A Cultural Experience: Sporting USA


A Fish Out of Water

By Dr Suess

In Australia, when little children are born, their parents and family gather around the cradle and croon to them football anthems as lullabies. They dress them in team colours and indoctrinate them with “Go Tigers!” before they are old enough to speak. In the sporting capital of the world, the G (MCG, of course) is hallowed turf, and weekends between March and September are sacrosanct for playing, watching, analysing and attending football matches. Beer in hand, pies chowed down, Melbourne is the sporting capital and I am so proud to be a resident. The Australian Open is no different – or at least, ten pages of this blog acknowledge it to be so – and being an Aussie girl with Aussie tastes, I’ve never known any alternative.
So for this reason I was rapt when on my New York sojourn back in March (I do know its mid April, but there’s a time difference, okay?) I noticed on the streets of Manhattan little WTA-green coloured banners advertising the BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean Cup. Not one to miss some live tennis, particularly if it entails a cultural experience, I hightailed it to Madison Square Garden to see how the Yanks do it.
I do want to mention that I found it difficult securing a partner – tennis nerds are often alone in this big bad world – and that’s where the tennisaholic’s best friend, Twitter, stepped in. Shoutout here to the lovely @nichut who set me up with the fabulous @linzsports, as well as the gorgeous @luciahoff, who came to sit with me and keep me company and listen to me utter aloud all the things I would have tweeted if AT&T weren’t so evil about overseas people purchasing data plans.

The whole evening was a cultural experience in a thousand different ways. Aside from the fact it wasn’t a proper tourney – they had mini set ‘semis’ then a final match – I was in a foreign country, in what was technically “Hallowed Turf” – Madison Square Garden.

The match up put me in a conundrum straight away – I was only there to support my adopted sisters, the so-called “Aussie Ana” and “Aussie Kimmy” who we’ve taken on due to their propensity to dating the gorgeous men who hail from our motherland. Kimmy might’ve left Lleyton and his golf clubs behind, but she’s our girl through and through – oh and my first tennis autograph, let’s not forget. Ana’s relationship with Adam is a sore point for those who believe he’s lapped her concentration and she needs to make Nole babies, but it hasn’t stopped the crowds at Melbourne Park adopting her as one of our own. You know we like the hot ones best. Having the two matched up against each other meant I’d have to go Team Sveta in the second semi. Which was totally fine with me. I mean, have you all SEEN her Twitter? It gives me good Russian practice, too.

I suggested to LP as I was departing that an Aussie flag would be nice, for our girls. This was the first of many texts, as being at the tennis without my lovely sister was a cultural experience on its own. LP, a veteran of the US Open herself, was honest about the Yank Sitch (or YS, I as I will refer to it from hereon). Apparently, despite the strategically located stars on the Australian flag, there are many in the North who believe New Zealand, Aussie and UK flags are all the same. No loss, then.

I went before the match to pick up my tennis snacks – an art at Australian sporting events, where meat pies are traditional, concession stands charge a fortune, and my sister M has trained me in bringing picnic baskets from home. So I was rudely surprised when the MSG guards ruined my buzz of “Wow, this is it, Madison Square Garden!” with, “Miss, you can’t take that in here.” My supplications fell on deaf ears and I found myself scoffing my burger and Chiko roll (it wasn’t called a chiko roll but had the same stuff in it, Americans are such copycats) outside the gates before I wisened up and hid them in my voluminous winter coat and assorted weather protective gear. Ah, sometimes I’m slow.

I found my seat and noticed the elderly couple next to me speaking Russian. This is tennis, where you make friends with strangers, so I asked them where they’re from. “New Jersey,” they tell me. “Oh…” I’m shattered. Was hoping they could help me cheer for Sveta with some Davay. I tell them this, and they admit to originating from Russia sometime in the last century. They’re unimpressed with my Davay Sveta cheers for the rest of the night.
I found the lovely Linz, who stood with me while the lights went down, and the music came up. I’m the fish out of water now and it shows. I kept jabbering as the Americans turn all solemn and put their hands on their hearts. Their hands, on their hearts. And the lights are down. There is a spotlight, on the tennis court. A spotlight. Sorry. Needed to repeat that.
The girls come on court, and there are spotlights on their chairs. The player chair, where they’re busy rummaging around their tennis bags and doing all the normal things players do. Except the lights are off, and the cameras are going off, so there are flashbulbs all over the court.

I am in for a totally cultural experience. Instead of Craig Willis with his “Sony Ericsson WTA Tour” voice, going up at the end, I have someone asking me to give a warm Madison Square Garden welcome. I feel like I’m cheating on Rod Laver Arena.

Play begins, and while Ana’s form is not something worth commenting on, she is looking very purdy. The ballkids, on the other hand, not so much. They look like they’ve swallowed some of those magic pills from Alice in Wonderland. They are HUGE. Grown ups. When they need to catch the ball, they jump up and catch it like basketball players.

An announcement is made telling people they can keep the balls that are hit into the stands. The lovely Lynn, always a favourite umpire of mine, starts explaining the rules like we are in kindergarten.

Ana’s ball toss is retarded. I want to buy her a serve for Christmas and wrap it up with a bow. At this time I noticed this was my first time seeing the lovely Aussie Ana. At home, I steer clear of the Serbian army and the Aussie perves who flock to Margaret Court Arena to ogle her beauty. Here, I’m just about the only Ajde-er to be heard in the stadium.

I took a moment to look at my surrounds. My knowledge of Madison Square Garden for many years was limited to a random movie I watched as a kid with Whoopee Goldberg where she tries to coach a basketball team. I was in the arena and fascinated. First of all, the colours. It reminded me a bit of Hiisense arena. Just a little prettier, with plum and teal – my two favourite colours. Very very nice. Then I went on a perusal of the snack bar and discovered Disneyland. They have potato knishes! And crackerjacks, like in the song. And a real live cocktail bar. The hot dogs in America are even different. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I’m salivating but not particularly interested. There are far more interesting goings on down on the court, where IVAN IS IN THE HOUSE!

I have never seen Ivan before, so this is tres tres exciting for me. The Hall of Fame induction is on, and I’ve taken it upon myself to scream extraordinarily loudly for the Aussies being honoured, in particular the wonderful Woodies. LP, via text, seems to think the Woodies are in the house too. I explain that they are at home taking care of the kiddies who are playing Davis Cup this weekend. Even though it’s Fitzy’s job, we know they like to help out.

Then the last of culinary excitements presents itself: The people coming round serving beer. I can’t even comprehend such an action at the MCG, where they’re trying to limit beer sales if anything. They also play Lady Gaga here. Is Australia the only place where there is no music at change of ends? I kind of enjoy the random commentary, songs and shouting of the RLA/MCA crowds. I can’t imagine music creating the diversion it does here.

The match starts to empty out and suddenly I feel like it’s Rod Laver at 3am all over again. The crowd is majorly behind Venus which is sad for me who is a total Kimmy fanatic. But I do have to say, to echo Linz, how incredible it is seeing everyone out there supporting Venus and getting into something like women’s tennis because of her immense marketability.

Venus beating Kimmy isn’t even too bad to handle when Mary Joe comes out to present the trophies. For some reason I really like this lady, and don’t get to see too much of her in my land. She’s got pretty red heels on, and it seems sacrilegious to see her trotting on hard court with them on. But the girls make lovely speeches, and Venus is exhausted by happy. So I’m cheering Mary Joe and Kimmy, and the rest of the depleted stadium is cheering Venus.

Only final observation? Why do foreign players always say “Congrats?” Is Congratulations not in the elocution lessons repertoire?

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