Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Decisions, decisions

   MELBOURNE, Australia – I was torn for months.
   Do I attend the Australian Open for an extra day on our group tour, or do I go to a nature reserve and winery outside of Melbourne?
   Tennis fanatic that I am, I chose the Australian Open. I got my first look at Kim Clijsters and witnessed another virtuoso performance by Roger Federer on Tuesday (Monday in the United States) at Rod Laver Arena. So I have no regrets.
   Clijsters, the defending champion seeded 11th following an injury-plagued year, eliminated top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the quarterfinals. Wozniacki, who's constantly reminded that she has never won a Grand Slam title, will fall to at least No. 3 next week. She will be replaced at the top by either Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova.
   The crowd was heavily pro-Clijsters, especially with all Australians having been knocked out of the tournament. The 28-year-old Belgian -- who has one child with her husband, former professional basketball player Brian Lynch of the United States -- long has been a local favorite because of her pleasant personality and former relationship with Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt. Additionally, Clijsters has said this will be her last Australian Open.
   Clijsters, who has won the Bank of the West Classic four times (2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006), showed no signs of a twisted ankle suffered in her fourth-round match against Li Na. Clijsters saved four match points in her 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory in a rematch of last year's Australian Open final.
   Clijsters, a great athlete with textbook groundstrokes, squandered a 5-2 lead in the second set before closing out the match. She will face Azarenka, the 2010 Bank of the West champion, in one semifinal. The other will be determined today. On tap are the second-seeded Kvitova of the Czech Republic against unseeded Italian Sara Errani, and the fourth-seeded Sharapova against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted Serena Williams in the fourth round.
   Federer, seeded third, dispatched Juan Martin Del Potro, seeded 11th, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals in one hour, 59 minutes. It was their first Grand Slam meeting since Del Potro's stunning five-set victory in the 2009 U.S. Open final. Federer had demolished Del Potro 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 in the Australian Open quarterfinals that year.
   Federer, a 30-year-old Swiss, has won a record 16 Grand Slam singles titles. What makes him great are his superhuman quickness, footwork and hand-eye coordination. Andre Agassi once paid him the ultimate compliment when he said, "This is a game with which I am not familiar."
   Del Potro, 23, of Argentina, underwent surgery on his right (playing) wrist in May 2010 and missed eight months. He was named the ATP World Tour's Comeback Player of the Year in 2011 after skyrocketing from No. 485 to No. 11.
   Players in the Australian Open must be in phenomenal shape. They run each other from side to side with pinpoint groundstrokes in brutal heat and humidity. It appears they will get a break today, though. It's overcast with a high of 78 degrees forecast.
   Melbourne Park, the site of the tournament, is picturesque with the city skyline in the background and very fan friendly. Security workers give bags and backpacks only a cursory look at the entrance. There are plenty of signs, scoreboards, TV screens, drinking fountains and grassy areas (some even with coveted shade), and the staff is cheerful and helpful. The Australian Open is not called the "Happy Slam" for nothing.
   In the evening, we played tennis and enjoyed a barbecue at Albert Reserve. Players in the Australian Open practice there because it has the same Plexicushion surface, similar to a fast hardcourt. Even at 10 p.m., it was hot and humid.
   Other matches -- Top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan stayed on course for their fourth consecutive Australian Open men's doubles title and sixth overall. The former NCAA doubles champions from Stanford outlasted sixth-seeded Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski of Poland 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4 in a quarterfinal that ended after 2 a.m. Melbourne time.
   Thirteenth-seeded Scott Lipsky, a former Stanford All-American, and Rajeev Ram, a former Sacramento Challenger runner-up in singles and doubles, lost to seventh-seeded Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Horia Tecau of Romania 6-4, 6-4. Lipsky and Ram won last year's SAP Open in San Jose.
   In the women's doubles quarterfinals, third-seeded Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis and Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan fell to seventh-seeded Andrea Hlvackova and Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic 7-5, 6-2.
   In the juniors, Mackenzie McDonald of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Stanford-bound Krista Hardebeck coasted to second-round singles victories.
   But Hardebeck, from Santa Ana, and Catherine Harrison of Memphis, Tenn., lost to top-seeded Irina Kromacheva of Russia and Danka Kovinic of Montenegro 2-6, 6-0, 10-4 match tiebreak in the second round.
   Third-seeded Connor Farren of Hillsborough in the San Francisco area and Frederico Ferreira Silva of Portugal fell to Alexandre Favrot and Quentin Halys of France 6-4, 6-4.

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