By Phil Hecken (teamed up with doubles partner, Brinke Guthrie, aka “=bg=”, Uni Watch West Coast Associate and Jr. Bureau Chief)
G’day. This evening (or tomorrow, for you living Down Under) marks the beginning of the 2009 Australian Open, the first “major” of the tennis calendar, played in Melbourne, Australia. It’s nice and warm there, and sometimes it can get downright hot. Good thing they have a climate controlled retractable-roof stadium in which to play feature matches. Here’s the top three Seeds in the mens’ and womens’ draws. And here’s what to look for at the Open.
The season’s first Grand Slam tourney is always a great way to begin the year, and it’s a fun time for crazy fans and players alike. Good times abound in Oz. They have special balls with racket smashing powers down there. Well, not really, but the players and fans can get a tad out of control down there in Australia. But look for a bit more restraint this year than usual…the economy has forced Serena to cut down on the bling.
Fashion (also called “tennis outfits”) at the Open is usually a big deal. Last year, Nike stablemare Maria Sharapova had her own special “cocktail” dress made up all special-like. The beautiful Maria, who is defending champion, will not play in this year’s Open, hobbled by injury. Not to worry, the equally beautiful and last year’s runner-up, Ana Ivanovic, is playing. (Brinke will have more on her 2009 outfits below.) Even the practice gear is special for this event.
Nike and adidas dominate the tennis world, but Fila continues to push ahead (here’s Anna Chakvetadze [previously with adidas] who should be sporting pieces from the company’s Baseline collection [along with Alfa shoes]). James Blake, formerly with Nike, has also signed on with Fila. adidas will be big on the neon yellow this year, as seen on Caroline Wozniacki, Mario Ancic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, last year’s mens’ runner-up. Brinke will comment on this below as well.
In a major sea change in men’s fashion, it is possible we will see Rafael Nadal in sleeves, as evidenced by this and this look in yesterday’s practice session. As you know, Raffa is well known for showing off his guns and wearing “clamdigger” shorts (he must be really happy to see someone, eh?). Raffa’s fellow Nike stablemate Roger Federer will continue to sport his own Nike line. And by the way, Roger is not happy with his draw. But at least Fed’s fans will be pulling for him.
Defending champion Novac Djokovic may be sporting some lime green trou and accented shirts. If Lleyton Hewitt’s cap is any indicator, lime green may be the hot new color this year. Yes, lime green. Hooray for the lime green. Marat Safin, as is his wont, will apparently play naked. Much to the ladies’ delight, Andy Roddick will continue to practice shirtless. Fernando Verdasco may attempt to blind us all (or is that the new “court camouflage”?). Ivan Ljubicic may sport another retina searing sunburst orange. Did we say lime green will be popular this year?
Although the Open is a chance to sport the newest outfits, some players seem to dress without mirrors, or go to great lengths to support their country. Looks like Venus Williams is sticking with her Steve & Barry “11” line. Aussie native Lleyton Hewitt has been known to dress in Down Under color, while others, like former champ Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva went more colorful routes. And, be careful of how short you wear those dresses, ladies. The cameras are always watching. In fact, those skimpy dresses are actually banned this year!
Look for David Nalbandian to make a run, having just won a key lead-in tourney in Sydney. R-Fed also just won a lead-up tourney in Kooyong, hoping to reclaim the number one spot and surpass Pete Sampras’ grand slam record this year. Another one to watch is Juan Martin Del Potro who just took the Mens final match in Auckland, NZ.
I’ll now turn the piece over to Brinke Guthrie, who has some final thoughts on the Aussie Open:
G’day! The Australian Open is still a bit of a “weak sister” when lined up against the other majors. Europeans care about the French Open and Wimbledon, and Americans care about the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. The Aussie Open is, really, for the local blokes and sheilas. (I kid.)
The first major of the year can be held in blazingly hot weather. (Ask Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.) Your sneakers can actually stick to the hard court. Players want to win it, but they admit it’s a tough trip due to the travel involved. Some would like the date moved.
The Aussie is also when some players will debut new tennis fashion and gear, though the U.S. Open is the true showcase for new tennis fashion. Top men’s player James Blake has just switched from Nike shoes/clothing to Fila. Top women’s player Jelena Jankovic is currently without a clothing, shoe, or racquet deal, since her Reebok and Prince deals have expired. (Notice the logo-less strings and lack of label on shirt.) Adidas is also returning to the frame game soon.
Other Observations from Brinke: *** No Maria due to injury. But, let’s not forget Adidas’s flagship star, who even has her own logo. *** UK star Andy Murray and Carrotop — separated at birth? *** Black shoes on court look really bad. The Man didn’t do it that way.
And finally, NFL Championship Picks: Having gone 3-5 so far with the “old-school” method, I’m hoping to finish 3 for 3 for a winning (6-5) post-season record. Gimme the birds in the NFC championship and the team with the really good defense in the AFC. What’s that? I gotta narrow it down more? OK. All Penna. Super Bowl. And if that happens, I want all Philly fans and all Pitty fans to contact me for a possible SB post for a uni-retrospective — including the Steagles. More to come on that one. G’luck to all teams left.