MELBOURNE—Record crowds descended on Melbourne Park on Monday, according to the Aussie Open. Usually you can take this sort of announcement with a shaker full of salt—I have trouble remembering a day in the last 12 years when the U.S. Open didn’t announce a record audience—but I believe it this time. It was more crowded than I’ve ever seen it around the grounds. So crowded that I spent most of the day in comfortable Rod Laver Arena. Where Arthur Ashe Stadium shines at night and turns into a windy wasteland during the day, Laver is made for the hard, hot sunshine. The half-open roof funnels it right to the middle of the court, where it shines with maximum intensity—good for most of the fans, not so good for the players. No wonder Bernard Tomic and Fernando Verdasco limped out of there yesterday.
It’s warm again to start Day 2; here are some early notes and stories from Oz.
Links: Melbourne Age; Sydney Morning Herald; The Australian
No Hard Feelings? Darn! I Mean . . . Isn't that Nice
After showing off his tennis skills again yesterday, Roger Federer showed off his political skills in the press room. In about 10 words, he took the air out of the brewing Federer-Nadal feud. It was a classy performance. Federer essentially said he’ll never do tour business in public, and that a strike is a dangerous last step. He also said that he was happy and proud that his Little Buddy Rafa was all grown up now, with his own opinions, and that they’ve both been frustrated by recent negotiations.
As for Rafa, Little Buddy took a step back and said he wouldn’t be going public with anything anytime soon, no matter how hard the press tried.
—In related news, Neil Harman reported in the London Times that at the World Tour Finals last November, all of the players present (the Top 9), except Federer, were in favor of a two-year ranking system. This may be where Rafa got the idea of the “supermajority” that would vote for his plan, but yesterday Federer again stressed that he was concerned with both high- and lower-ranked players.
What struck me watching both pressers was how mature each of them were about it. Nadal laughed at himself for “talking too much, as usual,” and Federer said that just because they have disagreements doesn’t mean their friendship will be affected.
Bad for the press, yes, but these were nice moments for anyone who likes these two guys.
Already Sorry for Sam?
Her tournament hasn’t even begun, but there’s concern all around for local Sam Stosur. In the Age, Linda Pearce quotes Pat Cash on the subject of Sam. “I bumped into her the other day,” Cash says, “and she looked exhausted.”
Cash says he knows what the pressure’s like to win a Slam away from Oz and then try to do it at home. “It gets really tough for us here. The problem is, we love our country so much but we spend so much time playing away. . . . When you are here, every minute seems so precious and yet so many factors seem to be conspiring to make it even more difficult. So many people want a piece of you during the Australian Open.”
Cash believes that this hurt both Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter, neither of whom played their best Down Under.
—Over at The Australian, though, sports columnist Patrick Smith isn’t as forgiving. He believes Stosur has built her own “cage of fragility.” He says that she concedes weakness too often—“I was flummoxed, I was in awe”—and that this mentality is what separates her from true champions.
A second player came out and criticized Roger Federer’s leadership yesterday, Nikolay Davydenko. The Russian, who lost in the first round and whose career is winding down, said that he didn’t understand why Federer didn’t do more for the players. Of course, Davydenko is known to say a lot of things. But I did like this quote from him:
“He’s a nice guy. He’s winning Grand Slams. He’s from Switzerland. He’s perfect.”
Oh snap! That's quite a . . . criticism?
“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream…”
That’s what Rafael Nadal sounded like in his press conference yesterday, when he embarked on the bizarre story of his latest knee injury. This time it took place while he was . . . sitting in a hotel chair? That’s right. Nadal felt a “crack” and the worst knee pain of his life. The nightmare took him to the hospital to get an MRI and to the Melbourne Park grounds for emergency treatment.
I feel Nadal’s pain, but I’m not giving up on the idea that it really was all a dream, and that the paranoid Rafa taped up his knee in his sleep.
The Morning Herald has the best, unintentionally funny headline regarding chairgate:
WITH A STRAPPED KNEE, NADAL OVERCOMES HOTEL INJURY
The road really is a dangerous place.
Speaking of Pat Cash, the talkative ex-champ has, believe it or not, an opinion. This time it’s about the Wilson ball that the Aussie Open uses. Cash the Morning Herald that it has “killed the volley.”
“The balls they use here are soft,” Cash says, “and fluff up after three games. It’s almost impossible to hit a volley for a winner. They should take the U.S. Open ball—end of problem.”
This is interesting—we always talk about the courts, but it seems the balls here are slower as well. Nadal mentioned the same thing this weekend.
As for Cash, it doesn’t sound as if he’s outraged about having to watch volley-less tennis. What really bothers him is that a certain champ from the past—name: Pat Cash—wouldn’t have had a prayer with these balls.
“Pat Rafter or me, at our best, would get smashed out there,” a melancholy Cash says.
Odds and Ends
—Bernie Tomic, bettor’s nightmare: According to the Morning Herald, “One poor punter had $10,000 on Fernando Verdasco at $1.07 in the third set. Ouch.”
—Aussie footballer Barry Hall tweeted yesterday: “Tennis players never say thank you to towel boys! Very rude.” Always thought the same thing myself. Makes the players look like divas.
—“I don’t know what they were saying, but the sentence was too long for vamoose.”
That was chair umpire Pascal Maria to Verdasco yesterday, after warning Mr. Tequila Sunrise for coaching. Verdasco claimed his people were just encouraging him. A lot of observers thought Maria overstepped his bounds there, because he didn’t know what Verdasco’s coaches were saying. But a warning seemed fair to me, if they were talking to him nonstop. But can’t hand out a point penalty for that.
And In Muzza News...
I’ll finish with a trip back to old England, where the tabs await Andy Murray’s first-round match with American Ryan Harrison. Not surprisingly, the hot-headed Harrison has been transformed by the papers into something approaching a lunatic raised by wolves.
The Daily Mail sets the tone nicely:
MURRAY EMBARKS ON ANOTHER GRAND SLAM QUEST WITH LENDL IN HIS CORNER. AND A CHALLENGE TO TAME THE . . . WILD CHILD!
I linked to the Sun’s headline yesterday, but I’ll do it again, just for fun: “Andy Murray is ready to get right up fiery American Ryan Harrison’s nose.”
The Sun goes on with this nugget of news: “Harrison has a wild reputation and has been known to go bonkers at himself and the umpires.”
Murray knows this, and has apparently planned accordingly: “I’ll try and make him lose his temper early,” Murray said.
What is he going to do, I wonder? Say something about his mother on a changeover? We’ll find out in Hisense in a few hours.