Down Under Day 8: Advance Australia Where?
Day 8. There was plenty of green and gold in the arena, and romantic hope in the air as two Aussies – Stosur and Hewitt- went up against the World No 1s – Serena and Federer. Neither came through, which put a bit of a dampener on the early Australia Day celebrations.
But the day started with a match less anticipated by the locals, but more duly followed by tennis enthusiasts – Davydenko v Verdasco.
I had expected the match to be riveting. It wasn’t. I expected it to be filled with jaw-dropping winners, gutsy shot-making, and competitive fire. It wasn’t.
I watched the match sunbathing with the crowd in front of the big screen at Federation Square, and couldn’t help joining in the groans of the crowd at the 132 unforced errors the pair made between them.
Nando looked like someone had interrupted his afternoon nap in the first two sets, and barely scraped a third set after Davydenko gave him a few errors for the break. The fourth set wasn’t match better, as Nando gave back his early break but showed enough fight in the tiebreak to take it to a fifth.
Perhaps the fourth set tiebreak had exhausted the fuel in his tank, perhaps he never had anything resembling a brain, Nando disintegrated into his sleepy self in the fifth set and Davydenko finally closed out the match 6-3.
I’m done with him. I regret not being done even earlier.
Even Kolya knew the brutal truth about Fernando Verdasco.
Q. He has a reputation of being one of the strongest and fittest players on tour. How much inspiration can you draw from winning in the fifth set?
NIKOLAY DAVYDENKO: He’s strong physically, but not mentally. For sure he was strong. For sure he can play five, six, sets. But concentration you can’t holding, you know, all five sets the same. That’s was I know he have power in the fifth set, but he can make mistake.
That’s what he did in him serve like after I break him 3‑2. I have few good return, and then couple baseline good rally and I won. You know, just return. That’s was also surprising me. Always, I know ‑‑ and if you see was today, I know Verdasco well. Always if I go until 4 or 5‑All and then I have chance to break him and then winning like every end of set. Today it’s was surprising I didn’t make it in the third and fourth set.
That’s was, I don’t know, really difficult to play was today. Maybe it’s so dry and sunny and balls fly, you know, fast. Center court also. I never play. Always show courts. (Smiling.) I really don’t know what’s can happen.
But I hope, you know, next match I play center court.
Mentioning Kolya’s next opponent, after the match, I headed to Melbourne Park with my night session tickets. Having received a message earlier to tell me that Roger will be warming up at 5pm, so we made our way to the practice courts for some “silly fangirl time”.
As usual, Roger walked on court to fanatical cheering. Jammed in between the Federer Express Gang, and a bunch of autograph seekers, I managed to snap a few shots and was oh-so-glad he wore the short shorts again.
LJ’s photos, taken with her monster camera, were much clearer than my own.
Even if she was forced to take them through people’s armpits.
After his practice session, we went to the Heineken Beer Garden to work on our poster, occasionally flashing a smile at the flood of RF-cappers who found excuses to stand next to our table to subtly read what we wrote.
Amongst suggestions of “Too late to marry Roger Federer”, “Federer is betterer than porn vegemite”, “I should be doing my job. I’d rather be doing Federer”, we decided to opt for something more … tame.
The Australian Open is a family friendly event after all.
Our banner drew plenty of giggles from the spectators in our section of RLA. I’m sure it was because they appreciated my artistic interpretation of Myla and Charlene.
It was also Federbear Plonk Plonk’s first trip to the tennis to watch his daddy play. And didn’t Roger show who was daddy?
I expected the stadium to be overwhelmingly for Hewitt, but there were plenty of Swiss fans in the house. And Roger did such a great job at silencing the rowdy Aussie fans with his game that the crowd didn’t really wake up until the change of ends during the second set, when Roger changed his shirt and drew plenty of wolf whistles from Dootsie and the rest of the crowd.
It wasn’t a bad match from Hewitt’s perspective, but it only took a few games for the crowd to realise one thing: Roger Federer was in his happy place.
Hewitt did everything his weaponry allowed him to do: he tried to attack the backhand -it’s been a while since I’ve heard sounds this sweet coming off Roger’s racket on his backhand. He tried to outrun Roger along the baseline – easier tried than done when Fed’s movement was so on. He tried to come to the net – Roger’s passing shots seemed to literally curl around him.
For 3 games, I took Rod Laver’s advice and watched only Roger’s feet, and a line I once wrote in a poem came to me, “his feet caressed the ground like a blind man’s gentle, knowing fingers”.
Dootsie and her love-heart shaped eyes were about to burst into a song, I tell ya!
Hewitt himself admitted post-match that there was nothing more he could’ve done.
“Tonight was as good as [the] US Open final in 2004. He had patches where he played, you know, first and third sets he played incredible sets there.
“The way I hit the ball tonight, I still think I could have taken a lot of other guys still left in the draw. That’s probably a little bit more frustrating.
Roger’s next opponent will have more firepower, more weaponry and more momentum. Roger’s next opponent will more likely than not make me want to curl up into fetal position with my comfort blanket.
But at that particular moment, sitting in Rod Laver Arena with a crowd gasping at every sliced backhand Federer sent over the net, throwing their hands into the air whenever Fed made an impossible get, giving Roger a standing ovation when he entered and exited the arena, I couldn’t have cared less.
I looked around and saw the same expression of wonder on people’s faces. A privilege as always.
Happy Australia Day/Invasion Day folks!