The Australian Open

Written by on February 18, 2013 in Australia & Oceania, General with 0 Comments

I know Australia is way out of the way from Southeast Asia, but I had to include a visit to the Australian Open to continue on the road towards my personal Grand Slam.

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And, I was able to include the to/from flights in my round the world ticket, so it didn’t add any extra cost, which was nice.  I’d been to the Aussie Open on the last trip, but was excited to check it out again, and to see some old friends I hadn’t seen in years.

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My friend Jack was kind enough to pick me up from the airport and drop me off  in the St. Kilda neighborhood, where I would be couch-surfing for most of the next couple weeks.  I went to the beach for a couple of hours and then headed into town to the Hyatt to meet Jenny, a tennis friend from San Francisco, in the club lounge for complementary snacks and cocktails…and to rub shoulders with some players! Sam Querrey, Fernando Verdasco and Richard Gasquet were all taking advantage of the free food/drinks and great views from the 32nd floor. The drinks stopped flowing at 8, which was my cue to hop on the 16 tram and head back to my “home” for the week.

I met and immediately hit it off with Mark, the couch surfing host.  Apparently I was the only couch surfer over 30 that has stayed with him in several months, as the other 12 people staying there were mainly girls around 20-22.  He saved me the couch, which was the only sleeping surface in his apartment that didn’t have to share with others, and in return i came armed with a bottle of red pretty much every night. The arrangement worked out great, and saved me about $45/night I would have been spending on a dorm bed. Amazing how expensive Melbourne is!!  Still…how many of you would be up for sleeping here for 8 nights? The other 2 rooms were just as full of bodies.  Crazy!

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Anyway, excited to see some tennis, I bought a grounds pass and headed to Melbourne Park to check out some new players and walk the grounds. I love going to Grand Slams, which I think are the best value sporting events in the world if you go in the first 8-10 days of the tournament.  There are 4-5 matches a day on 20 different tennis courts. That is a lot of tennis!  The early days are great to check out some of the younger up and comers, or old favorites that mat have slipped in the rankings and are now playing on the back courts.  Today I watched a huge upset when Michael Youzhny went down in 5 sets to a young Russian player called Donskoy.

DSC08175 It wad very cool to sit right next Morgan, Donskoy’s coach, in the front row on the baseline for the entire match. It was at this match where I met Jonathan, a 27 year old from San Francisco who played tennis for Cal and is also on a round the world trip. Turns out he lived a block from me down Vallejo street before quitting his job to travel. Small world, isn’t it?!? Jenny invited us both back to the Hyatt to join her in the club lounge that night, where we ended up meeting Del Potro, the soft spoken #6 seed in the men’s draw, and his team. Jenny chatted up his attractive coach, Franco, while Jonathan and I enjoyed the free champagne and snacks.

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When they eventually took the drinks away, we all ventured out and found a decent Chinese restaurant a couple blocks away for a cheap bite before I headed back to what I was now calling the St Kilda slumber party. Hallelujah for ambien, eye shades and ear plugs!  Still-much better than a dorm.  I can thank my friends in Melbourne for flaking at the last minute on their invitation to let me stay at their place for my achy back and lack of sleep.

It was supposed to be over 40 degrees the next day, so I decided to skip the tennis and headed to the gym and beach early, and then hid inside for the rest of the scorchingly hot afternoon where I got to know some of the other couch surfers in the house. After the sun went down and it finally cooled down a little, a few of us grabbed a bottle of wine and headed down towards Luna Park where a bunch of people had formed a drum circle and there was a cool little market where some artists and jewelry makers were hawking some original stuff. There was a nice vibe and a few hundred people hanging on the lawn, having drinks and enjoying the warm evening.

I saw a LOT of tennis on Friday, which was the first of six days of tickets my friend Alys helped score for me with seats one or two rows off the court on the baseline in Rod Laver Arena.

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Awesome seats-thanks again Alys!!   Jenny was sharing the tickets with me for the next four days, although we followed different players, so hardly saw each other. I love having the ability to jump around to the back courts, as most of the good matches in the early rounds happen out there. Today I saw the young American Madison Keys almost take a set off the #6 seed Angelique Kerber, Surprisingly awesome match for an early round.

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I caught a set of Li Na’s match, and then Djokovic take down Stepanek in a tough 3 sets.

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I caught the end of Janko Tipsarevic’s 5 set thriller, and Wawrinka down Sam Querrey in 3 sets.  And, lots of doubles action on the outer courts made for a action-packed day of tennis, followed by an action-packed night…at the craps table!

Jenny had seen Franco a couple times working out in the gym and he’d invited her to join him at the craps table at the Crown Casino that night. I was definitely not passing that up! I am a very conservative craps player, which enables me to withstand a table that shoots a lot of 7s. Too bad Franco and Jenny cashed out before my roll, as I hit 6 or 7 points in half and hour and cashed out with $600. Jonathan had come back for the tail end of my roll, so he won a little cash too. That helped pay for half of my tennis tickets for the week. Woohoo for the broke backpackers!  Not quite ready to go home yet, but knowing it was time to walk away, we hopped into a taxi and went to a bar with a decent 80s/90s cover band for a couple drinks before I said goodnight and headed back to the St Kilda slumber party sometime in the wee hours. There seemed to be even more people sleeping on the floor! I tried hard not to wake or step on anyone as I tiptoed over them and crashed out on the couch.

My friends Ton and Elaine flew in from Sydney on Saturday morning to hang out for the weekend. I hadn’t seen them since their wedding and was excited to hang with them for the weekend. We spent the day exploring some of the cute alleyways in Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), stopping off for food and beers along the way while checking in on the tennis scores.  We ended up at the James Squier brewery inside the Portland Hotel to watch the Federer match and then found a cheap but yummy Chinese spot down the street for dinner. Afterwards we went to a funky little bar down a couple dodgy grafitti covered alleys called the Croft Institute.  The DJ was good and the gimmick here was that your cocktail would come served with a syringe inside, which you could use to administer shots to yourself or others.

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They took the gimmick upstairs to the bathroom, which had an old hospital gurney inside. Very random. We must be getting old as we were done drinking and ready to crash by midnight!   Elaine and Ton were kind enough to offer me the couch in their hotel room so I could escape the slumber party for a couple nights and hopefully get a little sleep.

The next morning we met our friends Suzette and Ante and their son Maks at the Royal Botanical Garden for coffee and a light breakfast.  It was great catching up, although we didn’t have nearly enough time together.  Suzette came with me for 9 months of my first round the world trip 12 years ago.  How times have changed since then!!!

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We headed over to Melbourne Park together around 11a.  It was Ton and Elaine’s first time at a Grand Slam, so I was excited to “show them the ropes” and why it’s such a great sport event.

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We headed straight into the big arena and saw Ekaterina Makarova upset Kerber in a tight 2 setter.

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Makarova was looking strong – I’m predicting a move into the top 10 soon.  Kerber also looked good, but not good enough today.

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Next we witnessed David Ferrer absolutely crush Kei Nishikori and stayed in Rod Laver for a set of Sharapova’s complete rout of Kirsten Flipkens.

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We were getting a bit tired, but decided to head out to the outer courts to watch some “Legends” doubles matches.  Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis both looked great against Barbara Schett and Iva Majoli.

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Then we stayed on to watch Henri Leconte and Guy Forget take on Goran Ivanisavic and Cedric Pioline.  I had no idea these guys are such jokesters.  They were hilarious on every single point.  I can’t even begin to describe all the antics they were up to on the court, but it was fricking funny and if you ever have a chance to watch Leconte and Ivanisavic on TV or in person, do it!

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That night we were absolutely pooped and headed back to the hotel early to relax.  We turned on the Djoko v Wawrinka match and so long to our early night.  They passed out early, but I hung in there til about 3a secretly pulling for Wawrinka.  He played so awesome, he deserved that match.  Why didn’t he challenge on that one point in the 5th set – he would’ve gone up 5-4!  Reminisced back to last years’s final when Chris Cary and I stayed up til 5a at our ski house watching the Nadal v Djoko battle.

Luckily, Melbourne has wonderful coffee!  We had a quick breakfast and I said farewell before heading back over to the tennis as Leconte was on again at 11a and a super line-up of matches was waiting for me in Rod Laver Arena. I quickly met up with Diane, another tennis friend from San Francisco, and we watched Kuznetsova fight hard to upset Wozniacki, Azarenka utterly destroy Vesnina, and Tsonga’s 4-setter with Richard Gasquet.

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I wish I had a backhand as pretty as his (or any stroke for that matter!)

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I’d met up again with Jonathan, and he and I finagled our way into Hisense Arena to watch a couple sets of the Andy Murray vs. Gilles Simon match.  It was kind of a joke as Simon was so tired from his marathon match 2 days prior.  But, we got amazing seats and watched until Andy was well on his way to victory.

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The next morning, I met up with Diane again and watched Li Na slowly grind down Radwanska, who didn’t look like she was having her best day out there.

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Then we saw an epic 5 set battle between Ferrer and Almagro.  Poor Nico – he was crushing Ferrer until he started cramping in the 4th.  He just fell apart in the 5th.

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Early in the Ferrer match, I had popped over to Margaret Court Arena to catch the Williams sisters playing dubs and scored a killer seat.

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They all looked good, but the Williams sisters weren’t smart enough to outplay or out-think the number one seed, Errani and Vinci.

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I watched the first set of Sharapova crushing Makarova before saying goodbye to Melbourne Park.

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I actually had tickets to the Federer v Tsonga night match the following evening, but I had spent so much money in Melbourne  (it’s soooo expensive in Oz!), I decided to sell them to help offset some of my own ticket costs.  They have a website called Gumtree, which is similar to Craigslist, and I had no problem finding a buyer at triple my cost, which essentially paid for all of my Aussie Open tickets.  Mark (CS host) and a few of the other surfers and I went out to a local bar in St. Kilda to watch the match, so that was fun…and much cheaper.

On my last night in Melbourne, I met Jack again for drinks and dinner and then he helped me grab my bags and dropped me off at the Crowne Plaza, where my friend Radina had invited me to crash with her. My first bed in nearly 2 weeks-yay!! Radina is a flight attendant on Qatar Airways and coincidentally had a one night stopover in Melbourne tonight, which was excellent timing!  She arrived at the hotel just before midnight and after a quick shower, we headed out to check out a few Melbourne night spots with one of her colleagues and her friend that lived here. We ended up at a very loud and smoky bar on Brunswick Street, and then at Revolver on Chapel Street, which I think was the only club in town open that late. They were playing fun music, but despite downing some sort of Red Bull substitute energy drink, I had to say my goodbyes around 330a and get some sleep.

Radina and I went for a walk in the morning and found a decent outdoor cafe in the CBD for brunch before I said farewell and headed to the airport for my flight to Sydney.  Goodbye Melbourne!

 

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