So Day 3 was meant to be a chilled one for me. Being that I do have a day job, at least for now, until I find a way to make a living off other people reading my random thoughts, I spent Wednesday with my friends at IBM Slamtracker. I wasn’t particularly worried – and based on the straight sets wins for all the major players that morning, I needn’t have been – but I couldn’t imagine not knowing the scores. Kimmy and Rafa made it through okay, as did my new favourite Tweeters, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka.
The highlight of Wednesday was of course, the “final” – oh wait, Round 2 – between Henin and Dementieva. As a sporadic follower of women’s tennis (I like Wozniacki and that’s about it) I wasn’t all over it, but my fellow fan R had been so excited over Henin’s comeback he’d booked these tickets three days in advance, anticipating the draw. Yes, he loves Henin. I’m ambivalent towards the woman, and being that I like the idea of unseeded finalists, I wouldn’t have minded seeing her progress. Then again, that was before I saw she was up against the lovely Elena. Elena is a great sportswoman and a truly brilliant player. She does all the right things and it’s a true shame she hasn’t won a slam yet. She hasn’t got the same glamourific associations as Masha or Serena but deserves the same accolades they get, if not more. So I was really hoping to see a win from her, but at least, some awe-inspiring tennis.
Let’s say I most certainly got that. We headed in at 7pm on the dot to watch the warm up and both girls were truly in fine form. The place was pretty empty but of course, those lazy corporates like to take their time getting in.
Simultaneously, I was trying to get through the gateways of Planet 3 on my beyond outdated mobile to find out what was going on in Hisense. Juan Martin and Blake were battling it out and it was promising to turn into an epic – one that I would have to miss. Even if I could have found someone leaving Hisense – which is officially a day session only, meaning that any session going into the night is half empty with people walking out all the time – there was no way I could make it out of the packed Rod Laver. It was literally a finals crowd. I felt like I was at the footy.
As always, the Aussies didn’t disappoint in their support either. The crowd was divided pretty evenly, and shouts of “Go Justine!” and “Come on Elena!” were called throughout the stadium. The best bit, however, was the quintessentially Aussie pronunciation of Justine. This was no French “Allez Richard” or Russian “Davay Mikhail!” that I’d witnessed the previous night. These were true-blue, dinki di Aussies, and they wanted both “Alayna” and “Justiyne” (I was expecting Juzzy but that didn’t make it in, unfortunately) to have a crack at the title. It really made me love my sporting nation.
Let’s not forget during the set break. Suddenly, everyone could hear a hoarse voice come from across the place: “Good everyone, everyone and welcome to Rod Laver Arena!” It was a hazy, blokey, ‘been drinking beer out all day in the sun’ type of voice, but you could hear him crystal clear. “Now, who here is going for Elena Dementieva?!!” Cue cheering. “And, who here is going for Justine Henin!” The crowds went wild. Seriously, the guy was running an informal pep rally, right in the middle of the match. Only at the Aussie Open.
So between Elena saving all those match points, and Delpo battling it out down the road, it was a bit of a nailbiting evening for us spectators. Once Delpo made it through, thanks to the random guy’s iPhone on the row behind me (I know, poor sod was in the back row of the whole stadium in his Aussie singlet. But he made up for it later when I saw him climb back from being front row at Tomic – obviously at 1am the rules change), I was focused on willing Elena to get through, but alas twasn’t meant to be. That doesn’t say anything about the quality of the tennis though. It was fabulous.
The next match was little Bernie’s turn. I’m going to call him little Bernie because I think I’m just about the only one. In a crowd full of Aussies barracking for the guy, I think I heard his first name once. I love how in tennis the cheering gets really personal. There’s no “Carn the Blues” like you get in team sports, or a bit of “Get him Juddy!” with the surnames and nicknames you find in the blokey footy culture. In tennis, it’s all class, and we go for Rafa, Fenja, Nole and Kolya, with each player a personal mate. (Then again, M’s favourite technique for grabbing attention during signings: “Mister Djokovic!” and you get an automatic eye contact with Nole.) But with Tomic out on court, the Freakinators, or some distant relatives of theirs, were all over Tomic, Tomic, to the tune of the Ants go Marching.
I guess we are sad country in a way. Sports mad, religiously indoctrinated in the culture of sport, and host to several world class events. One in particular, held every January, is one of only four in its class – and we have no one halfway decent representing us. Ok, I’ll correct that, because Lleyton is halfway decent – in fact, we’ll call him decent for now – but there’s nothing like what those Spaniards have going on, or those bloody Russians! Now luckily I love Spain, and I have a Russian background, so good on those guys, but Come on Aussie Come on! I did have a chat with my new best friend, the umpire Molina about it in our Court 14 rendezvous on Day 2. Apparently, state and federal funding for tennis is huge in Espagna. Every tennis club has over 200 kids playing, and tournaments are easily accessible because they’re in Europe, for heavens sake, not thousands of kilometers away as Aussies are. So the parents don’t have to pay all that much for the kiddies to learn, and they get all their match practice in, and the next thing you know you have young bucks like Rafa and Fenja and Granola Bar Marcel; and old bucks like Daveed and Carlos and Juan Carlos; and Hernandez and Montanes battling it out on Court Fourteen with all of five spectators present.
So I suppose the moral of my story is that Bernard is our hope, our flame, our dream. He is the saviour who is going to bring us back to the glory days, like that morning I woke up to my radio alarm clock in Year 7 to hear that Pat Rafter had won the US Open and was Number One. Being a little bit behind in the following of sport, I thought everyone who wins a grand slam becomes automatically Number One. But what I remember was reveling in the fact that one of our blokes, our Patty, was best in the world at something. It gave me something to feel proud of, even though at the time all I knew about tennis was that it was something we watched while on family holidays in the summertime as that was all on TV. And then came our Lleyton, and we still had the Scud doing his thing on occasion, and for a while all was good. But now we’re lost and bereft, and for heavens sake the votes on Heraldsun dot com dot au had Bec Hewitt as the number one female that came to mind when people heard tennis. Seriously – Bec Hewitt? It makes me cry.
So Bernie had played through the wind and rain on Day One, and beaten an old mate from the Juniors circuit. He’s got arms and legs that he hasn’t figured out what to do with as they keep on growing, and a massive mouth on him. I thought Marin would carve him up and serve him for dinner. Honestly, I was petrified because we weren’t far from Daddy John again this time and I had no interest on being in the receiving line for his tirade against Tennis Australia’s scheduling.
Turns out it was Bernie who had the tirade… seriously, someone put a muzzle on that kid.
It’s been all over the Aussie news – instead of being grateful for getting a match on prime time, in Centre court, he couldn’t stop whingeing about the scheduling. It’s what we like to call unAustralian, though truthfully which Aussie doesn’t love to whinge?