Australian Open Singles Finals

First up was the women’s final between Sarah and Claire Vigrass. A capacity crowd of well over 100 settled in to watch two of the sport’s most exciting talents. Uncharacteristically, the contestants appeared without displaying any obvious fashion faux pas – much to the disappointment of the crowd. Perhaps regretting her pre-game meal of yet another Chiko roll, Claire appeared nervous in the first few games, struggling to find her rhythm. Sarah playing a nice length and serving a mixture of underarm twists and the occasional railroad capitalised to take a 3/0 lead before Claire’s nerves (or stomach) seemed to settle and her error count dropped. As with her earlier matches Claire’s play was notable for her clean hitting, and the consistency for which she was able to find the tambour. With the score at 4/4 the set appeared headed for a thrilling climax. Several long rallies followed with Claire managing to win the majority to take the set 6/4.

The second set was notable for some strong volley exchanges and Sarah using her mobility and reading of the ball to seemingly arrive just in the nick of time for many well placed balls from Claire. Tellingly it was the extra ‘work’ on the ball that Claire was able to engineer which kept Sarah under pressure.

The huge crowd were privileged to see the ‘future’ of the game on display in an entertaining match likely to be repeated several times in major tournaments.

Claire Vigrass defeated Sarah Vigrass 6/4 6/3

The men’s final featuring Hobart’s favourite son and World Champion Robert Fahey, and World Championship Challenger Ruaraidh Gunn, should have been the match of the tournament, but as most would know by now, Fahey had been struggling with injury during the tournament. What we didn’t know was how serious the injury was, and had Fahey merely being conserving himself for the final? One thing was for sure, playing one of the world’s best players in Gunn, Fahey would need to improve significantly on his previous tournament outings to be competitive. A capacity crowd waited, hoping that Fahey would be able to rise to the challenge.

First game to Fahey. Moving much more freely and looking nothing like the corpse of Sunday, Fahey surprised Gunn early in the match. Still obviously limited in his movement, but perhaps more willing to risk further injury in pursuit of victory, Fahey found himself playing balls from positions he would normally avoid, but still managed to put pressure on Gunn. Gunn is in incredible shape and his agility and retrieval skills are a huge weapon, denying Fahey the quick points he was surely pressing for. Serving a majority of giraffes and bobbles with the very occasional railroad, Gunn was able to prevent Fahey’s ball from ending the rally, whereupon Gunn seemed intent on constructing long backhand exchanges. Clearly struggling more on the backhand, Fahey used many inventive and unorthodox shots to try to restrict the pace with which Gunn could attack his backhand. At 3/3 in the first set, with Gunn playing well, it was stunning that Fahey was appearing to be right in the match. Gunn however, appeared to step up the pace of his floor game and the number of balls Fahey could not attempt to retrieve increased. First set to Gunn 6/3.

In the second set, the normally raucous, fanatical and inebriated Hobart crowd were strangely quiet. Perhaps they were in the unfamiliar territory of struggling to believe that Fahey would be able to win?
Gunn, still serving giraffes and bobbles, appeared to decide his first serve was an unnecessary refinement, promptly faulting on a staggering 60% of his first serves.
At 3/0 down Fahey was certainly struggling, but through some improved returning and by chancing his arm trying for winners from absurd positions, Fahey was able to level the set at 3/3. As with the first set, Gunn managed to increase the pace of the game and punish Fahey’s lack of mobility. Second set to Gunn 6/3.

The third set began with Fahey seeming to find another gear. His movement was still more of a glide than demonstrative of the power he is known for, but his determination was breathtaking. I thought long and hard about the way to describe Fahey in the match and specifically this set. This may sound over the top, so please forgive me. Fahey was courageous, magnificent, ingenious, a champion. Gunn is a fantastic player and in his present condition Fahey had no right to make this match as competitive as it was. Seeming to will himself to 4/4, Fahey gave every intention of making Gunn earn his victory. But today was Gunn’s and he continued his excellent play, forcing accurately at the dedans and patiently constructing points.

Gunn defeated Fahey 6/3 6/3 6/4

Australian Open Doubles Semi Finals

First match for the day: Mike Happell and Jeremy Rackham versus Chris Chapman and Kieran Booth.  Right from the start it was apparent that Chapman and Booth were intent on targeting Happell’s inexperienced partner Rackham, peppering him with shots at the galleries.  However Rackham was effective at preventing easy gallery chases and although he made a few racquet errors, he was able to repel most attacks.  As Happell patrolled around the back court punishing any lose shots and retrieving well, Chapman and Booth would have realised that this match was not going to be a walkover.  Chapman and Booth were noted to have strategized late into the previous night, so they were tactically well prepared, if a little sleep deprived.  First set to Chapman/Booth 6/3.

The second set saw Happell and Rackham stuck down the hazard end for some time and struggling to make inroads on the scoreboard.  Second set to Chapman/Booth 6/2.

With the match appearing to be headed for a regulation straight sets result, it was a surprise to suddenly see Happell and Rackham jump out to a 4/1 lead, threatening to take the match to a fourth set. This was a result of Happell’s consistency at the back of the court and Rackham’s improved volleying at the net, combined with a drop in intensity from Chapman and Booth.  Keen to finish the match off quickly, Chapman and Booth responded, taking four of the next five games to win the set and the match.

Chapman/K Booth defeated Happell/Rackham                     6/3       6/2       6/4

The second semi-final featured tournament favorites Ruaraidh Gunn and Rob Fahey, taking on Mark Mathias and Peter Estcourt.  On paper, you would assume that a quick match would ensue with Gunn and Fahey the victors, but Fahey was seriously struggling with injury and illness. With his mobility totally restricted, Fahey inadvertently invented a new position on court.  Similar in concept to ‘the coffin’, real tennis can now add the ‘the corpse’ to our vernacular.    Playing the corpse to perfection, Fahey was targeted by Mathias and Poolman, surely for one of the few times in his highly decorated career.  Gunn was also struggling for penetration and Mathias and Estcourt were unlucky not to sneak over the line.  First set to Gunn and Fahey 6/4.

The second set was notable, Estcourt showcasing some very good demi-piqué serves, and Mathias racking up many successful winning gallery shots.  Second set to Gunn and Fahey 6/2.

The third set upon us, Mathias hit his 4th winning gallery, quickly followed by his 5th, 6th, 7th , 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, whereupon this correspondent lost count.  Suffice to say Mathias’ ability to find the winning gallery is truly astounding.  Unable to move on court, Fahey was nevertheless able to provide a constant flow of entertaining banter for the side gallery crowd.  Gunn and Fahey completed the match with a 6/3 third set, thus booking in a final against Chapman and Booth.  It remains to be seen if Fahey can recover in time, to provide more support for his partner Gunn, or more significantly, for the singles final tomorrow evening.

Gunn/Fahey defeated Mathias/Estcourt                                6/4       6/2       6/3

With the Vigrass sisters already progressing to Tuesday’s final, the last match of the day saw Kate Brown and Susan Castley compete against Amy Hayball and Eryl Raymond.  Raymond should probably have been a little nervous playing in an Australian Open semi-final, but three shots into the dedans in the first game of the match indicated otherwise.  Brown and Castley were very consistent, and Brown’s demi-piqué was particularly damaging.  Hayball was retrieving well and fighting hard, but was unable to prevent the first set going to Brown and Castley 6/3.

The second set unfolded with Brown and Castley extending their dominance.  The highlight of the set was Brown’s amazing defensive backhand volley finding its way into the winning gallery.  The second set was won by Brown and Castley 6/0.  No doubt their opponents in the final will provide a step up in intensity as the Vigrass sisters attempt to engineer their first Australian Open doubles title.

Tomorrow we see both singles finals.

5pm     Sarah Vigrass              v                      Claire Vigrass

Followed by:

Robert Fahey               v                      Ruaraidh Gunn