The Australian Open Revisited (or ‘A Day at the Tennis’)

[Please note: all photos are by Paul Spinks]

 

When I last attended the Aussie Open you could enter Margaret Court Arena with a ground pass, wander at leisure to watch matches of choice, the court surface was green, and kids whistled shrilly in mimicry to serve line-call technology.

 

Now, access is more restricted, crowds are such you have to choose a venue for the day and arrive early to stake a claim, the courts are blue and Hawkeye uses a visual medium to settle disputed serves.

 

 

 

I returned on the first Saturday this year, and via a $64 ground pass, lobbed to the originally titled, Melbourne Arena.

 

A legends match beginning proceedings was more Harlem Globetrotters than serious tennis stoush – mostly compliments of Fabrice Santoro’s trick-shots and antics. Surprisingly enjoyable.

 

In this pic, Goran Ivanisevic dishes up a ‘dinky’ serve that reminded of a verbal feud with Mark Woodforde in the late 1990s (Goran lampooned Woodforde’s weak backhand, among other things, in response to barbs from Woodforde about Goran’s one-trick-pony serve).

 

 

 

A quiet, important air replaced hilarity as players entered for the first men’s singles match: Frenchman, Gael Monfils V Latvian qualifier, Ernests Gulbis.

 

Birds chirped at roof level, fans sitting in the sun fluttered fans.

 

 

Monfils once vociferously protested about a heat policy that left the roof open, but curiously he never wears a hat. Today was warm rather than hot.

 

 

 

Intermittent chants rose and fell, most commonly: “Let’s go (insert applicable player’s name), let’s go…” Nothing new there.

 

 

 

 

Monfils won the points that mattered in the first set tiebreak, and generally maintained more composure and concentration in long rallies. All things being equal, someone has to be better.

 

 

 

Cue womens’ singles: Elise Mertens (Belgium) v Catherine “CC” Bellis (USA).

 

 

A one-sided first set win by Mertens was followed by a Bellis comeback.

 

 

But as is often the case in sport, the effort required to claw back into a contest couldn’t be maintained once level was drawn.

 

 

 

Mertens in three sets.

 

 

Finally, the match everyone had painstakingly plonked for: Kyrgios v Khachanov. Kyrgios has been keeping his cool and playing his best tennis – could he keep it up?

 

 

One of two Japanese women sitting next to me had been to the Open last year and liked Melbourne so much she returned with her friend. She saw Kyrgios play in Tokyo, and was a fan.

 

I asked, “Was he a bad boy?”. She grinned approvingly “Yes!”. The female attraction to males behaving badly is seemingly universal.

 

 

The local people proved to be more parochial barrackers than in the past, but the Russian appeared non-fazed.

 

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” lingers on, though the responses are muted now. I still cringed culturally.

 

Kyrgios’ heart wasn’t on his sleeve, but blood was on his towel, and when he refused to return it to a ball boy led to brief conflict with the umpire.

 

 

 

 

Kyrgios exhibited breathtaking deft drop shots and frequently wrong-guessed his opponent with sudden changes of direction.

 

 

 

 

He should’ve won in three, but nothing is predictable with Nick. A speculative volley between the legs during the third set tiebreak had the ball fall limply onto his side of the net.

 

The Russian played some excellent tennis of his own, and claimed the third and fourth sets. Was he doing something different, or did Kyrgios lose his way?

 

I bemoaned Nick’s ill-timed ‘cute’ shots. One of the Japanese perked up: “He’s very cute.”

 

I put that down to language problems.

 

As dusk crept up from the east, orange and red hues followed in the sun’s wake, the court surface turned a darker shade of blue-grey, and a cooler air had the Japanese donning jackets (but it wasn’t that cold).

 

My doubts about Nick’s fitness were proved wrong and he prevailed following an unforced error by the Russian that ended the match. Kyrgios fell on his back, exhausted, relieved. Fans high-fived each other, and us, with a jubilation I reserve for grand final victories.

 

 

 

I bee-lined to Southern Cross Station for the 1.10am train, but failed to read the timetable fine print – it terminated at Geelong. The car was parked at South Geelong.

 

Arrived home just shy of 3am. A tennis marathon, but a great day out nonetheless.

 

 

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About Paul Spinks

I have writing published and performed in various mediums, but usually not enough of it to pay the rent. Had many jobs, travelled a lot, so I think this experience allows a broad perception of society. I'm not an academic, though did complete a BA as a mature-age student. Below are links to some published written pieces. https://newmatilda.com/2017/07/30/its-time-for-our-baby-democracy-to-walk/ https://meanjin.com.au/blog/the-elephant-in-the-chamber/ https://overland.org.au/2017/11/australias-workplace-laws-a-narrative-tragedy/ https://newmatilda.com/2019/05/16/the-green-blind-spot-on-australias-expanding-population/ https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/is-ashleigh-barty-the-saviour-australian-tennis-has-been-waiting-for-20200108-p53prl.html https://spinksytravelworld.com/pirate-of-padstow/ https://overland.org.au/2020/10/the-slow-death-of-a-public-institution/ https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/false-documents/fiction-paul-spinks/

Comments

  1. Had 4 days at the Open. Kyrgios/Nadal and Thiem/Zverev were outstanding. As enthralling as any sporting contest I’ve been to. Djokovic/Raonic was mind numbing boring due to Raonic’s one dimensional thumping serve and ground strokes. “Rallies” lasted 2 or 3 shots at best. He is the Ross Lyon of tennis. Women’s semi final day was a mixed bag. Barty/Kenin was a bag of nerves with both players well below their best in the pressure of the moment (think GWS grand final day). Muguruza/Halep was brilliant. But I struggled to really enjoy the day even sitting in the shade in the heat and humidity of Melbourne on Thursday.
    Bucket list item ticked and the world’s best are amazingly skilled athletes to see in the flesh. Their superhuman speed, angles, movement, endurance and racket skills need to be seen live to be appreciated. Great great sport. But I don’t think we’ll rush back as the player’s heat endurance is much greater than mine cooped up in a small space. With the roof thankfully closed Friday night we got good conditions 3 days – but it’s Russian roulette to make a long term interstate commitment.
    Thanks for all your intelligent tennis commentary and analysis Paul – an Almanac highlight in the dog days of Big Bash boredom and pre pre pre season AFL.
    As for the women’s final – another reminder of why not to bet on anything that talks or thinks. Kenin with nothing to lose hits every line in the match of her life (to date). Muguruza the 2-time Slam winner is a deer in the headlights with footwork like Justin Madden.
    The kids are coming – and women’s tennis needs them after the eras of Serena dominance and then alternating journeypersons.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Fab read Paul, though I’m not a great tennis fan there is something about watching elite players compete. Terrific snaps! Camera or phone?

  3. Thanks Paul awesome photos as well

  4. Can we do something to legislate this inane aussie, aussie, aussie, drivel out of existence ?

    Kenin was good last night. I don’t follow tennis much any more, so i’d not heard of her prior to this tournament. Her victory over Barty helped maintain the long hiatus between home grown winners, then a fighting victory in the final has given her a spot in the top 10.

    Totally concur with PB about looking forward to seeing some top young tennis talent jousting for Grand Slam victories.

    Glen!

  5. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks muchly, Peter B:

    My tennis day was like a walk around the park compared to your epic journey. As Mick Dundee might say, “You call that a marathon…”

    Even allowing for stereotypes about Melbourne’s weather, this summer has been odd.

    Yes, amazing skills. Can be meditative sometimes watching live that ball sail back and forth. I probably appreciate it most when players go for their shots in the face of defeat. Kyrgios did it late in the fifth set tiebreak on the Saturday – a backhand winner down the line. Temptation is to go defensive – requires bravery to take the game on.

    I underestimated Kenin, though have to admit to not seeing a lot of her – she appeared mentally tougher than Muguruza (and Barty) – innocent, youthful enthusiasm perhaps, to some extent.

    There’s too much Micky Mousery about the Bash for me – it’s ok as exhibition cricket, but hard to take too seriously at present.

    Thanks, Colin:

    I have a Panasonic compact camera – just fits in my pocket. I’d like to have an SLR, but… a quality compromise in deference to portability.

    Thanks, Rulebook, my pleasure.

    Thanks, Glen.

    I know what you mean about the chant – I get urges to respond “yuck, yuck, yuck” but I get there are some people who think differently.

    Hopefully, Thiem can be ‘younger brigade’ putting up a fight tonight.

  6. The Ground Passes are a rip off. Unless you are prepared to queue for up to 3 hours to watch Nick Kyrgios play on Melbourne Arena or be near the front of the queue at 10am when the gates for the outside courts open and be a quick runner to get to an outside court where the likes of Jordan Thompson, Alexi Popyron, Alex Bolt and John Millman are playing, be prepared to miss all of those matches. Why? Because far too many ground passes are sold for each day of the first week and many, many people race to see the best Australians play on outside courts. Also, any match with an overseas player on an outside court who is well known, will have a large attendance. The same applies to the very back courts which have limited seating. Therefore, sometimes you have to settle to watch attractive women play on the outside back courts, who aren’t that well known. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Even then, male spectators will be in droves to watch them so you end up watching a boring outside back court men’s match that you have no interest in at all.

  7. Another Anonymous says

    Completely agree with anonymous. I am lucky that I am in the minority, who really don’t care about watching Australians play on outside courts. I happen to like watching tennis, regardless of which country the players are from. I am probably giving other people ideas who aren’t fanatical about Australian tennis, but I normally don’t have too much trouble getting to outside courts where glamour players like Katie Boulter, Camilla Giorgi and Cici Bellas are playing as they aren’t household names yet, providing you are there before they have gone onto the court. Problems of seeing them play should only arise if they happen to be the first match on the court or if popular Australian players are on the match before them, after them or playing against them. The other problem of course is if they happen to be knocked out the round before you have your ground pass. Therefore, read the match schedule in advance to make sure these players are playing on the day, then purchase your Ground Pass for that particular day.

  8. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks, Anonymouses:

    One of the reasons I had stopped attending the Open was because of increasingly restricted access. I could’ve taken a more critical angle in this post, but chose not to. There are many things I get grumpy about that I think have changed for the worst, but maybe sometimes they’ve just changed.

    I had to resist that grumpy urge when I first arrived this year – the architectural clutter, the crowd, the prices – but in the end, decided to enjoy it as different rather than worse. Though, I did indulge in grumpiness when trying to buy a $12.50 425ml Stella draught and found I could only pay for that overcharging by card.

    Coffee was comparably reasonable at $5.

    The ground passes are $54 on other days, still a lot I know but …?

    Apparently, 90,000 attended the day I was there. If you left it too late, a 2 hour queue greeted for John Cain Arena – formerly Melbourne Arena at formerly Flinders Park.

    According to attendants, there were also long queues into the other courts, so making a venue change to watch another match was vexed (and the Wawrinka alternative finished prematurely, anyway).

    It could’ve been worse, had the impression many attended for the peripheral bars and entertainment that have added to costs, along with increased prize money and the general popularity of the event.

    The passout system helps sit through a long haul.

    They should limit the number of ground passes (thought they did once?), but they probably won’t, justifying it through providing alternative entertainment. Just before I stopped going they introduced a cheaper late arvo ground pass – seem to have done away with that.

    All said and done, though, I still had an enjoyable day.

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