Category: Tennis Australia

It’s been a crazy, stormy ride this week, following Tennis Australia’s AO Wildcard Playoff tourney to today’s conclusion. So quite fittingly, I guess, there’s a crazy, stormy forecast for Melbourne today. “Isolated showers, becoming widespread around midday with small hail possible later.” Great.

Regardless of rain, hail or whatever the angry hellfire the weather gods can throw down on the Melburnians, the finals will take place. Only question is: if they’re played indoors (which is the remarkably innovative contingency plan), will they be streamed?

Here’s my hope: there’s some rain early, then a miraculous clearing, so that the towel brigade is once again called into action and I can see this kid again:

I guess there are no child labor laws in Australia?

But, rain or shine, this match will be played:

[1] Peter Luczak vs. [2] Marinko Matosevic: Australia’s number two vs. number three players, #137 and 138 in the world, respectively. The two have never played before, so this final is all about form coming in.

I’ve seen two Marinko matches in their entirety this week – the dicey-at-times 6-4 7-6 (6) win over Michael Look in Round Two and his more convincing 6-4 6-2 win over seventh seed Greg Jones – plus a few of the now-notorious 5.2-second “live look-ins” of his semifinal match, including a miraculous game-long look-in as he closed out Adam Feeney yesterday. And from what I’ve seen, it’s Marinko that has the most impressive form at the moment. He’s cut down on both errors and tantrums, and is hitting with alarming power and precision. It’s tempting to say he’ll just roll right over Luczak in this final.

But I think I’ve seen every ball Looch has hit this week, and though he’s been shaky at times – losing a set in his first match to 16 year-old Luke Saville, eking out a win over ninth seed James Lemke, and saving 4 match points before beating 4 seed Ebden in the semis – you just can never count him out. A dogged and determined competitor to the end, the ever-youthful 31 year-old has an amazing resilience that may end up frustrating Marinko, especially if the match is played outdoors in dodgy conditions.

So I’d say it’s nigh impossible to pick this one (and some fans are thankful for this, as my pick would surely doom the pickee). Heck, we don’t even know where it will be played at this point. What I do know is that I really want to watch this match. So I pray that either the weather holds and the match can be played on our regularly-streamed main court, or that there’s somehow a stream of the indoor court. And I hope that the tennis gods aren’t as angry as the weather gods, so they don’t rain hellfire on my prayer parade.

Update at 11 a.m. AEDST/7 p.m EST: The radar looks grim, but play is on for now. Sounds like they’ll be streaming indoors or out!  Watch here:

The final weekend of Aussie Wildcard Mania is upon us! And what a wonderful ride it’s been, as ever. Four men remain, as is the case with most semifinals. Lets have a look at who’s playing who, with some whats and whens and wherefores thrown in at no extra cost (other than your patience). First, let me lay down some OOP action:

Melbourne Park – Crt 6
   1. Starting at 10:00 AM AO Women’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Knockout Draw 
Olivia Rogowska [5]
Sophie Ferguson [2]
   2. Followed by AO Women’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Knockout Draw
Alicia Molik [1]
Jelena Dokic [3]
   3. Not before 12:30 PM AO Men’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Peter Luczak [1]
Matthew Ebden [4]
   4. Followed by AO Men’s Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Adam Feeney
Marinko Matosevic [2]

Our first semifinal features top-seeded veteran Peter Luczak against the rising-star fourth seed Matt Ebden (yes, you can be 23 and still be a rising star in men’s tennis; I proclaim it to be so! Plus he just turned 23 so get off my case JEEZ!). Ahem. These two have only met once, in the bronze-medal match of the Commonwealth Games in October, which Ebden won 6-3 6-3.

I happen to have watched both of Luczak’s matches this week – an unconvincing 6-2 4-6 6-2 win over 16 year-old prodigy Luke Saville and a tight 6-3 7-6(5) victory over 9th seed James Lemke – as well as the light hit he had with his 4 year old-son, Sebastian.

In his first match, the 31 year old Melbourne resident looked shaky and inconsistent, as perhaps befitting of a man playing his first match in almost a month. So unimpressive was his opening round performance that some people were strongly convinced he’d go down to Lemke in the next round (of all things!). But the #2 Aussie tightened up his game just enough to take advantage of a nervous start from his quarterfinal foe, and though the match was even, had enough wiles to just squeak through. Luczak hasn’t had the most convincing of years, going 25/35 coming into this event and slipping 73 spots in the ATP rankings since attaining his career high of #64 in October of last year.

On the other hand, Matt Ebden broke into the Top 200 for the first time this year and hit a career high of #162 in September, and he came into the event with almost exactly the reverse W/L record to Luczak at 35/24. But “the other hand” turned out to be the main problem coming in, as the man from Perth took a training tumble last weekend and badly bruised his right hand to the point where he couldn’t pick up a racquet for days, which even put his playoff participation in doubt. Thankfully, he was able to play, and though I’ve only seen 60-second snatches of his matches this week, it seems as if he’s been working himself back into form. He recovered from huge deficits in both sets of his encounter with young Ben Mitchell and pulled out a 7-6(5) 7-6(3) win in a nifty escape act. In his QF match he also had some work to do, coming back from a set down against the red-hot Sam Groth – a man many were picking to win the entire playoff coming in – and advancing in 2-6 6-4 6-2 style.

Interestingly, Luczak and Ebden will be playing doubles together in next month’s Open. “I have so much respect for him as a role model and a mentor,” the unassuming Western Australian said about his semifinal foe. “It’s hard (playing a friend) but at the same time…you’ve just gotta go out there and try to get the best out of each other and the best out of yourself and put it on the park and try to win.” And how. While they may be friends off the court, it seems as if the tennistical trajectories for both men have been going in opposite directions on the court all year long. Will this be the match where the younger Perth man further asserts his ascendancy?

The second match features the combustible second seed Marinko Matosevic against unseeded New South Welshman Adam Feeney. This will be the sixth on court encounter for the two 25 year-olds, and the fiery Matosevic has won 4 of their 5 previous meetings. As Marinko pointed out in a hilarious interview with Rob O’Gorman…

The Legend, Rob O’Gorman, broadcasting from the Rob O’Gorman Memorial Scaffolding

…right after his comprehensive 6-4 6-2 quarterfinal win over Greg Jones, he hasn’t lost to Feeney “in five or six years.” Make that six, Marinko, as Adam won their first encounter in November of 2004 and hasn’t won one since.

On paper, this looks to be an easy affair for the 2nd seed. But on that same paper, Feeney wouldn’t have beaten Colin Ebelthite, third seed Carsten Ball or James Duckworth in successive rounds, which he did and did and did. So THE PAPER LIES, PEOPLE! Don’t believe a thing it says!

I Reckon It’s Time For A Reckoning

On this day of rest before the Australian AO Wildcard Playoffs resume and the U.S. Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs commence, I thought it might be a good time to take a look back and see if we could learn from some of our past indiscretions.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but yesterday I made a number of BOLD, CAPS-LOCKED PREDICTIONS that went horribly, horribly wrong. In case your memory is being charitable or senile, let’s review the brutal blow-by-blow:

I wrote: “JAMES LEMKE WILL BEAT PETER LUCZAK TODAY. So get your cutting and pasting fingers ready to throw those words back at me if I’m wrong. But I won’t be.

Oh, but I was. Actual result: Luczak d Lemke 6-3 7-6(5). And how good (most of) you were to not cut-and-paste that in my face! Alas, my journalistic integrity (*snort*) demands that I do it to myself (also, I have nothing else to write about today. So that and my journalistic integrity).


Actual result: Ebden d Groth 2-6 6-4 6-2. I’m sure glad I ended that interview when I did. Otherwise, I might’ve said something embarrassing!


Actual result: Feeney d Duckworth 6-2 7-5. Hmmmm. I know there are certain Marinko Matosevic fans out there who are very happy I didn’t go BOLD AND CAPS-LOCKED in his favor yesterday, as that surely would’ve spelled his certain demise. Well, then. *prepares a stunning defense* (here, look at this photo while I prepare):

The legend Rob O”Gorman (and Adrian Franklin) in the AO Control Center, looking at the computer and discussing my terrible predictions.

There are obvious lessons to be learned here. First and foremost: I CAN CONTROL THE FUTURE! By the reverse-jinxing power I so certainly have (based on an unassailably ample sample size of three matches), I can now determine the course of every match played ’til the end of time. How useful! (And thank you to one of my cutting-and-pasting, word-throwing readers for taking pity on me and pointing out that power to me, as I never would’ve noticed this myself.)

Second and secondmost: there is money to be made here. Sadly, since I only write about Futures and Challengers, I can not bring my world-affecting talents to top-tier tennis. But I can bring them to South Beach, as there are Futures and Challengers tournaments near there – not to mention juniors; and I bet over-invested parents like the ones who came to blows in Melbourne would pay big $$$ to give their kids the vital edge that only I can provide!

Third and lastmost: I will be setting up a paypal account to enable bidding wars for all future matchups. Whichever player gets the most money donated toward his (or her) cause gets a BOLD AND CAPS-LOCKED PREDICTION in their opponent’s favor. Details pending. Offer legal in most states. Please be over 13 to donate. And please brawl responsibly.

It’s quarterfinal day for the Men of the Aussie Wildcard Playoffs (that sounds like it should be one of those cheesy beefcake calendars).  So today’s preview comes with BOLD CAPS-LOCKED PREDICTIONS, at no extra cost to you, the reading public.  But first!  Here’s the order of play for the day:

Melbourne Park – Crt 5
   1. Starting at 10:00 AM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Blue Group (A)
Jade Hopper
Sophie Letcher [7]
   2. Not before 11:00 AM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Magenta Group (C)
Viktorija Rajicic
Nina Catovic
   3. Followed by AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Green Group (B)
Monika Wejnert
Ashling Sumner
   4. Not before 1:30 PM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Yellow Group (D)
Azra Hadzic
Belinda Woolcock
Melbourne Park – Crt 6
   1. Starting at 10:00 AM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Peter Luczak [1]
James Lemke [9]
   2. Not before 11:00 AM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Magenta Group (C)
Jelena Dokic [3]
Tammi Patterson [6]
   3. Followed by AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Yellow Group (D)
Jessica Moore [4]
Olivia Rogowska [5]
   4. Not before 1:30 PM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Greg Jones [7]
Marinko Matosevic [2]
Melbourne Park – Crt 7
   1. Starting at 10:00 AM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Blue Group (A)
Alicia Molik [1]
Alison Bai
   2. Not before 11:00 AM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
Matthew Ebden [4]
Samuel Groth [8]
   3. Followed by AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Green Group (B)
Sophie Ferguson [2]
Isabella Holland [8]
   4. Not before 1:30 PM AO Wildcard Playoff 2011 – Main Draw
James Duckworth
Adam Feeney

Now let’s take a closer look at each of the men’s quarterfinal matchups:

[1] Peter Luczak vs. [9] James Lemke – OK, people. I’ve been hedging my bets, prediction-wise, throughout my previous previews; so today I think I’ll really put it on the line. Therefore, I need to tell you (and you read it here first): JAMES LEMKE WILL BEAT PETER LUCZAK TODAY. So get your cutting and pasting fingers ready to throw those words back at me if I’m wrong. But I won’t be.

Here’s the evidence: to start with, if James Lemke reaches the final of these playoffs, then that final will be the 100th match he’s played this year. That’s right. You heard me (in your head, presumably). The 22-year-old born-and-raised Melburnian comes into this match with a sizzling 61/37 record on the year, a year that’s seen him rise 150 places in the ATP rankings to his current #318. Not even notorious workhorse/money-chaser Nikolay Davydenko has played that much in a year (70-29 in 2006 was his most impressive/crazy season, from a matches-played perspective). So it would be amazing were Lemke to reach the 100-match plateau. And frankly, Mr. Lemke seems headed for a date with that destiny. Sure, he had a slight hiccup in his 6-4 6-7(3) 6-2 victory, but the top-seeded Luczak didn’t look all that impressive in his 6-2 4-6 6-2 win over 16-year-old Luke Saville either. Therefore, I proclaim with great conviction: Lemke will not only win this match but the next one as well. You can’t argue with destiny, people. Or a crazy person on the internet.

[4] Matt Ebden vs. [8] Sam Groth – Matt’s the higher seed, but Sam’s the hotter hand. SAMUEL GROTH WILL BEAT MATT EBDEN TODAY. END OF INTERVIEW. I will, however (and also at no extra cost), throw out some evidence just to humour you: Groth and Ebden have played two times, and Groth has won two times. Do you know what this means?! That’s right: he’s won both their previous meetings. Good on ya! You’re smarter than I thought! Granted, these meetings were in 2007 and 2008, but Adam Feeney came into his match yesterday with the exact same head-to-head stats over Carsten Ball (2 wins in 2 old matches), and we all saw how that turned out. Grothy also has gone 31/5 at the end of this year, while Ebden went 36/24 for the entire year. So welcome to the semi-finals, Sam! Too bad you’ll be losing to Lemke, though. That’s a tough break. But you should get a discretionary WC from Tennis Australia anyway. Otherwise they’re complete and utter fools.

Sam Groth gets interviewed after his inevitable win

[7] Greg Jones vs. [2] Marinko Matosevic – oh what a loud, raucous and combustible contest this will be! Two of the most fiery and fun-to-watch competitors in all of Australian tennis – big players with big serves and groundstrokes who aren’t afraid to attack the net. Marinko leads their head-to-head 3-1, but two of his three wins over Greg have gone three sets, including their most recent meeting in Calabasas, which he won 5-7 7-5 6-1 in October. You can always count on one or two close sets when these two meet. The 25 year-old Matosevic has definitely had the better year, going 37/24 and breaking into the Top 150, while Jones went 38/31 and broke into the Top 200 for the first time. That said, Greg’s 6-1 6-4 demolition of the heretofore hot-hitting Sean Berman in the previous round bodes well for the 21 year-old Sydneysider. And Marinko did struggle a bit in his 6-4 7-6 (6) win over Michael Look. This is a tough one to call, and I don’t think I’m heading for any bold-faced CAPS LOCK prediction here. Let’s say that Marinko wins this one in three tight sets. But I reserve the right to be wrong.

Adam Feeney vs. James Duckworth – A battle between the men who took down third seed Carsten Ball and fifth seed John Millman, respectively. The two have met only one time previously, with Duckworth coming out on top 7-6 (5) 6-4 – a win made all the more impressive for the fact that it was two years ago, when Ducky was just 16 years old and Feeney was 23. Two years on, the Sydneysider’s just getting better and better. He came into the tournament with a hot hand, having had match points before going down to Sean Berman in the Optus 18′s final. In addition to being the top-ranked Aussie junior, Duckworth’s also gone 24/15 in first semi-full year on the pro tour, achieving an ATP ranking of 755. Feeney, meanwhile, has had an OK 22/19 year but he mostly tread tennistical water for the past two years, and is actually ranked 183 spots lower than when the two played their first match. All signs point to a BOLDED CAPS LOCK PREDICTION: DUCKWORTH WILL ADVANCE IN STRAIGHT SETS, and will play either Jones or Matosevic in the semis.

So what do YOU think? Tell me why I’m wrong (or even, gasp, right) in the comments below. And who are you supporting here? Who do you want to see in the semis and the finals?  Who do you want to see win this damn thing?

Lock up your gardens, Melburnians!  Today’s the first day the seeds are on the prowl in Melbourne Park (on the men’s side, anyway). Let’s have a close look at your Wednesday wildcard playoff matchups, shall we?  (hint: we shall.)

Jared Easton vs. James Lemke [9] – After a 7-5 6-4 victory over Mark Verryth yesterday, 20 year-old Jared Easton is back at it bright and early today, this time against the newly-christened 9th-seed (due to Bernard Tomic’s withdrawal) James Lemke. The Gold Coaster, who once made the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open boys doubles with Devin Britton and achieved a junior combined world ranking of #15, will have his work cut out for him against the born-and-raised Melburnian Lemke, who is ranked 412 spots higher at #318 in the ATP rankings and sports a staggering – from a sheer matches played perspective – 59/37 win/loss record on the year. Easton, who sports a comparatively paltry 9/20 record in 2010, can take some measure of hope from the fact that Lemke has only won 6 of his matches on a hard court. But I’d still expect the 9th seed to come through in this one.

Peter Luczak [1] vs. Luke Saville – This should be a fun one – the top seed against the rising hope. On paper, it would appear that the #2-ranked Aussie won’t have to reach deep into his ‘zac of Luc (work with me here, people) to pull out a victory over his plucky 16 y/o opponent, who is 15 years his junior. But the matches aren’t played on paper, of course; they’re played on Plexicushion, which really sucks to write on. And though the South Australian from Adelaide can boast a higher current ranking at #115 than the #137 held by his self-professed “idol”, sadly for Luke that’s just his junior ranking, which won’t carry too much clout on the big boys tour. Still, he’s improving in leaps and bounds, and his 6-1 7-6(3) win over Joel Lindner in the first round shows that he’s come ready to play. An enormous ask for Saville, though, and the fun in this match will be in seeing how many games he’s able to get against his top-seeded, more-seasoned opponent.

Matthew Ebden [4] vs. Benjamin Mitchell – I love this matchup. Kinda sad it’s not on a streamed court, but hey, you can’t have everything (where would you put it?). Anyway, even though the the 4th seed from Perth is five years senior and 413 ATP ranking places higher than his 18 year-old opponent, Ben Mitchell – much like Luke Saville – is quickly on the rise. The #2 Aussie junior finished the year 9-3 on the pro tour, including his 6-4 6-3 first round victory over Maverick Banes. Most notably, the Gold Coaster reached the finals of the Australia F13 event in Bendigo, losing a tight match to Sam Groth, and his ranking has shot up almost 200 places in the last month alone. Will all this improvement spell a victory against Ebden? Possibly. Though Ebden won their only previous meeting 6-1 6-3 last year, the 4th seed did suffer an injury scare while training over the weekend; and though MRI readings indicated no fractures in his right hand, there is some bruising that might impede Ebden’s play. The man from Perth also hasn’t played a competitive match in over a month, while young Mitchell comes in firing on all cylinders. I’d give Ebden the edge in this one, but wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Mitchell gets the upset either.

Dane Propoggia vs. Sam Groth [8] – Mr. Samuel Groth comes into this year’s WC Playoff as the hottest player in the event, having finished his year at a torrid 30/5 W/L clip, with three Futures titles under his belt, including the most recent pro event in Bendigo. Propoggia’s had a less-stellar 2010 campaign, going 19/22 for the year and only 9/15 since June. The 20 year old, ranked #616 in the world, can take heart from the fact that, while he lost both his previous meetings with Grothy, they both went the distance, so he’s played the big man close before on two occasions. Still, with the way Sam’s been hitting the ball of late, it’s very hard to imagine Proppogia managing a win here.

Greg Jones [7] vs. Sean Berman – Remember that thing I said about the paper and the plexicushion? Me neither, but the important thing to note here is that while Greg Jones is the seed and Berman the junior, I actually feel it’s 17 year old Melburnnesburgerican* who has the advantage here. Or, at the very least, it’s deuce. I mean, even. Let’s take a look at the evidence:  Berman, the 38th ranked junior who’s still listed as “USA” in the ITF records (I admit, his nationality is a bit hard to keep up with), won the Optus 18’s last week defeating James Duckworth in the final, and entered the event with a head of stream. He did not slow down in the first round, barreling through poor Joey Swaysland 6-4 6-2. Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t played in 3 weeks, and went 12-22 to finish his season. Perhaps the gregarious, big-serving Sydney man has had enough rest to recover from an injury-riddled season and will come in refreshed and renewed. I hope he will. But I’m not confident about it.

Michael Look vs. Marinko Matosevic [2] – Look out, Mike! The boisterous-but-mellowing ((no) thanks to Teddy Woodbridge)) Matosevic has had a good season to date; the 25 year-old actually spent a portion of this year as the #2-ranked Australian, thanks to a 37/24 year that saw him win two Challenger titles, including the recent Calabasas tournament in late-October. But this is another one of them paper/plexicushion deals: the main reason Look finds himself 435 world ranking spots below his opponent is due to his being out from May until December of this year. Since coming back, the 23 year-old Queenslander from Redcliffe has gone 17/8, including his 1-6 6-4 6-3 win over the higher-ranked Matt Reid in the first round here. And Marinko hasn’t played in over a month. So I’d say Mike’s in it with a chance, despite the disparity on that pesky ol’ paper. Look out, Marinko?

Are you lookin’ at me? Mike Look after his 1st round victory. 

John Millman [5] vs. James Duckworth – Here’s another I wish were on a streamed court; hopefully we’ll get plenty of more-than-30-second look-ins on this one today.  The scrappy and affable 21 year-old “Mailman” has delivered a super 40/22 season that’s seen him break into the Top 200 for the first time.  The Queenslander had a torrid month-long span from mid-September to mid-October, during which we went 14-1 in winning the Australia F6 Futures as well as the Sacramento Challenger before petering out in his last two matches in the States in October.  The Mailman hasn’t played in a couple of months, but has been training hard with the NA-Brisbane team and should hit the court raring to go, despite the lack of recent match play.  Duckworth, meanwhile, came into the tournament with a hot hand, having had match points before going down to Sean Berman in the Optus 18′s final. In addition to being the top-ranked Aussie junior, Duckworth’s also gone 22-15 in first semi-full year on the pro tour, achieving an ATP ranking of 755. He struggled a bit in his 2-6 6-2 6-3 win over Matthew Barton in the first round, and he can’t afford such hiccups against Millman.  I’ll say the fifth seed gets the win here, but it’ll be a dogfight. Luckily for John, he’s at least one mailman who doesn’t mind fighting dogs.

Adam Feeney vs. Carsten Ball [3] – Once again, before you get caught up in that “seeded, much-higher ranked player has the advantage” trap, it pays to look at the devilish details: the 25 year-old Feeney has actually won both of his matches against the “American Australian” Carsten Ball. Like Greg Jones, Ball too has limped to the finish line this season, ending the year 6/11. The big-serving lefty, like Matosevic, also hasn’t played in a month. The 23 year-old Feeney, meanwhile, has had an OK 22/19 year but he has done his share of finish line limping as well, ending his season at an 8/10 clip. With the laid-back third seed, you never know what he’s going to bring to the court from day to day. One match he looks like a world beater, the next like a beaten man. I suspect that when all is said and done, Carsten will win here. But I wouldn’t trust my suspicions.

*Born: Johannesburg, Nationality: USA (per his ITF profile page), Residence: Melbourne

Edited to bring you this late-breaking news: Or just maybe, no play will happen at all, as we’ve been stuck for over an hour in a rain delay.

I feel how this kid looks.


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