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With the eyes of all tennis aficionados on Melbourne, the temperature hit the stratosphere. Players wilted and the officials seemed to think the players 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. In the three summers we have been in Melbourne, I’ve been to the Open only once, and that was a brief visit. It was way back in 2008. Here’s my write up.

Down Under

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.
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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…

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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.
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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.


During one of my grade school years our school board got the idea that we would all be much better off if we knew what the future held, something the experts could tell us. It may have been envisioned as a “Que Sera, sera” sort of thing. Planning for the future, one upping the Soviets, who seemed to be much better at this than the Yanks. One child would be the next Einstein, another the dunce. I knew damn well I wasn’t going to be Einstein, but I wasn’t at the dunce end either.

The aptitude tests took place in the gym, and it was like being back in kindergarten. Guys in lab coats were ready with clipboards and stopwatches. We were encouraged to do puzzles and put square blocks through square holes. We were asked things like: if Mars had air, what color would the sky be? It was fun, about as far from the three R’s as one could get. We didn’t realize that experts like these were still encouraging Americans to smoke for their health.

No doubt the results were sent to the parents and filed away in triplicate. All I remember learning was that I possessed a peculiar combination– fast hands and slow fingers. By the time I thought about asking what that implied about my fate, the experts had packed up and gone home.

I was a short, slightly shy, nearsighted kid. One of the last to be called on a baseball field. At bat, I would stare in amazement at a ball that had just whizzed by and now protruded from the catcher’s mitt. Hopeless at football and basketball.

I was good at only one schoolyard game, the one where you stand facing your adversary and place your palms on his, anticipating the instant he flips his hands over and slaps the back of your hands. I could always pull away before that happened. Then it was my turn.

Later, I discovered table tennis and badminton. They offered me the unmitigated joy of beating the pants off other, more athletic boys. They were not lying about my slow fingers. Typing class was the only one that nearly brought me to tears.

As an adult, I developed fairly strong arms and short, powerful legs. Not much good for sprinting but just fine for outdoor activities I liked– sailing, kayaking, hiking and cycling. Even volleyball.

Every once in awhile I would look longingly at the tall, elegant, athletes in white out on the tennis court. On at least two occasions I picked up a racket, determined to find out if I could master the serve and volley. It did not seem natural to my fast hands, nothing like badminton. I didn’t have the patience or persistence to practice, and no one saw in me a young Jimmy Connors.

As a spectator, it is a mesmerizing sport. I remember watching it on a black and white T.V. for hours when my son was small and we were housebound over long, midwestern winters. Now the giants of the sport are here in Melbourne, strutting their stuff on the new, blue courts. Federer, Henin, Williams, Roddick. Taking the spotlight off cricket for awhile.

Who cares what is happening in the U.S. primaries? This is where the action is. I’ll bet they all have fast hands, fast fingers, fast legs and feet. Powerful biceps and the concentration of Einstein. And not one of them was singled out for stardom by a man in a lab coat and an aptitude test. They just loved the game, and persisted.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

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