Brisbane, 2 January 2011 | Tom Tebbutt

Covering the tennis tour, reporters pick up little habits to make life a bit  more interesting.

One of mine is to be on the lookout for the first player I’ll see when I get to a tournament city. Arriving at 8:30 a.m. on the Saturday before Wimbledon began last June, I took a bus through Wimbledon Village and the first player I saw was John
Isner, just days before he became a lot more famous.

This week in Brisbane, the first player I spied wasn’t really a player, it was a former player, Nicole Vaidisova, walking along Grey Street. Vaidisova retired last March at 20, basically because she lost the desire and/or ability to compete. A former world No. 7 as well as a French and Australian Open semi-finalist at 17, she is now travelling as Radek Stepanek’s wife. You have to wonder what that feels like, after being a player and  seeing all those players’ girlfriends and wives killing time at tournaments,
to be one yourself.

Sad really – the 6-foot-1 Czech packed a real punch on the court. On Friday’s opening day of qualifying, it was heat (29 degrees) that packed  the punch. At least four ballkids fainted. Overheard during a match on Court 10: “it happens every year because they’re nervous and anxious for their first shift.”

There is sometimes more than meets the eye when players are hitting on a practice court. On Court 8 Friday, Mardy Fish was playing points with Santiago Giraldo. Barely three months ago in Bogota, Fish beat the host nation’s Giraldo 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 in a dramatic, deciding match of the Davis Cup World Group Play-offs. It was played before a highly-partisan
Colombian crowd. Things were much more relaxed on Friday.

There’s an interesting all-American, first-round qualifying match between 32-year-old Michael Russell and up-and-coming Ryan Harrison, 18. Russell is best remembered for holding a match point in the round-of-16 at the 2001 French Open against eventual champion Gustavo Kuerten.

Through various injuries, No. 99-ranked Russell has persevered and earned the respect of his peers over a 14-year career. I can recall, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer, a Canadian coach telling a young tour player to closely observe how a real pro like the 5-foot-8 (1.73 m) Russell goes about his business.

Another real pro, 38-year-old Daniel Nestor from Toronto, is co-No. 3 in the ATP doubles rankings. Todd Woodbridge, 39, spoke Friday about how impressed he is that Nestor is still doing so well at an age that is four years past when he himself retired.

Tennis Australia’s national men’s coach, a broadcaster and organiser of this year’s Australian Open veterans’ doubles, Woodbridge has lined up some new talent for 2011 including Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Thomas Muster and Dutchmen
Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis.

He mentioned how Nestor, who was honoured with the prestigious member of the Order of Canada earlier this week, is a legendary trash talker, often trying to take the mickey out of himself and his long-time partner Mark Woodforde.

Nestor does it to everyone. Friday he carried on a banter with a stream of fellow players passing behind his practice court. When Fish went by, he and the Canadian went back and forth, with Nestor, typically, getting in the final barb. “Mardy Poisson (Fish in French),” he joked, “the worst fantasy (sports) player ever!”

Tom Tebbutt is a freelance tennis writer from Canada.