Tebbutt: Trophy time in Melbourne

Like many visitors to the Australian Open, they arrived on the No. 70 Wattle Park tram from central Melbourne. Unlike everyone else, they were carrying the trophies they won last year in the women’s and men’s singles.

Li Na and Stan Wawrinka’s arrival kicked off Friday’s 2015 draw ceremony, held just outside the new retractable roof (just five minutes to open and close) Margaret Court Arena. They carried onto the stage the Daphne Akhurst and Norman Brookes silverware they won 12 months ago.

Li, of course, will not be playing this year after retiring last fall, but Wawrinka is in action and comes into the event fresh off a win at the Chennai, India ATP 250 event, exactly as he did in 2014.

The draws provided limited excitement in terms of match-ups except for what happened with two-time (2012-2013) champion Victoria Azarenka. Bothered by foot and knee problems last year, the unseeded Azarenka now ranks No. 41 and will face another unseeded opponent, No. 34 Sloane Stephens in the opening round. They played each other in a controversial Aussie Open semifinal just two years ago. And things won’t get any easier for the winner – waiting in the second round will likely be No. 8 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who plays young American Taylor Townsend in the first round.

That will likely put some pop, and some popcorn, in the early rounds of the women’s event.

On the men’s side, the most anticipated first-round clash will be Juan Martin del Potro, who only played 10 matches a year ago before having left wrist surgery in March, against explosive, unpredictable Jerzy Janowicz of Poland.

It may be a simplification – or naïve – to suggest that almost all the top players in the women’s and men’s draws have fairly benign early round opposition.

Some might look tough, such as fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori against Nicolas Almagro. But the former world No. 9 from Spain is not playing very impressively these days as he returns from foot surgery last June that ended his 2014 year.

As for the seeded Canadians in the singles events, eighth-seeded Milos Raonic would seem to have a less complicated draw than seventh-seeded Genie Bouchard.

Raonic has drawn a qualifier (to be determined on Saturday) and then would play the winner of American Donald Young and another qualifier. The third round could be one of two veterans – Julien Benneteau or Lleyton Hewitt – with things getting more difficult in the round-of-16 where he might have to play del Potro (or Janowicz) or dazzling showman Gael Monfils. His ultimate gut-check would likely be the quarter-final where he could encounter top seed Novak Djokovic.


On Friday, Raonic had a practice session in Margaret Court Arena with Wawrinka. The points were incredibly short – it seemed as if they were changing ends every two minutes. Raonic was watched by co-coaches Riccardo Piatti (left above) and Ivan Ljubicic (right). It was interesting to note that Ljubicic and Piatti said virtually nothing to Raonic while he was playing games against Wawrinka, even on the changeovers when the players had a brief sit-down.


With Raonic in Melbourne are his father Dusan and his girlfriend – Canadian model Danielle Knudson (above).


Bouchard’s draw is fraught with complicated match-ups, and match-ups that have a history to them.

She starts out against a 20-year German named Anna-Lena Friedsam ranked No. 98. Friedsam came on strong toward the end of 2014, finishing the year with a 12-5 record after the US Open.

Actually 24 days older than the 20-year-old Bouchard (both have February birthdays), Friedsam beat the Montrealer in their only previous meeting – 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in Maribor, Slovenia, in 2012.

Still, Bouchard goes in a big favourite and could have an interesting route to a possible quarter-final date with second-seeded Maria Sharapova. In the second round she could play newly-minted Australian, erstwhile Russian Daria Gavrilova. In their last meeting, two years ago in the Aussie Open qualies, Gavrilova, also 20, ousted Bouchard 7-6(7), 7-6(6).

In the third round, Bouchard could face Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, to whom she lost twice in 2014 – in Oeiras (Estoril) in April and in Cincinnati in August. But she was not 100 per cent physically prepared in the latter match.

In the round-of-16 this year, before a potential quarter-final match against Sharapova, she could renew acquaintances with the ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber. Bouchard beat the 26-year-old German at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year.


Vasek Pospisil, currently ranked No. 55 and the second-highest ranked Canadian behind Raonic, has an opening round against No. 35-ranked Sam Querrey, currently the second-highest ranked American behind John Isner.

Querrey beat Pospisil in four tough sets in their only previous meeting – at Wimbledon in the 2012 opening round.

Pospisil was beaten by Benneteau on Thursday at the Sydney International, but that is the only singles match (4-1) he has lost in 2015.

His coach, Fredéric Fontang, said his player is in good physical shape and lost the Sydney match to Benneteau in difficult windy conditions while not playing poorly. With his Wimbledon partner Jack Sock at home in the States after hip surgery last month, Pospisil will partner Julien Knowle of Austria in the men’s doubles event.



It was a rough ride for Canadians Francoise Abanda, Gabriela Dabrowski, Sharon Fichman and Frank Dancevic in the Australian Open qualifying which began on Wednesday.

Francoise Abanda – above in a rally with Shahar Peer of Israel – came the closest. She held a match point leading 6-3, 5-3 and serving at 40-30 on Thursday.


Peer was near the net and hit a half-volley drop shot and, though Abanda chased after it (above), she was unable to reach it.

All in all it was a very up-and-down match with Peer having a lot of trouble finding her rhythm early in the match. She was especially shaky on her forehand. Abanda was just steady enough and aggressive enough to control most of the play. But once Peer saved that match point, she became the more consistent player and Abanda, obviously disappointed she hadn’t capitalized on her match-ending opportunity, gradually lost her composure and her confidence in her ground strokes – enough so that Peer was able to run off eight games in a row from 3-5 down in the second set to 4-0 up in the third.

Abanda, 17, and ranked No. 202, closed the gap in the final few games but Peer maintained her cool and finished off the match. It was a painful loss for Abanda who was clearly superior to Peer, who now ranks No. 117 but was as high as No. 11 in January four years ago, when she held a 6-3, 4-1 lead. Once the 27-year-old Israeli tightened up her game late in the second set, Abanda was unable to react and raise her level, or to really regain her poise in the final set.

She will next play for Canada in its Fed Cup tie against Czech Republic from February 7-8 in Quebec City. She has used up her “age restriction” quota of WTA events but will be free to play as many as she pleases after she turns 18 on February 5.


Dabrowski rallied from 1-3 to 3-3 in the first set against Yuliya Beygelzimer, and had a 3-1 lead in the second set. But the 31-year-old Ukrainian, one spot lower in the WTA rankings at No. 168 than the No. 167-ranked Dabrowski, was the more steady player.

Adept at doubles, Dabrowski, 22, attempted to get to the net to finish points quickly, but Beygelzimer remained calm and was able to keep her opponent off balance with deep ground strokes mixed in with high loopers.

Like Abanda, Dabrowski was not a happy camper through much of her match, growing increasingly irritated with her inability to outplay Beygelzimer, a solid but not intimidating opponent.


Sharon Fichman faced Elizaveta Kulichkova, a willowy Russian who packed a pretty good, low-trajectory punch off both the forehand and backhand wings.

Fichman, with a wrap on her left thigh for an issue that restricted her preparation, stayed with the 18-year-old through the first set but Kulichkova, who ranks No. 159, was able to powder just enough low, deep, well-angled drives to take the opener 6-4.

The second set may have been decided in the very first game when Kulichkova managed to break Fichman in a game that went to deuce seven times. The last real chance for Fichman came in the fourth game when she attempted to level the set at 2-2. She had a love-40 lead on the Kulichkova serve but was unable to follow through and get the break.

Fichman, 24, needed to somehow de-stabilize the free-swinging young Russian but just wasn’t able to get the kind of traction she needed to turn around the match.


The weather in the late afternoon Wednesday when Dancevic started his match with Alex Kuznetsov of the U.S. was cool, but more importantly it was windy.

Kuznetsov wound up winning 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 on the same Court 6 where Dancevic passed out with heatstroke during his first-round match a year ago against Benoit Paire.

That day it was about 40 degrees, on Wednesday it was more like 20.

The Court 6 ghosts of 2014 were not kind to Dancevic and Paire as both were eliminated in the first round of qualifying this year.

The bottom line on the Dancevic-Kuznetsov confrontation was that the crucial breaks of serve came early in each set. The key points involved extended rallies and Dancevic won them in the first set while Kuznetsov was more sound and prevailed in most of them in the second and third sets.

It was a tough loss for the No. 145-ranked Dancevic because he qualified for the Australian Open last year. The loss means the 30-year-old will lose a net 25 points and likely drop just slightly below No. 150 in the ATP rankings.



Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi has been associated with Roger Federer as a coach/advisor alongside more permanent coaches such as Tony Roche and Paul Annacone for many years.

On Thursday afternoon, Luthi was in a familiar spot – on court with Federer in Rod Laver Arena – sporting a T-shirt that read “Betterer.”


A year ago in the days leading up to the start of the Australian Open, Luthi also wore a T-shirt with a message – the one in picture above.



St. Kilda is the bayside community where Melburnians and tourists go to get a feeling of being by the sea – or in this case Port Phillip Bay.

One evening earlier this week in a park in St. Kilda, this guy was trying out his tightrope skills while others engaged in more leisurely pleasures.