Sweltering days ahead
A foreboding record heat spell expected to be the worst to strike the Australian state of Victoria in a century has nothing to do with the scorching competition at the Australian Open.
The sizzling 100 degree temperatures surprisingly didn't arrive on time on Tuesday -- it reached only
95 degrees at around 5:30 p.m. The slight reprieve came courtesy of a sea breeze off the bay that prevented northerly winds from bringing in the anticipated unbearable sultriness.
Bob Leighton, who retired three years ago from the bureau of meteorology after 48 years of employment, is now the official Australian Open on-site meteorologist. His usual responsibility is keeping tournament officials abreast by the hour of possible rainfall so they can make an informed decision about whether to close the roof.
But this year the concern is about steamy conditions more than threatening skies.
"What's happened is we have a northerly airstream over us the next four or five days, which brings the heat down off the continent, and it's persisting," Leighton said. "Normally it stays only one or two days. So there should be four or five hot days, which are not that common here. There's potential for the air to be exceedingly hot."
Temperatures are expected to be less than ideal for players until the heat lifts just in time for the men's final on Sunday.
Fed Cup fanfare
Mary Joe Fernandez will not go into her debut as U.S. Fed Cup captain with the best of teams to face Argentina in Surprise, Ariz., Feb. 7-8, but she's still forecasting a victory.
It comes as no surprise that Fernandez was hoping that either both or one of the Williams sisters would show up for the first round, but she was unable to entice them into action. After Venus' early loss in Australia, she made one last effort to recruit her, but had no luck.
Thinking ahead, Fernandez had an alternate plan in picking Lindsay Davenport
to anchor her squad. Davenport, however, came up with a solid excuse -- she's pregnant with her second child. Fernandez couldn't resist a joking comment about the pregnancy of her good friend and former doubles partner, saying, "What's up with that?"
Fernandez will announced on Tuesday that she is going with an enthusiastic third-string team: newly married Fed Cup newcomer Bethanie Mattek
, fully recovered from a hip injury; veteran Jill Craybas
, who has a 2-4 record in Fed Cup; naturalized American Liezel Huber
, the top doubles player in the world; and 17-year-old Melanie Oudin
, who will have her Fed Cup coming-out party.
"You always want the best team possible, and Venus and Serena are the best team," acknowledged Fernandez, in Melbourne working for ESPN. "But their priorities are little bit different now. They're a little older now and hoping to extend their careers as much as possible, so at this time it's not fitting into their schedules. Obviously, they're going to be welcome anytime, anyplace, and I'm always hoping to have them come."
Tuesday in Down Under news
Channel 7, the Australian Open host broadcaster, featured an exclusive interview with Jelena Dokic's mother, Liliana, who lives in a small apartment in Sydney. Mother and daughter have recently reunited and are working to re-establish their relationship. Liliana says she has been speaking with her daughter during the Australian Open on the days she isn't playing. Mom says she isn't worried whether Jelena wins or loses, she just wants her to be happy. Liliana stayed in the background while her ex-husband Damir created scenes around the world -- neither Jelena nor her mom have any contact with him now -- and said her biggest regret was when the family abandoned Australia to go back to Serbia.
When it comes to the Australian Open, neither France nor Spain has made a huge splash -- Frenchman Jean Borotra won the 1928 title, but a Spanish senor has never taken home the trophy. Could Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
or Spaniard Fernando Verdasco
change history? Tsonga came close to rewriting the tennis annals last year , becoming the third unseeded Australian Open finalist in three years at Melbourne Park. Despite missing the summer to mend from arthroscopic knee surgery, Tsonga picked up his first two career titles this past fall.
As for Verdasco, he will be making his Grand Slam quarterfinal debut when he takes on Tsonga for the first time on Wednesday. The Spaniard with a big forehand grew up playing on hard courts that just happened to be in his backyard. He gained a huge psychological boost from clinching the 2008 Davis Cup title for Spain in a come-from-behind victory over Argentine Jose Acasuso
ESPN.com prediction: Tsonga in four.