Australian Open Buzz: Serena's White Power, Hewitt's Bluster and Why Melbourne Is as Mad as Frogs

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 TENNIS-AUS-OPEN : News Photo

GOOD NEWS: Coach Nigel Sears, who was hospitalized last night and is Andy Murray’s father-in-law, was given approval to leave the hospital and fly home to Britain. Sears issued a statement thanking the medical and tennis people who came to his aid.

VINCI HOPES FOR ADVICE FROM HER UNCLE LEO: In New York, Roberta Vinci told IT (with a wink) that Leonardo da Vinci was her uncle. When asked about Uncle Leonardo in Melbourne, she told us, “I hope he can help me also here.”

LLEYTON HEWITT – FAREWELL NOTES

• Some things never change. After Lleyton was called not once, but twice, for a foot fault in his infamous 2001 US Open match against James Blake, He then told the umpire, “Look at him (the African-American linesman) and tell me what the similarity is (beckoning towards the African-American Blake.)” I want him off the court.”  Now flash forward 15 years to Lleyton’s last singles match, when he was called for a double-fault not once but twice. He then turned to the ump and offered an obscenity and was fined $2,500.

• Down Under writer Ron Reed contended, “Hewitt’s long lingering farewell is surely the most drawn out lap of honor in the history of Australian sport.”

• Andre Agassi offered a shout-out to Hewitt. He tweeted, “To a man who always brought his hard hat to work without excuses…CHEERS to this next step in your wonderful journey”… Andy Roddick simply tweeted, “Good on ya Rusty!”

• An hour after Lleyton Hewitt won his opening-round match, there was his seven-year-old son Cruz – racket in hand and wearing an Aussie flag shirt just like Dad’s – prancing and dancing in delight in a back corridor under Laver Arena.

• After Lleyton’s opening match, US Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier interviewed Australia’s Davis Cup Captain Lleyton Hewitt. When Courier ran out of questions for the Aussie, Hewitt began to interview Courier. The two will lead their teams in battle against each other in Australia in early March.

• Hewitt’s last shot of his pro career came at 4:17 Sunday afternoon. It was a backhand return of serve which drifted wide. He and his partner Sam Groth lost in straight sets to the No. 9 seeds, the former Wimbledon champions Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil.

SERENA’S WHITE POWER: Australian Open Radio said that the young Russian Margarita Gasparyan “feels the white power of every ball” hit by Serena.

MARGARITAVILLE: Insiders wondered whether Russian Margarita Gasparyan is the only elite level player named Margarita…Maria Sharapova said she “love to sit on the beach and read a book and drink margaritas but I get bored.”

VIDEO GAMES: Fernando Verdasco said he watched the tape of his classic 2007 Aussie Open semifinal loss to Rafa Nadal about 10 times…Roberta Vinci said she watched the tape of her win over Serena at last year’s US Open time and again. When asked whether she ever watched the tape of her loss to Vinci, Serena joked that she watched it every night, just for inspiration…Bob and Mike Bryan, who have been playing the circuit for 21 years, said they are now watching tapes for the first time in their career.

THE BEST “31” STAT IN TENNIS HISTORY? In 1999 Anna Kournikova won an Aussie Open match despite hitting 31 double faults. This year in Melbourne, Kristyna Pliskova lost despite hitting 31 aces…Midway through his career, Andy Roddick quipped, “I want another crack at Federer—until my record is 1-31.” He ended up with a 3-21 record against Roger…Between them, Federer and Pete Sampras have 31 Slams…When she was 31, Serena Williams was asked whether the 31-year-old Serena could beat the 21-year old Serena. She replied, “I wouldn’t want to play me at 21 or 31.”…Richey Reneberg was the WTT Team Tennis Rookie of the Year when he was 31…The Dutch wheelchair player Esther Vergeer, who you could argue was the most dominant player in tennis history, retired at age 31. So did Guga Kuerten…Three of the semifinalists at the 2013 US Open – Serena Williams, Li Na and Flavia Pennetta – were 31.

SHARAPOVA REVELATION: ESPN is working on a piece on aging athletes in sports, so they asked Maria Sharapova about aging veterans, including quarterbacks like Tom Brady. The Russian responded, “I don’t know much about quarterbacks.”

DARLING DARIA – MAD AS A BOX OF FROGS:

• Simon Cambers tweeted, “[I] Quite like watching Daria Gavrilova – real battler, great mover, mad as a box of frogs but new Aussie hero.

• Serena Williams thought Gavrilova could win the tournament.

• When a broadcaster noted that Gavrilova “has a boyfriend from the bush,” our research department got on the case. Yes, her beau Luke Saville is from the tiny village of Cobdogla, which is 144 miles beyond Adelaide. The hamlet – population about 300 – is known for its Irrigation and Steam Train Museum and the Loveday Internment Camp. It does have a six-court tennis center. So that’s one court for every 50 people. Actually Saville lives about 13 miles out of town “in the middle of nowhere.” He explained, “Life’s pretty simple and not much happens. I definitely don’t think Darsha could live there…she’d go crazy.” BTW: Gavrilova and Saville played mixed doubles together, but lost in the first round

• The classy Gavrilova put her finger to her lips to shush a crowd cheering a double fault from her opponent deep into the third set of her second round match.

• After her 6-4, 4-6, 11-9 win over Kristina Mladenovic, Daria said, “I’ve got nothing in my head. I’m just really excited and I want to hug the whole stadium.” When asked why she smiles so much and what goes through her mind, she confided, “You don’t want to be in my head.”

HIGH STANDARD: A reporter asked Nick Kyrgios why, after his loss to Tomas Berdych, he felt he had let people down. The writer reminded Nick that everyone has to lose sometime – but the Aussie responded tersely, simply saying, “Djokovic doesn’t lose.”

TERRIBLE COMMENTARY: After his third-round loss, Kyrgios told chair umpire James Keothavong, “You’re a terrible referee.”

BEWARE OF FIRST IMPRESSIONS: When asked what her thoughts were after she broke Victoria Azarenka at love in the opening game, Japan’s personable Naomi Osaka replied, “Oh, I was like, ‘It can’t be this easy.’ And then she like broke me and I was like, ‘Yeah, okay.'” Vika spanked the 18-year-old lost 6-1, 6-1.

HAPPY TO LOSE: Osaka said she was glad she lost, “because…I can learn more from my mistakes than from winning.”

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES: After Jim Courier told Stan Warwrinka on court that his voice was a bit croaky, the Swiss joked, “Too many cigars.”

SAY IT ISN’T SO, VENUS: Venus Williams is celebrated as a pioneer, a resilient legend and survivor who has won 9 Grand Slams. She fought hard to create equal pay for women and has bravely fought Sjogren’s Syndrome. But in two out of the last four Slams she’s failed to appear at her post-match press conference – a staple for any professional. In Melbourne she was fined $5000 and a big question remains unanswered: Will she play in the mandatory Indian Wells tournament for the first time in 15 years?

WHAT VENUS, KYRGIOS AND HEWITT HAVE IN COMMON: All were fined in Melbourne.

WISHFUL THINKING: Just after he heard he would have to play Andy Murray, Sam Groth said, “It would be nice if his wife went into labor overnight – I might just be cheering for that one.”

JUST HOW GOOD IS ROGER? Earlier in the Aussie Open, the Swiss earned a record 300th Grand Slam win. The next-most wins are Jimmy Connors with “just” 233 and Andre Agassi with 224.

A LITTE DAB WILL DO YOU: After beating Alison Van Uytvanck 6-0, 6-0 in the first round, Victoria Azarenka offered a “dab” – the victory gesture created by Cam Newton. The Carolina Panther star then got in touch with Vika, who told ESPN, “My swag is approved…If I keep on winning I am going to keep on doing the dab.” John Isner, a huge Panther and Newton fan said he wasn’t impressed with Vika’s dab and would never make the gesture. Question: If Azarenka does beat Serena in the final, will she do the dab?

THE THIN MAN: Broadcaster Richard Evans said France’s Gilles Simon is “the thin man from Nice who gets under your skin.”

QUOTEBOOK:

“At the moment, Serena has absolutely been bossing Maria.” – Steve Pearce

“She likes to win and I hate to lose.” – Vika Azarenka on what makes her rivalry with Serena so dynamic.

FED UP AND NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE:  Broadcaster Carole Bouchard said, “The guys are fed up with being humiliated by Djokovic.”

NOT SO MESSED UP AFTER ALL? In 2007, before a string of mini-scandals relating to gambling, drugs and a supposed poisoning hit the tennis world, Inside Tennis noted that other sports had had their problems that year as well: A corrupt ref shook the NBA, the steroid-tainted Barry Bonds set baseball’s most hallowed record, NFL quarterback Michael Vick turned out to be a dog killer, the Tour de France winner used illegal drugs, and the Formula One circuit was shaken by a cheat scandal. So, in comparison, tennis seemed squeaky clean.

MAFIA MEMORIES: Back in 2007, Nicolay Davydenko’s alleged (but never proven) ties to the Russian mafia prompted Mary Carillo to recall broadcasting the ’95 Davis Cup final from Moscow. “We were paying off [everybody]. It was a joke how many hands were out just for them to turn on the electricity…[and] we’d already greased them. That’s the deal over there. The Russian mafia’s been around hockey forever – and figure skating. Obviously, they were a big part of the Salt Lake City scandal with the pairs [skating].” Back then, John McEnroe said, “There’s a very scary undercurrent of gambling in all sports.” Still, no one has produced any real evidence to prove that there is match fixing in tennis.

Additional reporting by Tanya Liesegang