Tennis: It’s a great day watching the battlers on the outside courts

By Rod Oaten

I really enjoy the Australian Open, not to see the  antics of the of the top stars as they strutt their stuff, but to watch and admire the battlers.

There are 512 players on Day 1 of The Open,  we all know the top dozen men and women, but what about  the journeymen and journeywomen of the tennis circuit  who are ranked in the hundreds?

For the past few years I have hopped on the bike, ridden to Melbourne Park and purchased a ground pass. I always do it on the first or second day of the tournament, meaning I see all those players who have dreams of being a world champion but that’s as far as it goes.

It’s 10.50am and I’ve got myself a seat in Show Court 3 to see Marion Bartoli of France play Rossina De Los Rios of Paraguay. Can that be correct? do they play tennis in Paraguay? And  then I think: maybe William Lane and Mary Gilmour introduced tennis  to the Paraguans when they tried to set up  a “New Australia” in the nineteenth century. Anyway, these two women played their hearts out but the French player was too strong in the end, winning in straight sets.

Next match was Marin Cilic of Croatia playing one of the veterans of the tennis world, Fabrice Santoro of France. Cilic stands at about six foot six and belts the ball at every opportunity. Santoro  is about 10 years older and a lot shorter; he uses cunning, guile, a lot of back spin and chases everything. The match started the previous evening and was continued today but the younger player proved too strong. Fabrice had an admiring cheer squad of three who had painted their love for him on a bed sheet and cheered his  winning shots.
Next on Court 3 was Sorana Cirstea of Romania playing an Australian wild card, Olivia Rogwaska. The small crowd barracked wildly for the Australian but to no avail; the Romanian was too strong and consistent for the very young Australian, who gave it her all.

I felt like a bit of a wander to some of the other courts and watched a great match between Juan Monaco of Argentina and Ervesis Gulbis of Latvia.  The Latvian lad had a cannonball service that was regularly clocked at more than 200 kilometres an hour; one serve was 212! Both players had very vocal support groups on either side of the court and these groups were almost as entertaining as the play. I didn’t stay till the end of the game but next day I read the Argentinian was too good.

Another good match on an outside court was Stefan Koubek of Austria playing Rajeev Ram of the USA. They had incredibly long, hard-fought rallies.  Watching from so close –I was just the other side of a low fence — made me aware of just how talented these players are, but I had never
heard of them before. Next day I read the Austrian was too good.

I had read in Saturday’s Age about an Australian wildcard, one Marinko Matrovsevic, who’s ranked somewhere in the high 200s. He was practising for his match against a Swiss player, but not the one we all know; this bloke was ranked 76 in the world and his  name was Marco Chuidinelli. The article in the paper compared Matrosevic to Lleyton Hewitt, where they were practising and prize money earned. The Australian Open was going to be the biggest pay day for Matrosevic; even if he lost he still made nineteen grand.

I reckon Marinko got lots of his mares to come along and support him
for the biggest game of his life. He certainly came out “steaming”. Before they walked onto the court he was puffing and jumping around. When they started the warm-up the Australian was still on a high. He even served a practice ball which struck the not-too-impressed Swiss player, but feathers weren’t too ruffled. The Swiss had a support group of about a dozen and they were pretty vocal, but they couldn’t compete with the Australian group. Security weren’t too impressed and removed some of the more vocal local lads. Games went with service, then late in the set Marinko broke the Swiss, but then the Swiss broke back. Tie break. The Australian held a good lead early on but couldn’t continue the pressure and the Swiss won the first set.

Second set a mirror of the first and once again the Swiss took out
the tie break. Two sets down the cheer squad for the Australian are
still hard at work and it paid off for Marinko as he wins the third
set 6-4. At this stage I retire and head off home; more than ten hours at
the Open has taken its toll. A great day and well worth the price
of a ground pass.

Oh, and by the way, no fairy tale ending for the  Aussie Marinko; Marco Chuildinelli won the third and final set 6-3.


  1. pauldaffey says

    Sounds like a fine way to spend a day, Rod.

    Do you then, in following days, track the progress of the players you’ve seen? Did anyone’s success or lack of it surprise you?

  2. It’s nice to get a feel early for the tournament Rod.
    The days prior to the start are also good to attend. No admission and bring food and water but these are players looking to qualify for the draw or face a penniless trip back to winter. That’s pressure.

  3. Paul, I followed the fortunes of Cilic throughout the Open, I
    reckon he is a player with a future. He is tall and bloody belts the
    ball like there is no tomorrow. I liked the Paraguay player but she
    fell at the first hurdle. Next year I’m looking forward to watching
    players from North Korea/Venezuela/Togo etc, it’s always great fun on
    the first couple of days. See you soon, Rod

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