I am reblogging this post, the only one I’ve written about the Australian Open.  I wrote this up in January, 2008, the summer we arrived in Australia.  That was a hot one, too, but not as hot as it has been during this last week.  With the eyes of all tennis aficionados on Melbourne, the temperature hit the stratosphere. Players wilted and the officials in charge seem to think they should all behave like mad dogs or Englishmen. Some of the Aussies loved it, of course, lording their tolerance for extreme temps over their European competitors.

It’s a little late in the day but I lost my tennis virginity yesterday. At the Open. It took about five hours and was relatively painless, though I did get a bit of a burn. I mentioned in my last post that there was a period years ago when I used to watch tennis on TV even though I never played the game. My son was a toddler and I was housebound for extended periods. I watched game shows that had nothing to do with sports, only the American passion for winning things.

What is different now is that this is one of the Grand Slam tournaments and it takes place right here in our fair city. We have tennis loving friends in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia who are staying up to all hours glued to their sets. So, in honor of the event I purchased a grounds pass and made my way down to Melbourne Park. To see what live, pro tennis is all about.

The Park covers a large area along the banks of the Yarra, dominated by the two main venues– Rod Laver arena and Vodaphone arena. A grounds pass only permits you to watch games played on the periphery, in the Margaret Court arena and the two Show Courts.

On the outside courts I managed to catch Jelena Jankovic with her male practice partner, as well as a tattooed male player I could not identify. Most of the courts were given over to junior player matches. Some of them looked fierce, intense expressions flitting across their faces as if the fate of the world rested on the outcome.

On the stadium courts, there was more intense singles action, doubles matches and some doubles with tennis “legends”, players that I remembered from my TV tennis days back in Iowa. Inside the two main venues, the top seeds were going at it. You could watch it “live” on the giant screen set up in the Garden Square. One of the last American contenders, Venus Williams, was getting beat.

What is it about this sport that exudes such fascination? I think it is the psychological battle of wills, translated into tics, gesture, body language and the powerful blow of the racket striking the ball. The top players are finely honed gladiators, and the tension triggered by the ebb and flow of the game appears to reveal the personality of the athletes.

We humans are animals, and we see it in tennis. The grunts, the pounding of the chest, the barring of teeth, the scratching of the backside. The expressions of ferocity and despair. It is a very personal contest, like acrobatic chess on speed.

My neighbor says that it is not a very popular sport here anymore. The Open is well attended, but then interest drops off. Perhaps because of the paucity of home grown top players. This would seem to be anomaly, considering how sports minded this nation is. Mind you, Aussies do take an interest in a lot of different sports. But how does a country the size of Serbia do it?

Being on site made tennis seem more real, but a grounds pass is a poor relation to a big screen. Maybe next year I’ll spring for some good seats. For now, I’ll settle back and barrack for my favorite players in the lounge room. On TV, just the way I used to.