My phone pinged at 00:48am with a WhatsApp message: David and Catherine were in the media restaurant about to record the day one podcast. It was late, in fact it was technically day two by now, but this is nothing unusual for reporters covering tennis. It’s the sport that never sleeps. We hadn’t long since shuffled out of Andy Murray’s press conference, and this was the kind of scenario where the daily pods come into their own: on a night of exceptional drama, David and Catherine were able to offer their immediate, raw, unadulterated reaction to a match that will live long in the memory.
Three quarters of an hour later, the podcast had been recorded. It was, as they say in these parts, a ripper. But the time-consuming work was just beginning. Fortunately, our editor, Patrick, back in the UK, had informed us he was available to piece the show together. So we sent the file to him and made our way out of Melbourne park. We were too late to take advantage of the media shuttle service by now – the last one left at 01:30am – so we went on foot. We made it back to Catherine’s hotel at 02:00am when David decided this would make a good photo opportunity.
Unfortunately for him, and hilariously for Catherine and me, David somehow managed to pour a whole bottle of water down himself as he reached to get his phone out of his pocket, completely soaking his trouser leg. So there we all were at 2am, on the side of the road, standing outside Catherine’s hotel, in fits of laughter at David’s expense.
As Catherine went off to bed – she had to be up early on Tuesday morning for her Eurosport presenting duties – David and I ordered taxis to our respective hotels. Once we made it back, Patrick had finished editing, and we were in touch over the post-production process. We agreed that I would write the accompanying words and Telegraph article, while David would upload the show, send out our newsletter, and give our Kickstarter one last push in its final hours.
In the meantime, messages were coming through from Catherine. She couldn’t sleep. I eventually settled shortly before 4am, whereas David didn’t finish his work until 5:30am, with an alarm for 9:00am.
Telling you all of this isn’t a plea for sympathy – we couldn’t be luckier to be able to do what we’re doing. It’s just to give you an insight into the work that goes into every episode to make sure all the constituent parts come together. I’ve helped out remotely in the past, but this was my first time on the ground, experiencing the lateness and the camaraderie. David and Catherine, meanwhile, have been producing doing daily pods at all four Grand Slams for the last two years, and they’ve not missed a single one.
It’s a labour of love, and it’s all worth it.
“COME FORWARD! COME FORWARD TO THE GOD-DAMN NET!”. I was sitting on Court 20 and internally screaming at 20-year-old Viktoria Kuzmova. A few days earlier, on our Australian Open draw dissection and preview podcast, I’d picked her to reach the quarter-final. I know it was pretty ludicrous: only once had she ever advanced beyond the first round at a Grand Slam. But there was some logic in amongst the madness: at all of the last 19 Grand Slam tournaments, there has been at least one unseeded player in the quarter-finals of the women’s singles. “Why not Kuzmova?”, I thought.
When casting an eye over the draw before making my pre-tournament predictions, I always look for the sections where it’s stacked like a house of cards, ready to collapse at any moment, allowing an unseeded player to come through. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to pick this player out from the crowd. You end up going with nothing more than a hunch and then running with it.
That’s what I did with Kuzmova. I knew the basic headlines of her career: she had pushed Venus Williams at the 2017 US Open, her ranking had risen from outside the Top-100 to inside the Top-50 in the space of twelve months, and she’d been a recent semi-finalist in Auckland, beating Sofia Kenin and Amanda Anisimova along the way. But I’d only actually seen her play fleetingly. So, to back up my prediction, I decided to head to Court 20 for my first proper look.
Time and time again Kuzmova, from Slovakia, found herself in dominant positions against Kateryna Kozlova, only to allow her Ukrainian opponent back into the rally by retreating. Kuzmova was the player with more ‘upside’. With a bigger first serve and more power from the baseline, she had a clearer path to victory. The match was on her racquet. But Kozlova was the one in the lead, and soon she had the first set.
Then Kuzmova did come to the net. And it immediately became clear why she’d previously been so reluctant. She played a backhand volley with both hands still gripping the racquet – which almost always spells disaster – and it flew long. She put her head in her hands. This wasn’t her day so far. There were no full-blown tantrums, her demeanour was fairly calm in fact, but she was giving off a general air of annoyance.
It was as Kuzmova faced break point at 1-1 in the second set that I began to really regret my prediction.
At 4-6, 1-1, I was deeply fearful of the mocking I would inevitably receive if Kuzmova went out in round one. It would be an early contender for our Worst Prediction of the Year award. I can only assume Kuzmova felt for me too, as she began to up her game, with drive volleys from the service line proving to be a clever compromise between overplaying from the back of the court and feeling uncomfortable at the net.
The pair exchanged breaks in the second set, but Kuzmova eventually won it, before racing into a 5-1 lead in the decider. Things got a bit sticky when she failed to serve out the match, but she finally converted her fifth match point in the following game. Phew. My blushes were spared, for now. She faces Elina Svitolina next, who looked very good today, and could well expose Kuzmova’s somewhat clunky movement. Kuzmova, standing 5ft11in, at least makes up for that weakness by being a risk-taker. She looks to end points with a heavy one-two punch, or at least by dominating rallies with her powerful groundstrokes. Her biggest weapon is her serve.
It’s difficult to draw many other conclusions after only one match. But I left feeling satisfied that I’d got to know Kuzmova a little better, and that she’d repaid my faith, at least a little. She plays again on Thursday. I’ll be there.