G’day, indeed: An awesome Aussie Open

Posted: January 31, 2012 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s been well chronicled that I, Terry Vandrovec, am barely a man.

I know nothing about cars, even less about hunting and fishing, can’t handle more than one beer per sitting and don’t have the sort of brute strength that’s supposed to come with age. In fact, I’m deathly afraid that my wife will someday give birth to a son because I’d be utterly worthless in teaching him how to do anything that involved A) fixing or building anything or B) getting dirty.

Not surprisingly, then, I played tennis in high school (and one semester in college … sort of) rather than football, although – to be fair – it was not country-club tennis, but a sort of street-rat version. My frigid hometown is located in one of the worst states for the sport in America and didn’t have an indoor facility, plus our coach was a woman who was more of a runner than a tennis player.

That’s a really long way of saying that I have played and am intimately familiar with the sport. But before this month, I’d never really watched much of the Australian Open, largely because it’s played during a time of year where tennis isn’t on the Upper Midwest brain (if it ever really is) and a time of day when most people are sleeping. To me, it’s been the forgotten major.

Turns out … it’s awesome. And not just because there were several – over-used word alert – epic matches, culminating with the longest men’s final at a Grand Slam in the Open Era.

Some Aussie-centric quirks that stood out:

* The odd hours. Again, that comes with the territory of playing a live event on the other side of the world. I grew to like it being something of a night owl and a hater of DVR sports. I simply can’t watch a big event anything other than live, unless it’s a game that I need to break down for future use in my job.
One night, I had the TV on too loud. It awoke my wife. She came into the living room to see why I was wheezing. Except I wasn’t. But the players – both women – were grunting with every stroke. She could have accused me of worse.

* It’s a little slice of summer in winter. When you live in the Dakotas, watching other people enjoy warm weather during your winter can be a conflicting thing. You can be bitter or see it as an escape. I felt the latter, in part because we’re enjoying a rather mild season of our own.

And they shall wear mullet hats ...

Plus, the fashion of the event fed into the warm-weather theme. Every major has a color scheme: Wimbledon has white, the U.S. Open has black, the French have the red of the clay and, apparently, Australia has neons. Lots of them. It was like taking a quick trip to the 80s, right down to the teal, mullet-style hats worn by the ball boys. Those are far more interesting to slap on a 10-year-old kid than, say, sunscreen.

* The best replay in sports. There’s not even a question. It’s easy, it’s fast and it’s precise – there’s no need for interpretation for an official. I’m still not entirely sure how tennis does it in the technological sense, but there seem to be some sort of image-duplication system or a chip inside the ball. Football should replicate this to decide whether or not the ball crosses the plane of the end zone. Basketball could use it to determine goaltending. Baseball wouldn’t have fair-foul issues.
Granted, determining whether or not a single ball on an open court nicked a line or not is less up for debate than many calls in other sports, but kudos to tennis for creating and using a system that just works.

* Australian-ness. If that’s a word. For a place that used to be populated by exiled convicts, the Land Down Under seems pretty sweet. Or at least ESPN did a solid job of convincing us that’s true.
For example, it’s impossible not to feel a deep desire to visit after being subjected to those catchy Melbourne tourism spots that ran at every single commercial break. Yes, I do want to go.
Just when I got that song out of my head, I discovered the “Paradise” song that played in and out of so many breaks is performed by Coldplay and that I have it saved on my laptop. They might as well be Aussies for as deep as the connection between the song and the event will be for me.
The locals involved with the tournament – legendary former player Rod Laver, announcer Darren Cahill, etc. – came across as being congenial. That includes rising star Bernard Tomic, who made headlines for driving his flashy car when he wasn’t supposed to and staging a standoff with police and his model girlfriend. He’s like one of the Coreys incarnate except with a sweet accent and a wicked forehand.

All those pros to relatively few cons, and I have yet to describe the manner in which I watched the classic men’s final …

The fifth set was just starting when my connecting flight landed in Minneapolis. I convinced the server at an airport restaurant to turn the televisions away from CNN in favor of tennis. Soon, other interested parties started to gather both near me and in the bar. (And, yes, they ordered food and drink. But, no, I didn’t get a cut.) The gathering included ESPN football analyst Merril Hoge and a chipper Melbourne resident who was on her way home. That old story.

It was strange and surreal and excellent. And when it was over, I felt the same sort of pangs of sadness normally reserved for the end of non-annual international sporting events such as the Summer Olympics or the World Cup – despite the tournament being largely devoid of American talent and at hours not conducive to American audiences.

I’m pretty sure I’ll tune in again next year. But, first, I hope it’ll make me more likely to focus on the next three majors because tennis really can be a grand game, especially when it has the proper mix of personality and ability and culture.

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