James Crabtree is currently in Melbourne Park covering the Australian Open for Tennis Grandstand and is giving you all the scoop directly from the grounds.
By James Crabtree
MELBOURNE – During a Jacobs Creek Promotion whilst being hydrated by a seriously good glass of rosé I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Woodforde, 12 time grand slam doubles champion, winner of four singles titles and the surprise, and often forgotten, 1996 Australian Open semi-finalist.
Q- Mark, tell us a little behind your Snauwaert racquet with the famous 12×14 pattern as opposed to the traditional 18×20?
I first started using the racquet early on in an effort to control the ball and gain more spin. I was on a trip to the European clay and one of eight in a team using that pattern. My progression was more accelerated than the others and that turned some heads. There were matches where my opponents called over the referee wondering if that string pattern was legal, because of the results I started to have.
I knew it didn’t give me an overwhelming advantage. I know when anyone improves their form or improves their ranking people are always asking why and how are they doing that? People just pointed out the racquet issue because it was different.
The last few years I have been trying to develop a racquet with a string pattern that looks more conventional but still attain the same level of spin.
Q. What would be the advantage for a singles player to play more doubles matches?
I think we would see more natural volleying skills and more varied matchups. Players are just hoping for the easy put away and never learn the confidence in how to play the volley from the service line.
I think it would be great to have the top singles players sign a contract and agree to play doubles at one of the four slams and a few of the 1000 events. On the flip side of that it would be great to see a doubles specialist do the reverse at a singles event.
You look back at the older generations and the players who played both singles and doubles had the all court game, and never looked out of sorts at the net.
Q. Tell us something we don’t know about Todd Woodbridge
(Laughs) Todd fancies himself on the dance floor, on the tennis court and as a chef. There were times he would cook for all of us and he is pretty good. Sometimes you would get back to the apartment and he would be preparing food for all of us, our partners included.
Todd was a lot more strict about food during our playing days. I was the guy at Davis Cup who would throw down four courses, leaving our trainer to scratch his head, although I do have to watch the portions now. Lucky my wife is the master-chef in our house.
Todd has been talking of his personal trainer, who works wonders and how he has been seeing him four nights a week, but I am yet to see the effects and I suspect he could be some sort of phantom. (laughs)
Q.Tell us about your role in Aussie player development
I started working with (Matthew)Ebden and (Marinko) Matosevic. I worked with them for twelve months to help get them out of the Challenger mentality and playing more aggressive tennis.
The last few seasons I’ve been working with the juniors and their transition to seniors.
I’m more opinionated about Australian tennis players staying true to be more attacking all court players. That’s how we have always been and I don’t want to see that erased. I love watching guys like (James) Duckworth, guys who are willing to roll the dice and cause headaches for their opponents.
Mark Woodforde continues to work with Australian junior players, assisting in developing the next wave of Australian champions.
Looking for a jumbo preview of the Australian Open men’s draw that breaks down each section of the brackets? Look no further. We take one quarter at a time in tracing the route of each leading contender, locating the most intriguing matches, projecting the semifinalists, and identifying one notable player to watch in each section.
First quarter: Seeking the first men’s three-peat Down Under of the Open era, Djokovic will want to conserve his energy during the first week and probably will. Although rising American star Ryan Harrison could threaten briefly in the second round, he lacks the experience to test the Serb in a best-of-five format, while potential third-round opponent Stepanek lacks the consistency to do so as his career wanes. Among the other figures of note in this vicinity are two resurgent Americans in Querrey and Baker, destined to meet in the second round. The winner may fancy his chances against Wawrinka, more comfortable on clay, and Querrey in particular could bring confidence from his upset of Djokovic in Paris to another clash with the Serb when the second week starts.
The quarter’s lower section features several men who share Wawrinka’s affinity for clay, such as Monaco and Verdasco. While the Spaniard’s career has sagged over the past year or two, the Argentine enjoyed his best season to date in 2012 as he reached the top ten for the first time. His reward lies in a clear route to the second week and an appointment with the enigmatic Berdych. Always susceptible to ebbs and flows, the world #6 ended last season optimistically with a semifinal at the US Open, where he upset Federer. But then Berdych started this season miserably by falling in Chennai to an opponent outside the top 50. He has won just one of his twelve career meetings with Djokovic, although the only victory came in one of their most important matches: a Wimbledon semifinal. While Berdych’s route to the quarterfinals looks comfortable, then, only a superb serving performance can shield him from the Serb’s more balanced array of weapons when he arrives there.
Player to watch: Querrey
Second quarter: The only section without a clear favorite proliferates with question marks but also with talent and intriguing narratives. In the draw’s most notable first-round match, Hewitt will open his 17th Australian Open campaign against the eighth-seeded Tipsarevic. A mismatch on paper, this encounter could develop into one of the late-night thrillers that have become a Melbourne tradition, and the home crowd might lift their Aussie to an improbable victory over an opponent less untouchable than those ranked above him. Other storylines include the apparent emergence of Grigor Dimitrov, previously familiar only for his facsimile of Federer’s playing style but now a Brisbane finalist. While the Bulgarian never has reached the third round of a major, his recent accomplishments and his desire to impress romantic interest Maria Sharapova might inspire him. He faces a challenging initial test against Benneteau, who fell just short of his second straight Sydney final.
Awarded his first seed in the main draw of a major, Jerzy Janowicz looks to continue his momentum from last fall when he reached the final at the Paris Masters 1000 tournament. Unlike Dimitrov, his route through the first round or two looks clear, and projected third-round opponent Almagro does not pose an insurmountable obstacle. Unless Janowicz improves upon his January efforts so far, however, Almagro can look ahead to the second week and perhaps even a quarterfinal against compatriot Ferrer. The highest seed in this section, the latter Spaniard will reach the top four after the tournament no matter his result. His fitness should carry him past erratic opponents like Baghdatis or Youzhny, although the titanic serve of Karlovic has troubled him before and merits watching in their second-round match. Having recorded multiple victories over Ferrer on marquee stages, Nishikori poses his most convincing pre-quarterfinal threat. But he has struggled with injury recently and may prove no better able to grind past the Spaniard in the heat than Almagro, who never has defeated him. If Tipsarevic reaches the quarterfinals, on the other hand, he will aim to reverse the outcome of their US Open quarterfinal last year, which he lost to Ferrer in a fifth-set tiebreak.
Player to watch: Dimitrov
Third quarter: Never has a man won his second major immediately after winning his first. Never, however, in the Open era had a British man won any major at all, so this bit of history should not intimidate the reigning US Open champion. Murray will start his campaign by reprising an odd encounter with Robin Haase at the 2011 US Open, which he rallied to win in five sets after losing the first two. The lanky Dutchman behind him, he will face nobody over the next few rounds with the firepower to discomfit him over this extended format. Throughout his section lie counterpunchers like Simon or Robredo or tactically limited players like Mayer and Stakhovsky. The two exceptions who could threaten Murray will meet in the first round. Reviving his career with solid results in Doha and Auckland, Monfils will pit his momentum against fellow showman Dolgopolov in a match likely to showcase plenty of electrifying shot-making.
Perhaps of more interest is the route traced by Del Potro, the most likely title contender outside the top three seeds. In the second round, the Tower of Tandil could meet surprising Slovakian Aljaz Bedene, who reached the Chennai semifinals to start the year and nearly upset Tipsarevic there. Owning more than enough weapons to dispatch the passive baseliner Granollers afterwards, Del Potro would open the second week against Marin Cilic. The Croat developed around the same time as the Argentine and honed a similar playing style to complement his similar physique. But Cilic has disappointed those who anointed him a future major champion and top-10 fixture, appearing to content himself with a lesser level of accomplishment. He must brace himself for an opening battle against home hope Marinko Matosevic, who took him to five sets in New York last fall. If Del Potro can reverse his 2009 loss to Cilic in that projected fourth-round encounter, he also must halt his winless hard-court record against Murray. The task does not loom as large as it might appear, for he has won sets in all four of those matches.
Player to watch: Del Potro
Fourth quarter: What a pity that leading Aussie hope Bernard Tomic can play only two rounds before descending into the maw of the GOAT, as he did in the fourth round here last year. All the same, Tomic will have the opportunity to knock off a seeded opponent in Martin Klizan while praying for a miracle from Federer’s second-round opponent, Nikolay Davydenko. (Those who saw their match at the 2010 Australian Open will remember how impressive the Russian looked against the Swiss—for a set and a half, after which he utterly collapsed.) Perhaps more formidable than the momentum of Tomic is the mighty serve of Milos Raonic, which nearly toppled Federer three times last year. In each of their matches, Federer managed to win the crucial handful of points late in final sets, but can he continue to escape so narrowly? The younger man cannot look too far ahead too soon, however, for a second-round match against Lukas Rosol lurks, and everyone knows what Rosol has done in the second round of majors.
Winless against top-eight opponents in 2012, former finalist Tsonga hopes to turn over a new leaf in 2013. To snap that streak, though, he must survive the early stages of the tournament against dangerous lurkers like Llodra and Bellucci. Tsonga has struggled at times against compatriots and has a losing career record against Gasquet, his projected fourth-round opponent. Fresh from his title in Doha, the world #10 never has plowed deep into the Australian draw and may not benefit this time from the weak first-week slates that he received at majors last year. Eyeing a possible upset is Haas, another artist of the one-handed backhand who has collaborated with Gasquet on memorable matches before. But the question remains whether any of these men currently can compete with Federer across a best-of-five match, and the answer seems clear.
Player to watch: Tomic
Final: Djokovic vs. Murray
Champion: Novak Djokovic
Come back tomorrow for the women’s preview, designed with the same level of detail!
After the failed Aussie Open 2010 campaign, Maria Sharapova is back on the courts and this time she is in Memphis. I am wondering if her self confidence is back up. Getting routed so early in Australia can’t be good for it. If she hasn’t lost any self confidence then hey, she might very well win the Memphis tournament. Ofcourse she has to get past by US Open 2010 revelation, Melanie Oudin. Oudin did some good business last week in Paris. I am seriously hoping to see some good tennis from both in Memphis.
Anyway, I got a whole bunch of contacts on my Facebook and one of them is Maria Sharapova. She uploaded a few photos of herself attending the Memphis draw. Enjoy the pics, they are certainly exclusive!
As Justine Henin soars in her comeback to tennis at the 2010 Australian Open, it again begs the question – why REALLY did she come back to tennis? She ended her a 20-month retirement be venturing down to Australia to return to the WTA Tour and do what she does best – play tennis. As the following video clips show, we certainly know that what Justine does not do best is acting, singing and being a television presenter… Justine may have come to this conclusion and realized tennis wasn’t so bad after all….
So is it a surprise that the ever swell looking Maria Kirilenko has reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open? To me it is. I never expected her to reach the second week of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year. But like I wrote in my “I’ll supply the love: Maria Kirilenko” post and I quote:
I have high hopes for her this upcoming tennis season. I am actually hoping she will grab at least one title and make it into the fourth round of any Grand Slam tournament.
And she has exceeded my expectations already by reaching the quarter finals of the AusOpen 2010. Now it’s time for her to be consistent and I hope that she will be throughout the rest of the 2010 season. Just one step at a time. There is no need to rush.
When asked what she is going to do for her birthday she replied with the following:
Q. I believe it’s your birthday in an hour.
MARIA KIRILENKO: That’s true.
Q. What are you going to do?
MARIA KIRILENKO: I mean, I don’t know. When I was a kid, I had a dream, you know, to be in a Grand Slam main draw in Australia when I have a birthday. I think my dream comes true.
Q. Do you get to have champagne or do you not have that because you’re still in the tournament?
MARIA KIRILENKO: No, I don’t want to get drunk before my next match (laughter). It’s going to be difficult for me to play then. But, yeah, maybe after when I finish with my tournament I will celebrate with the girls from the locker room, with all my friends.
Anyway I am sure you have enough of my ramblings and so here we go with the photos:
Mark Philippoussis, the Australian hunk and the man who Roger Federer first beat in a Grand Slam tournament final at Wimbledon in 2003, is off the market. News reports out of Australia say that “the Scud” is engaged to Law and Order actress Jennifer Esposito. Philippoussis, 32, met Esposito, 36, this summer in the Hamptons, according to Australia’s Daily Telegraph. All the details can be read here: http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,28383,26196118-5013560,00.html
Greg Norman’s former Mother-in-Law has revealed possible motives of Greg Norman’s separation of Chris Evert. The Daily Telegraph out of Australia quotes Laura Andrassy, Norman’s former mother in law, as Norman’s children not taking to Evert and issues over which home the couple would reside as being possible reasons for the separation. Read the entire article here – http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,26165186-2,00.html
Top seed Dinara Safina faces Oliva Rogowska of Australia in the first round of the 2009 US Open. Safina and could face Virginie Razzano or Patty Schnyder in the fourth round.
Safina could face Jankovic in the quarters and is in the same half of the draw as Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova.
Serena Williams and Venus Williams are in the same half of the draw and could face each other in the semifinals.
Venus opens with Vera Dushevina of Russia. Serena opens with Alexa Glatch of the US in the first round.
Kim Cljisters is also in the same half as the Williams sisters.
For the full women’s draw, go to www.usopen.org.