The Australian Open is on and it’s always a great time of year in Melbourne.
I’m not the tennis fan I used to be. I grew up watching every tennis tournament through the Australian summer, and every major tournament throughout the world over the rest of the year. I can remember staying up late many, many years ago to watch with my dad the final between Rosewall and Connors at Wimbledon, which turned out a dud match. Over one summer I can remember a memorable Davis Cup tie in which Newcombe defeated Connors at an epic match at Kooyong. I grew up watching Borg and McEnroe. I attended matches at the Australian Open when it was still at Kooyong, and recall sweltering on a hot centre court watching Guillermo Vilas play.
Through the decades I followed local and international players. Through the mid-eighties there were some great finals at the Oz open featuring Wilander, Lendl, Edberg and Cash. There was another terrific Davis cup final at Kooyong against Sweden featuring Pat Cash heroics, and there was his memorable victory at Wimbledon. I remember a week or so afterwards I walked into the hairdresser and told her I wanted a mullet just like Cash (embarrassing, I know).
Then it was the era of Becker and Sampras and Agassi, eccentrics like Ivanisevic and later on iconic Australian sportsmen like Rafter, who I loved for his clever play and big heart and all round decency.
It was after that that tennis began to lose some of its charm for me. There remained players I admired, but in hindsight I think the game became too corporate for me, and the power game that largely prevailed a bit too bland. It coincides with a decline in the serve and volley game which as an Australian I grew up watching (and loving). It was an aggressive, athletic style of play that was always great to watch, and seems to me very well suited to the combative approach of Australian sporting ethos. In Australia we went from grass to an artificial surface that favoured the European game over the Australian tradition.
I have still followed tennis, and watched the big matches, but not as slavishly as before, nor with as much passion. I’ve been to a few sessions here and there, and even attended a men’s final back in the nineties. It’s a great day at Melbourne Park – they do it very well – but the game itself lost some lustre for me.
Still and all I always enjoy it when the tennis comes to town. It’s always a great time of year in Melbourne. The weather is generally great and with the influx of tourists and the vibe of the tournament everything comes alive. I’ll cast a cursory look at the first week, but it’s the second week that piques my interest. That’s when it starts to get serious and the games hit a new level.
For some reason the Australian Open always seems to have some unexpected results, and this year is no different. From a tennis perspective I think it’s the most interesting tournament, and I don’t know if that’s because it’s the first tournament of the year, or if it’s because of the heat or because of the surface, or because it just is.
I’m now right into it. I’ve watched some very decent matches in the last few days, and while I’m now rooting for Federer (like most of the world), I loved watching Mischa Zverev play an old fashioned serve volley game very effectively. Nadal remains in the tournament too, but Murray and Djokovic are gone, as is the reigning women’s champion, Kerber.
I’ll be watching keenly from here on in, and expecting some epic contests – and hoping hard for a Federer/Nadal final. That would be a dream result.