Tuesday, 31 May 2011

An Impression of Monet

On the day I visited Versailles I took my eye off the ball somewhat and wasn't there for my favorite female tennis player as she bravely fought but lost her fourth round match against defending champ Schiavone. Yes Serbian Jelena Jankovic had been in the kind of form that had brought her solid results here in the past, but the crunch shots belonged to a deserved Italian who is fighting harder with each day closer to her being pensioned off.

Novak destroyed a French hope, Richard Gasquet in 3 ruthless sets to win something for the Serbs but I needed a day to reflect, so out of Paris again, this time to pay homage to Claude Monet and his wonderful garden. He also did some painting in his spare time and I had a gander at a few of those efforts too. The guy had some talent with the brush no doubt. Could use someone like him at home - the house is in need of a makeover.

The setting which is regularly invaded by tourists such as yours truly is the quaint village of Giverny, about 70km north west of Paris, loosely following variations of the River Seine. The weather suited the experience - slightly overcast, a little fall of rain to sparkle the roses and other impressive flora, and sunny enough for the cameras to adequately reflect the mood. (for those that have that control over camera work)

The estate agents allowed us an extensive tour through the house - it has been on the market since the artist's passing but still no sale - I likened it in a way to Wagner's house in Lucerne apart from the fact that Monet's works have never been performed by the Australian Opera Company, and Wagner has yet to claim an exhibition in the Louvre. The similarity was the flagrant disregard for the "No camera or video" signs in every room. Guess some tourists are not willing to purchase a postcard or booklet.

Enjoying my day out of town contrasted with Petra Kvitova at Roland Garros, who after taking a set lead, crumbled to China's Na Li in three, the latter now a quarter finalist against Victoria Azarenka who bullied Ekaterina Makarova off the court rather quickly.
Sharapova played in the womens match of the day winning 7-6 7-5 against Agnieszka Radwanska, and for that takes home the daily prize of a ticket to the quarter finals where she will have the chance to meet personally Germany's Andrea Petkovic, which should be a thrill for Maria.

Gael Monfils fought his guts out against one of the favorites coming into the tournament, Spain's David Ferrer, the 5 setter, across 2 days, satisfying locals just a tad. Gael now would have a much easier task in the quarters against a Swiss prospect named Federer who struggled through his fourth round match against compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, who will never ever get close to troubling Roger, even with Fed Ex blind folded, playing left handed, serving under arm and allowed no faults each service point. Stan is a good player but is mentally scarred against Federer who he has been hypnotized into believing is the creator of all things.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Rest Day In Paree

Well what did I get up to yesterday?  Basically it was a day of maintenance.  Seven years ago two of us from the Heart of Europe tour visited the Ch√Ęteau de Versailles and its gardens and were beyond impressed.  So much so that we employed contract gardening staff to maintain the grounds, and security to care for the ancient works within the walls.

The contracts were up for renewal. and I visited the site to judge for myself whether things had been kept up to scratch. I perused the vast expanses that the gardens covered, pleased with the choice of ground staff.  Meanwhile   I was assured from my fellow inspectors on this tour that the buildings were ship shape and Bristol fashion.

While there we were celebrated with a "Musical Fountain" spectacular which ignored all water restrictions that may have been entertained at the time but what the hell it sure looked and sounded OK.  Alright, not exactly Puccini for me, but not classic Beiber either, so appealing to the middle ground.

If ever you wish to visit Versailles I highly recommend - in fact an encore to inspect bits you missed the first time.

Fish French Fried

Well like Mardy Fish I had plans for Sunday that did not include an appointment at Roland Garros.  Mine, however, was self imposed.  American Mardy was the third round victim of hometown hero (the latest in a string) Gilles Simon.  The match had nothing much to decide between the two, other than the shots Simon hit happened to be landing within square meterage surrounded by this white marked line, while Fish chose to use a slightly broader range within which his balls could finish.

So as the direction of the match appeared ominous, we unfortunates adjourned to La Tribune for free drinks and nibblies and watched Novak Djokovic play phenomenal tennis against Del Potro (whose own standard probably would have been sufficient to defeat all but but one or two) on the screen.

Hoping for a Fish revival was forlorn - he had been left too long out of the freezer.  It was simple for Simon to wrap up the match in straight sets and leave the court vacant for the arrival of Maria Sharapova.  Enough of the drinks - Novak and Gilles had both  won - back to our seats.

How do you solve a problem like Maria was the song that Tapei's Yung-Jan Chan kept humming to herself as the 7th seed imposed herself virtually from the get go.  The bookies who had shaken in their collective boots when in round two the blonde reasonably attractive athlete was staring defeat in the mirror, rather than her make-up choices, now smiled knowingly as the best that Tapei could export to Paris was not only able to be manufactured by Team Sharapova, but delivered with greater speed and efficiency.

Decibel meters are being prepared for a possible semi final between Maria and Vika Azarenka, but seeds have been going down like flies so don't count chickens yet.  And leave the chickens with flies alone altogether.  This seed did not fall today - Maria 6-2 6-3

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Vika and Rafa assert

Yesterday I watched my selection for the women's title, Victoria Azarenka dismantle Italian Roberta Vinci.  The Belarusian was in fine touch, her power and consistency that had been her trade marks coming in to the tournament very much to the fore.  Little that Vinci could do but smile grit the teeth and accept a rather worthwhile cheque for three matches.  Set one to Azarenka clinically 6-3 and once achieving the break in the second the resistance was no more - the Italian job complete.  6-3 6-2

Similarly Rafael Nadal needed to bring only a portion of his arsenal to Court Philippe Chatrier in order to counter Croatia's Antonio Veic.  Veic stunned Paris with his win over veteran Nikolay  Davydenko but no more stunning to be done here today save for some shots here and there for the highlight reel.

Rafa appeared two or three gears below his best, but enough to push some blistering groundstrokes past the Croatian and remind everyone present just what the tennis pecking order is.  Today Nadal was doing the ordering.  6-1 the first set.

Following an expected service break in the second set,  Veic contributed his best moments to the match when he actually broke Nadal back and leveled the set.  A slightly irritated champion, Nadal like a wounded Spanish bull, reacted as one would and dealt with the problem accordingly.

Early finish for the Saturday session seemed more likely as the relentless Spaniard carved his way through the rest of set 2 and then the third  in even quicker fashion.  More unforced errors than acceptable against higher quality opposition but time to fix that. Nadal's ability to hit powerfully from both wings and his speed around the court is fascinating to watch on screen,  but far more impressive when seen live, and this from a guy not tested to his limits. 6-1 6-3 6-0.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Saturday and I get to see Rafa live on Centre Court

Yes it's the completion of third round matches at the French Open and Nadal features on his favorite court - Philippe Chatrier. He will win in three sets and thrill us for certain, but the match left over from yesterday is the one being talked about in tennis circles and other traditional shapes. Juan Martin Del Potro had leveled his third round match with Novak Djokovic at one set apiece before bad light (let's be truthful, no light) stopped play. This clash was shifted to Court Suzanne Lenglen because of timing of other matches so I won't see it's conclusion. I have a feeling that the Serb will just prevail though.

From yesterday, 2 of the 3 remaining Aussie singles players departed. Sam Stosur, after losing the first set then winning the second set 6-1 and leading with a break, fell away to Dulko. Rodionova failed to repeat her efforts from last year where she defeated Zvonareva, the 3rd seed this time too strong.

Biggest loser was number one Caroline Wozniacki, and all credit to Hantuchova for fighting back for not the first time in her career. She has a real chance, especially with Stosur and Goerges also knocked out early from that side of the draw.

The mens seeds however roll on steadily, Federer showing excellent form, a throwback almost to his 2009 Roland Garros triumph. Not only does Djokovic have to negotiate a way past Del Potro (the 2009 US Open champ) at the minute, he may have to meet Roger in the semis. A tough ask for even this year's hottest player.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! - you know the rest

While all this entertainment on Centre Court had confirmed my decision to come to the French Open as justified, I needed to watch an Australian play singles while there were any left.  So out to Court 3 and to see Jarmila Gajdosova against Spain's Anabel Medina Garrigues, who continues the tradition of Spanish players with triple barreled names.

The favored player was the Aussie who seeded 24 and with a fine record at Roland Garros, did not have the start she would desire.  Down an early break she redeemed herself and then both players displayed clay court tennis of the highest order, with no real prospect of any further service breaks.  

Throughout, Jarmila was hard on herself, as is her trait, and she blamed herself for everything both within and without her control.
However she took credit for playing a fine tie breaker complete with a set of terrific passing shots down the line. 7-6 to the Australian and half way to joining 2 other Australian girls in the third round.

Serving first in the second set Jarmila again put herself in trouble by immediately dropping serve and failing to take excellent chances on Anabel's serve to return the favor.
The multitude of JG fans including her coach, family friends and me were disappointed but implored the girl not to be so negative - she was winning the match let's face it.  

Not content with taking responsibility for some bad shot making, Jarmila chose to put her hand up for Paris traffic congestion, tennis balls going out of shape on Court 17, flights delayed in Hong Kong, and all misguided American Idol voting.  Yet through all this she managed to fight back to level the set at 3-3 and excited at this development played some extraordinary points to dispatch Anabel to an entirely different suburb at times and break to lead 5-3.   

The Spanish eyes smiled once more and denied Jarmila the pleasure of serving out the match, breaking for 4-5, but Jarmila is liking the idea of approaching top 20 status, and she shattered any dreams of a Garrigues fightback when she broke in the 10th game to win the match 7-6 6-4.

The Roller Coaster that is tennis with Maria

Just last week Maria Sharapova conquered the clay in Rome to win the Italian Open, take over the number 7 spot in the world and send a message that this could be her best chance yet to complete a career grand slam having already won at each of the other 3.

After thrashing Lucic 6-3 6-0, French teenager Caroline Garcia held no imaginable weapons from which the statuesque Russian should be overly concerned. That of course left off the reckoning that Maria only brought with her to Paris her dress sense and glamour - form was left in Rome. Sweet Caroline had the locals in raptures as she unravelled the Sharapova game piece by piece. It all began with the return of serve where Garcia had the temerity to stand right on the baseline to receive the first serve and half way to the service line almost for second efforts.

The serve was inconsistent and other parts of the game suffered. Meanwhile the crowd was dragging their youngster onto something quite special - first set 6-3. The sentence hadn't been fully punctuated yet as Caroline went on a rampage to lead 4-1 with serve to come in set 2. As is prone to happen though when the upset line is near attack strategy that won you your position is put in the rack in place of safety first. Maria did not need a second notification.

Sadly for the French girl, she won no more games, but in losing 6-3 4-6 0-6 to a champion like Maria, much can be learned. A most enjoyable match apart from the drop off towards the end and Maria could be semi final bound.

Andy handy on clay

Andy Murray took a long time to recover from his Aussie Open Final pain, and amazingly it came with the clay season in Europe.  Some stellar showings from a player better recognized  for his hard court prowess and pretensions for grass court glory, the Scotsman should have claimed the scalp of the impregnable Djokovic in the memorable Rome semi final.  He did enough to suggest that he is back to earning the number 4 spot in the world and in contention for the majors in the latter half of the year.

Here in Paris a second round challenge lay in the abilities of Italian clay-courter (aren't they all?!) Simone Bolelli.  It was Bolelli who had the early running and Murray had difficulty finding his sea legs, but the best players generally find a way and Handy Andy did, with the first set being forced to it's limits - a tie break ultimately giving the Brits relief and keeping Murray happy though you would never know by looking at him.  You would swear someone had stolen his last marble.
The standard of tennis had picked up from the men's matches I witnessed the previous day, with the touch, wicked spin, and pin point lobs a particular treat, especially considering the variable windy conditions.

No change in the second set where on key points Murray was able to produce some magic that made the basic difference - 7-6 6-4 could easily have been Murray facing a five setter. As it was Bolelli believed he had the game to make that scenario a reality. A gripping third set of high standard grand slam tournament tennis in trying conditions approached conclusion with Murray breaking and serving for a third round place. The Italian was not to be denied and broke back; Murray had to convince him a second time that the story line was written and that Bolelli should go gracefully head held high a respected loser.

No Grand Slam this year for Kim

A rather cooler temperature for the first Thursday of 2011 French Open. I was one of many who wondered whether world number 2 Kim Clijsters had done enough to be right for this big event. Granted she has won tournaments on the back of virtually no competition in the past - a US Open springs to mind - but to expect her to win through a gruelling two weeks of clay court trauma may be asking a little too much even of super mum.

Still a second round victory should be a comfortable morning's work, and so it appeared as young Netherlands player Arantxa Rus struggled to maintain pace with the Belgian's fearsome groundstrokes. Fortunately things did become more competitive once the Dutch girl found some timing, but the timing was not in time to prevent a 3-6 loss of set 1.

Although Kim committed a season full of unforced errors in the second set, she managed to hold set and accordingly match points. With sheer brilliance she ignored these and instead chose to give young Arantxa the confidence she needed by playing her back into the match. No twisting of the racquet serving arm required here as Rus took the set 7-5 and said farewell to Kim and the hopes of any female this year winning the Grand Slam. Kim was a mere shadow of her Australian Open champion self as she imploded before our very eyes. The final rites were mercifully quick and the second seed was dispensed with 3-6 7-5 6-1.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Some of the Rest of Day 4

Well seriously nothing on Court Philippe Chatrier served to surprise in the remaining 2 matches - Novak Djokovic played some luscious forehands amidst an entertaining encounter with Victor Hanescu, with the Romanian offering up some quality volleys for the Serb to think about come the grass season. Not here though, with the reigning Aussie Open champ continuing his astounding winning sequence and earning a third round match against Juan Martin Del Potro, 2009 US Open winner. Should be match of tournament so far.

Finally, reigning women's champion and breaker of Sam Stosur's heart in last year's final, Francesca Schiavone, lost her opening serve. The only loss she suffered after that was some hydration but not much of that either. Schiavone combined her wicked slice from both sides, and speed around the court, to rattle the Russian whose identity had previously been withheld from me. Patronizing sighs accompanied the slaughter under the Paris evening sun. Vesna Dolonts another victim of Schiavone, a player coming into the French, as last year, with suspect form, but cranking it up when it matters.

My first chance to see Roland Garros Live - not disappointed

After dumping luggage at the hotel, on to the number 9 line train towards the tennis before a long walk from the station complete with a growing sense of anticipation. 25 degrees today and perfect conditions for me to experience my first day of a French Open and the tournament's 4th day.

Because of all the connections from Bordeaux I missed some of the first set of the Wozniacki v Wozniak women's 2nd round match. Only two letters separated these girls, but Caroline Wozniacki is world number one and Aleksandra Wozniak is not. However they each have won no grand slam titles so this match should have been even. The rankings projected correctly early and so it played out with the Danish delight triumphing 6-3 before undergoing a somewhat unnerving case of second set jitters. The Canadian player, once ranked near the top 20, powered her groundstrokes, especially the forehand, to great effect, and a tie break eventuated. Leading 6-3 in the breaker, a controversial call went the way of the Dane and it rattled Aleksandra sufficiently to allow the big match experience of Wozniacki to win through 6-3 7-6.

Next, 9th seed Frenchman Gael Monfils, who possesses every shot in tennis but lacks the killer instinct to be ranked higher, had an appointment with local colleague Guillaume Rufin. As much as Monfils would want to be kind to a fellow Frenchman, this was after all his home country Grand Slam tournament, so he should be merciless. The initial stages of the match were an opportunity for Monfils to marvel the crowd with his grace and acrobatics and downright trickery with his tennis racquet. His opponent was no slouch, and had it not been for a few double faults at untimely moments, and unforced errors just when Monfils was at his most vulnerable, the opening set may not have been awarded to Gael 6-3. However it was. Then as if to ignore the script completely Monfils went walkabout - nowhere to be seen for all but one game of set two. Credit to Rufin whose all court consistency tested the other Frenchman's patience no end. So 6-1 and one set apiece. Normality returned in set 3 and Monfils controlled proceedings to take a two sets to one lead, which he converted into a second round 4 set win in a pretty entertaining match which Rufin can take heart from if not as much cash as his countryman.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Back from Bordeaux and Courtside

On the train to Paris after enjoying the sites and wines of Bordeaux, and today second round matches begin in earnest, but I am hoping some are played at Roland Garros cause that's where my tickets direct me. And initially it means a look at women's number one seed Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki display her wares including tennis shots against hapless Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak. Aleksandra will be spending the afternoon visiting the Eiffel Tower and the rest of her trip at other tourist spots.

2 Frenchmen do battle in the second match on Court Philippe Chatrier, and 9th seed Gael Monfils will provide a highlight package against the lesser known Guillaume Rufin. Irrespective, France will provide a third round men's contribution.

Novak Djokovic has his chance to show me how good his game has progressed on clay when he plays and presumably overcomes Romanian Victor Hanescu, but after Rafa's 5 set trauma against John Isner yesterday, the Serbian superstar had better beware of the potential upset. Who am I kidding really?

Last year's female champ Francesca Schiavone completes action on Centre Court and no conceivable drama awaits the Italian as she confronts Russian Vesna Dolonts.

On the Aussie front nice to see Jarmila Gajdosova breeze through her first round match, and all eyes (well some at least) will be on Samantha Stosur as she deals with Halep on Court 1 today in further second round action.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Aussies stumble on clay as top seeds flourish

Lleyton Hewitt succumbed to his ankle injury which saved him from a first round defeat at the hands of Spaniard Albert Montanes. That left us one male in the singles draw - Bernard Tomic - and he was summarily stitched up in straight sets today by Argentine Carlos Berlocq. So only Aussie men's doubles to write home about now.

Mixed results for our women with Sam Stosur safely into round 2 with little opposition and not much more expected from her next victim. While Jelena Dokic and Casey Dellacqua bit the clay, Anastasia Rodionova surprised by knocking over 26th seed Nadia Petrova. But then everyone has been doing that of late, even her hitting partner.

Djokovic extended his winning streak to something beyond what today's computer's can tally, and Federer had a solid workout with Feliciano Lopez before finally convincing the Spaniard that this French Open was better off without him in it anymore.

Biggest scalp so far belongs to local boy Stephane Robert, who came back from 2 sets down against in-form 6th seed Tomas Berdych, to win 9-7 in the decider. I was lazing in Bordeaux with drink in hand watching Robert save match point and listening to the French commentator go quite ballistic - yes not only Australian tennis callers are parochial.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Bordeaux for me as Novak hits the clay

Yes off to see some provincial France while the tennis stars strut their stuff at Roland Garros. Today defending champion Francesca Schiavone begins her quest for back to back titles against American Melanie Oudin and should be relaxing in a Parisian cafe without dispensing too much time on court. Two heavyweights follow - Novak Djokovic on his amazing run will win in straight against Thiemo De Bakker and Federer has his chance to eat into the Paris clay with a tough one against the surface specialist Spaniard Feliciano Lopez. Roger for me in 4 sets.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Warming up in Dubai for French Open

I made it to Dubai Ok and finally figured out this Wi Fi thing. Am waiting for flight to Paris but will not make it in time for first matches in French Open. However I have given permission for the event to start without me. First up on Court Philippe Chatrier will be 8th seed Aussie Samantha Stosur against Russian Iveta Benesova - not an easy start for the defending finalist. Lleyton Hewitt also will be playing a first round match on the opening Sunday so hopes are riding on him to fly the flag for the men.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Roger Needs To Score Some Grass

As current owner of clay tennis, Rafa Nadal, and prospective take-over merchant Novak Djokovic from Serbia, dominate the world of mens tennis, champion Roger Federer has been reduced to a classy bystander.

However, one shouldn't forget that the Swiss legend is still clearly dominant compared to the rest of the bunch.  Sure Gasquet knocked him over in Rome this week, but that was the performance of his life, not a poor showing by Federer.

Given the Wimbledon grass in a few weeks, it is more than likely that those who have been quick to dismiss Roger from Grand Slam tournament calculations in 2011 will need to recant.  I am hoping to see the genius that is still Federer come to fruition as he battles against the young guns.

As impressive as Novak Djokovic as been this year, Roland Garros and Wimbledon are the big tests - if he conquers one or both, then he can start to be considered among the modern day greats.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Madrid - Roddick and Fish drop early

Andy Roddick's run of poor form has continued as he was dumped from the Madrid Masters tournament by unheralded Italian qualifier Flavio Cipolla, ranked 160 and without a win from 4 starts on the ATP tour this year - until now.  Joining Andy on the sidelines is fellow countryman and top ranked American Mardy Fish, dispatched by yet another from the US, John Isner.

Del Potro and Davydenko, fresh from tournament victories last week, are on court at the moment in separate matches attempting to continue their good form into the French Open in a couple of weeks.

No big shocks yet in the womens draw with Victoria Azarenka storming through to the 3rd round already, joined by 2nd seed Zvonareva and only a short time ago by 5th seed Sam Stosur.  Stosur took nearly 2 hours to defeat Daniela Hantuchova for the second tournament in succession.