Monday, January 23, 2012

Tour group's football luck runs out in Melbourne

   MELBOURNE, Australia — The football gods giveth, and the football gods taketh away.
   Our tour group, many of whom are 49ers fans from Northern California, was blessed with two incredible strokes of luck Monday (Sunday in the United States).
   First, it happened to be our day in the "superbox" at Rod Laver Arena, and — lo and behold — the NFC Championship Game was available on the TV in the suite. We arrived by water taxi on the Yarra River at 10 a.m., the game started at 10:30 a.m., and the first match began at 11 a.m. (Melbourne is 19 hours ahead of California). So far, so good.
   I must admit that I was more focused on the 49ers-New York Giants game than No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova's  6-2, 7-6 (2) victory over No. 21 Ana Ivanovic in one hour, 25 minutes. In the next match, before I knew it, No. 4 Andy Murray had bolted to a 6-1, 6-1, 1-0 lead over Mikhail Kukushkin.
   Amazingly, with five minutes left in regulation in the 49ers game, Kukushkin retired with a hip injury. That led to a 30-minute delay before the next match, so now we could devote our full attention to football. Thank you, Mikhail. You will forever be one of my favorite players.
   Then the 49ers' Kyle Williams had to ruin everything by fumbling a punt return in overtime, leading to the Giants' game-winning field goal. After Stanford lost a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, this was almost too much to bear.
   Just after Williams' fumble, his second gaffe of the day, the match between five-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams, seeded 12th, and Ekaterina Makarova began at 2:28 p.m. Melbourne time. Williams, plagued by an ankle injury, committed seven double faults (including four at 2-2 in the second set) and 37 unforced errors in a stunning 6-2, 6-3 loss to the 23-year-old Russian left-hander, ranked 56th.
   During the afternoon, tennis commentators and former touring pros Patrick McEnroe and Justin Gimelstob visited our suite. McEnroe played for Dick Gould at Stanford, and Gimelstob played for UCLA against Gould's teams. Gould, now Stanford's director of tennis, and his wife, Anne, a former Cardinal women's tennis coach, are helping lead our tour group.
   McEnroe, also the general manager of USTA player development and a former United States Davis Cup captain (coach), popped in for only a few minutes to shake some hands before returning to his ESPN duties. The New Yorker said he's a Jets fan but was rooting for the Giants.
   Gimelstob, who works for Tennis Channel, had time to field questions from Gould and talk some tennis. Here are some highlights from the enthusiastic, outspoken New Jersey native:
    —On how he got into broadcasting: "As you know, I was talking even when I was playing. ... I had access (to players), and the desire to work and learn."
    —On why he went to UCLA: "I was out for myself. Stanford is team-oriented. Also, my coach was in Palos Verdes."
    —On his engagement: "She's a psychologist, which meshes well with my flaws."
    —On Murray and his new coach, International Tennis Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl: "Tennis has strange dynamics. The coach needs the job more than the player needs the coach. Murray has such a high tennis IQ that he runs his team. That's what's hurt him. He has unbelievable physical skills. Lendl will help in terms of accountability."
    —On Lendl's reputation for having a good sense of humor: "He has the worst sense of humor I've ever seen. I saw him in the gym, and he said, "Weird seeing you here." I said, "Really? I'm here every day. I'm five pounds under my playing weight, and you're 30 pounds overweight."    
    —On Kukushkin: "He's an interesting story. He's coached by his wife ('Isn't everyone?' a few wise guys cracked). It's working -- he's in the round of 16. He has a very pretty backhand. He's a good player."
    —On Gould: "He'd say, 'It's such an honor to compete against you.' Meanwhile, he's got 42 All-Americans, and our guys are throwing up in the bathroom.' "
   Other matches — Three other players coached by Dick Gould, Bob and Mike Bryan and Scott Lipsky, are scheduled to play today in the men's doubles quarterfinals. The top-seeded Bryans face sixth-seeded Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, and 13th-seeded Lipsky and Rajeev Ram meet seventh-seeded Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau.
   Lipsky, the reigning French Open mixed doubles champion with Casey Dellacqua of Australia, lost Monday in the second round with Vladimira Uhlirova. They fell to Colin Fleming of Great Britain and Liezel Huber of Houston 6-3, 6-2.
   Juniors Krista Hardebeck and Trey Strobel, both headed to Stanford, won their first-round doubles matches Monday. Also advancing were Connor Farren of Hillsborough, near San Francisco, and his Portuguese partner.
   In men's singles, Kei Nishikori, coached by Brad Gilbert of San Rafael, upset sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to become the first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 80 years. 
   In today's women's doubles quarterfinals, third-seeded Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals and Yaroslava Shvedova take on seventh-seeded Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, the reigning French Open champions.
   Outrageous prices, continued — The Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club charges $45 for a set of premium playing cards. An Australian Open T-shirt will set you back $40 and a program $20.

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