Tag Archives: tennis

Tennis equality

Caution – minefield ahead!

I know this is an explosive subject, but I’m afraid I’ll self-combust if I don’t add my fourpenny worth. Which is a whole lot less than any professional tennis player – male or female – gets for lacing up their highly sponsored shoes these days.

The hoary old argument about equal pay in tennis has been reignited by the crass comments from Raymond Moore, a 69 year-old South African and former player himself. As Chief Executive of Indian Wells, the most recent venue on the professional tour, he said: “the women’s game rides on the coat-tails of the men. Female players should get down on their knees every day in thanks to Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.”

He’s no longer the Chief Executive. But he has apologised.

The words he chose to express his opinion were really stupid. The point he was trying to make isn’t.

Serena Williams, the modern game’s most successful female player, and Martina Navratilova, an all-time great, piled in to cut off Mr Moore’s head and stick it on the umpire’s chair, in the midday heat. Martina said his comments were “extremely prejudiced”, and threatened that female players would boycott Indian Wells in future if Mr Moore didn’t resign.

But Novak Djokovic, the Serbian world number one mens player, came out fighting…as he always does.

Winner at Indian Wells again this year, he said: “male tennis players should earn more money than their female counterparts because more people watch them play.”

He also commented: “women fought for what they deserve and they got it”, but he claimed prize money should be “fairly distributed based on who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets”.

There has been equal prize money in all four Grand Slam events – the Australian Open, US Open, French Open and Wimbledon – since 2007, and combined Masters events such as Indian Wells and Miami pay the same to men and women.

But is that really appropriate…or just another example of political correctness winning out over common sense?

Let’s look at some facts:

  • the UK TV viewing numbers for the Wimbledon finals in 2015 were: mens’ 9.2 million; womens’ 4.3 million
  • in the 2014 Wimbledon finals, another epic battle between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic went the distance – 5 sets – and lasted 4 minutes short of 4 hours; in the ladies’ final, Petra Kvitova defeated Eugenie Bouchard 6-3 6-0 in 55 minutes
  • prices for resold tickets for the women’s match were less than 20% of the men’s
  • Djokovich & Kvitova each won £1.76m – £7,457 for each minute played by Novak, and a whopping £32,000 for every 60 seconds Petra was on court that day in SW19

Sure, I’m being selective with my statistics, but the key point remains: women play a maximum of 3 sets in Grand Slams, men play 5. If women also played 5, an equal job would clearly justify equal pay. Just like it does – rightly so – in the workplace, or any other arena of modern life.

Matthew Syed – the excellent Sunday Times journalist – lays bare the madness of equal tennis pay in his bravely worded article yesterday:

There is a “vast gulf in interest that exists between the men’s and women’s game. The latest WTA (womens’) media deal is worth £365 million over ten years; the ATP (mens’) is estimating £904 million revenues over the same period.”

“Every right-minded person would agree that a woman should earn the same as a man for doing the same job, say in an office. But top male players are effectively doing a different job. They are persuading more of the public to pay through the turnstiles and on TV. Why should they have to cede this income to female counterparts?”

“And what would this mean beyond tennis? Should top-flight female footballers, who secure gates of a few hundred, earn the same as men, who play in front of tens of thousands and have secured multibillion-pound TV deals? And let us look at the reverse perspective too. Would it not be absurd for Gisele Bündchen to give up her income to male models who earn less, just because they have the same formal job title?”

See, I told you it was dangerous ground.

(image courtesy of dreamstime.com).

Ultimately, market forces and common sense should surely prevail. But – in my humble opinion – in the sensitive area of equal pay for professional tennis players in major tournaments, they haven’t. Political correctness has won another game.

Ticket pricing

Australian Open 2016 Men’s final $395 for category 3 seating, Women’s final $195 for category 3 seating

French Open 2016 Men’s final from 130 euros, Women’s final from 85 euros

Wimbledon 2016 Men’s final from £160, Women’s final from £133

 

 

Tennis – and drugs

I love tennis.

Watching a close match between two top professionals at one of the Grand Slams is like seeing a gunslinging shoot-out in Dodge City. Or gladiators standing toe-to-toe in the Colosseum, until the death.

It’s raw, almost primeval, entertainment.

Often a draining experience for spectators, for the players it must be as physically – and mentally – exhausting as running a marathon. Or being Boris Johnson’s barber.

In a Grand Slam tournament, spread over two weeks, you should get a free day before your next match. But for Davis Cup ties, and regular tournaments, you could well be out on court the day after a gruelling gun fight.

So the ability of your creaking body to recover becomes critical.

Meldonium is used to treat ischaemia, a lack of blood flow to parts of the body. Particularly in cases of angina or heart failure. It carries more oxygen to blood tissue. It increases exercise capacity for athletes, and improves their recovery time.

Unless you’ve been shacked up at a Nick Bollettieri training camp all week, you’ll know that Maria Sharapova came clean, as it were, on Monday that she had tested positive for Meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

As a result, she has been provisionally suspended from the sport and is likely to receive a potentially career-ending ban.

But in a bravura media performance – worthy of an early nomination for next year’s Oscars? – she pleaded her innocence:

  • It was prescribed to me by my family doctor, and I’ve been taking it for 10 years. Really, Maria? Was that for your lifelong heart problem? Oh no, perhaps it was the family diabetes history. My, you’ve done well in the circumstances…
  • I knew it as mildronate, not meldonium. Oh, come on. You have a highly paid team of medics, nutritionists, physios and sports scientists on your Kremlin-sized payroll. They must have known that WADA had pre-warned in September 2015 it would be added to the banned substance list from 1st January 2016

Excuse my cynicism. It is possible that this has all been a terrible, innocent oversight. But Maria Sharapova has been the world’s highest paid female athlete – not just tennis player – for 10 years. She has a PR team that would devour Donald Trump’s…and he’s on the verge of becoming leader of the free world. She controls every aspect of her sweet Sugarpova life. Monday’s performance smacked of damage limitation, from the sombre black outfit, to the subdued lighting, and the mea culpa before the tennis authority’s own outing of her transgression.

Tennis is under pressure. At the Australian Open this year, a report from the BBC and Buzzfeed alleged that widespread match-fixing has been taking place. And that the authorities have been covering it up.

In the wake of the Sharapova Meldonium scandal, Rafa Nadal has had to deny ever taking performance-enhancing drugs. And people have drawn attention to the genteel nature of the sport 20 years ago – all wooden rackets and gentle rallies – compared with the modern game’s full-on, snarling, physical brutality.

I’m afraid I doubt Maria’s innocence. She should – and will – receive a ban. 4 years for confirmed abuse, 2 years if the independent review believes her back-story.

The game will miss her.

The real question is how much wider is performance-enhancing drug abuse.

And how can we now really know if Novak Djokovic’s 5-set victory over Andy Murray at the 2016 US Open Final in September – saving 4 match points in the 4th set before winning in a gruelling, gladiatorial match lasting almost 5 hours – is clean, or substance-enhanced?

 

Sushi Rehab

This year’s festive season seemed to go on way longer than usual. Perhaps that’s because it did….

Starting with the magnificent Pine Cottage Supper Club on 11th December, it really only ended for us 2 days ago, on 11th January, after returning from a cheeky week skiing in Champoluc, Italy.

But there’s always a price to pay, right?

That month of almost continuous gluttony and debauchery was enjoyable, but physically damaging. And a week of pasta and pizza heaven, washed down with calorific Moretti beers and bucket loads of vino rosso, was the straw that broke this greedy camel’s back.

It’s a miracle that I’ve only added a few kilograms to my pre-piggery fighting weight, but it’s no surprise whatsoever that it’s all gravitated to my middle-aged midriff, as inevitably as a fat guest is drawn to an all-you-can-eat wedding buffet.

Desperate situations need desperate remedies.

Sushi.

(pic from Waitrose website).

Andy Murray swears by it. And if it helps get him fit and lean enough to win Olympic gold medals and Grand Slam titles, it might just work for me too. It even seems to be improving his sense of humour.

But let’s not go overboard. I’ll try it for a week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, and see how much of my expanded waistline – now a shameful 36″ at its lardiest girth – I can make disappear.

I’m not expecting miracles. I don’t expect I’ll ever revisit the unchanging 32″ waist of my distant youth, but getting safely into all my middle-aged 34″ jeans without lardily rippling over the waistband should be an ambition.

I’ll report back when I’m done. In Japanese, and with a vastly improved backhand. But still with no sense of humour.

(small print terms & conditions: I’m also allowed fruit and coffee. Can’t survive without caffeine!).

Murray v Kyrgios – endurance v brilliance

Nick Kyrgios announced himself on the world stage over the last 12 months, reaching the quarter finals of Wimbledon in 2014 and the Australian Open in 2015.

Watching the young Aussie play Andy Murray in the first round of the US Open earlier this week was a real treat for tennis fans.

Kyrgios is a precocious talent, making the former US Open & Wimbledon champion look ordinary at times. Combined with his youth – he’s just 20 – and a reckless attitude, the Aussie is a breath of fresh air for spectators and tournament organisers. He puts bums on seats, as they say, like Nastase or McEnroe did, back in the day.

But that same approach that won him some incredible rallies, and the third set, also meant he would inevitably lose the match. If he works out that it is possible to entertain and grind out points, games, sets and matches, I believe he has the ability and potential to become a top 5 player at some stage.

But if he doesn’t learn quickly – and also curb some of his off-court antics – that potential may never be reached.

After the Murray defeat, Kyrgios  took a chewing gum wad straight out of his mouth and handed it to a female assistant, when asked to do a court-side interview with a journalist. And recently he abused Stan Wawrinka on court, saying that another professional player had “banged his girlfriend”.

You know he’s creating a stir when Shane Warne, a renowned Aussie larrikin himself, was moved to write an open letter this week to the troubled young tennis player .

 In the open letter on his Facebook page the Cricket great said Kyrgios had 'a lot to learn'

If Kyrgios learns to add the endurance and focus of Murray and Djokovich to his undoubted talent, he’ll zoom up the rankings. But if he continues to show a lack of respect to the sport, spectators, female assistants and his fellow players, he’s in danger of exhausting everyone’s patience and diluting his own potential.

And that would be a waste.

Melbourne – a sporting finale

Day 19 – Monday, February 02

Our last day in Melbourne and it all seems to be about sport…..

The post mortem of the mens final of the Australian Open continues. Was Novak Djokovich faking injury? Why did Andy Murray collapse, again, so comprehensively….was it physical or mental weakness? And what was that demonstration all about, not covered on air but suspending play for quite a few minutes while the security guys ejected the culprits?

No matter. It’s no wonder the players call it The Friendly Slam, the Aussie Open is a fantastic tournament – for players and spectators alike – and having now completed my own personal Grand Slam, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to any tennis fan.

The Socceroos won the Asian Cup and all the newspapers are full of admiration for their boys.

And Cadel Evans, that Aussie cycling legend and only Aussie winner of the Tour de France, competed in his final pro race yesterday – The Great Ocean Road Race – and has now hung up his bicycle clips at the grand old age of 37.

A split party for Gill and me today. Gill has ventured out to the laundry and to explore the Botanic Gardens. I’m making another sporting pilgrimage to the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground, home to 100,000 spectators and scene of many more English defeats.

The Adelaide Oval tour was probably more enjoyable, the sheer scale of the MCG is overwhelming. But it’s hugely impressive, especially as it’s gearing up for the ICC World Cup in 10 days time. There are over 250 TV screens dotted around the stadium….the usual maker’s logo has to be covered up and replaced by the World Cup TV sponsor. Similar attention to detail is in evidence everywhere.

The tour gives a fascinating trip into the bowels of the stadium – the physio room, the players’s changing rooms, the press area, the dining facilities, the members’ Long Room and Committee Room, and much more.

And also in the MCG is the National Sports Museum.  For a relatively small country – in population rather than geographic terms – Australia punches way above its collective weight.

 The Museum houses impressive memorabilia about its wide-ranging sporting success through the years, and much film reel about the MCG hosting the Olympics of 1956 and the Commonwealth Games in 2006.

My favourite parts of the extensive Museum exhibits were Ian Thorpe’s trainers – roughly twice the size of my own pathetically delicate feet – and the hologram of Shane Warne, talking about his career from the very MCG changing room that we had just explored.

If you love sport, Australia in January and early February is a pretty special place to be…although I suspect that’s the same for the rest of the year.

We’re off out now for our final supper in Melbourne, as glorious evening sunshine bounces off the Yarra river through our hotel room.

Not sure about connectivity in the Tasmanian wilderness for the next couple of weeks, so daily blogging might not be possible. And spending time in a camper van will be a far cry from luxury hotels in Adelaide and Melbourne……see you on the other side.

 

 

 

Melbourne – a nearly day

Day 18 – Sunday, February 01

Yesterday was our penultimate day in Melbourne before moving on to Tasmania. It was one of those days when everything was nearly good….but ultimately wasn’t. And ultimately is what counts, right?

I’ve admired crazy and original Aussie Baz Luhrmann for years. He announced himself to the wider world with that thrilling, ground-breaking version of Romeo & Juliet in 1996, starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes.

Back in 1992 he had written and co-directed the Aussie film Strictly Ballroom. Well, he’s now directing a stage musical version here in Melbourne, and we had got hold of tickets for the Sunday afternoon matinee.

If you can suspend your disbelief completely, love sequins and a soppy storyline, this one’s for you. But you could smell the cheese in Adelaide, I reckon. The best part for me was the brilliant Latino dance that closed out the first half, and the rousing adage a life lived in fear is a life half lived, epitomising the need to be creative rather than to conform.

But sorry Baz, this musical was only half good, and a little piece of me died on a grey Sunday afternoon in Melbourne.

The pre-match curry at the Red Pepper Indian restaurant just missed the mark too. Well reviewed, the first signs were promising….pale wood floors, exposed brickwork on the walls, gentle service and intoxicating smells emanating from the kitchen.

But our Lamb Pasand and Chicken Tikka Masala dishes were so-so, served on cold plates and not overly generous portions. The best part of the meal was the tandoori roti bread….but man cannot live on bread alone. So near and yet….

And then it was time to watch Andy Murray play Novak Djokovich in the final of the Australian Open. We’d seen both semi-finals and were looking forward to another epic match between these two warriors. It would have good to be there at the Rod Laver Arena ourselves, but we’d been quoted A$395/£200 for a single ticket a few days ago and had already pushed the boat out for our Melbourne hotel and semi-finals package with Sportsnet.

So we found a good pub, the Duke – Melbourne’s oldest licensed premises – on Flinders Street, from where we could see the stadium lights. And the screens were so large it was almost like we were there….

That gruelling 1st set lasted for well over an hour and Novak edged it 7-6. It was going to be a long night.

We watched the 2nd set in the cavernous outdoor/indoor space by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, further along Flinders Street. Even longer than the 1st, Andy won another tie-break.

We watched the denouement from the comfort of our Langham hotel suite, but sadly Andy Murray succumbed all too quickly and lost his 4th AO final, and the 3rd to the Djoker.

Andy seemed in better physical condition than Novak, especially after Djokovich wobbled around like a drunken Bambi during the second set. But there are now accusations that Novak was play-acting and Andy admits he was distracted by these antics. After being a service break up in the crucial 3rd set, Novak won 12 of the last 13 games to win his 5th AO title.

Andy’s collapse in another Grand Slam final was woeful. He worked so hard and played outstanding tennis to get there, but he must control his emotions better if he is to achieve what is so tantalisingly within his reach.

But nearly just isn’t good enough, right?

 

 

 

 

Melbourne – all strung out

Day 16 – Friday, January 30

Midnight in Melbourne and just back from an epic day at the Australian Open tennis tournament.

 We were there for the twilight session as part of our package today, compared with the night session yesterday when we saw Andy Murray edge past Tomas Berdych to reach his 4th AO Open final.

The afternoon part of today’s order of play gave us a mixed doubles semi final and the ladies doubles final, both on the Rod Laver Arena main show court. Good tennis in both matches, but lacking in atmosphere with a huge number of empty seats….which did at least allow us to creep down to the posh seats just a few rows back from the court.

The main event was the 2nd mens semi final between defending champion, Stan Wawrinka, and the current world no. 1 Novak Djokovich. True to recent form between these two, they served up a 5 set epic. It somehow epitomised the ebb and flow of life….one moment you think you have life figured out and with your goal in sight, but if you take your eye off the ball for a brief moment – BAM – you’re behind the curve again, have to re-energise, refocus and steel your nerves for another monumental effort to reach the winning post.

As I saw it, Novak would win in the end thanks to his remarkable consistency, and defensive retrieving ability. I haven’t seen the stats, but I can’t imagine he made that many unforced errors. Stan, conversely, has a backhand as pure as unrefined silk and can fire off outrageous winners at will. But he is prone to making too many errors.

Another classic.

Just maybe Novak has lost some of the gas from his legs as a result of tonight’s long and emotionally draining match, but I still fear he’ll have the edge over Andy Murray in the final on Sunday. And he’s already beaten him in two AO finals.

But I’d like to be wrong………

 

Melbourne – life and love

Day 15 – Thursday, January 29

Two of the enduring passions of my long life have been sport and travel. I’ve fallen painfully out of love with some things and a few people, but those two addictions have remained remarkably constant.

To be in Melbourne today to see the Australian Open mens’ semi final between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych  combines both sport and travel in an intoxicating alchemy. Walking from the city along the Yarra river, leaving the shiny skyscrapers behind and approaching one of the world’s greatest sporting arenas is a rare privilege.

Thanks to our Sportsnet package, we’ve got excellent seats about 12 rows from the front, on one corner of the court. We’re in position about half an hour before the 7:30 pm start, chatting to the elderly US couple next to us…he’s surprised her with a trip to Australia and to the Open, and then on to New Zealand, to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. Passion.

The Rod Laver Arena is gladiatorial. The retractable roof slides effortlessly closed as the appointed hour approaches, presumably to accentuate the drama through lighting and music…because as the players warm up, they open it up again to reveal the still bright Melbourne sunshine, and to let in the surprisingly lively and cool wind.

Andy starts the first set as though he doesn’t want to be there. Tomas is hitting the ball much more cleanly, and producing searing winners. Andy is fiddling with a dodgy left ankle, and then a right thigh or knee, casting anxious glances towards his entourage and struggling to stay in the set.

Slowly, alongside his renowned defensive qualities, his confidence and momentum seem to improve. But not enough to save the first set, which he does well to take to a tie-break.

But thereafter he’s in the ascendancy, taking the next two sets 6-0 and 6-3. He’s in control of more rallies, moving his opponent around the baseline like a marionette and his puppets. Berdych’s energy is being sapped.

As with all sporting occasions, it’s as much about the peripheral incidents, people and smells around you that create a compelling occasion.

The 4 Andy Murrays stand up during end changes to belt out eulogies to their man, clearly well rehearsed over a few beers in one of their Scottish living rooms during the dark days of winter. A few other Brits closer to us chug pint after pint, are less rehearsed and become more and more abusive. The corporate suits immediately behind us discuss telecoms deals. Seagulls inhabit the night sky and float around the open roof, illuminated like dancers in a ballet. The smell of an Asian noodle dish tickles the nostrils.

The 4th set is closer but Andy takes it 7-5 and is into his 4th AO final…having lost the other three. In the immediate on-court interview, he pays tribute to his female coach Amelie Mauresmo and hints at the tension in the first set being due to his ex-trainer now coaching Tomas.

A great night. A great sporting – and travel – occasion. A great result.

And the perfect conclusion to a day in which we had earlier dub beneath Melbourne’s skin, after the previous day’s circular orientation tour.

We had enjoyed a brilliant brunch at Sally’s Kitchen,  spontaneously bought tockets for Baz Luhrmann’s musical production of Strictly Ballroom on Sunday afternoon, admired the architecture of the Royal Exhibition and Melbourne Museum in Carlton Gardens, stood in Ned Kelly’s cell during the moving tour of Melbourne Gaol, whizzed through the free Bohemia exhibition at the Melbourne Library, and enjoyed sundowner beers on the remarkable Ponyfish Island in the middle of the Yarra.

And then enjoyed a satisfying pre-tennis tapas supper at La Citta in the dingy Degraves Laneway, off Flinders Street. Crumbed eggplant chips with chipotle mayonnaise. Pork & beef meatballs with Napoli sauce. Lamb shank arancini. Smoked confit duck with croutons and cournichons.

Travel. Sport. Food. Beer. Wine.

So many passions in one short day.

Melbourne – a circular city

Day 14 – Wednesday, January 28

Orientation day for us in Melbourne today. A city sandwich, between a tennis hors d’oeuvres session yesterday and our main course on Thursday & Friday, the Aussie Open semi-finals, out at Melbourne Park.

Smug from our morning gym & swim session in the posh Langham’s spa, on the 9th floor and with a rather spectacular view across the Yarra to the skyscrapers on the north bank, we strolled across one of the many bridges at about 11 am, in warmer temperatures than yesterday and almost cloudless skies. Thinking about the wintry conditions back home and snowmageddon forecast for the east coast in the US, obviously.

We’d been impressed by the free city buses and trams in Adelaide, now we were hopping on the free trams trundling along Flinders Street, past the historic station, seemingly every few minutes.

 

The plan was to ride number 35, which does a full circuit of the inner city, to get our Melburnian bearings. But we eventually realised that doesn’t run until 12 pm, so jumped on the next one heading west and ended up at the Waterfront area, by the impressive Etihad stadium. These Etihads seem to be taking over the world…or sponsoring it, at least.

The Waterfront and Dockland areas were rammed with office workers heading out for a smoke or early lunch at the many eateries. New apartment blocks pierce the skies and shiny bling-boats bob around in the water as evidence of an affluent economy.

We successfully hopped onto a number 35, differentiated from the other trams by its period livery and enlightening on-board tourist commentary on points of interest around the route.

Heading east, we trundled along the length of La Trobe Street, past Flagstaff Gardens where we had Airbnb’d our first night, near Queen Victoria market to the north (on the list for later), past the imposing State Library of Victoria building, close to the Old Melbourne Gaol before hitting Carlton Gardens for the turn south.

Spontaneously we jumped off at the impressive Parliament building on Spring Street, wanting to roam the city’s innards on foot, like feral animals looking for rich pickings away from the main feeding grounds.

We’d heard about Melbourne’s famous laneways, the smaller streets tucked away off the main intersections, so we zigged and we zagged our way south and west. We were rewarded with the city’s treasures….boutiques, restaurants and bars concealed down atmospheric alleyways, or in well-preserved covered Victorian malls, like the famous Block Arcade.

But we ventured east again, and south, to Gazi’s at the junction of Exhibition and Flinders Streets, for a late lunch. Why? Because we’re sad Masterchef fans and the owner George Calombaris is one of the Aussie version’s star presenters……the bald Greek one who can cook. Like a more talented Greg Wallace.

Gazi’s is a cool, relatively new restaurant in a cavernous, shabby chic space. The menu has dirty Greek food as one section. Apparently that’s a good thing, and we enjoyed the waiter’s suggestion of combining calamari (with pine nuts, capers, cucumber & grilled apricots) and grilled saganaki cheese (with balsamic honey and lemon). Greek tapas…social & sharing. But we also wanted some clean anti-social nourishment so we added chicken souvlaki (with parsley, onion, and mustard mayo) and roasted beetroot salad (with hommus, goat’s curd, purple carrot, toursi red onion and cherry dressing). Washed down with a couple of glasses at rose……at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Outrageous behaviour.

All lovely, thanks George….I think we’ll put you through to the next round.

Just about time to complete the circuit – by foot – back to Flinders Street station and then across the river to see the movie Wild at the Crown complex.

Phew. Thanks, Melbourne….I think we’re going to like you.

Later, at the al fresco riverside Foxtel set-up, we saw the final set of Novak Djokovich sweeping aside the young Raonic as if extricating a small piece of grit from his eye.

So the main course is now ready to eat…..Murray v  Berdych tomorrow, Wawrinka v Djokovich on Friday. Mouth-watering.

 

Melbourne Park – The Aussie Open

Day 13 – Tuesday, January 27

Checked into our rather posh Melbourne hotel – The Langham – late morning, and I was as bouncy as a kangaroo on speed to be handed our welcome pack from Sportsnet by the liveried concierge.

I’d booked the tennis and hotel package almost a year ago, and wasn’t expecting much more than the tickets for the semi-final sessions on Thursday and Friday.

But in our sumptuous 19th floor room, overlooking the mighty Yarra river, we unearthed a quality rucksack each,  baseball caps, sunscreen, folding seats for those sensitive Pom bums, a poshly printed itinerary, our Myki visitor value pack for exploring the city….and a rather fetching leatherette man-bag containing the all-important tickets and dangly lanyard thingies.  Strewth mate, welcome to the Aussie Open.

I’d also joined the official AO body a while back, which gave us general access to the grounds and outside courts for 1 day….so we ambled in the direction of Melbourne Park, crossing the river and dodging energetic joggers and cyclists at the same time as dozens of rowing crews were put through their paces by megaphoned coaches on the other bank. Sporty bunch, these Aussies.

We enjoyed a cracking few hours introduction to the Open, watching some snippets of games on outside courts as well as on a couple of the show courts, seeing Sharapova The Grunter outclass young Ms Bouchard on the big screen as we munched through dodgy hot dogs, and then witnessed the sad demise of Rafa Nadal at the hands of Berdych, from the comfort of the Game, Set & Match suite, courtesy of the AO membership.

A good warm up for the day’s main event, young Aussie pretender Nick Kyrgios taking on our very own – well, Scotland’s – Andy Murray, being played out in the night session on the main Rod Laver Arena.

We ended up watching that start in the Crown Riverside area, cold tinnies in hand, and conclude back in the comfort of our hotel suite. Andy Murray played really well to squash the hopes of the young pretender – and the entire Australian nation – and we’re really excited that we’ll be at the Rod Laver Arena to see him play against Berdych for a place in the final. Andy, not Rod.