What are the players doing two days before the start of a Grand Slam? Most will try to find time to practice on the courts of Melbourne, but a handful of the hottest players spent their Saturday competing for titles and trophies. Let’s take a quick tour around New Zealand and Australia to see how the finalists fared:
Hobart – Jarmila Groth (AUS) d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) 64 63
Just like the Sydney final that Li Na won over Kim Clijsters yesterday, the final in Hobart also featured two married women. Mrs. Groth won her second WTA title while Mrs. Sands will need to wait for that elusive first after her third failed attempt. Not only did they both have a good week in Hobart, but last week Bethanie helped USA to win Hopman Cup and Jarmila had a big win over Sam Stosur before she bowed out to Andrea Petkovic in the quarterfinals of Brisbane. Raising the trophy in Hobart may be Jarka’s best moment in 2011, however my favorite is the zinger she said to the hubby when she called for on-court coaching during her losing effort against Petkovic. When fellow player Sam Groth told her she should pay attention and take advantage of the cold weather conditions, she responded by saying “Don’t talk to me like I’m a frigging tourist!” She did not say frigging, of course.
The weather was far worse this week in Hobart actually as rain delayed play throughout the week, but luckily they got some sunshine today to finish the final on time. The final was played in very windy conditions, and this time Mrs. Groth was able to stay cool under pressure. Both Bethanie and Jarmila should be fully prepared for Melbourne in two days, and they will need to get off to a great start. Groth will play 21st seed Yanina Wickmayer in the first round. Mattek-Sands does get a qualifier in the first round with a possible 2nd round clash with former #1 Svetlana Kuznetzova.
Auckland – David Ferrer (ESP) d. David Nalbandian (ARG) 63 62
27th ranked David Nalbandian had not dropped a set until today and looked to be in better form than the 7th ranked David Ferrer this week, but the Spanish workhorse dismissed Nalbandian quite easily. Ferrer once again showed off his return game by breaking the Argentine’s serve three times and remained steady on serve as he fought off all 3 break points that he faced. Both Davids may have had Melbourne already on their mind as they both have tough 1st round opponents. Ferrer will face the tricky Finn Jarkko Nieminen while Nalbandian has the much anticipated battle with Lleyton Hewitt.
Kooyong – Hewitt (AUS) d. Monfils (FRA) 75 63
Speaking of Lleyton, the Aussie was playing the Kooyong exhibition for the first time ever and came away with the win. Although this was a weaker than usual field with the top guys deciding to rest up, Hewitt still needed to defeat Mikhail Youzhny, Nikolay Davydenko, and Gael Monfils to secure the title. Unfortunately, Gael played gingerly in the second set when he seemed to tweak his lower back but remains hopeful for Melbourne. His first round opponent will be rising Dutch star Tiemo DeBakker, and we all know who Lleyton will play. On a lighter and more random note, take a look at how Youzhny decided to battle Hewitt and his home court advantage.
Sydney – Gilles Simon (FRA) d. Viktor Troicki (SRB) 75 76(4)
Despite a slow start, Gilles went in to the Sydney final feeling optimistic about his chances today. Not only did Le Poussin roar through the draw without dropping a set, but he also never lost a set to his opponent in their 4 previous meetings. Cue to cutaway footage of French people scratching their heads as to why Davis Cup Captain Guy Forget subbed Michael Llodra in the deciding match of the Davis Cup Final against Troicki, but I digress. I tend to do that a lot, huh? Oh crap, I’m already doing it again.
Back to Gilles! The Frenchman is once again confident in his physical fitness, and this is of supreme importance as his footwork is his
biggest 2nd biggest weapon. His best weapon has to be his superior tennis brain, which surely can explain his two previous wins over harder-hitting but softer-thinking Ernests Gulbis and Viktor Troicki. One only needs to look at his now 8-2 record in finals to know that the frail-looking Frenchman is mentally tough. Gilles certainly handled the big points better than his opponent today. Viktor did get a bit of bad luck at 4-2 in the deciding tie-break when he was called for a foot fault on his second serve. Simon made sure to give special thanks to that lineswoman during the trophy presentation actually.
Who will these two play first at the Australian Open? Troicki will play Dmitry Tursunov, and Simon gets Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei. Gilles has a 2-0 record against Lu including a 63 60 over him this week. He will also have a 2-0 record against his likely 2nd round opponent Roger Federer. Allez!
Melbourne – Quallies and Special Events
As long as I’m Allez-ing around, I may as well report on TCW favorite Nicolas Mahut who defeated Frederik Nielsen to qualify for the main draw. Mahut was one of 7 men to get through quallies on Saturday after a week of many rain delays, while the remaining matches will be played Sunday. Congrats to the other six men who have already qualified: Denis Gremlmayr (GER), Vincent Millot (FRA), Gilles Muller (LUX), Simon Stadler (GER), Ryan Sweeting (USA), and Grega Zemlja (SLO).
Saturday was also Kids Day at the Australian Open with a day filled with events geared toward the Aussie youngsters. Sunday will also be a special day on the grounds as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will headline “Rally for Relief” in an effort to raise money for victims of the Australia floods. Other players expected to attend include Novak Djokovic, Pat Rafter, Sam Stosur, Lleyton Hewitt, and Kim Clijsters. For American fans, don’t forget that Sunday in Australia is really Saturday night here. Tennis Channel will be broadcasting the event tonight at 10PM ET. Does it make me a bad person that I will be tuning in mostly to see if old lovebirds Kim and Lleyton will play nice with each other? OK, but what if I promise to donate to the relief efforts?