I don’t really seem to notice much anymore nowadays at Melbourne Park. This year was the first year that I really felt like the surroundings were incredibly familiar, about as close as can be to returning to a second home for me, considering that I don’t really have a second home. I try to look around to see what draws my attention, but nothing does really.
I walk to Melbourne Park these days rather than taking the ridiculously crowded tram, and walk through the ANZ queue, where if they happen to be your bank of choice, then you can get in far quicker than anyone else. If you’re an ANZ customer, you could also get a free ride on those pedestrian bikes, or whatever you call them, but I haven’t managed to ask for one yet.
After an incredibly quick journey into the Melbourne Park grounds, I've decided to watch Richard Gasquet play against Andreas Seppi. I hadn’t seen Gasquet for ages, so I don’t really know what has been going on with him lately. I wasn’t really sure what to expect except that at least maybe the tennis would look pretty, even if not all that great.
I started watching with Seppi up a break at 2-1, which is where it all started to go downhill for him from that point on. Seppi is supposed to be a consistent player, but he missed far too many shots overhitting while not really having a proper plan on how to win points.
Watching Seppi play, it probably takes a huge mental and physical effort to keep up that tennis that he plays, not possessing any reliable shot to win points quickly. Pretty much the only weapon Seppi has is that angled off-forehand that he likes to use to open up the court, but that requires many repeated forehands to get the right result. He’s surely got to enter matches thinking, ‘I’ve got to be patient. I’ve got to be prepared to stay on court all day rallying.’ Just that idea would probably be enough to depress me, and to completely self-destruct in the match.
Okay, so Seppi did self-destruct a bit to start with. It was as if he was caught in two minds as to what he should do, so he’d miss these shots trying to do something with the ball but without really going for it. Throughout the match, I hardly saw Seppi inject any change of pace. If he can’t do it, then that’s a huge disadvantage, because so many other players can hit the ball harder than he does. Gasquet kind of went along with him, and they both exchanged medium paced rallies, while also displaying extremely poor accuracy. I do like consistency, but I wasn't impressed with Gasquet hitting the majority of his shots several metres or more away from the lines (my knowledge of metres from my viewing distance is too terrible to make a good estimate). He has this weapon that he's famous for: the backhand, but what good was it when he rarely had the guts to go for it down-the-line? I am guessing that this shot started to pop up more in the fourth set though, when I disappeared.
So Gasquet won the first set through being more consistent, and through a very brief moment of nice transition play after going a break up. They both struggled with their serves, and I’m pretty sure Gasquet’s serving was much worse than I could remember in past matches watching him live. He used to be able to get more cheap points on his first serve. Maybe that will pick up again sometime.
Seppi cleaned up his game in the second set, while Gasquet continued to play tentatively. Gasquet appeared to have continual problems trying to bring out that confident side of him. I only saw glimpses of it in the first two sets. I kept hoping that it would start to come out eventually, but it was such a slow and gradual process that it was frustrating and painful to watch. When Gasquet increases the pace of his shots and hits through the ball, like he does occasionally in this match, it is so much easier for him to finish off points, and gives him many more options. To finish off points at the net, open up the court, etc.
He didn’t really appear to be enjoying himself I thought. He does generally wince quite a lot anyway, or perhaps it’d be more accurate to call it a twitch. But it did give the overall impression that he was basically battling it out for the win, and the only reaction that he would get once completed would be a sense of relief that it was all over. I didn’t stay for the end of the match, since it was quite a frustrating match, so I can only imagine what happened in the end.
I meant to watch Youzhny’s match, but I thought it was on the wrong end of the grounds near Hisense Arena, so while I was already there, I decided to watch Janko Tipsarevic play against Dmitry Tursunov. There were heaps of people wearing shirts supporting Serbia, Serbian flags, there was a tiny group of Serbian supporters there, yet not really a whole lot of cheering. I wasn’t even sure whether Tipsarevic was pleased with his small band of supporters, since I think they were the main reason why Carlos Ramos kept reminding the crowd to only make noise after the point had been completed.
By the way, it wasn’t very nice of them to put Tipsarevic, a new top 10 player into a tiny little court like that, though admittedly there were even a few spare seats. I sat on this very nice seat which was directly in line with where the players are generally standing / moving when on the baseline. Whenever Tipsarevic was on that side, I had a great view of his wild, athletic movements. He throws himself into every shot, whether defensively or offensively, bending down low to hit low backhands, getting up high to hit high backhands. The majority of players would probably only have one backhand that they’d try to replicate all the time, while Tipsarevic improvises, slides and stretches to the ball. It’s awesome to watch, and also looks like an injury waiting to happen, because the movements aren’t predictable or following some sort of textbook action. There was one entertaining point where Tipsarevic was defending every shot of Tursunov’s as if his life depended on it, where I thought, wouldn’t this just be perfect if the match continued like that? (even though Tipsarevic is also excellent at being aggressive)
Unlike the previous match, both players maintained an aggressive mindset here. What changed from time to time here was their mindset on errors. Sometimes they were very generous with their errors, then when the important points came, they’d try to focus a little harder to make sure they wouldn’t lose the point with a stupid error. The second set tie-break was the epic point of the match. Tursunov must have had around three set points to take a two sets to love lead, and if he had played one of those points equally as well as how he played to save set points or keep the tie-break going, then he would have won the set.
During the all-important second set, there were three cute little kids leaning over the net during the tie-break, saying things and putting up their banners. They pointed at the balls when Tursunov went to get one, but Tursunov kept his
concentration and didn’t look at them once. Tipsarevic was possibly struggling with the heat, pouring water over his head on many changeovers, and his movement generally became less explosive after the second set. He took an injury timeout at the start of the third set for a foot problem. His foot was already taped up.
Tursunov basically looks like a very well-trained tennis player. There is not much creativity or natural flair in his game. It just looks like he has spent a lot of hours bashing tennis balls to the point where he can make ball-bashing look like regular rallying. It’s impressive in a way, especially since Tursunov doesn’t just get his power off being big and tall. His forehand is the major weapon particularly hitting it inside out. Tursunov played a good match here. He just didn’t play the big points well enough. He could have so easily gone up two sets to love.
It had been a long day of tennis, so I kind of went on a mental walkabout for a while. I was standing and watching Radek Stepanek’s match against Nicolas Mahut, and Stepanek just fell over on his hand while getting wrong-footed. It looked painful at first, he called the trainer, but I don’t know whether it was one of those things that get painful then you can recover from afterwards. He seemed to be lacking the usual feel on his shots though. Mahut continued to put the pressure on Stepanek. I didn’t expect much from Mahut given his current form, but he played his usual game of being aggressive and serving-and-volleying. I think the plan worked well. Stepanek wasn’t allowed to dictate or control what he wants to do in the match. Therefore he looked pretty average, though he did make far more errors than usual. Maybe some were forced, some were not. I can’t say I was really paying full attention though. Everyone has lapses of concentration, not just the players…
But of course concentration returns for the more eagerly awaited match-ups, such as the night session on Margaret Court Arena between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Denis Istomin. Watching Istomin play in Brisbane was the first time I was able to gain appreciation of him as a dangerous floater, and the main reason for this is just because he hits the ball incredibly hard and appears to have no noticeable weaknesses. He has a big serve, an excellent backhand which he isn’t afraid of taking up the line, and the forehand is also capable of doing damage. The night match confirmed that Istomin indeed does have a lot of weapons, and he even possesses a nice all-court game which wasn’t apparent until late in the second set.
Prior to the start of the match, there was a buzz and air of excitement surrounding Margaret Court Arena, the kind of atmosphere I had not yet seen before this year. When people come to see Tsonga, they expect to be entertained. Whereas for other players, they simply come to watch the match, and nothing more. The stadium was packed from the start of play. I managed to grab myself a front row spot, after someone left at the completion of the Kuznetsova match. When Tsonga started the match with a jump smash, the crowd erupted in a way not yet seen before. Tsonga is clearly perfect for the Margaret Court Arena night match slot.
After a while, the crowd settled into the match, realizing that this might not be as much of the Tsonga show as they thought it would be. Tsonga can be unique and exciting, but he primarily approached this match by staying on the baseline, trying to establish control with his serve and forehand. I’ve certainly seen him play better before. From this view, I can see that Tsonga has a good kick second serve, which moves around unpredictably after its bounce and can be difficult to return, at least more so than many other players.
The match was a showcase of impressive power and consistency, both players getting into extended rallies while playing aggressively. I kept hoping that Tsonga would step it up another level, bringing out the killer forehand and moving in forwards, but it didn’t really happen until Istomin did exactly what I thought Tsonga would do late in the second set. I really like all-court tennis, so I started to enjoy the match a lot more. I like great shots to be taken advantage of, and constructed to completion, rather than getting ruined and lost in the middle of a long rally. Apart from that, it also looks clever, like a series of intentional shots strung together to get the right result.
Once Istomin started playing better, Tsonga also rose to the challenge, suddenly needing to make more urgent shot selections, or needing to hit passing shots. One advantage that Tsonga has over Istomin is that he can generate much better angles on the forehand, and he was able to use this to open up the court. In the last few games of the fourth set, there were some awesome exchanges containing dropshots, lobs, angled running shots, and there was one dive volley in there. This was exactly what the crowd had come to see.
Istomin must have won himself some fans too, even though some of them probably came to cheer for him originally just to balance out the huge amount of Tsonga fans out there. Serving to stay in the match, there were so many people cheering for Denis. There were also a huge amount of people cheering whenever Tsonga took his shirt off.
I’d say Istomin’s peak form was somewhere during the end of the second set to early in the third set, then the errors started creeping up and his choices to approach the net became more suspect. There were a few moments of self-destruction towards the end. Tsonga served a double fault and made a horrible error to lose serve when serving for the match, then Istomin gave away about three points on his serve to lose the match. Still, people stood up clapping when the match was done, in appreciation of what they had seen that night. It was a good, challenging first round match. Istomin put in a great performance for the most part. Tsonga needed to raise his level, and he did.
By the way, I don’t have any photos because I forgot to bring my USB cable that connects my camera to my laptop. It will have to come later, I suppose.