Au revoir 2012 Australian Open

Who needed a recovery day from the men's final of the Aussie Open? I feel like I need a week, or I may do what my faves Rafa and Serena are doing and take the whole month of February off.

Copyright: Getty Images
The Australian Open made a lot of noise for a lot of reasons. What drama! It's only fitting the 14 days ended with the longest grand slam final in history.

The photo at left to me tops any other from the tournament (great choice SI Beyond the Baseline). Rafa and Novak had just battled it out for nearly six hours on court but were struggling to stand during the trophy ceremony. They both simultaneously leaned down in a poignant moment which brings tears to my eyes. Oh this sport.

My list of the biggest storylines from the 2012 Aussie Open:

  1. Withdrawals pretournament: Petkovic, Venus Williams, Robin Soderling, Marin Cilic, James Blake, Tommy Robredo, Fernando Gonzalez and Somdev Devvarman. It's never good to start the season with so many injuries and health concerns. Soderling's presence is very missed on tour and the clock is certainly ticking for Venus, Robredo, Gonzalez and Blake. I hope these favourites will make at least one more appearance in Melbourne. Petkovic's injury, a stress fracture in her back, sounds very serious and is the very one that has possibly ended Dinara Safina's young career.

  2. Retirements - was it the heat or are athletes just still carrying injuries from the 2011 season? The men had eight retirements and one withdrawal due to injury in the first four rounds, from Andy Roddick and Xavier Malisse to Ivan Dodig and poor Jarrko Niemenen who played in two rain delayed Sydney finals on Sunday and still was made to play his opener against David Nalbandian on Monday. The ladies weren't quite as bad with four retirements, most notably Maria Kirilenko in her match against Petra Kvitova and Anabel Medina Garrigues who badly sprained her ankle while playing Li Na in the third round.

  3. Nalbandian/Isner - exhibit A of why the challenge system and umpires don't always work well together. I was so disappointed in this ending - a fantastic five setter (both men seem to be addicted to them) that regardless of whether the call was right or wrong deserved a better ending. People said Nalby was right, the umpire was a moron, that Isner shouldn't have celebrated the way he did. Just a bummer all around and it ended with Nalbandian being fined for some post-match incident (throwing water at an official?) and many tennis fans extremely angry at umpire Kader Nouni.

  4. The Australian men - two Aussie men made the fourth round this year which is great for the locals. The two, Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic, have certainly polarised fans in their long and short careers respectively. But the Aussies know how to get behind their own, and with the first round departure of Sam Stosur it was great to see the men keep local hopes alive and entertained through the four rounds.

  5. The unpredictable WTA. Before the tournament started, many named 5-6 probable winners on the women's side and we ended up with arguably the most fascinating quarters we've seen in a slam for some time. The winner was not one of the multiple grand slam winners (Serena, Kim, Maria) it was the talented Victoria Azarenka who stormed to her first slam, meaning the past four slam winners were all first timers. Compare this to the men's side, in which two men (Rafa and Novak) have won the past eight slams. Give me unpredictability any day!

  6. Linecalling, challenges, etc. Much has been said about this tournament being one of the worst in recent memory with officiating. I'll add that yes the human eye is not perfect and umpires using their discretion on calls can lead to inconsistent results. The funniest tweet I saw about this by @Janie5Jones: "...did Tomic break? The new #ausopen tagline should be, "Don't beat your opponent, the umpire will do it for you."

  7. The final. Whether you were cheering for Novak or Rafa or neither, the men's final was one of the best in memory. As a Rafa fan I thought he was out after that third set and I screamed hard when he somehow came from from 0-40 on his serve at 3-4 down in the fourth set and managed to win it in a tiebreaker. I hid when he missed that backhand at 4-2, 30-15. I cried when it was over and turned the TV off instantly. Then I calmed down, watched the ceremony and marvelled at our sport. Amazing.

2012 Australian Open doubles champs: Sveta and Vera!

How exciting - two awesomely nutty Russians pair together and win the first slam of 2012! I watched these two play a few matches in Melbourne and they of course were as hot, and as cold, as they are on a singles court but they managed to pull things together to win the title!

So congrats Sveta and Vera!

2012 Australian Open women's finalists in photos

Had a chance to see a few practices of Vika and Masha when I was in Melbourne last week. Some photos:

Maria Sharapova

Victoria Azarenka

A tense day/night of tennis for this crazy fan - 2012 Australian Open

Photo by William West/AFP/Getty Images
A tennis fan for more decades than I want to admit, I've learned to enter into the later stages of a slam with caution. Anything can, and does, happen. Being a favourite, leading the head to head, being more experienced - sometimes none of these really matter when two players step on a tennis court. Each match is a whole new ballgame and I've been burned too many times when expecting my faves would win key matches.

Yesterday was a day in which three of my favourite players played semifinal matches at the 2012 Aussie Open.
My absolute favourite male player, Rafael Nadal was set to take on Roger Federer while two other big faves - Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka - were in battles of their own for a spot in the final.

How does one prepare for the emotional roller coasters of watching your faves be so close to a grand slam final? Personally I like to keep my expectations low and try to focus on the tennis. Of course the inner calm quickly dissipates and I become a tense fan who sometimes has to get up from the TV and step away!

Yesterday's women's semifinals were a great preparation for the tense Rafa/Fed match. Watching Azarenka and Clijsters battle, I could feel the match slipping away from Vika who is one of my faves. I am still scarred from watching Li Na (huge fave) lose to Clijsters last week while I was watching live and I've seen enough matches from the Belgian to know she's just never out of it. Vika, on the other hand, has worked hard on the mental and emotional parts of her game and I'm impressed with how she kept herself pumped up and closed out the defending champion.

Score: Steph 1, Tennis Heartbreak 0

Then it was time for a match I was much more nervous about - Maria vs Petra Kvitova. Petra is the one everyone seems to have appointed the best female player at the moment but I'm hesitant to fully believe she's ready for that crown. Yes, when she's on she has a dominating game but she is still working on consistency and can just play horribly bad tennis and go off the rails. I'm not quite ready to trust her but she can really step it up in big matches (Wimbledon final, Istanbul, Fed Cup) so I did not expect Maria, one of my faves, to have it easy though she's looked pretty great all tournament long. Another seesaw battle in this match, and in that third set I thought for sure Maria was going to lose. She was repeatedly down on her service games and it just looked like she was hanging on. But somehow, that fighter in her just kept going and then it was Petra's turn to freeze when serving to stay in the match and Maria pulled it out 6-4 in the third. They joy on her face was just awesome. It's been a long four years since she won the 2008 Aussie Open and it was that final match that turned me into a fan. She is definitely the favourite in the final given her experience in slam finals but I expect Vika to fully contend. Should be a fantastic final!

Score: Steph 2, Tennis Heartbreak 0

Then, it was time for Rafa and Fed. I am a huge Rafa fan - no one else comes close to being my favourite male player like the Mallorcan. And given I was present in November when Rafa lost 6-3 6-0 to Roger I was pretty sick to my stomach about this match. I know it's a slam, and I know Rafa's record against Roger in slams but as I said above - that really can mean nothing. Roger's looked pretty good all tourney long, while Rafa was just not quite in his best form though he really picked it up in the latter sets of his QF with Tomas Berdych. The first set began as it did in the French Open final. Rafa got down early, 4-1, and at that stage I wasn't too worried as Rafa didn't look good while Roger came out firing hard. As Rafa got into the match, it seemed her just started to look like he did three years ago here - moving so well, firing the forehand tho Roger really picked on his backhand again and again. After the two split sets and Rafa led in the third, I still felt so tense. Neither player seemed to grab the momentum and leads went as quickly as they came.

Rafa took a huge lead in the tiebreak, 6-1 and would proceed to lose the next four points. God help me these tiebreakers are the worst - may never get over Li Na's four match points in her tiebreak with Clijsters. But Rafa hung on to that tiebreak and lead 2 sets to 1. I don't know how many Federer breaks of serve were followed by Rafa breaking straight back but I was sure that fourth set was going to Federer. But toward the end he really stuffed up some key points and Rafa managed to serve it out the make his second Aussie Open final. Utter joy!

Score: Steph 3, Tennis Heartbreak 0.

Day 7 at the 2012 Australian Open

I might need therapy before writing this blog - I'm still reeling from Li Na's collapse today and not sure I can really talk about it yet. Sigh.

After starting the day watching Serena Williams practice (see photos here), I headed to my wicked Rod Laver Arena seat for some Vika/Iveta, Rafa/Feli and Li Na/Kim action. 

Let's start with the positives from day 7:
  1. Vika is hitting the ball amazing well - she really could win the tournament this year. And RLA crowd you can mimic her shrieks all you want - she doesn't care!
  2. Rafa won in straight sets again over Feli Lopez. Feli is still pretty.
  3. That's it.
I was quite disappointed today for a number of reasons:
  1. Li Na - what can I say? A set and a break lead over a gimpy opponent. Four match points in a tiebreak. Then an utter third set collapse - this one hurt a lot. I couldn't even stay in RLA until the end as the crowd erupting for Kim who is not Aussie would have been too much.
  2. Hisense Arena crowd - I went to charge my phone inside Hisense and heard this loud, prolonged booing. I immediately thought Nico Almagro was being booed for something and turns out it was Tomas Berdych on the receiving end. I cannot explain how loud these boos were and I wasn't even inside the actual stadium and couldn't believe the noise. Nico hit Tomas with a ball, and in my mind Tomas did overreact (who hasn't directed a ball at the body when playing tennis - it happens and it's legal!) but wow that booing in no way was appropriate for his non-hand shake. I've never heard such boos and think it was completely over the top. And the Aussie Open interview on court should have been cut short instead of trying to keep speaking with Tomas. I just can't comprehend this one. Total drama.
  3. Jelena Jankovic. Four years ago, I saw JJ beat Serena Williams here at Rod Laver Arena. It was a quarterfinal match and JJ was just in great form. She lost to Maria in the semis but she had a great 2008 and would of course make the US Open final, losing to Serena. Where in the world did that player go? She's a shadow of what she used to be and I find that quite sad. I hope she can somehow find her confidence and use that talent to get back toward the top 10.
Some more photos from today: