Monday, December 31, 2007

Tennis Is Awesome

I gotta say, all it takes is for the players to walk onto centre court to make me remember just how much I love tennis. It really is one of my favourite things in the whole wide world. Tennis is awesome.

So, what to report from the first day? It was swell, nothing too intense but some good clean tennis action to kick off the event. Newsreader by night, charismatic tennis MC by day Simon Dallow was very pleased to announce that this was one of the few places where you could experience the future today, as we were all at the 2008 ASB Classic even though it was still 2007. Brilliant.

In the first match of the tournament 6th seed Tamira Paszek took on 18 year old Belgian Yanina Wickmayer. I had never heard of Wickmayer but she made an impression. She was wearing this really neat rainbow outfit, like the kind Marion Bartoli used to wear, as well as colourful earrings and clips in her hair. Looked good. She played with gusto and looked to be a better player than her 170 or so ranking would suggest (I believe she made the main draw through a feed up tournament). But after she lost the first set in a close tiebreak Wickmayer left the court and swapped the rainbow ensemble for a rather plain outfit. Paszek promptly took control and won the match 76 61. Still, I like Yanina Wickmayer and she’s become one of my low ranked players to watch. Everybody’s got some. Paszek looked good too. She’s quite busty isn’t she? It’s remarkable is all, you don’t see many small teenage tennis players in the top 50 with such weapons of mass distraction. Good on her.

Other seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Anabel Medina Garrigues both won their opening rounds. Poor Anastasia Rodionova retired due to eye problems, but Doctor Srebotnik still looked strong in a 60 30 win, she’ll be tough to beat. After being the bad guy in beating a popular and game Nicole Pratt 76 63, Medina Garrigues won over the crowd by saying that she simply had to party on New Year’s Eve, she is Spanish after all. No early night for her.

And the tall Lindsay Davenport took fellow American Laura Granville to school in a straightforward 62 63 win. After the match Davenport said she was happy with the victory but thought there were things she could have done better. I’d agree with that, but she still looks like she could beat anybody. She’ll have Medina Garrigues in the second round, that will be a good one.

I haven’t seen the order of play for tomorrow yet but I imagine that Vera Zvonareva, Maria Kirilenko, Eleni Daniilidou and the Kiwi girls will all be playing on centre court. There’s an evening session as well so that’s always fun. Okay, enough blogging, it’s New Year’s Eve! Party time! See you next year.

Photo op. I’d love to put a picture of Yanina Wickmayer in her rainbow clothes here, so I’ll come back later and stick one up if I can find it.

UPDATE! I had a hunt around but couldn’t find any photos of Yanina Wickmayer in her rainbow outfit from Monday. Maybe the photographers were only pointing their cameras at Tamira Paszek. But all is not lost. Here are pictures of Wickmayer and Marion Bartoli wearing rainbow outfits. Thank you, and thank you anonymous for pointing this out in the comments. The Bartoli pictures are from a few years ago. Now Yanina was wearing that neat rainbow visor on Monday, and I think she was sporting that sleeveless top too, though it could have been the short sleeve version that Bartoli has got on in the middle picture. That skirt is definitely the skirt Wickmayer had on. Yay.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

It's Only A Day Away...

There’s tennis tomorrow! Not even exhibitions, but the real deal, with ranking points and everything! New season! Exciting! And I’m gonna be there. I am going to clap so many times.

Hope everyone had a good time these last few days, I know I did. The draw for the ASB Classic was made on Saturday, and it looks pretty straightforward. No blockbuster first round matches, so here’s hoping the upsets are kept to a minimum and we can see some of the top players go at it in the later rounds.

The draw did offer one big surprise as two New Zealand wildcards are going to face off in the first round, which doesn’t happen very often. The 153-ranked Marina Erakovic will be taking on the 386-ranked Ellen Barry. You have to like Erakovic’s chances, but Barry has got to be pretty pleased with the match up as well. That match isn’t on the card for tomorrow, but I would be very surprised if it wasn’t on centre court on Tuesday.

So what is happening tomorrow? Seeds Tamira Paszek, Katarina Srebotnik, and Anabel Medina Garrigues will all be in action, as will the woman everybody wants to see, Lindsay Davenport. And the Kiwi girls will be playing some doubles as well. It should be a fun first day, and when it’s over I’ll do my very best to get a post up all about it.

Oh, tomorrow is also this little day called New Year’s Eve if anybody’s interested in that kind of thing. I think I have a party to go to so it’s going to be a busy day. I hope everybody reading enjoys welcoming in the New Year, go nuts.

Here’s a picture of Katarina Srebotnik, who I’ve always called “Doctor Srebotnik” ever since I first saw her name. She’s great, and I hope somebody gets that reference. The Doctor will be taking on Anastasia Rodionova tomorrow, I’m looking forward to that one.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays

Santa Claus is near. Seasons Greetings to everybody who’s reading, have a good break if you get one. I’m going out of town for a little while, should be back just before the ASB Classic kicks off on the 31st. I’ll definitely want to get a post up before the action begins, have a look at the draw and stuff. And then once the tennis kicks off I’ll report back after every day of play, it’s gonna be a blast.

That was all I was planning to say, but now I realise I can’t bear to post a post so short so I’ll hype up the tennis a little more. When I previewed the ASB Classic field I neglected to mention the New Zealand players who will be in action as well. New Zealand is not exactly a tennis superpower at the moment, but we do have some young female players with real promise.

The New Zealand number one Marina Erakovic has a great record at the ASB Classic, reaching the second round both times she’s played. I find that so impressive. Local low-ranked wildcards just aren’t supposed to win their first round matches, but nobody told Marina Erakovic that. The young lady has talent. She’s not a bad doubles player either. It’s been announced that Erakovic will be teaming up with Michaella Krajicek at the Classic, with whom she won a few juniors double titles back in the day, including the junior US Open in 2004. Plus they have a good chance of getting into the main draw on their own ranking, so we could see another New Zealand team get the doubles wildcard. Marina just reached the semi finals at a tournament in Dubai, where she also won the doubles title, so she looks to be in fine form. She lost that semi in three sets to Maria Kirilenko, who will be the third seed in Auckland. It’s all coming together.

Kiwi Sacha Jones will also be getting a main draw wildcard, she’s good too. And there’ll be local women trying to get through qualifying as well. It will be fun to see the hometown heroes perform, and I’m sure they won’t be without some giant-killing ambition.

Here’s Marina Erakovic playing in Auckland last year. Well, actually this year, but you know what I mean. 2007.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Real Rocketbuster

In my earlier post about crazy Gaston Gaudio I said that I might reflect on some other Auckland tennis memories later. Well, I’ve had a lot of requests, but I’m going to keep writing anyway. That’s a bad joke. But I thought I would look back at the last ASB Classic final, as it was quite a memorable experience. Top seed Jelena Jankovic beat fifth seed Vera Zvonareva 7-6(9) 5-7 6-3. It was, as the header says, a real rocketbuster. There were breaks, there were breaks back (break backs?), set points saved, set points squandered, winners, errors and almost 3 hours of action jackson. I’m not going to say it was the best match of the year or anything, but it was definitely the best match of the tournament, and the best ASB Classic final I had ever seen.

The atmosphere is what I remember most. It was a beautiful day, the players were into it and the crowd was hot. There was a large group of Serbian fans that had been cheering for Jankovic since the first round, all kitted out in their flags and shirts and giant hats. They had their big chants going, JELENA JAN-KO-VIC clap clap clap, it was great. And Jelena being the free spirit that she is would flash them smiles and winks, making them go even wilder. Not that she wasn’t concentrating on the match. Woman was there to win.

Zvonareva was not without her supporters either. The lady is popular in Auckland. She had reached the final the previous year (fell to Marion Bartoli), and is generally pretty adorable, so it’s not surprising. One of the more boisterous boxes (the infamous Box 24 I think) contained a group of men wearing furry hats sitting with a giant cardboard cut out of Boris Yeltsin. I don’t believe they were Russian (they didn’t look like they were in any kind of hurry, hahaha) but they were certainly there to get behind Vera. Does everybody know the song Guantanamera? You know, the one that Toyota borrowed the tune from for their One Tonne Rodeo ads? Well whenever the Serbians’ Jankovic chants died down Box 24 would sing “There’s only one Zvonareva, there’s only one Zvon-a-re-va” to the Guantanamera tune. Had to be there.

So it was an excellent match and a fine end to a successful tournament. It was great to see the talented Jankovic win a title, and her season only got better. It was also good to see Zvonareva, not usually known for her mental toughness, put up such a good fight. She’ll be the top seed in the 2008 event, and it would be sweet to see her on finals day again. Hopefully we will see some more three-set thrillers over the week anyway.

In quick 2008 ASB Classic news, the young Tamira Paszek (pictured) is already in Auckland, setting a record for earliest ever arrival. The girl is keen.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Men

Okay, time to preview the field for the Heineken Open! Let's get into it, starting with the best.

David Ferrer is coming back to Auckland to defend his title. What can you say about this man that hasn’t been said recently? He’s had an amazing year, is ranked at a career-high of number 5 in the world, and is in hot form having reached the final of the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai. It will be awesome to see him on the courts of the ASB Tennis Centre again, and although successful title defences are not common on the tour, it’s hard to bet against Ferrer.

Unfortunately it looks as though Guillermo Canas will not be coming to Auckland as planned. Apparently he has a bad wrist and won’t be playing tennis again until April. Now I haven’t seen any official word on Canas withdrawing from the Heineken Open yet, but it doesn’t look good. Which is a shame as he would have been one of the bigger stars in the draw. Beat Roger Federer twice in 2007, you know they would have announced that a lot.

Juan Monaco is someone to get excited about. Last time in Auckland he came through qualifying to make it to the quarterfinals, which proved to be the start of a great season for him. He won three titles and will be returning to the Heineken Open seeded and with a real chance to win the tournament. From qualifier to contender, that’s neat.

Thomas Johansson is someone I’m really looking forward to seeing. Winning the 2002 Australian Open is what put him in the history books, but I think of him more fondly as my buddy Winston’s player of choice in Virtua Tennis at the Queen Street arcade. Too many times has the fast running game of Winston’s Johansson bested the volleying skills of my Tim Henman.

Johansson isn’t the only Virtua Tennis alumnus coming this year. Virtua Tennis 3’s Juan Carlos Ferrero and Mario Ancic are also confirmed. Ferrero needs no introduction, he’s a former world number one and French Open winner. Ancic is a former top ten player and Auckland finalist who will be looking to get his season off to a good start after missing most of last year due to injury.

I enjoyed the name dropping thing I did for the women in the last post so I’m going to try that again for the men. I’ll be able to write more about these guys when the tournament starts, so I’ll do them justice then. But for now…

Juan Ignacio Chela, he wins a lot of matches! Jonas Bjorkman, oldest man in the top 100, plus he’s a former champ! Sam Querrey, he’s young, and tall! Jarkko Nieminen, Finland’s finest, 2006 champion! Olivier Rochus, Auckland’s favourite player, he’s tiny! Xavier Malisse, the X-Man, he gets angry! Potito Starace, the man with possibly the coolest name in tennis! Nicolas Almagro, now this guy can play! Robin Soderling, he’s good too! Hyung-Taik Lee, fighting out of Korea! Jurgen Melzer, Mr. Austria! Jose Acasuso, always performs well at the Heineken!

Plus there are famous players like Nicolas Massu, Vince Spadea and others who will be trying to make it through qualifying to get into the main draw. All in all it’s a very strong line up of talent which should make for a great tournament.

Here’s a photo of Juan Ignacio Chela. I should have said more about this guy as he may well be the number two seed if Canas doesn’t make it. He’s kind of cool looking, don’t you think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who's Coming To Town?

The player lists have been confirmed for a while now, so it’s time to have at look at who’s coming! Starting with the women…

The field for the upcoming ASB Classic is not quite as strong as it was in 2007 or 2006. I believe there is some kind of restriction against top ten players playing in Auckland this year, but I don’t know the details. If anyone does know, please tell me, I’d be interested to find out. Regular tournament supporters such as Daniela Hantuchova, 2006 champion Marion Bartoli and reigning 2007 champion Jelena Jankovic are currently all in the top ten. Good for them, bad for Auckland.

But it is still a very strong field, and one that I’m really looking forward to seeing.

The top four seeds should be Vera Zvonareva, Katarina Srebotnik, Maria Kirilenko and Michaella Krajicek. Now that’s a strong line up. Zvonareva has been the Classic’s beaten finalist the past two years, and everybody will be hoping that she can go far this time as well. Srebotnik is a very skilled player who has had lots of success. In fact in 2005 Srebotnik not only won the ASB Classic singles title, she also won the doubles title with the woman she beat in the singles final, Shinobu Asagoe. That’s neat. Kirilenko is a star. The glamorous and amorous Russian has played at Auckland before, but I’ve never seen her play so I can’t wait to see her. Plus she wears pretty dresses. And it will be Dutch phenom Michaella Krajicek’s first time in Auckland, that’s exciting. Will she be sporting her short haircut? I hope so.

Any one of those women could win the whole tournament, and that’s no stretch.

But the main attraction of the event has got to be Lindsay Davenport. The former world number one is the biggest star to ever play at the ASB Classic. And the new mother has proved that she can still play winning tennis. Who wasn’t impressed with the results she got after her return last season? To borrow a phrase from the Nature Boy Ric Flair, she may not be as good as she once was, but she can be as good once as she ever was. Davenport is one of the favourites to win this thing. It will be very interesting to see where she gets placed in the draw and which seeds she is close to.

Okay, I’ll quickly name drop some of the other players I’m excited about:

Anabel Medina Garrigues, she’s good! Tamira Paszek, popular young prodigy! Eleni Daniilidou, two-time champ, she’s tough to beat in Stanley Street! Camille Pin, semi-finalist last year, she’s got points to defend! Meilen Tu, former champ! Akiko Morigami, two hands on both sides! Martina Muller, I like her! Anastasia Rodionova, watch out, she got disqualified once! Ashley Harkleroad, she’s great fun! Aravane Rezai, she’s got game!

Like I said, I think it’s a great field. I just hope that everybody shows up as promised. If they do it should be a terrific six days of tennis.

Next time the men!

I like pictures. Here's one of Vera Zvonareva with a smile on her dial.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Warming Up By Looking Back

With the ASB Classic and Heineken Open about a month away, it’s time to start getting excited. I’ve been going to the tennis in Auckland for a couple of years now, and I thought I’d share some fun memories from previous years’ events.

El Gato! Argentine Gaston Gaudio has always been one of my favourite players, largely thanks to his ridiculous comeback in the 2004 French Open final and also the great year he had in 2005. Plus he’s as mad as a hatter. But in a cool way.

In 2007 I got to see Gaudio play another player I like, Spaniard David Ferrer, in the first round of the Heineken Open. Very exciting for me. Not only did I get to see the celebrated Gaudio one-handed backhand, I also got to see the celebrated Gaudio meltdown. After putting in a great performance to take the first set, Gaudio promptly self-destructed and lost the match 57 63 62. Okay, Ferrer was never really going to lose and raised his game accordingly, but it was still a Voltorb-like self-destruction from Gaudio. He even smashed a racquet and gave it to a little kid at ringside, I mean courtside, something I had never seen before. It was a real thrill. Ferrer went on to win the tournament and is set to defend his title in 2008 as the world number 5. Good times. Gaudio went on to continue his spectacular losing streak and I don’t know if he will even play again. At least he’s not on roids.

For a fan who doesn’t even get to see that much tennis on television, nothing is cooler than seeing a famous player you like play live in front of you. These guys are like rock stars. Or professional wrestlers, but my much thought out tennis vs. wrestling reasoning will have to wait for another day.

Okay, I’ll be back in a few to take a look at the confirmed players for the 2008 tournaments, and maybe talk about some more memories.

I’m going to try to get people to actually come and read this blog. After all that’s the point, right? It’s not self-expression if it's not expressed to somebody. We’ll see how successful that is, but if you are reading feel free to leave a comment or send me an email, that would be neat.

Here’s a picture that’s not from any Heineken Open, but it is of Gaston Gaudio going crazy. Fun and relevant.