Down Under Day 3: Sunny side up.
Day 3, and the sun was finally out in full force. Also out in full force were the tournament favourites as they powered their way through Round 2 to give poor ol’ Doots an early finish at work.
Our early morning group briefings in Rod Laver Arena had some silent guests, as Dementieva, Pavlyuchenkova and Kuzzy took turns to practice on the tournament centre court.
Not that they knew it then, in the warm morning light. But by the end of the day, only one of those three remained standing.
What can you say about Kuzzy when she’s brimming with confidence? She was smooth, her court coverage was sensational. She transitioned well into the court given any slight chance by Pavs, and she crushed the ball with orgasm-inducing pace and angles. Pavs was simply no match for an on song Kuzzy. Not a whole lotta players out there are.
Despite all that, the smartest thing the guy next to me could say was “Kuznetsova’s pretty butch, isn’t she? I don’t like her.”
Politely, I told him to fuck off.
It’s a sign of how well she’s playing that I can’t find much to say about Kim Clijsters’ match. The last two years of WTA wasteland has left a bad taste in my mouth, but even so, I did not expect to enjoy Kim’s comeback so much. I wasn’t a fan the first time round.
But there was much to enjoy.
Easy power, for starters. Something that Justine Henin, as much as I adore her, will never possess. A “mostly” reliable serve, still prone to bad days, but nothing in the realm of the wonky Ivanovic toss.
One of the best overheads on the women’s tour? FACT.
Most impressively, the ability – a commie’s cliche – to turn defence into offence within a single stroke, couple with speedy court coverage and transition inside the baseline, making Clijsters one of the hardest women on tour to wrongfoot.
With the exception of the first few games in the second set, Clijsters never looked out of control, rushed, or nervy. Just the opposite.
It’s starting to become boringly routine. But even in the topsyturvy world of tennis, no news is good news.
The same goes for Rafa, who hammered his second round opponent Lacko with little drama. It was my first time watching Rafa live (apart from Hit for Haiti), and the experience was in stark contrast to, say – Roger Federer.
A live Federer match is hypnotic. You see him slicing backhands patiently, testing the waters with a few forehands here and there. Before you know it, you look up and he’s serving for a 6-3 set, while you’re still not quite sure how and when it all happened.
But it sure looked pretty.
Nadal, on the other hand, shows you exactly how he did it.
Whereas Federer is omnipresent on a tennis court, Nadal’s court present is felt through the sheer physicality of his game, in the way he moves, the way he whips his forehand, his grunts … Come to think of it, is there anyone as “present” on a tennis court as Rafael Nadal?
Not much more to say on the match itself – Rafa played well. We won’t know how well he’s playing until he faces an opponent of higher caliber.
But like all the tennis greats – Federer, Agassi, Henin and Serena – they have the ability to make you forget the other side of the court momentarily, and just sit back to appreciate what is uniquely them on a tennis court.
And what’s uniquely Rafa looked formidable.
As the Day Session drew to an early close, I headed to Grand Slam Oval for the free Kate Miller-Heidke gig. There I met up with fellow blogger and Fedophile Jodi (Tennis from beyond the baseline), who was in town from Canberra for the Open.
We discussed among other things 1) the awesomeness of Kate Miller Heidke, 2) cutiepatootie Andrey Golubev, and 3) the would-be winner of Henin v Dementieva.
Jodi picked Henin, and I, after seeing Dementieva’s hardcore practice session earlier in the day, went with Demmy. 4 hours later, Justine Henin would continue to make statements on the women’s tour by taking out a red hot Dementieva 75 76 in an epic match.
There would be break-fests, double faults, floods of errors. But there would also be the most ridiculous shot-making and court coverage by both players, and the sort of success rate and dainty hands at the net that had commentators purring.
But back then, sitting under the twilight sun at the “Heineken Beer Garden”, swaying to the ethereal music of Kate Miller Heidke, and singing “Last Day on Earth” with a crowd half-drunk on beer, we didn’t know any of that.
We were just enjoying a little something known as the Happy Slam.