This is the second report from my week at the Australian Open. For a recap and photos from day 1 where we watched matches including Stephens-Zhang, Bertens-Bellis, Shapovalov-Tsitsipas and Stosur-Puig, click HERE. For the Tuesday we had a ground pass during the day session and then had tickets for the night session on Rod Laver Arena. Let’s get stuck into day 2!
As we continued to mix tennis with sightseeing, we started the day early by taking a train into the centre of Melbourne. We walked to the Royal Botanical Gardens, my new obsession in Australia! These were probably my favourite of the three we visited – absolutely stunning! We then headed to the tennis, across the Yarra River over Morell Bridge, and eventually joined up with Olympic Boulevard where we entered the grounds at the Grand Slam Oval entrance.
We were a bit later on the Tuesday so only had to wait five minutes to get through security and into the grounds. We had a wander around the courts near Hisense Arena to see players practising and found Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Zarina Diyas and Christina McHale all sharing a court (Sasnovich and McHale were playing against each other later in the day) and Wang Qiang practising with Sara Errani. Then it was straight over to Show Court 3…
First up was Lucie Safarova against Ajla Tomljanovic – an absolute no brainer heading to see Lucie! This was our first time on Show Court 3 which is almost identical to Show Court 2. To be honest it wasn’t the most enthralling of matches, but I was chuffed to see a Lucie win and come away with a smile. Safarova didn’t quite seem herself. The serve wasn’t totally on and while she got into some good positions, Safarova wasn’t always able to finish the points off.
Safarova though was very steady at the ends of both sets. Her serve came to the rescue to serve out the opener and she got a helping hand from Tomljanovic who became increasingly lacklustre on serve at the end of the match. I was relieved that it was over in straights because it had that feeling of being a drawn-out three setter. Safarova won 7-5 6-3 in one hour and 26 minutes. It was Lucie’s first win in singles since August and she was very happy with a thumbs up in the direction of coach Rob!
I then found another player on my list who I had no photos of – Marketa Vondrousova! The Czech player was up against Kurumi Nara on court 12. Vondrousova was covering a lot of ground and very vocal, shouting after some points. We saw the end of the match where Vondrousova came through, 7-5 6-4. Vondrousova looked so relieved upon winning as she gazed up at the sky. Nara, who had plenty of Japanese support, was all smiley at the handshake.
Completing the trio of Czech morning wins was Barbora Strycova who beat Kristie Ahn, 6-1 7-5 out on Court 14. We turned up on match point. In my attempts to catch a photo of the Strycova celebration, instead I got a fist pump from her coach, David Kotyza! 😂
After eating lunch on the steps outside Rod Laver Arena, we headed over to Court 5 for the first time to see the number 16 seed, Elena Vesnina take on Ons Jabeur. Court 5 was one of my favourite courts, headlined by a series of towering trees within the lone stand. The umpires and ballkids kept having to clear the stray leaves off the court!
Vesnina had been bothered by a back complaint in Sydney but showed no signs of discomfort in what was a very impressive performance. Vesnina absorbed Jabeur’s power and kept things really solid, serving especially well. In fact, Vesnina only dropped her serve once and that was in the opening game of the match. Jabeur displayed a few moments of magic and was much improved in the second set. However, she was too erratic on serve, throwing in a bundle of untimely double faults that were ultimately her undoing.
Jabeur had her own fan club with two guys who had cards with the letters “O”, “N” and “S”. After every point she won they waved their letters and did almost a little squeal which made me laugh every time!
This match cemented my feeling that Elena is one of the nicest players on tour. She said “please” every single time when addressing the ballkids and applauded Jabeur’s great shotmaking on multiple occasions.
Because of the quality, we ended up staying for the majority of the match. We were standing by the side of the court and got to the front which was just the best. Vesnina won on her third match point, 6-3 6-4, overcoming a few late jitters to serve out the match. The match was played in good spirits and the pair embraced at the net.
We wanted to get on Court 8 for Madison Keys’s first match against Wang Qiang. However there was a humdinger of a men’s match before with Aussie, Jordan Thompson going the distance with Nicolas Kicker. We stopped by Court 10 for a bit where last year’s Australian Open semi-finalist, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni was taking on Shelby Rogers. Funnily enough, the two guys supporting Ons were cheering on Mirjana and were now waving their “M”, “L” and “B” cards! 😂
Court 10 was one of the easiest courts to get a clear view and Lucic-Baroni’s returns up close are phenomenal. There was definitely a sense this could be a long one and when the pair actually engaged in rallies, it was super. We did a lot of moving around on Tuesday afternoon and came back to the match a bit later in the day where Lucic-Baroni was a set up and had match points leading 7-6 *5-4 *40-15. Rogers looked done but got a big helping hand from Lucic-Baroni who rather imploded with a rush of errors. Rogers managed to win the second set. Lucic-Baroni reset and won in three sets, 7-6(6) 5-7 6-2.
We gave up with our attempts at getting onto Court 8 where the number of people was immense. We really struggled in the afternoon with our initial AO euphoria fading. It wasn’t strikingly hot, but we were in the sun all day and it was beginning to take its toll. There were people and queues everywhere. I generally don’t like people 😂. We even tottled over to Hisense where we thought we could find a shady seat for Stan Wawrinka’s first match of the season against Ricardas Berankis. The queues in Hisense were long and winding, and we didn’t have the patience to wait.
We went back out to the outside courts and watched the final points of the match on Court 19 between Sorana Cirstea and Zarina Diyas. Cirstea won in three sets and was absolutely mobbed by fans at the end. A beaming Cirstea signed autographs and a did a whole heap of selfies on her way back to the locker room.
After taking a bit of a break from the sun, I was happy to see on the scoreboard that Eugenie Bouchard had won in straights, which meant one of my matches of the day was coming onto Show Court 2 – Petra Kvitova against Andrea Petkovic! We sat at the opposite end of the court to the Shapovalov-Tsitsipas match on day 1, partially shaded from the increasingly hot sun. The first set was a rather drab affair with a steady-and-solid, Petkovic taking it, 6-3. Kvitova threw in double faults at key junctures of the set and generally seemed lacking in energy and intensity.
I went out at this point and met the lovely @GrandSlamGal on Twitter – thanks for all the tips, Mel! When I returned my brother filled me in on a dramatic end to the second set where Kvitova saved eight break points to serve out the set, 6-4. We left the match (sob) at this point to get some food before our night session. We couldn’t believe how the match unfolded with Petkovic winning, 6-3 4-6 10-8 in the third set and the match being lauded as the best of the tournament so far!
We headed into Rod Laver Arena for the first time where we had tickets for the night session – buzzing! We were high up in the gods. When we entered the arena they were doing some light show so it was difficult to see where we going 😂. We eventually found our seats and sat back with Roger Federer’s first round match against Aljaz Bedene. The ovation when Roger came out was really something. I thought Bedene played a decent match but Federer was just too good, winning, 6-3 6-4 6-3 in one hour and 39 minutes. There were some entertaining points but I can’t remember anything beyond that.
We went out at the end of the second set for ice cream and wine, but managed to get back in time for Federer winning and his cringe-inducing post-match interview with John McEnroe and Will Ferrell. McEnroe clearly hadn’t done his homework making some schoolboy errors.
Finally the match i’d been waiting for all day was up between Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka – it did not disappoint! I’d watched Sabalenka a few times towards the end of 2017 and was fascinated to watch her live and see how the RLA crowd would take to her. As expected, her grunt caused a real stir. It really is something though as she seemed to go through the full repertoire of WTA grunts – starting with Maria Sharapova, then onto Victoria Azarenka and hilariously onto “aiya” aka Elena Vesnina.
It was pretty loud although to be honest, grunting doesn’t phase me so much. Perhaps i’ve just become immune to it. Sabalenka made a very slow start to the match but once she found her range, she was flying high. Barty battled well to get to a first set tiebreak. The Aussie was essentially a passenger for large chunks of the first set (she kind of admitted this in her post-match interview) as she struggled to cope with Sabalenka’s raw power and aggression, particularly on the return. I loved how positive the Belarusian was in coming forward although she did have a handful of huge drive volley misses.
At the end of the first set which Sabalenka sealed on the tiebreak, the stadium MC imitated Sabalenka’s grunt THREE times. I thought it was very unprofessional and also rude with Sabalenka sat out on the court. Sections of the crowd then began to imitate the grunt too. A woman interrupted a point with an imitation of Sabalenka’s grunt. The umpire, Zhang Juan said “please don’t scream during points” to which someone in the crowd screamed back. The umpire again said “As a courtesy to the players…”. The woman behind me seemed to think it was hilarious 🙄. I could see that Barty didn’t approve of the crowd reaction and from the replay, it looked like she was shaking her head.
While I wasn’t a fan of the crowd reaction to Sabalenka, it did help to create a fantastic atmosphere with the crowd even more eager to back Barty. The Aussie hung in terrifically and weathered the Sabalenka storm to win the second set, 6-4. Into the third set and there were so many brilliant points. This was such a cracking contest and a wonderful clash in game styles.
There was one great point that I was taking photos of where both players were at the net. Sabalenka lobbed Barty, who managed to get back, and swivel with a lob of her own that landed in! Sabalenka couldn’t believe it but was classy and gave Barty a racquet clap.
There was another astonishing point where Sabalenka had a regulation putaway and the ball seemed to go through the eye in her racquet and somehow over the net. I took a picture of the replay on the big screen.
A decent crowd stayed to the end and they were rewarded with a superb win for Barty, 6-7(2) 6-4 6-4 in two hours and five minutes. The Aussie finally managed to figure out Sabalenka’s game by using her backhand slice to break up the play and negate Sabalenka’s aggression. This allowed Barty to get into the rallies and be aggressive with her forehand. Barty started to serve better and better, while Sabalenka’s return game tailed off at an alarming rate.
Sabalenka made a quick exit and understandably looked a little pissed. Sabalenka is going to attract the headlines over the next few years. If she can harness that game, my goodness she is going places. I love her game and positivity coming forward. Barty though played a tactically brilliant match. There’s not many players on tour who would have found a way to turn it around and her ability to seek out a plan B, a different gameplan, was wonderful to watch. Barty’s post-match interview can be found HERE.
Of all the matches I watched live at the AO, Barty-Sabalenka was probably my favourite. I loved every minute of it and we went away from day 2 on a real high!