Browsing articles in "Tennis"
Feb 13, 2015

The Object Of My Sporting Affections

While the Australian summer has served up no end of sporting delights, I have been finding it difficult to be enthused. In a tragedy of Grecian proportions, I have found myself falling out of love with sport. The 2015 Australian Open was, objectively speaking, an entertaining competition with upsets, crowd favourites, home-grown heroes, veterans and upstarts. But I could barely watch a game. I love cricket in all forms. But the Big Bash League is the target of much of my derision. To my eyes, all professional sport has been corrupted by money, drugs and the desire to be “entertainment”. I am only seeing my love’s flaws, not that which made me fall in love.

Facing such a test of my ardour, a potential solution presented itself. Novak Djokovic served to Gilles Müller’s backhand. When Müller slapped the return past Djokovic’s forehand for a winner, the beaten Serb applauded. In terms of loving sport, there were two pertinent actions in this moment. Müller’s shot demonstrated the physical beauty in sport of executing a skill perfectly. And Djokovic’s sportsmanship highlighted the mutual respect that exists between opponents attempting to beat each other in a sporting contest. It is only fitting that a potential solution was highlighted in a sporting moment. Perhaps by focusing on the aspects deserving of my affection I could pull myself from the funk.

Australian Open tennis at Melbourne Park

I turned up to pre-season footy training last week. In my 35th year I thought there was little that would surprise me as 20-odd guys gathered to prepare for the Central Australian Football League’s 2015 season. In the kick-to-kick before training, my partner kept trying to mark the ball with only his right hand. I inquired as to the health of his left only to be informed that it was functioning as normal. I was later told my kicking partner was on day release from a local institution. Although it crossed my mind that my new team-mate might not be the full box-and-dice, I considered his predicament. One thing that he must have missed about a free life was being able to go to footy training. Only sport could make him feel normal. And only sport could give him the sense of fun that must be entirely absent on the inside.

The Asian Cup was a revelation for Australian football. Preceding the event, much was made of how little it had captured the collective Australian imagination. That Australia was out of form and ranked beyond 100 in the world did not help. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and Australia won the final in extra time. The Socceroos appear to be a representative team that is devoid of personal ego. With the notable exception of Tim Cahill, the players seem to be low-profile. The player of the tournament was little-known Australian Massimo Luongo. They each perform their role within the team as best they can and seem to understand that representing Australia is a privilege that could end at any moment. Even this cynical Australian is proud to be represented on the field by a team such as this.

Football at Melbourne's rectangular stadium

I am excited about the cricket World Cup which is about to begin in Australia and New Zealand. While interest in 50-over cricket has been declining rapidly, the World Cup is still a competition that teams genuinely want to win. And players genuinely want to play. In contrast to the BBL where retired “stars” cash in for the purposes of entertainment, the World Cup will only contain the very best players in the world. And those players are often at the peak of their powers. Sport is at its best when two high-quality opponents are doing their utmost to win. Each time India visits Australia for test matches, there is an asterisk next to the result for there is a widespread belief India only really care about tests in front of their home crowds. Certainly this will not be the case for any team during the World Cup.

In some corners, the Tour Down Under is criticised for not being the Tour Of Australia. While there is almost certainly better cycling in other states, the South Australian government created an event that the Australian cycling community loves. From humble beginnings in 1999, the event has grown due to its popularity with spectators and cyclists. On television the racing and scenery pales in comparison to the Tour de France, but evidently the live atmosphere is something to behold. A non-cycling person was in Adelaide coincidentally and somehow found themselves watching the People’s Choice Classic. They were impressed for two notable reasons – the speed at which the pros whipped around the circuit and the atmosphere they felt part of as a spectator. In an era of over-hyped events that fail to live up to the marketing, it is refreshing to see the Tour Down Under thrive organically.

Cyclists corner during a criterium in Melbourne

Perhaps it was always to be this way. When my knowledge of sport progressed to include some unsavoury aspects, perhaps it was inevitable that my love would waver. Perhaps this has been the case with lovers of sport for millennia. (I can picture in my mind’s eye a cynical Bugler amongst the crowd in the Middle Ages, disappointed because the current crop of jousters don’t seem as authentic as those of his youth). Perhaps my method of focusing my attentions on the aspects that I love will be a success. More likely, my love will remain but will not be the same. But I also see love growing anew elsewhere. The mini-Bugler has begun to catch and throw. He identifies the cricket and tennis on television and watches enthralled by the players running, throwing and hitting. His will be a love that I encourage. For although my love is not the same, I will always recall the good times and know that sport was always worthy of love.

Feb 2, 2012

A fortnight of tennis at the Australian Open

Early Monday morning, the Australian Open finished for another year when Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal in a five set epic. The match was the longest final in a grand slam and proved a fitting end to a thoroughly entertaining two weeks of tennis. While watching the game I was impressed with both players’ ability to retrieve balls when it looked as though the other had hit a winner. Nadal has made a career out of this manoeuvre. He stands well behind the baseline to give himself more time, but the trade-off is that he usually has to run much further than his opponent. Nadal seems to get by on pure grit and determination, whereas Roger Federer seems to dance his way around the court gracefully. Nevertheless, Nadal disposed of Federer relatively comfortably in their semi final and currently has a significant mental edge.

Djokovic’s win was all the more impressive because he had overcome Andy Murray in another epic five set match only two nights earlier. I watched fragments of the game and both players were refusing to budge. It was Murray who succumbed and he must be rueing the poor timing of his rise to the top of tennis. In any other era Murray could easily have won an Open but with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in his way, it seems an almost impossible feat. When I heard the result of this semi final, I remember thinking that Nadal should easily account for a tired and over-worked Djokovic and that Nadal should thank Murray. As both this semi final and the final were on a knife edge, any of the three deserved to win the Open.

Although it was the longest final in grand slam history, the Djokovic-Nadal saga wasn’t the longest match. That honour belongs to John Isner and Nicolas Mahut who, at Wimbledon in 2010, played a game that lastest for 11 hours and 5 minutes. I managed to watch a couple of sets of 16th seed Isner in the second round against Argentinian David Nalbandian. The only thing I knew of Isner was the long match and I entirely expected him to be a defensive back-court slugger. I was quite surprised when he walked out as he is over 2 metres tall and weighs over a 110 kilograms. He then proceeded to hammer down some huge serves in excess of 200 km/h. Isner coupled that with some cracking forehands and a serve-volley game. Not the type you expect to be battling it out for 11 hours! We watched the first set and the wily Nalbandian won. But Isner hung in (as he is wont to do) and overcame the Argentinian 10-8 in the fifth after nearly five hours. Quite obviously Isner has form in long games.

Prior to that, my brother and I found ourselves on show court 2 to see the number 11 seed, Juan Martin del Potro, take on unseeded Slovak, Blaz Kavcic. I had seen Kavcic at the Australian Open in 2011 and the most memorable thing about him was that he looked like a typical Australian. I know that we are a broad church, but there was something about the sandy red hair and freckles that made him look like a typical school mate. In true Australian style, I went for the underdog but my brother (after watching one point) quickly said that Kavcic would be lucky to win 7 games for the entire match. Just to prove Daniel wrong, Kavcic quickly got the first break of the match and was up 3-0 before del Potro awoke. The big Argentinian came back to win the first set 6-4. In the second set, Kavcic comfortably achieved his seventh game. However, del Potro took the set before we moved on to the Isner-Nalbandian show.

If you happened to watch the Australian Open on television then you would be forgiven for thinking that the competition was over-run with Australians. In one day at Melbourne Park I watched three highly placed seeds in Isner, del Potro and number 8 seed, Mardy Fish. But your typical Channel 7 viewer would be hard-pressed to recognise their names let alone their faces and playing styles. The only reason that quarter finalist and seventh seed Thomas Berdych was able to get in the news was when he didn’t shake the hand of his vanquished opponent. Just to rub salt into the wound of the international contingent, our broadcaster did not bother to advertise the countries other players were representing, only the Australians. I know that it is the Australian Open and it usually incorporates Australia Day, but surely this is a touch too jingoistic.

Other than the ‘disastrous’ Open from Australian Sam Stosur, the story that dominated women’s tennis was the screaming that enveloped the court whenever a couple of key players plied their trade. In typical low-brow style, Channel 7 employed a ‘shriek-o-meter’ to measure how loud Maria Sharapova grunted. Spectators at a Victoria Azarenka match took to mimicking her screams, which was slightly humourous. These two players met in the finals and, although Sharapova’s shrieks were louder, Azarenka prevailed in straight sets. Perhaps one of the reasons that the stands were partly empty that night was because the shrieking was indicative of the players’ games. What I mean is that it seems as though the screams are employed to disguise flaws in their games. If the players spent as much energy improving their games as they do screeching, then perhaps the spectacle would be more enjoyable for all involved.

The last word of the Australian Open 2012 must go to Bernard Tomic. Our Bernie. I immediately took a dislike to Tomic when I heard Channel 7 promos of him highlighting a story of how his father picked up a racquet for 50c at a garage sale some years ago, starting young Bernie’s love of tennis. Call me cynical but I find it hard to believe that on the Gold Coast in the late 90s it was possible to find a 50c second-hand racquet that was useable. Too many tennis fathers have put enormous pressure on their children to join the tennis elite. This made-for-media tale from Tomic senior brought to mind these fathers. Not content with tennis stars, they want a marketing tool too. Nevertheless, despite the young Tomic having a tenuous grasp of the English language, he spoke with enough candour and honesty during interviews to make me rethink my initial assessment. One thing is for sure, along with millions of others, I will be curious to see what happens with Tomic (and the others!) at the Australian Open in 2013.