Nobody’s worrying about suntan lotion or dehydration in places like Brisbane and Sydney the first few days this week as rainy (over 200mm or almost six inches has fallen in some parts) weather and cool (low 20s C – high 60s F) temperatures have accompanied the start of the 2016 tennis season Down Under.
The picture at the top here was taken Monday on a golf course south of Sydney and is indisputable evidence that the weather has been for the birds – especially for those in Sydney where it was an unseasonable 19 degrees at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
The two events in Australia, the Brisbane International in Brisbane and the Hopman Cup in Perth, both have the benefit of roofs – permanent but ‘open air’ over three courts including Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane and a retractable structure over the Perth Arena in Perth.
But neither can control Mother Nature and that was clear in a media release from the Brisbane International on Tuesday:
CANCELLED – Federer visits the Gold Coast
Please be advised today’s scheduled media activity with Roger Federer (SUI) has been cancelled due to inclement weather.
Heat is still an issue across the country in Perth where it was 35 degrees C during Nick Kyrgios’ three-set win over Alexander Zverev on Sunday at the Hopman Cup. The colourful 20-year-old Aussie joked afterward that he might not have played the event if had known it would be so toasty.
Kyrgios’ compatriot Sam Groth lost in the first round of the Brisbane International on Monday but not before saying the event had an indoor feel that he liked because of the roof, even if it’s actually more like a huge canopy over the 5,500-seat stadium. With his monster serve, Groth, who was rusty after being out since October following foot surgery, has twice reached the Brisbane quarter-finals riding his mammoth serve “indoors.”
Milos Raonic, runner-up to Roger Federer in Brisbane a year ago, will be another player who appreciates the conditions and medium fast courts when he begins his tournament on Thursday against qualifier Ivan Dodig.
At this time of year, tennis is a big deal in Australia – maybe none of the other Grand Slam nations so completely gives itself over to the sport the way the Aussies do with everyone comfortably settled into the middle of school summer vacations.
How else do you explain Seven Two network showing a doubles match featuring Aussies James Duckworth and Chris Guccione against the French pairing of Lucas Pouille and Gilles Simon during the primetime supper hour on Sunday?
Canadians can easily identify with the coverage of the Hopman Cup because Perth is like Vancouver – three hours behind the east coast on this island continent. So Sydney and Melbourne are three hours ahead just as Montreal and Toronto are vis a vis Vancouver.
The 5:30 start time in Perth (8:30 p.m. in Sydney and Melbourne) makes it difficult for Australian east coasters to stay up until the end of the Hopman Cup team matches involving women’s and men’s singles followed by a mixed doubles. Both singles are seldom completed until about midnight, making it hard for many to stay up for the mixed, which can often determine the outcome.
Luck of the draw for Canadians
Dame fortune has been with Canada’s three top players at their debut events of the 2016 season. Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic drew the winner of two qualifiers for their second-round matches – but Bouchard had to win a round first in Shenzhen (China) to get there while Raonic, seeded fourth at the Brisbane International, received a first-round bye.
It took nearly two hours (one hour and 56 minutes) but Bouchard reached the second round of the Shenzhen Open with a 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 victory over Donna Vekic of Croatia.
It’s Bouchard’s first full match and her first win since defeating Dominika Cibulkova in three sets in the third round of the US Open on September 4.
After winning the opening set, Bouchard, ranked No. 49, lost five games in a row to the No. 109-ranked Vekic, best known for being the girlfriend of French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. But she recovered from that lapse and battled hard in the final set, always serving from behind until she finally got the decisive break at 5-all.
If she beats qualifier Nicole Gibbs of the U.S., Bouchard would have to get past Timea Babos of Hungary or Monica Niculescu of Romania to reach the semifinals. Second seed Petra Kvitova would have been her likely opponent in the final four but the Czech retired due to illness against Zheng Saisai of China on Tuesday. That opens things up for the sixth-seeded Bouchard, although Zheng, 21, is currently the top-ranked Chinese at No. 72. Agniezska Radwanska is the top seed.
In his opening match on Thursday at the Brisbane International, a now sleeveless Raonic plays qualifier Ivan Dodig. The 31-year-old Croat leads their head-to-head 2-1 but Raonic won their last meeting in Tokyo in 2013.
Interviewed before the Mubadala Tennis Championships exhibition in Abu Dhabi last week – he reached the final and lost 7-6(2), 6-3 to Rafael Nadal – Raonic had this to say about his 2015 and 2016 campaigns: “It’s been nine months since I’ve played a healthy match so I’m happy to turn those tides around. The main goal for 2016 is really to stay healthy, play 60 or 70 matches, as close to 100 per cent as can be. You achieve that and your tennis will take care of the rest.”
As the Brisbane International unfolds, Raonic (his support team of coach Riccardo Piatti, fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola, physio Claudio Zimaglia and girlfriend Daniele Knudsen pictured above) could play No. 6 David Goffin in the quarter-finals and possibly No. 7 seed Bernard Tomic or No. 2 Kei Nishikori in the semifinals. The latter match-up would be a rematch of last year’s final four, which Raonic won before going on to the final where he lost a highly-competitive match to Roger Federer, the top seed in this year’s event.
Vasek Pospisil, front and centre in the Chennai pre-tournament fashion show in the picture here, was seeded seventh and faced newly-minted Briton Aljaz Bedene, ranked No. 45, in his opening match. It was the second meeting between the No. 39-ranked Pospisil and the former Slovene — Pospisil topped Bedene 6-3, 6-4 in Valencia last October. On paper it was an auspicious draw for Pospisil, but in the end, Bedene balanced the head-to-head scales with a 7-5, 7-6 (6) win over the Canadian.
Pospisil, who speaks English, Czech and French, tried his hand at wishing Happy New Years in the Tamil language of Chennai – take a listen above.
Wow, what a Tuesday for the women!
Heading into this week’s various competitions in Brisbane, Perth, Auckland and Shenzhen (China), who would have imagined that Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova would not win a single match at their respective events?
But that is the case after Sharapova (left forearm) and Halep (left Achilles), seeded No. 1 and No. 3 respectively, withdrew before their opening matches on Tuesday in Brisbane. Both had restricted their play because of those issues in the latter part of the 2015 year so there is precedence in both cases.
Kvitova, at the Shenzhen Open, was feeling ill and retired trailing No. 72-ranked Zheng, Saisai 2-6.
As for Serena, she took the whole fall off after last year’s US Open because of various ailments, particularly a left knee problem that her coach Patrick Mouratoglou claims is a matter of bone bruising because of the loss of some cartilage.
Williams did not play her opening match with the U.S. team on Monday but did post for the encounter against the Australia Gold team but withdrew trailing Jarmila Wolfe (formerly Gajdosova) 5-7, 1-2 citing a knee concern. There were moments when the world No. 1 struck the ball crisply but she was too erratic and Wolfe managed to weather a few flurries of Williams dominance and wound up bossing many of the rallies herself. (Note: Serena could possibly still play in the USA’s final round-robin match.)
The 34-year-old American did not look too bothered at having to stop, as can be seen above as she hugged the newly-married Wolfe courtside after she retired.
Venus Williams, the defending champion, was upset 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 by 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina of Russia at the ASB Classic in Auckland. Kasatkina, ranked No. 75 and the reigning French Open junior champion, played solidly in the final stages but Williams did not look like herself – making premature moves forward to the net and attempting ill-advised drop shots as if she felt she had to keep the rallies short. In all Williams, now 35 and ranked No. 7, made 73 unforced errors. She suffers from the energy-sapping Sjogren’s Syndrome and looked weary and somewhat bewildered as she in her courtside chair after the match.
Of all those players, only world No. 2 Halep and No. 6 Kvitova are slated to play next week in Sydney.
Last week Tebbutt Tuesday helped transport tennis equipment from Toronto for a Canadian player in Brisbane and found himself in the Qantas Freight office at Sydney Domestic Airport. The sign here appears to indicate that the freight is not necessarily all inanimate objects.