Kicking off 2007 down under

Prelude to the Outback Champions Series

The New Year starts with a bang if you're a tennis player. Right out of the blocks you have to be in peak physical condition if you want to excel at the year's first major, the Australian Open. I am in Melbourne working for Australia's network, channel 7 so I've got a nice, air-conditioned view of the proceedings. TV's good for don't suffer in the heat and you always make it to the final.

100+ degrees. That's what the players had to deal with yesterday. It was

so hot they stopped play other than on the 2 stadium courts which have retractable roofs. It was like a rain delay in effect. That meant that when it finally cooled down around 8pm that matches went on everywhere all at once. I left the grounds at 1:30am after local favorite Lleyton Hewitt's comeback win from 2 sets to love down ended and there were about 8 courts in action that probably didn't finish until the 3am mark.

Brutal for the players on one hand but better than suffering in the oppressive heat.

Years ago before the heat rule was put into effect players just suffered. You would see lots of defaults. Basically if a player got too far behind they would just quit as they knew there was no way to come back physically. Compared to the older days when this tournament was played on grass it makes sense to have a heat rule because it is so much tougher on the athlete these days. The hard rebound ace surface reflects, rather than absorbing, the oppressive heat and stretches the typical length of point compared to grass. All in all the game is a lot more physical and this rule makes sense.

Maria Sharapova is a big fan favorite here but she almost lost her 1st round yesterday. She beat a young French player 9-7 in the 3rd after choking away a 5-0 lead in the final set. Along with Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo, she is expected to charge for the title. Serena is here but I would put her and Hingis in the second group of favorites.

Roger Federer is the runaway men's favorite but watch out for the Americans. Both James Blake and Andy Roddick have started the year in strong fashion and they were the only players to get a set off of Fed at the US Open. With Rafael Nadal also here and looking good the men's event should be a fun watch. Andy Murray looked pretty good out of the gates yesterday too, putting the beat down on a Spanish player, Albert Martin, 6-0, 6-0, 6-1. Ouch.

Tennis is massively popular down here in Australia. For the next two weeks it will dominate the front page of all the national newspapers and nightly news. Imagine NBC or CBS having tennis on live daily from 11am-6pm and nightly from 7:30pm until midnight uninterrupted for 2 consecutive weeks during the US Open because that is exactly what the coverage is here down under. Massive indeed.

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