In a 2011 edition of The Age, Pat Rafter nominated his Top 10 Australian Open moments. Nice read, but his choices are so predictable – Sampras, Graf, Hewitt, Agassi etc – and I don’t think Pat’s ever been away from centre court.
The Australian Open offers so much more in human drama – so here are McAlmanac’s Top 10 Australian Open Moments.
Fred Stolle/Pam Shriver v Ken Rosewall/Liz Smyllie
Sometimes you wander around and see star players practicing, but one day I walked past a practice court to see these guys hitting up before a friendly match. Stolle and Rosewall were almost 70, but their hands were immaculate. Effortless, smooth, classy, beautiful to watch.
Todd Woodbridge/Jonas Bjorkman d Jon Van Lottum/Martin Verkerk, 2nd Round 2004 French Open
OK, it’s not the Australian Open, but I lined up a LONG time (almost two hours) outside Roland Garros to get a ground pass. Roland Garros may not be as clinically modern as Melbourne Park, but it is beautiful in a Parisian way. And I got to sit in the third row of this remote outside court, directly behind Todd’s missus, to watch this entertaining encounter. Of the Dutchmen, Verkerk was the meathead type a la Fritz Buehning, but it was Uniting Church standard Van Lottum (who would struggle to beat Mellen) who smacked a ball three courts away to earn a code violation. Special mention to the womens doubles match preceding this, where some no name European served a ball into the back of her playing partner’s head.
I saw this Channel 7 buffoon poncing around one day complete with blazer and walking stick. 100% knob.
Nicolas Escude d Jim Courier, 1st Round 2000
Russ, De Huge and myself settled right on the T at 9am on a Tuesday morning to watch Jim Courier’s last ever match at the Australian Open. He may have been a two-time winner and former World No.1, but can anyone honestly say they enjoyed watching his grinding style? Nice to see him lose in the first round.
Wayne Black/Kevin Ullyett d Juan Monaco/Mariano Zabaleta, 1st Round 2005
Blokes playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars on centre court aren’t under pressure. Blokes playing to pay for their hotel bill in long shadows in front of no one on an anonymous outside court are. The Zimbabwean pair were a classy doubles team, but the Argentineans looked like pennant players. My mate Shaun got a light off Black’s missus too.
David Adams/Amanda Coetzer d Max Mirnyi/Anna Kournikova, 1st Round 2001
I was about to head home at 6.30 on a Saturday when I popped my head into Show Court 1 to see if anything was on. Kournikova at one end and the underrated Seth Efrican poppet Coetzer at the other. The beauty of being on your own is you can get a one off seat – and I found one in the third row on the tramline in the deuce court. You’d have Kournikova right in front of you for two games, then Coetzer the next two. Brilliant.
Andrew Ilie d Jeff Tarango, 1st Round 2000
Russ and I stumbled upon the end stages of this match on Court 3. Tarango was down match point and as soon as his return clipped the tape and rolled down, he instantaneously snapped his racket over his knee in the sort of rage I could never hope to manufacture. Magnificent. Ilie then proceeded to rip his shirt off in trademark fashion.
Todd Martin d Pete Sampras, 4th Round 2001
Late one Saturday afternoon, after a mandatory Heineken Bar break, I returned to Vodafone Arena to catch the last half of this match. Pistol Pete had been a set up but big Todd, complete with greying hair and bandaged knee, was reeling him in. Every Martin winner had the joint jumping with the sort of roar reserved for a Richo speccy at the G. It was the most rollicking atmosphere I’ve seen at the Open – and a victory for the everyman.
David Ferrer d Radek Stepanek, 3rd Round 2007
A Friday annual leave day had been interrupted with rain delays but if you hang in there you get rewarded. I shuffled out to Court 2 after 7 o’clock to find two Top 20 seeds battling it out. Superfit Stepanek (once engaged to Martina Hingis) was two sets up, but Ferrer blasted through him 6-0 in the third. The crowd was sparse – just trainspotters like me and a section of blokes who’d clearly been indulging in the sponsor’s product for the majority of the day. Stepanek began to get frustrated, both with the umpiring and himself, and the drunken hecklers zeroed in. The more frustrated he got, the more they heckled; they clearly got under his skin. It was magnificent to watch a top line sportsman let the crowd get to him and crumble – and it was 9 o’clock when Stepanek eventually went down in five sets.
Mardy Fish d Wayne Arthurs, 3rd Round 2007
Big Wayne was in good form at his last Australian Open. I snagged a front row seat in the ad court and was set for what looked like an interesting clash, but something seemed wrong with Our Wayne during the warm up. He disappeared for 10 minutes and reappeared, but the big fella couldn’t run – his leg would collapse under him every time. The great man was in tears as his body couldn’t do what the mind wanted. It turns out a pain killing injection for a sore hip had a 1 in 1000 effect that immobilised his legs. He walked through three games before conceding defeat. It was a truly emotional moment not unlike Buff Tyrell’s mark and goal with a broken collarbone against Port in 1976 at Pecker Park.