b. Flowing brown locks
c. Artistic backhand
d. Committed marriage to a normal-looking woman
But even if the Australian Open didn’t have Roger Federer and Roger Federer didn’t have all those characteristics (as well as a serve with the coiled energy of a striking cobra and adorable tennis shorts and matching headbands), I still would have gone to the Australian Open when the universe conspired to put me in the same city as it for one of its two weeks of duration.
Last Monday—day 8 of the tournament, January 21st—with my cheap-o ground-pass in hand and plenty of sunscreen on my already peeling nose, I broke into the professional tennis world. Blue courts! Rolex-sponsored clocks! Eager-beaver ball-boys (and girls) in funny hats and impeccable shorts!
Sports are magical. Only those without an ounce of competitive drive, lacking a single bone of artistic appreciation, and completely dead to the thrill of this world of glory, skill, victory, and beauty don’t understand. For the rest of you, know that—even if tennis isn’t ‘your’ sport—it’s the stuff that’ll give you chills.
Except that it was really hot on Monday. My little ground-pass didn’t get me into the two big arenas—you pay hundreds for one match for those tickets—but it did give me unlimited access to everything else, including the three main doubles courts and all the warm-up courts. The first match I watched was a show match including three French guys and a Swiss guy, none of whom I’ve ever heard of.
That’s where the lack of awesome ended. Because it wasn’t a serious match, all four were relaxed and playing their best and showing off for the crowd’s enjoyment. They yelled at each other, addressed the crowd during rallies, and, during one game, allowed the ball boys to finish the point, while they went for a water break.
The other doubles matches I watched—quarterfinals play—were furiously intense. The women’s match was vicious, with aggressive net play and killer serves. The men’s match was . . . intimidating. They’re so tall, their wingspan so wide, and their play so fast that it was violent. Most people, when they watch tennis, they see it on the t.v. and those matches, with the most famous players, are usually singles matches. I love me some Federer, some Nadal, some Sharapova (actually, I don’t; screaming is weird), but singles tennis, especially the TV version, feels clinical. When both players are slapping the ball back and forth—one occasionally centimeters over a line, another politely collapsing into the net—it’s easy to forget the speed at which they’re reacting and the ferocity with which every single shot is smashed and the beauty of their years of carefully honed talent:
The high arch of the service toss. The precise foot patterns, practiced into unconscious muscle memory. The wide sweep of a forehand ground stroke. The split-second angling of a racket-face for a body-shot volley. The efficient chop of a slice. Fifteen. Thirty. Forty. Love. Game. Set. Match.
e. all of the above.
|Lydia, Camilla, Elaine, Martina and Martina (Hingis and Navitrilova)|