About Me

My photo
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A long-time Toronto-area Actor and Singer, Jeff Madden is now focusing on Teaching acting and singing in the GTA. Jeff starred as "Frankie Valli" in both the Toronto and Australian productions of JERSEY BOYS, winning the DORA award for outstanding performance in a musical by a male actor. Jeff is busy back at school, getting his MEd at U of T's OISE.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My 2nd Aussie Open Experience

And rock up I did.

Indeed, Day 4 of the Australian Open promised many interesting matches and storylines, more than enough to convince me to come back and pick up a Ground Pass for the afternoon. Between my evening performance and my publicity photo shoot with my Jersey Boys mates with the Head Coach and former soccer star of the Melbourne Heart FC John Aloisi, I had several hours to kill. When the photo shoot wrapped up at AAMI stadium around 12:30pm, I literally crossed the street and walked the few minutes down Swan Street to Melbourne Park. (Disappointingly, I did not need to walk on Batman Avenue this time.)
(AAMI stadium would be just off the upper right corner of this map.)

The main purpose of my visit was to see the 2nd round match of Richmond Hill, Ontario’s Milos Raonic. Having risen from seemingly out of nowhere in 2010, and out of the Top-100 as recently as 2011, Milos’s hard work and natural talent have carried him to become the 13th seed here. And he would need to prove his worth today, facing off against Czech Lucas Rosol, whose claim to fame was knocking off Rafial Nadal at last year’s Wimbledon. So, clearly, Rosol is no push-over.
Lucky 13’s.

When I arrived at the rather remote Court 13 just before 13:00 local time, Raonic had a slight 4-3 lead, on serve in the 1st set. Even though he is young and without great fanfare, I was somewhat surprised that the Open would schedule the 13th seed to play so far away from the main courts here. (Though from the photo above, you can see how just how close the tennis facility is to Melbourne’s downtown core.)

I was, however, happy to see an estimated 250 fans watching, many of whom were proudly Canadian, held flags, donned shirts or the increasingly ubiquitous Blue Jays hats (I had mine on). At 6’5” and just 22 years old, Raonic’s natural gifts have been amplified by a new extensive training regimen, and upon first sight today, he looked stronger overall, thicker through the upper body, and possessed perhaps a bit more poise than usual in those rare moments when he struggled.
The two men held serve for the next few games, although Rosol struggled more on his serving games. A typical Raonic serving game was at 4-4 when an Ace of his cracked the ballgirl in the back, eliciting a sympathetic groan from the crowd. Undeterred, he followed that one with two more Aces. Raonic did seem uneasy at times, perhaps frustrated with not having broken Rosol yet in the match. Ahead 6-5, Raonic let out a “So Bad!” critique of an easy topspin forehand attempt that went well long.

If this match was close in the early going, from the 1st set tie-break on, it was all Raonic. He cruised through the tiebreak 7-2, and then broke Rosol in the 1st game of the 2nd set, setting the tone for what was to come. In the 39C heat, Raonic fired 18 Aces, 18 winners against only 6 unforced errors, losing only 1 service game and coasted easily to a straight set victory 7-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Raonic kept his cool during under this umbrella sponsored by everyone’s family car company, Kia. Every sit-down, he had a towel wrapped around his neck and shoulders that appeared to hold three ice-packs, taped into place. He also drank copious amounts of water and an orange-coloured sports drink.

His biggest weapon is obviously his serving game. Unfortunately, there was no radar gun out on Court 13 to track the pace, but regardless, Rosol didn’t have much of an answer for it. Throughout the 2nd and 3rd Sets, Raonic showed incredible poise, even when coming back from down 0-30. Serving at 3-2 in the 3rd set, he fell behind Rosol 0-30, only to follow up with four straight incredible 1st serves – three un-returnable and one Ace. Aside from the serve, his groundstrokes looked strong too, especially up 4-3 in the 3rd when his three consecutive slice backhands won him the point to go up 30-0, and eventually break Rosol at Love. A few minutes later he would break again to end the match.

With Raonic’s match concluded, I wandered over to watch a few minutes of several different matches ongoing at Melbourne Park. None of them terribly caught my interest until I found one of the best stories so far in the Aussie Open. The formerly-retired, 42-year-old Japanese Energizer bunny Kimiko Date-Krumm became the oldest woman to win a singles match at this tournament by winning her first round match. I found her squaring off against Israeli Shahar Peer at the start of the 2nd Set.
Once ranked as high as 4th in the world, the diminutive Date-Krumm had retired from tennis for 10 years, only to come back with a vengeance. A former semi-finalist here (albeit back in 1996!), Date turned pro in 1989 when her opponent was literally still in diapers. After a grueling battle of wills in the 39C heat, Date-Krumm gave Peer a spanking and sent her to her room, 6-2, 7-5. She continues her dream run in the 3rd round against 53rd ranked Serbian Bojana Jovanovski. I hope she wins that one, too, just to see that winning smile again.
The crowd was especially colourful during the match. Barely a word of English was heard, as repetitive chants in Hebrew were shouted by Peer’s admirers, hoping to help her get back in the match. Then, the ever-polite and plentiful Japanese supporters would applaud and hold their flags aloft, beaming their support to Date. And then there was the Japanese press and photographers, out in full force. This reminded me just how international the tennis world is. This is a pretty incredible experience to take in.

The other top stories of the day featured Australian men. Bernard Tomic toughed out a tight victory over Daniel Brands and has himself a hot date with Roger Federer in the 3rd round. The winner of that match may end up facing our homeboy Milos Raonic if he can win his 3rd round match against 27th seeded German Philipp Kohlschreiber. And local hero 20-year old James Duckworth broke his 1st round Aussie Open record for the longest match, this time losing in five sets, 4 hours and 52 minutes out in the 39C afternoon sun. The sold-out crowd on Show Court 2 was firmly on his side, and their chanting could be heard all over Melbourne Park. He has certainly earned their respect this week, by playing his way into the tournament as a wildcard, and then gutting out 10 sets and over nine hours of tennis in grueling conditions.

All in all, it was a great afternoon. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back again on Monday… Raonic vs Federer on Centre Court at Rod Laver Arena? Yes, please – and Monday is my day off, so if it’s a night game, I’ll be there, with my Blue Jays hat on.

My 1st Aussie Open Experience

My 1st Aussie Open Experience
- Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The beautiful summer sun shone brightly as I walked through Melbourne’s CBD – central business district, or ‘downtown’ for us Canadians – and made my way to Melbourne Park for my first experience at the Australian Open, or any professional tennis tournament for that matter. I had no trouble finding it, as I had previously jogged by the facilities earlier in the week. I knew I was in for a good night when I rounded the bend and turned onto none other than Batman Avenue. I knew the Aussie Open was a Grand Slam, but had no idea it was going to be a SUPER AWESOME Grand Slam!
The tennis centre is called Melbourne Park, and it is massive – it holds 28 courts, plus two arenas – Rod Laver and Hisense Arenas, which hold 14,820 and 10,500 spectators respectively. Tickets are available as day or night passes to the grounds, and at $39 is a great value, as it allows you to wander around and sit in on any of the matches on the outside courts. If I had my act together earlier in the day I would have caught Canadian Milos Raonic win his 1st round match in four sets. I’ll have to come back later in the week to see him play – a potential 4th round match against Roger Federer already has me salivating.
My ticket was for a reserved seat at the Day 2 Prime-time matches at Rod Laver Arena, and allowed me full access to the grounds from 5pm until closing time. I arrived early to make sure I could wander around the outer courts, have a snack and soak up the sun-filled atmosphere before heading into the open-air arena at 7pm.

Even though the $75 ticket price initially seemed steep, it’s actually a decent value when you consider that as the tournament moves on, this particular ticket price-point rises by about $20 each round, and then jumps to an unbelievable $400 for the Men’s Final.

 My first thought inside Rod Laver Arena was Wow – this place is massive for a tennis arena. It is almost the size of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, and has many similar features. My second thought was Wow – the tennis court appears so small, much tinier than it appears on TV. And, also just like at the ACC, the fans don’t quite make it inside on time, continuing to trickle in during the 1st few games of the match - or, the near the end of the 1st set if you happen to sit in the Corporate seats. Funny, isn’t it - Sports is sports, wherever you go.

The first match I was treated to featured Australia’s next great hope Bernard Tomic (Lleyton Hewitt had already lost his 1st round match and is inching slowly toward retirement). Tomic, a 20-year old Aussie hotshot was facing the infamous Leonardo Mayer of Argentina. Tomic is your typical meathead Tennis prodigy. He’s known for having run-ins with the police driving his Ferrari, for having multiple model girlfriends, for having difficult relationships with his friends, his father, and indeed Australian Tennis and its head honcho, Pat Rafter.

His opponent Mayer is similarly hilarious – surely he must be the life of the party, because he rocked up to this match with his right hand and wrist heavily taped up, as if entering the ring for a prize-fight. Turns out he partied a little too hard on New Year’s Eve and lit a Firework on fire while still holding onto it. Um, yeah. That gag never gets old. Many questioned why he’d even bother to play with a hand injury, until they realized that he gets $27,000 simply for showing up to his 1st round match. You gotta love tennis, huh?
Not surprisingly, the match was no contest. Tomic displayed loads of talent, effortlessly hammering 200km/h serves down the T, smashing crisp one-handed backhands, varying his pace and spin, and occasionally slapping rather awkward flat-footed groundstrokes that he is quickly becoming known for. Tomic easily handled Mayer and his burned right hand 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in a measly 91 minutes, looking very impressive doing it. If he gets past his 2nd round opponent, Tomic will likely have the pleasure of facing Roger Federer in the 3rd Round.

During the breaks in the match, there was another battle going on, only this time in the crowd. I’m told that it’s an Aussie tradition, where groups of 10-20 men called “cheer leaders” show up with songs prepared, chants rehearsed, and sometimes props, all in the hopes of getting a laugh out of the crowd and of course, encouraging their favorite in the match on to victory. Although I found their enthusiasm and gags humourous at first, they became progressively more annoying as the night went on. One of the group’s signs displayed their twitter handle, but I won’t bother passing it on to you all here.
Dusk was fast approaching, and as you can see from the picture above the summer sky here in Melbourne is pretty frickin’ amazing. Back inside Rod Laver Arena, (All) the singles ladies match (see what I did there?) was about to begin, featuring Belgium’s 20th-seaded Yanina Wickmayer squaring off against local hard-luck story Jarmila Gajdosova, she of the 0-7 record in her Australian Open career. Think about that for a second. She’s a home-town girl, and at one point was ranked as high as 25th in the world, but yet she has never won a match in seven years of Aussie Opens. That’s got to weigh on you, don’t you think? Yeah, I really do think.

And to the surprise of no one, as if encouraging history to repeat itself, she suffered through the 1st set, spraying unforced error after unforced error before going down 6-1 in a brisk 26 minutes. Wickmayer barely broke a sweat in the 1st set, looking like a filly galloping around the track on a warm-up run. In fact, her strikingly fit 6’1” frame, decked out in black and hot pink with a severe blond pony-tail reminded me more of my kids’ My Little Pony dolls. (Apologies for the reference; my two little girls are fans…) See for yourself below:
The second set was a different story, as the Aussie leapt out to a 4-1 lead on the strength of several backhand winners down the line and a strong serve that forced Wickmayer into a few errors. Gajdosova looked poised to make this a three-setter, when all of a sudden the wheels came off and that oft-heard choking sound became evident to the members of the home crowd. Several double-faults and unforced errors allowed Wickmayer to sail through the remainder of the 2nd set, winning six of the last seven games to take the match 6-1, 7-5.

One wonders whether 0-and-8 is enough for Gajdosova, or if she’ll gut it out again next year in hopes of breaking the streak. She’s like that frustrating 1st-round draft pick with all the tools and so much potential, but who seems to lack the consistency or that certain something to put it all together.

All in all, it was a very pleasant night, and a very easy-going venture into my Grand Slam Tennis-observing career. I look forward to my next journey down to beautiful Melbourne Park. I think Raonic is playing tomorrow afternoon, I may just rock up and check it out.