Tennis: Still awaiting the Aussie charge

by Dan O’Sullivan

As another Australian Open winds up and the great Roger Federer flies back to Switzerland to collect yet another cow to go with his 16th Slam (are the Swiss still doing that?), the inevitable question will be asked, where was the Aussie charge?

The predictable poor showing by the locals can probably be attributed to the fact that we have little interest in the sport outside the two weeks it’s played in our backyard. And for good reason, most of the time professional men’s tennis can be a tough sport to love.

Don’t get me wrong, tennis at the highest level is regularly capable of the sublime. When Federer is peeling off impossible cross-court backhand passing shots that dip and catch the line there is probably no more aesthetically pleasing human activity in the world with the possible exception of Sienna Miller’s niteclub dance scene in ‘Layer Cake’ (Youtube it).

Five-set marathons that push into the early hours of the morning at Rod Laver Arena are a summer institution on a par with Paddle Pops and groin chaff. Even the stereotypical metronomic Spanish baseliner has improved his reputation on the back of the physical specimen that is Rafael Nadal.  He’s even risen further in my standings since he stopped dressing like a dodgy personal trainer. A couple of years ago, when he was wearing his cut-off tank top and three-quarter pants ensemble, I kept expecting to see him in line at a King St Bar with a bumbag and a suspicious bout of the sniffles.

But for all its good points, there is an inherently frustrating aspect of tennis at the elite level that prevents me (and possibly Australia) from caring about it for the other 50 weeks of the year and it’s encapsulated in the Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic combination. If you study these two you would think that being a professional tennis player was a brutal occupation on a par with working in a Bolivian coal mine or being Simon Cowell’s wife. It’s all moping and tantrums and injury time-outs with these two; you’d see less sooking on vaccination day at Westbreen Primary School.

Case in point, recently the All-England club finally installed a roof on the main court at Wimbledon. Now, if any sporting tournament was desperate for a retractable roof it was Wimbledon and any opportunity to deny Cliff Richard an audience should be both welcomed and encouraged. But this improvement was not up to scratch for Murray who complained to anyone in earshot that it was now ‘too hot’ indoors.

Prior to 2010, Murray has earned US$9,920,493 in a four-year career that is widely accepted to be in its infancy, by my calculations he should have to play in a kiln wearing a sumo fat suit for a thousand years to deserve that kind of scratch. You know how many lifetimes it would take a Bolivian coal miner to earn that much money? Well, I don’t have the figures handy, but I’m tipping it’s a lot. And even chewing mountains of cocoa leaves can’t remove the sour taste of injustice (although it could improve the conversation).

And even in a sport that is rife with questionable injury withdrawals, Djokovic is making the mid-match gib his calling card. Down two sets and a break? Call the trainer…Novak does it. Four times he has withdrawn from crucial Grand Slam matches while trailing; that is a truly horrible stat for an athlete participating in a non-contact sport. Even considering his mystery stomach bug that crippled him against Tsonga this year, his withdrawal in the quarter-finals against Roddick in 2009 while he was defending his title took the cake. Once again it was ‘too hot’…don’t make me bring up those Bolivian coal miners again Novak!

Another possible reason why Australians don’t embrace the sport during the remainder of the year could have something to do with the diabolical Channel Seven coverage. I’m sure I’m not the only one that was beginning to feel really uncomfortable with JA cooing in my ear between points like a horny teenager. Whispering breathlessly about ‘court coverage’ and something called the ‘deuce court’.

And have you heard Henri LeConte commentate a match? He sounds like he’d be pretty entertaining if he was your wingman out at a cocktail party where you didn’t know anyone, but when it comes to describing a tennis match he’s the aural equivalent of sitting next to Rosie Perez on a long haul flight to somewhere cold. He was bouncing off the walls like a member of Hi-Five, muttering something in French about Matts Wilander’s forehand. I found myself constantly screaming at Fitzy to slip him a mickey “for the sake of our sanity!’.

I guess we Australians also just need someone to cheer on at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows and Roland Garros that has a realistic chance of victory – maybe that will stir our collective apathy. Perhaps Bernard Tomic is the man for the job, now if he’d only lose that bandanna of his.


  1. nice piece, Dan.
    i don’t think that Aussie sportspeople are lacking passion. In the case of Federer i wouldnt expect anyone else to win, hes just too perfect and flawless in his technique.
    Must say the final was a great game of tennis. i (a federer fan) was on the edge of my seat and vocally involved. At one point i could have been mistaken for a Nun when Fed would come up on the screen after a great shot, and i would bless the tv making numerous signs of the cross, thanking god for such an amazing creation in Roger. (i kid you not) lol


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