So why don’t you… Slide

May 11, 2011

While the US is lamenting the sad state of the first year in just about FOREVER (no really, FOREVER is the word being bandied about) that there are no Americans – male or female – in the tennis top ten, and player development coach Patrick McEnroe (whose book I am currently reading, and let me just say it makes for riveting stuff and you should all grab a copy from Amazon today because it is cheap and fun and tells you things about tennis) is running about getting nervous and everyone is making comments about the future of tennis in this tennis-starved country where fuzzy yellow balls and pretty green courts are the realm of country clubs and college kids who aren’t good enough for track, and Grand Slam finals are cut short by major television networks in favor of other far more obscure sports that involve balls on tables….

Well, while all these shenanigans are happening, the Aussieans have gone – that happened to us already, yes indeed it did, sir! And it won’t happen to us again, no indeed it won’t, sir! (except in Australia no one ever really says sir).

And the lovely folk at Tennis Australia, who I tend to wax lyrical about on occasion despite the fact we haven’t produced a Grand Slam Champion in a year or two or ten (nine, to be precise) have proceeded to try and find ways to make sure that the new crop of kiddies are well and ready to battle the Europeanoid dirt-rat-hard-court-whizz-hybrids who are currently dominating our hearts and our tennis courts… by sending a bunch of kids off to Roland Garros! Yay!

Isn’t it lovely?

There are blogs you can read about it on tennis.com.au and hear all about how the kids went to the supermarket for fruit bars, and heard from a lady who made funny noises, and ate pizza and pasta in Paris and yes! Even learned to SLIDE! ON CLAY! ON CENTRE COURT AT ROLAND GARROS!

That, my friends, can only be a good thing. Go forth, ye young uns! Make friends with Spaniards and Serbs and STEAL WHATEVER IS IN THEIR DRINK.

While the gorgeous Maddison Inglis (whose blog you must read here) has gone to Slovenia to practice her slipping and sliding and being awesomely European, there’s another one of particular adorableness who will be playing in the kiddie version of the juniors event during the actual tournament, the  Longines Future Tennis Aces round-robin, and seriously, 12-year-old Chase Ferguson, I’d like to adopt you.

See you in five years, kid, when the Aussie Open are handing you wildcards and you are poster boy for Court Thirteen.

Pic: Rebecca Hallas

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Let’s Talk About Lleyton

May 11, 2011

Remember him?

The Australian media have given us our latest Lleyton update, informing us that he is strong, tough and ready and able to contest the Roland Garros title. According to the excellent Darren Walton, or more likely the subeditors at News Limited, this is an “audacious” bid and a “shock comeback” – and this lady here who is purely a basement clicker-clacker is inclined to agree. Wanna call it the ‘Slam-oriented stripped-back schedule’ a la late-career powerhouses like Kim and last-year Serena? This is one-man bandaid-application operation, with surgery after surgery with a tournament thrown in the middle… and the weight of a nation behind it. Then again, there’s been no retirement announced yet, so why is it a shock comeback? (I’m still waiting for Tommy Haas to debut in singles, personally…)

Based on an interview with Tony Roche, the Aussie supercoach-to-the-stars talked all about lovely Lleyton: He’s big, he’s strong, he’s lean, he’s mean, he’s ready for a comeback and we’ll probably see him win the title at Wimbledon, if that’s what “very, very well” means.

Roche gives Lleyton a title I feel may be credible – “the toughest competitor that I’ve seen” – “prepared to play through the pain barrier” despite recent foot surgery, numerous surgeries last season, and his creeping age (thirty, to be precise).

“I think he’s used to that. Look, he’d be,” Roche told AAP on Monday. “He’s had a lot of setbacks the last couple of years but he keeps bouncing back. He keeps wanting to improve and he’s so keen, which is great for Australian tennis because we need him to hang in there.”

Thing is, even if he’s tough competing, and whatnot – other guys may actually be better, well, players these days….

Of course, this is Roche’s “highly qualified” opinion, so we just need to bite our tongues and say, oh yes, Australia will have another Slam champion one day. And we do need him, because there are Davis Cup ties to be played, and Australian Open posters to pose for, and young ‘uns who need to see a great player on TV much like Rafter and them boys before him, who can say, “I wanna be a tennis player one day.”

History shows that Lleyton has been good at surgical recoveries, this is true – the article mentions his beating Federer for the Halle title during last year’s grass season and coming close to topping Nole at Wimby, all following an earlier half of the season that saw him give the fabulous Aussie health-care system a run for their money.

The stats for Roland Garros are also pretty impressive: According to the piece, here are some handy facts:

–          Hewitt is the ONLY active player, including Federer and Nadal – to have made the last 32 on over the last 10 years in Roland Garros.

–          Four of the last five years, his losses at Roland Garros have been to – guess who? None other than king of the Court, Rafa Nadal

Which means that all going well with seeding, he needs to win a few rounds, get some match practice, unleash all hell in Halle and – here’s the clincher – show his stuff in SW11.

“I know he’s looking forward to Wimbledon, getting on the grass,” Roche said. “He sees that surface as being well suited to his game…. So if he gets the matches under his belt and good preparation, he can do very, very well at Wimbledon.”

But citing tales of previous victories with little preparation or still-lingering injuries  – 2006 US Open quarterfinals with a knee injury, apparently, and a marathon five-setter against Ferrer at Roland Garros in ’08 without any clay-court match practice – isn’t really going to change the fact that the difference between 2006, 2008 and 2011 is a lot of years – and years tend to do things to bodies, if the beauty companies (damn them!) and the medical industries and all them people who know stuff about the human body are to be believed.

I want to believe it, I really do. I want another Grand Slam trophy in the pool room as much as anyone who’s not Spanish or Swiss (though maybe a little less than those scary Brits – I won’t crucify a man to get it, for example). But as Aussie fans once again bust out their yellow-and-green singlets and blue-and-red-flag-printed-headbands (thanks to the girls at Flushing Meadows who lent me theirs) and start hoping and praying for the man we once knew I tend to wonder… will it ever really happen again?

The strange thing about seeing a former top player struggling in minor tournaments and losing in early rounds is that it’s incongruous with our mindset. In my head, and probably many other fans, Davydenko, Ferrero, Nalbandian and of course Hewitt – are supposed to be winning all the time. Ditto for Tsonga, Verdasco and all those others who did their time in the top 10 only to flounder outside it for far longer. Lleyton can meet a seeded player in the first round and out he goes – but it just seems wrong to me, somehow.

Now ranked 64 in the world, Hewitt has only a handful of points keeping him from obscurity outside the top 100 – including his title in Halle last year, where he defeated Roger Federer in the final, bringing hope to the hearts of many Aussies who don’t want to acknowledge that we are without a champion on the men’s side, for the time being. So he’s welcome to Paris, I invite him there with all my heart. If he can scrounge up some points, I will be forever happy and wave my flag and leave it flying. There’s no one who wants to see Lleyton succeed more than me. I spend my days trying to get Aussies to care about tennis – of course I want him flying high. But there are other places I don’t want him either… And it may be time, before that inevitable downslide where Marinko Matosevic becomes Australian #1 – that he hang up that sweaty backwards cap of his and go out with a nice-and-classy, tastefully-farewelled (not holding my breath for that either) – well, bang.


An Australian Girl in Paris – Part Un

June 9, 2010

An Australian Girl in Paris – Part Un

Readers of this blog from the January era may recall the thrills and adrenaline experienced every year by myself and my tennis-watching partners in crime, L and M. We stake our claim on Melbourne Park early in Week 1, and by the end of Week 2,we’ve camped out in style and made our way into every court, stadium, nook and cranny.

It’s the dirty time of the year, and I’m on Fabulous Tour of the Universe TM. Which meant only one thing: travel needs to be arranged with tennis in mind. While setting up shop in a sports bar to watch tennis with litres of beer and friendly bartenders has worked until now, for the final weekend of Roland Garros it was time to take it up a notch.

It was time to go to Paris, and view La Vie En Paree. I had to know the important things about the tournament: How much does a beer cost? How pretty are the uniforms? Where are the practice courts and which is Rafa’s favourite? Most importantly, where are the toilets?

One of the most striking things about attending a tennis tournament is the colour. Tennis has embraced fluero colours more than most sports – they’ve got the Day-Glo yellow tennis ball, the flashy fashions on the field – I mean, court – and the sweet hues that rival any Pantone book on the purple Hartru of Indian Wells, the blue Plexicushion of Melbourne Park, and of course, that glorious red dirt at Roland Garros.

The most difficult task, of course, was to attend a tennis tournament without constantly comparing it to my spiritual home and tennis birthplace, Melbourne Park.

Which didn’t suit me when I exited the train at Bois De Bolougne and was bowled away by the colour differences – instead of bright blue and orange, I was faced with luscious dark green, from the trees that line the streets leading to Stade de Roland Garros to the leaves that hang over the walls of the courts. Complemented by the Roland Garros red, the burnt orange clay colour that accents all the logos and shows up brilliantly on the court. The cream of the officials’ uniforms, the muted tones of the Haagen Daaz logo, all scream French, classy, cool and collected.

Arriving at Roland Garros on Friday, I noted the streams of people leaving the stadium but knew that there was still close to a set of tennis left to complete for Jurgen up against my boy Rafa. Turns out the ticket box was closed, tickets can’t be reused, and I was close to tears. Until some well-practiced high school French came to my rescue, and suddenly I had evaded several black suited security guards and was in the holy grail, the region of Roland Garros.

Passing by the Haagen Daaz girls selling ice creams and the everpresent gangs of roaming ballkids, I was in the main circle area between Court 1 and Phillipe Chatrier, where a big screen broadcast of Rafa and Jurgen was in progress. Let’s be honest. I can’t say I saw much of the tennis. There were French men in their jeans, blazers and loafers, lounging around with women in sundresses and cardigans. The volunteers and workers in their cream silky dresses with burgundy sashes and ballet flats stood guard at the entrance to the court with men in cream trousers (trousers are the only word for these) with very RogerWimbledonesque cardigans. Everyone in sight is eating a baguette or smoking a cigarette – usually both. The colours are vivid and dazzling. I’m stunned by the bright green and cream, but what I really want to see is a dark red clay court.

So once the match is over, and Rafa lets Jurgen know who’s boss, I’m negotiating the steps up to Court 5 and photographing the clay through the holes in the cyclone fence. I want to touch it, feel it, even taste it, Francesca-style. I’m in Roland Garros, babies.

Even the rubbish bins have my name on it.


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