On Tuesday night in January 2010 and I walk in the door from work to be greeted by Neil and Dan saying “are you up for the tennis tomorrow?” Well I had a day off but I didnt even know there was tennis on! It turned out there was what is known as the “Medibank International” happening just down the road at Sydney Olympic Park. Straight away I was up for it. Neil, Dan and Darren (an English mate who happened to be in Australia for month).
Before leaving the house (we had already been awoken by diggers – the sort of thing was commonplace on our street!) there was the small matter of the Derby County v Millwall FA Cup 3rd Round Replay, of course my two flatmates supporting opposite teams had a $5 bet riding on it. Neil had subscribed to a Millwall radio channel so he had the match on live from the UK. Derby went 1-0 up but shortly after Millwall, a division below, equalised. The match eventually went into extra time, and we were cautious of time for the tennis.
We had agreed to meet Darren at 10.30 am, but decided to stay and listen to the penalties. Derby won 5-4 on penalties which silenced Neil and saw little emotion from Derby fan Daniel, who seemed happy that he had the last laugh as he was getting pissed off by Neil’s constant Millwall-ness. It was now time for tennis. So we got an early train from Parramatta to Lidcombe.
At Lidcombe we walked along to platform 4 where a lot of people awaited a train to Olympic Park. We got on board and after 10 minutes were already at Olympic Park Station. It really reminded me of the area near the Millennium Dome in London, where 2 years earlier Mona and I had watched Kylie Minogue play live. Once out of the station everywhere was quiet – 10 years on from the Sydney Olympics – and a show that, yes, Kylie Minogue once sang at. we saw straight away the rugby stadium.
It is a rugby stadium, but it is also the main stadium the Olympics took place in. On the walk up to it, me and Daniel had a difference of opinion as to what the “ANZ Stadium” stood for. I said it was Australia New Zealand Stadium, and it was obvious that the sponsor was the bank company ANZ, so I was sure I was right. Daniel said “I doubt it – I doubt they’d have a reference to New Zealand on their national stadium”, though he didn’t offer an alternative. I checked later on and I was right. So we went up to the ANZ Stadium first – we had a bit of time to kill hanging around waiting for Darren.
And besides the ticket permitted entry any time after 11 am. I was the only one with a ticket on me – I had booked it 9 hours before on the internet and my housemate Ruben kindly printed it for me – they scan on entry with a barcode. Darren had booked the tickets for the other guys. The tickets we had were for Gate 1 – General Admission and any time from 11 am onwards. Up beside the ANZ Stadium we saw a sign for a stadium tour. It was very overpriced so we didn’t bother – or even consider it. We saw the guys queing for the next stadium tour though, and browsed in the club shop for a bit.
They had Liverpool FC shirts in there which I found hilarious. The rest of the stuff was all Aussie – rugby, cricket, football, Aussie Rules…We were on Dawn Fraser Avenue and the tennis was to be played on the corner of Shirley Strickland Avenue. As we had heard Darren talk to Neil on the phone he had only just got out of bed – so he was going to be late. We decided to check out all the different arenas in the Olympic Park to while away the meantime.
First up we went to the Althetics Stadium – known on my map as Athletic Centre. It, in itself was bigger than Clandeboye Park, Bangor FC’s football stadium. There were a few people around and as we looked in through the entrance it appeared football was happenning! We asked the young lady on reception if we could just go in for a few moments and she said yes no problem.
So we walked through a tunnel and out into a big athletics track with a massive field in the middle. And there were a lot of kids playing football there wearing red and black. It wasn’t AFC Bournemouth but made me chuckle that they were in those colours. Nor was it North Belfast team Crusaders FC – this was AC Milan – my Italian team of choice as it happened.
Right here in Sydney they were hosting an AC Milan Soccer (Football) School! No kidding. Of course star player David Beckham wasn’t there. But we watched the kids sweat it out in the sun. The athletics track and pitch were in great condition – there weren’t many people watching but we sat up in the stands for a while and watched them play. A kid with long blonde hair was the pick of the kids. I picked up a wee leaflet and soon we left there thanking the lady for letting us in.
On round was another athletics track with another stand full of seats. A quick glance at my map (which I had picked up at the ANZ Stadium) showed that this was the “warm up arena”, the Olympic Park was massive. One can only imagine the pandemonium around the time of the Olympics. We also saw the Hockey Centre – on two pitches and an entrance to where the Olympic swimming was held. It was now 12 noon and Darren still hadn’t rung Neil. But now we were at the entrance to the tennis centre so we waited there.
It took Darren an extra 35 minutes to arrive and by that time we could have seen 1 hour and 30 minutes of tennis. I could have gone in early though as I had my ticket. But as the four of us, we should all have gone in together so we had to wait. I ate almost all of my lunch while we waited – Hungarian Salami Samijes, a banana, a water and a Coke. Finally at 12.35 Darren showed up, walking along nonchalantly munching a McDonalds!!! Now come on, he’d kept us late and yet he had time to get the world’s worst cuisine in! McDonalds, as you’ll learn is a company I hate and despise and will never shop at again.
But alas – Darren was finally here and in we went into the Arena. There was a quick bag search and ticket scan on the way in. It was all very professional and friendly. Though in truth if ye wanted te sneak some beer in ye could’ve done, easily. We didn’t – water was my drink of choice. In this hot Australian sun you’ll see my Ulster skin and heart fade every now and then – especially without water. It was a hot day – but overcast. I wore a Glentoran FC shirt and faded blue denim shorts (which, for most of their lifetime were faded blue denim jean trousers – though I had cut them in the heat of Taiwan in 2009 to save baggage space and to save carting around 2 pairs of jeans as a light traveler).
Once inside the atmosphere was cracking! It was busy – just like you’d imagine a big tennis tournament to be. We toyed over buying a programme – but they were dear – $3 for a sheet listing the matches and $10 for a programme. But the scoreboards and listings were free to look at – so we just checked the upcoming matches and scores on there. First up we saw a few penguins – actually they were seagulls – so I got my photo took with them. They were mascots.
We had heard there was only one British guy in the entire tournament though and he was playing that day so we decided to go and support him. Low and behold his match was about to begin in the quarter finals of the men’s doubles.
It was in Court 6. There were about 20 courts – with maybe 6 matches on at the same time, or less now that it was into the quarter finals stages. The British guy was Ross Hutchins – an Englishman from Wimbledon of all places!!
We walked up to Court 6, it wasn’t too busy and we got front row seats – 4 in a row!! It was classic – I had my Northern Ireland fleg so I posed for photos in front of the tennis court. The guys didn’t have an England fleg – they’re just not as patriotic! Out came Ross Hutchins, playing with an Aussie guy, Jordan Kerr as his doubles partner. They were up against Europeans. Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Oliver Marach of Austria. A lot of Australians had turned up to show their support for Jordan and there was just the four of us cheering on the Brit…Ross Hutchins. Or “Hutch” as we had nicknamed him.
Hutch was clearly the best player on the pitch. There were no breaks of serve in the first set, but Hutch was showing signs of class and they came closest to breaking serve, before the set finished 6-6 and went into a tie break. The Medibank International tournament only does 3 set matches, even on men’s, so the match would be won by the first to win 2 sets, rather than 3 which is what I was used to. As predicted and expected the British and Aussie duo won the first set, on the tie break. The Australians on the other side of the court were making some noise and chanting support and singing. I was the only one of our British quartet joining in and chanting. It was comedic.
The Aussies would chant “We love you cos you’re Australian” and “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” “Come on Britain” or “Up the Brits” I would follow up with the shout. Some of the people around us found it funny and I got a few laughs. Hutch even heard us. As we entered the second set, Hutch and Kerr took over and stormed their way into the semi finals. 6-1 the set was finished. It was my first ever live tennis match and I loved it! As soon as the match was over, I quickly ran to the other side of the court and wanted a photo and chat with Hutch the Brit. The other guys must’ve thought I was nuts.
But low and behold, holding their bags and rackets the 4 guys were walking off the court. I quickly said “Ross” and Hutch was there. I said “well done – we were the British guys cheering you one”. “Thanks” he said. I quickly asked “can I get a quick photo?” “No problem” said Hutch and I had my photo taken with him by the side of court 6. I ran out and told the guys. They found it funny. I found it genius. 24 hours before I didn’t know there was a tennis tournament on, or even know who Ross Hutchins was. Now I’d seen him win and get my photo took with him. Next up was ladies singles.
We walked to the much bigger and prestigious Number 1 Court. Our tickets were for General Admission and so they allowed us to watch ANY match except those on the main or centre court. It was the clash of the sexy Eastern European ladies. In the quarter finals it was Belarrussian Victoria Azarenka versus Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia. I had been to both countries before and decided to support the Belarussian lady. They were both attractive, but I find something attractive about female tennis players. Graf, Hingis, Kournikova and Sharapova over the years all featured on my sexy list. Not that I ever had one.
Court 1 was bigger and had lots of seats. We went up near the back and relaxed there. It was excellent view and peaceful. Cibulkova took the edge early on and was cruising, but I had noticed her lack of temperament and tipped her to lose. When the first set finished 6-2 to the Slovakian Cibulkova I said to Daniel that the other lady would win. The one thing that used to annoy me a bit about Daniel was that he always seemed to believe he was right. He said there was no chance that Azarenka would win. I think he was basing the whole match on the first set, whereas I had based it on how each individual played in the first set, Azarenka looked to be getting into it. Daniel said there was no chance Azarenka would win the match!
Of course the second set arrived and Azarenka whopped Cibulkova, swamping her 6-2. The opposite of the first set score so we were going to a final set. During the short break between sets I was the volunteer to go to the downstairs bar and get the 4 beers in for the guys. Darren also wanted a lemonade.
The beer stand was just at the bottom of the stairs but when I got to the bar, the guy said there was a limit of 2 per customer, so I bought two of the Cooper’s Ale and passed them through the barrier to Neil. Him and Darren took the two ales. Then I queued up again and bought two of the Cooper’s Lager and joined the queue to get back in. During the game you cannot get back in – you must wait till the end of the game, and just to annoy me the game swooped from Deuce to advantage and back again a few times before finishing. Me and Daniel had the two lagers, as Azarenka took control in the final set, as I had predicted.
We had been given free Daily telegraph newspapers earlier and I had a brief read in between games, whilst also admiring the figures of the two lady tennis stars. Cibulkova looked mediocre and wasn’t even ranked. Azarenka was the sixth rank, and world number 7 at the time of the tournament. The Cooper’s Lager was easily the worst I have had in a long time, though it was a small glass so I finished it anyway. Daniel hated it too. We should have gone for the bitter, but I had assumed the lager would be nicer given how bad Australian bitters usually are.
By the time we had finished the awful beers (which were $6 – around £3.30 decent price considering it was at a tournament), Azarenka had thrown away a few match points and the match was 6-5 to her. Cibulkova had the chance to make it 6-6, well she was 2 points away at one point, but in the end the Belarussian was too strong. She won it 2-1 on sets, with the final set finishing 7-5. Also at this point Neil told me how he got told off by one of the officials for taking the beer I had passed through the side gate. Well I had no choice as they only allowed 2 per person! Apparently by walking down a few rows and taking the beers he was disturbing the play!!
After that match we left the court number one and decided to go and visit the Australian Tennis Museum inside the tennis centre, as it was due to close at 5 pm, and it was around 4.25 pm. On the way there was a gust of wind as luck and fate would have it – and the lady selling programmes had a few of the 4 page “order of play” sheets fly off her mobile stand. They were priced at $3, and earlier I had refused to buy one. When they flew off I ran and helped her pick them back up, and then I said “Ow, look I’ve saved them for you. Please can I have a free one?” And of course with that kind of gentlemanly charm she gave me a free one. It was a nice souvenir of the day. I also had my printed entry ticket and a medibank miniature tennis racquet made out of plastic (the handle) and cardboard (the bat) this was to act as a fan.
From there we headed to the free Tennis Museum. There were some trophies in there from Yvonne Goolagong. There were many tennis photos and trophies throughout the years along with some random memorabilia from the likes of Pat Cash, Patrick Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and other random famous Australian tennis stars. There was a history of tennis, some tennis books, a collection of tennis racquets and quite a lot of stuff really. They even had a Nintendo Wii computer game of virtual tennis set up in the room next to the souvenirs. I was tempted to buy a postcard just because it said that you could get a free autograph from Tennis Hero Ken Rosewall if you bought something.
Though it turned out you had to buy something between 11 am and 1 pm, so I didn’t. Then we walked back to watch some more tennis. On the way we noticed that the centre court was open and that it was empty. The court was massive so we walked up the steps and asked if we could go in. Our tickets wouldn’t allow us in to watch tennis (it was an extra 50 dollars or so for the premium tickets), but as there was no tennis on, we asked the lady if we could go in and have a look. We did. the courts were blue and the seats were white. It was a decent arena. There was to be a Serena Williams match on later that day, but we couldn’t attend with our General Admission ticket, so we headed back to Court Number One.
At this point Darren decided to call it a day. He was off to Japan (Tokyo) of all places the next day, and had spent about a month in Australia, though we saw him again briefly later on as he had to pop to our flat in Parramatta to pick up a bag. Then we headed back to Court Number One, where a ladies doubles match was just about to start. It was the Italian – Russian duo of Garbin and Petrova versus the sexier Austria – France pairing in Dellacq and Rezai. Neil and Daniel both admitted they had heard of Petrova before. I hadn’t.
They recognised her. I thought she looked too tall and fat to be a tennis player. I was right – she wasn’t very good. The sexy underdogs were playing better, but somehow managed to lose the match. Believe me, it was closer than it looked.
The 2-0 set victory of 6-1 and then 6-4 didn’t tell the whole story. We were losing people after every match – at the end of this one, Neil decided to head home to the flat. So that left Daniel and me to watch the final match of the day.
It was another ladies doubles match on the same court. This time Cara Black (Zimbabwe) and Liezel Huber (USA) played Vera Dushevina (Russia) and Anastasia Rodionova (Austria). The former duo were leading in the first set when it was called off due to rain. It was a very hot day, but suddenly a thunderstorm had struck and there was lightning in the air.
The weather was pretty bad for Australia, but still its great to be in shorts and t-shirts and not feel cold during a thunderstorm. As we walked back towards Olympic Park train station, lots of umbrella clad people were walking towards us, expecting the tennis still to be on.
We were soaked through by the time we caught the train. I was back in work the following day (afternoon time) so me and Daniel decided to pop to the local pub for a beer. I had a Schooner of Pure Blonde in Parramatta’s Woolpack Hotel. The day at the tennis was over. It was thoroughly enjoyable!
Who Went – Neil Macey, Daniel Evans, Darren Penfold, Jonny Blair
Celebrities Met – Ross Hutchins
Website – http://www.medibankinternational.com.au
Ross Hutchins match part 1:
Ross Hutchins match part 2:
Inside the Medibank International Tournament:
Australian Tennis Museum Video:
Black and Huber match:
Garbin and Petrova match:
Victoria Azarenka at Match Point:
Azarenka v. Cibulkova match: