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Home   News   Tebbutt: Before the blast

Tebbutt: Before the blast

Jan 12, 2016
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

It’s going to be one of those days in Melbourne on Wednesday – a searing wave of 41 degree heat is set to whack the city.

Here’s Tuesday’s headline in The Age, the Melbourne daily newspaper:

Heat warning as 41 degree day looms: No running, no gardening – stay inside and keep cool

The good news is it’s only supposed to last a day, with high temperatures returning to a more reasonable low 20s on Thursday.

Torrid conditions and changing weather are part of the landscape in Melbourne. A long-time Melburnian said the approach on a day like Wednesday is to get anything you have to get done early in the morning and then stay inside all day. The highest temperature he ever recalled having to endure was 46 degrees.

Unfortunately, for the players in the men’s qualifying, which begins on Wednesday, there is no escaping the heat unless the Australian Open referee decides that play should be stopped if temperatures are above 40 degrees and something called the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature index reaches above 32.5 degrees.

Considering his excruciating match two years ago against Benoit Paire in the Australian Open first round and memorably – and his famously seeing “Snoopy” – while he was passed out with heat stroke, Frank Dancevic is probably fortunate to be playing the first match at 10 a.m. (6 p.m. EST Tuesday in Canada). Currently No. 226, Dancevic faces 22-year-old former French Open junior champion Bjorn Fratangelo of the U.S., who ranks No. 131.

It’s the same story for 27-year-old Peter Polansky. He also has a 10 a.m. start, against No. 156 James Ward, 28, of Britain.

Polansky is playing his seventh Australian Open qualifying. He made it to the main draw in 2009 but since then has lost three times in the third and final round of qualifying.

Milos is big in Brisbane

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Photo: TennisTV.com

Last Sunday evening in Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane had to be a huge confidence boost – and a relief after a rough end to the 2015 season – for Milos Raonic. His 6-4, 6-4 win over Roger Federer in the final of the Brisbane International was just what the doctor ordered after back spasms compromised his season after Rogers Cup and even forced him to cut short his participation in the International Premier Tennis League in December.

Raonic, who turned 25 on December 27, got better as the week went on. In his first match against Ivan Dodig, the gritty, rambunctious Croat made things difficult but Raonic had a composure about him that meant there was a sense the world No. 87 was fighting a losing battle…and he was – 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-4.

A 6-4, 6-4 win against Lucas Pouille in the quarter-finals was an easier match as Raonic simply bossed the rallies, except for a dreadful game when he lost his serve from 40-love up after breaking for a 2-1 lead in the second set.

Against Bernard Tomic in the semifinals, the score looked close – 7-6(5), 7-6(5) – but again Raonic seemed the better player all the way through and managed to win in straight sets despite giving up 5-1 leads in both tiebreaks.

Against Federer in the final, Raonic may not have played as well as he did in losing a smoking 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-4 match to the Swiss a year ago in the Brisbane title match. But he did what he does best – impose his game – on the mighty Fed. The final score was indicative of the play, as Raonic was neat and efficient. Both his pulverizing serve and forcing forehand came through when he needed them.

I just think his consistent power is something that’s so impressive,” Federer said afterward about Raonic. “The focus he brings to every single serve. I’ve always said it’s amazing that he can do that.
“For a big guy he moves well. He’s improved his fitness the last few years. Also tactically I think he’s better now than he’s ever been. He’s made a conscious effort of playing close to the baseline which before, when he was working with the Spanish coaches, he was way back.
“It also may be an option (staying further back) but if you really want to make it to the very, very top, maybe that’s not quite the play. You don’t want to hand over the play every time to the best guys.
“I think like this it’s more on his racquet and it’s probably not a bad thing. I thought he was playing really good tennis here last year and also in Indian Wells when I played him. I was quite impressed how good he was. Unfortunately he got injured and he had some issue which then didn’t allow him to play anymore since.”

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Raonic, comparing playing Federer in this year’s Brisbane final to last year, said, “at the end of the day, what I’ve learned for me, the most important part is making the guy adjust to me. I’ve got to take care of myself – get relaxed a little bit, and get back to what does Milos need to do to keep going forward in this match.”

He heads into next week’s first Grand Slam of 2016 with genuine aspirations – unlike the last three: Roland Garros (didn’t play after foot surgery on May 11), Wimbledon (he muddled through two rounds before his lack of preparation caught up with him) and the US Open (back spasms affected him in each match before he went out in the third round.)

Bouchard showing signs

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Last year from Indian Wells in March until the US Open in September, Genie Bouchard won just three matches and never two in a row. Now in Brisbane (Donna Vekic and Nicole Gibbs) and Hobart (Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Alison Van Uytvanck), she has done it in two tournaments in a row.

There was much anticipation about her return to action this month after her untimely fall and concussion at the US Open following a third-round victory over Dominka Cibulkova.

Would she be in the same inscrutable funk that saw her go 3-15 heading into the 2015 US Open – or would she come back and play more like she did in the big win over Cibulkova?

The jury is still out long term but her five matches so far in 2016 have shown positive signs – much more assured tennis and less of the nervy, tentative stuff that plagued her through last spring and summer.

In the quarter-finals in Hobart on Thursday, the No. 47-ranked Bouchard will face No. 35 Camila Giorgi. In their only previous meeting in Strasbourg, France, on clay in 2013, Bouchard prevailed 6-3, 6-0 over the 24-year-old Italian.

It has been interesting following the pre-Aussie Open tournaments in Australia. A year ago there was non-stop talk about the red-hot Bouchard after 2014 semifinals at the Australian and French Opens and her runner-up finish at Wimbledon.

Now, a year later, she is almost never mentioned among the promising young players when commentators discuss the emerging generation. Belinda Bencic, Madison Keys and even 20-year-old Samantha Crawford of the U.S. are the players people are high on. But being well under the radar could be just what Bouchard needs to get her career kick-started again. 

Nestor’s ‘grand’ achievement

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Photo: ATP Media

Daniel Nestor recorded a remarkable milestone on Monday when he won his 1,000th match on the pro tour.

He and current world No. 1 Marcelo Melo of Brazil combined for a first round 6-4, 6-4 victory over Jeremy Chardy and Leander Paes at the Sydney International.

Nestor admitted afterward that he had been feeling the pressure to notch the 1,000th victory since trying for it at 2015’s year’s end Masters 1000 in Paris and then again last week at the Brisbane International.

He was particularly pleased to get it done before wife Natasha and daughters Tiana, 7, and Bianca, 2, have to head back to Toronto next Monday.

Looking at the rest of the year, Nestor, 43 and ranked No. 18, said on Monday, “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to compete in the Olympics this year but one goal is a Davis Cup title also – it’s going to have to come soon because time’s running out for sure.

“I’m just satisfied now at having won this match and having played with some of the best partners over the years that have let me get to this achievement.

“We’ll see what happens at the end of this year. This could be the last year on tour. Maybe there will be a few tournaments next year, but I would probably say that this is the last full year on tour.”

While there has been a lot of conjecture, that is about as specific as Nestor has been about his plans for the future.

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Photo: Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

Reminiscing about the players he has partnered over the years, he said, “it started with Sébastien Lareau early, two Canadians. We gelled right away and had a lot of success. He was my first partner that I was pretty successful with him on tour. We ended up winning a gold medal (Sydney Olympics) in 2000. That was a great start. Then Mark Knowles kind of took me under his wing. He was already an established doubles player and we had success instantaneously. We had 10 good years together – three Grand Slams and a lot of Masters titles.

“Then it went over to Nenad Zimonjic who was my most successful partner. In the amount of time we played together, we won a lot of tournaments. We had some great times together. I really enjoyed playing with Max Mirnyi after that. He was a Top 20 singles player and we won two Slams together.

“Other guys over the years, I got to play with Federer in IPTL (in December) a couple of weeks ago and that was exciting. And playing with guys like Paes that I’ve had so many tough battles against – and guys like that over the years. And today (Monday) Melo, the No. 1 player in the world, helped me get over the hump.

“For me, as I wind down, I’d really like to play with some of the guys that I’ve played against and get that opportunity to be alongside them in the next 11, 12 months…I got to play with Andy Murray last year in Washington. Stuff like that I’d really like to take advantage of the last little while I have these opportunities.”

There had been speculation that Nestor might try to play with Federer in Brisbane in an attempt to reach the milestone with a living legend of the game. Unfortunately, two years ago on his first visit to Brisbane, Federer teamed with Nicolas Mahut and got caught in a doubles match the night before the final. The next day, he played one of his poorest matches, losing to Lleyton Hewitt in the championship match.

Because it was his first tournament of the year, Federer probably realized he had over-extended himself and was likely not to risk a similar situation by committing to doubles as well as singles in Brisbane.

It would have been interesting if he had played with Federer because both players are currently at a total of 88 in career titles – Nestor in doubles and Federer in singles. And, ironically, Federer attained his 1,000th match win in singles exactly a year ago in Brisbane.

Andy mixes with ball kids

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There was a photo op on Court 3 at Melbourne Park on Tuesday as Andy Murray posed with about 380 of the 2016 Australian Open ball kids aged 12-15.

Thirty of the ball kids are from outside Australia including 20 from Korea, six from China, two from Singapore and two from France.

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As he left the court after posing with the enthusiastic youngsters, Murray slapped hands with many of them.

On Monday, a security woman at the main entrance to Melbourne Park near where the trams stopped, was surprised to see Murray arrive with the common folk on the tram – probably no more than four-stop (four-minute) ride from his hotel.

It turned out there was some mix-up with tournament transport, so Murray and his team just hopped a tram to the site.

Australia post card

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This cool sculpture can be found at the corner of Barrack and George Streets in downtown Sydney.