no and I'll show you that I can do it. I get the greatest satisfaction just holding up the Grand Slam trophy and proving everyone wrong. I'm insatiable."

    Favourite tennis wag

    TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
    Brooklyn Decker

    Andy Roddick's wife Brooklyn looks like a total riot, judging from interviews I've seen and her tweets. She doesn't seem too full of herself and I reckon she'd be heaps of fun to go have a beer with.

    Favourite tennis couple

    Tomas Berdych and Lucie Safarova

    Tomas and Lucie have been the cutest tennis couple on tours for years and news this summer is that they split...just too sad. 

    Look at them - absolutely adorable. I think they were together something like nine years so I refuse to believe these two have split up for good.

    Favourite mixed doubles team

    Cara Black and Leander Paes

    I don't believe I have a fave mixed dubs team so I have to choose one I really like.

    I've always had a soft spot for the Black family. Three siblings from the tennis mecca of Zimbabwe, all very small in stature. Cara is an amazing athlete - she's just ripped and has some of the best tennis hands at the net ever. She was born to play doubles.

    And Leander - he's been around for so long and has a great personality (despite the ugliness of this match in Melbourne this year). 

    Leander and Cara have won three slams together, and countless others in both mixed and men's/women's doubles. They're also both pretty much my age so gotta cheer for the oldies on tour!

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite umpire

    Mohamed Lahyani
    I won't be alone in this opinion. Mo is the man! He has always charmed tennis fans with his lovely, calm demeanour in the chair and the way he pronounces the score with such singsonginess and happiness. To me there is no better voice and face in the chair!

    Even when your favourite is losing a match, when Mohamed is in the chair you feel like maybe life's not so bad.

    Mo gained even more tennis fans during last year's epic Wimbledon battle between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut. Every time he announced the absurd scorelines he was just adorable!

    When I was at Eastbourne this year, I knew I'd have a chance to meet Mo as the grounds were so open and everyone was accessible. So I waited for him when he finished chairing a doubles match. I was watching a ladies' dubs match in the adjacent court and grabbed my chance so went up to Mo and told him how much tennis fans around the world love him and he was just so lovely. He kept thanking me and smiling - seeming so humble.

    Mo agreed to pose for a pic with me, so of course my eyes were closed in the pic. I had already walked away from him so had to go back and tell him my eyes were closed and would he please pose again? He asked me whose eyes were closed and I said mine. So, he posed again and even checked it with me on my camera afterward to make sure it was better. Well, I look dead tired but here we are.

    Favourite women’s slam champion

    Lindsay Davenport

    I remember Lindsay being a top 10 player, a slightly bigger than the rest girl who struck the ball so cleanly and effortlessly. I coveted her groundstrokes.

    When Lindsay made her first slam final in 1998, up against the world #1 Hingis, it marked the culmination of an amazing summer in which she'd won three pre-US Open titles. It also cemented her as a real slam contender after she'd made two slam semifinals that year.

    Lindsay's rise up the rankings correlated with her becoming a much fitter player, and I'll always remember her match point in NYC. Hingis drop shotted Lindsay after a long baseline rally and Lindsay, now quicker on her feet and able to cover the court so much better, easily chased down the short ball and returned it into the corner for a winner. GSM 6-3, 7-5 to take her first slam.

    Lindsay ended her career with three slams, and contested another four slams which she ended up losing to Venus (three times) and Serena (once). Lindsay always said she achieved much more than she ever thought she would but I always thought she could have won more slams (she never made a slam final again after losing that 2005 heartbreaking Wimbledon final to Venus).

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite men’s slam champion

    Goran Ivanisevic
    Yes, I love Rafa and Andre - that is well documented on this blog. But I certainly cried tears of joy when Goran finally won Wimbledon.

    Of course, I was not actually cheering for Goran that day in 2001 - I was a huge Pat Rafter fan and wanted him to win. But I knew how much it would mean for Goran to win, and what a battle, what drama! The Sunday final rained out, match carried over to Monday; the atmosphere in the crowd that day was so un-Wimbledon like. Of course it went five sets, won 9-7 by the tall Croat. I was heartbroken for Pat but delighted for Goran. After losing three Wimbledon finals it was his time.

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Which men’s and women’s player was world no. 1 on the day you were born

    Oh great, I get to expose my age to the world!

    • ATP #1 on my birthday: Jimmy Connors
    • WTA #1 on my birthday: Um, well my birthday was six months before the WTA rankings started! Mortifying.

    For reference:
    30 Days of Tennis Challenge

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite men’s tennis outfit

    Rafael Nadal
    I have fond memories of Andre's denim/biking shorts combos. Other than that, who can remember much about what the men wear? Well I can't. Shirt, shorts. Sometimes an ugly pattern, sometimes odd colour choices. But generally the outfits the men wear don't last long in my memory.

    But Rafa's sleeveless shirts and 3/4 pants were great. I wish he and Nike would bring them back. I miss them.

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite women’s tennis outfit

    Serena Williams
    I can't possible choose one! I will fail this challenge. So I choose a few of my all-time faves that Serena has worn over the years. There have been some classics!

    Yes, Serena has great tennis style and when she was younger was not afraid to really push the boundaries of what one wears on a tennis court. Loved it!

    But later in her career I think Nike has dressed her well - lots of great colours. Some of my faves:

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Most attractive women’s player

    Maria Kirilenko

    Wow this is really hard to choose, so I looked to the recent WTA campaign - Strong is Beautiful - to help me decide. Sure, easy to say looks shouldn't be important in sport but that's not the world we live in. And tho people have criticised the WTA for glamming up/sexualising its players for the new campaign but I absolutely love it.

    If I had to pick one female who is the most attractive, I'd pick Maria Kirilenko. She's absolutely stunning. I find it hilarious tho that for such a beautiful woman she makes the least feminine, deep throated grunt when she hits the ball. And you know she could kick your ass!

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite Non Grand Slam tournament


    The Lipton, the Sony Ericsson. Whatever the name, the Miami tournament has always been one I looked forward to each year. I've always loved the combined nature of the event, particularly since it falls nicely between Melbourne and Paris. The calibre of players who compete in Miami was always high even before the Masters series was created.

    Andre and the Williams sisters have won the tourney six and eight times between them (Serena - 5, Venus - 3) so that could be a reason I have a great fondness for it, but also there have been some classic WTA matches during what I consider one of the best times for women's tennis: Venus vs Anna K- 1998 final,Venus vs Serena - 1999 final, Venus vs Capriati  - 2001 final (Venus saved I think seven match points in that match - was crazy).

    Miami was always considered 'the fifth' slam but I know many feel Indian Wells has taken that crown. I don't agree.

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite Grand Slam Tournament

    Australian Open

    Too easy. Yes, I live within a short flight to Melbourne and have attended four times, but I am convinced that the Aussie Open is the best slam for fans. I have been to all four slams so feel very able to make such a statement!

    Top 3 reasons it's the best slam to attend:
    1) Tickets are easy to buy, and ground passes rarely sell out and only cost $20. I've never had to pull my hair out when buying tickets. No queuing BS. Easy peasy.
    2) Location - the most convenient slam to get to. It's a 10-15 minute walk from central Melbourne and there's a free tram from Flinders Street station. No sitting on a subway for 45 minutes like Roland Garros, or the US Open.
    3) Crowds - people are friendly and there's always great atmosphere. Aussies appreciate good sport!

    Top 3 reasons why it's the best slam to watch:
    1) Endurance - Aussie summers are brutal so it's a real test for fitness
    2) First slam of the new year - you get to see how much work people put into their offseason, and who can be the toughest mentally post-holidays.
    3) It's nearly in my time zone. :)

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: A player that you aren’t a fan of but you respect

    Caroline Wozniacki

    Oh Caro -  there is so much to mock: the moonballs, odd fitting tennis dresses, her bragtastic tweets.

    But I think people need to back off about her ranking and game in general. I've seen Caro play live quite a few times this year and I was impressed with her fitness and  how hard it is for most players to put her away. Yeah, she isn't the power player we've gotten used to expecting from the current generation but, she wins. She wins a  lot!!

    The number one discussion does my head in. I believe that Caro has more than earned the top ranking and doesn't deserve the abuse about it. Yes, would be nice if she'd win a Grand Slam. And I feel that she probably will. But she has won so much in the past 18 months, so I think she deserves a lot more respect than she gets.

    For reference: 30 Days of Tennis Challenge

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: A player that no one would expect you to love

    Lleyton Hewitt
    This one's a bit odd. How would I know how people perceive my tennis tastes? People always seem surprised that I don't like Fed, being the big tennis fan that I am. Well, I never warmed to Graf or Sampras either so judge that as you will.

    So I'll change this challenge more to a player I like that no one would expect. I've always enjoyed Hewitt - his speed and fight. I have a soft spot for the shorter guys on tour and I love watching players make up for their lack of size with speed and agility. Hewitt was such a great athlete, but didn't win a lot of fans with his words or actions. Whatever. I like him.

    Even since his dip from his days winnings slams and being #2, he's still managed to play in so many classics. Case in point, 1R vs Nalbandian in Melbourne this year. I can't see Lleyton playing much longer, but I give him major props for coming back from injuries and surgeries again and again. Total fighter.

    For context: The Challenge

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite retired women's player

    Monica Seles
    This is one of my absolute favourite pics of Monica - right after she beat #1 Martina Hingis in the 1998 French Open semis to make the final. Monica had just lost her father to cancer, and the pure joy on her face when she won still makes me tear up.

    As I wrote about here, Monica was starting to make noise when I started watching tennis and I just loved her from day one. From mid 1990 til mid-1993 she was the dominant number one on the WTA. Then the dark years until 1995. And a comeback that saw her still contend but never be the player she was. Ah...what could have been. But, Monica seems happy with her life and what more could a fan wish for?

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Favourite retired men's player

    Andre Agassi
    My tennis love started with Andre. He was cute, he had frosted hair, he had a great smile. He wore denim and beat all the legends who thought he was a punk (which of course he was back then). Andre was the next big thing, and made slam finals only to lose to Andres Gomez, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier. He was the whiz kid, but found himself losing his first three slam finals and it seemed perhaps that talent could win tourneys and get him to #3 in the world but maybe he couldn't win the big ones. But of course he would, and he'd win them all. Andre was short with a funny walk, not a tall giant who could win heaps of points on serve (too easy). Instead he won with his returns, his movement and his heart. And, originally on a diet of Taco Bell.
    What's not to love?

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: Earliest tennis memory

    1990 French Open final: Agassi vs Gomez

    I feel like the first slam I properly watched was the 1990 French Open. I remember being so thrilled that Agassi was in the final and given my newness to tennis I didn't know much about Andres Gomez. All I knew is that Andre was going to win, not this old Ecuadorian dude. 

    Well, of course Andre would lose in four sets. Broke my teenage heart.

    30 Days of Tennis Challenge: First player you became a fan of

    Monica Seles

    I primarily thank Andre Agassi for getting me into the game, but he really does share  honours with Monica Seles.When I first got interested in watching professional tennis in 1989-1990, Monica was making a name for herself.I first remember her winning the Lipton (Miami tourney) and then beating Steffi at the French Open.

    I was awed by Monica - a skinny, noisy blonde who talked so fast and was so bubbly. And the way she played tennis was so unusual and so powerful - I just loved watching her play.

    Oh the controversy that used to follow her - her shrieks, not wearing a  bra, changing her hair colour...she definitely had her share of critics before 1993.

    30 Day Tennis Challenge: Your most memorable match

    2011 Australian Open 3R: Francesca Schiavone vs Svetlana Kuznetsova

    I've spent 31 days this year attending a variety of tennis tourneys around the world, and there is one match that has stayed fresh in my mind- the marathon that was Fran vs Sveta in Melbourne.
    I specifically bought the Hisense Arena ticket because I love both these players and thought they matched up well. Huge talent, great athletes and charmingly funny personalities. 
    The match was superb. The rallies amazing - the use of the court, the fight. When the score first got to 6-6 it was exciting to think we'd see such a tight finish. Then it kept going, and going! In the crowd you'd share a look with others and you'd both be thinking how lucky you were to witness such amazing tennis.

    People kept leaving their seats when it was 10-9, or 13-12 and I wanted to yell 'what the hell is wrong with you?' 'This is tennis history!' But possibly I was the only crazy person who sat for the whole match (and Nole's match before it) without using the loo?

    Fran was down so many break points and match points and she hung in. But Sveta didn't give those match points away. Fran took every one with amazing court coverage and deft shots at the net. She retrieved shots I thought she had no chance at. It was superb tennis - such amazing quality. Sveta always looked to have the upper hand, but Fran would not relent and finally won it 16-14.

    What I remember most was the huge cheers from the crowd. When the players returned to the court after changes of ends late in the third set, the crowd's enthusiastic and appreciative applause gave me goosebumps and I was in tears. This is what tennis is about - I was so proud of our sport and of these two ladies. Best match I've seen live - hands down.