For eleven months of the year, Melbourne Park is open to anyone. In January, though, the 28 Plexicushion courts that make up this monstrous complex are off limits to the ticketless public. There’s a tournament to be played. From what I’ve been told, Melbourne Park is a wonderful place, combining a raucous party atmosphere with high-level tennis and sweltering heat.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to explore the grounds in person this year. My plan to stowaway in a cargo freighter destined for the Pacific fell through. The folks at the High Commission in Sydney weren’t thrilled with the idea – something about ‘legality’ and ‘diphtheria.’ Ah well. I would’ve missed not going to sleep anyways. The lure of the Australian Open, for me at least, is its ability to destroy one’s life thanks to a schedule that calls on viewers on the east coast to be up from roughly 8:30pm to 7:00am. Try explaining that to your boss/love interest/doctor.
It’s a tough sell, but as I learned last year, the first Grand Slam tournament of the year has an appeal that isn’t easy to overcome. Melbourne 2012 saw Novak Djokovic vanquish Rafael Nadal in a five set marathon, and we witnessed Victoria Azarenka win her first major, quieting complaints regarding her need to feign death after every shot. Grunting: a case for the mute button.
In addition to the guttural sounds of athletes and the crowning of champions, this is what you’ll hear and see over the next fortnight.
Who Won’t Win
Canada’s hope is primed for a big 2013. The 2011 AO was Raonic’s breakout, advancing through the qualies to the fourth round before losing to David Ferrer. Raonic excels on hard courts, but the deficiencies that were exploited by Jo-Willy Tsonga and Andy Murray last year remain. A big serve is made irrelevant when paired with a porous return game. Eventually – the hope, at least – he’ll get there. It just won’t be here.
Dimitrov was anointed Baby Federer years ago. While there were similarities – the one handed backhand and a silky touch around the net – Dimitrov was lacking in every other category needed to threaten the top players. Now 21, the Bulgarian is approaching make or break territory. He reached the final in Brisbane, falling to Andy Murray in three sets. He followed this up with a dispiriting ‘I don’t want to be here’ loss to Fabio Fognini in Sydney. Rumors have him linked romantically to Maria Sharapova. Meanwhile Sasha Vujicinc toils in Turkey. Poor kid never had a chance.
There are three legitimate contenders on the women’s side of the draw. Serena Williams, Azarenka and Sharapova. Maria won’t go out early – though she could face Venus Williams in the third round – but she will not beat Serena or Azarenka. Fortunately for her, she wouldn’t have to face either until the final.
His knees are bunk. Get well soon.
The New York Times Goes To Melbourne
Seth Kugel spent a weekend in Melbourne with $100 USD in his pocket. Kugel was with his friends Patricia and Wes – they’re dating. The city is expensive. Kugs would be in tough, but his savvy street sense allowed him the chance to buy a meal for his companions, and it was Vietnamese food. Travel writers are obsessed with telling you how much things cost while boasting about their ability to get by on so little. The blog is called the frugal traveler. I get it. You’re not wasting your money getting hammered at a dive bar on Acland Street. You’re better than me, Seth. Wes and Patricia sound fantastic.
The Commentator That Will Make You Cringe
Brad Gilbert is one of the best analysts in the game. As a player, he made it to number four in the world. He found more success as a coach, tutoring Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Andy Murray and most recently Kei Nishikori. He seems like an affable guy who can poke fun at himself. Gilbert excels at pinpointing little things during a match that the casual observer often misses. He’s good at what he does.
With that in mind I send this plea to Mr. Gilbert. Stop with the damn nicknames. They’re killing me. They’re killing us.
Gael Monfils is Gael Force. Australian prodigy Bernard Tomic goes by Weekend at Bernie’s. It gets worse. He calls Juan Monaco, Club Monaco. Marin Cilic is Marin County Cilic. Fernando Verdasco? To Gilber, he’s Fer-Ver. That’s not even a damn nickname. Gilles Muller is Ferris Muller Day Off. Go Soeda – a name rife for creative parody – is called Do not pass Go Soeda. I need a cigarette.
Thoughts From An Aussie
Initially I had planed to scour the Internet for Melbourne travel blogs. The majority of them were terrible. Rather than FJM Mike Patkowski’s shitty time in south Melbourne, I asked theScore’s resident Australian Leigh Ellis some questions.
His thoughts on Melbourne:
Melbourne is known as the city that has “four seasons in one day” and there is no better way to describe it. I remember as a kid that even during the height of summer, you could be wearing shorts and t-shirts one minute, then a raincoat the next. It could be bright and sunny in the morning and then belting down with rain all afternoon.
On what the Open means to Australians:
It’s one of the most treasured events on the sporting calendar. It falls during summer school holidays meaning that kids can attend the event, which is hugely important. What makes it great though, is that being such a multicultural city, there are always fans for every player no matter which country they represent.
On the pressure Australian players face:
Australian’s are dying for a homegrown winner, one they like, as well. When Pat Rafter made the semis in 2001, he led Andre Agassi 2-sets-to-1 but then choked. Even though Lleyton Hewitt made the Final in ’05, there were a lot of Australian’s cheering for his opponent, Marat Safin. Hewitt has always had a prickly relationship with the Australian public, similar to what Bernard Tomic has at the moment. Australian’s do love Sammy Stosur, but unfortunately for her, she has never really done very well at her home tournament.
The First Round Match You Should Watch
Lleyton Hewitt vs Janko Tipsarevic
Tantrums, nationalism and dramatic zoom ins. This one will probably take five hours. Can’t wait.
The draws were released in unspectacular fashion on Thursday night. Roger Federer has an insanely tough path to the finals – the potential murderers row that waits: Paire, Davydenko, Tomic, Raonic, Tsonga, Murray and Djokovic. Federer comes in fresh, opting to train in Dubai rather than play the warm up events in Doha and Brisbane, but I don’t like his chances here.
Novak Djokovic will win his fourth Australian Open. The scintillating Serbian – I was too harsh on Brad – will likely face Tomas Berdych in the quarters followed by Ferrer in the semis. Juan Del Potro, Andy Murray and Fed are all on the other side of the draw.
Do you feel comfortable picking against Serena Williams? I don’t. She’ll have to beat Azarenka in the semis, but the only thing holding me back from jumping on the Serena bandwagon is her appearance on an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
Enjoy the next two weeks. Let your family know the deal before this thing starts. Sleep is for the weary.