It’s a great irony that as a tennis fan, you tend to follow more tennis matches at home than when you actually go to a tournament, and so I write this more as a recount of my day than any real look into the tennis being played today.
Between lining up to get into the outside courts, eating, hiding from the sun, and watching a Federer practice session, I barely saw 2 matches, and both were frustrating, low quality, and deeply unsatisfying. How could they not be? If there were a less inspiring OOP than today’s, I don’t remember it. It says volumes about how lopsided the draws are that even numbered days have a far greater number of intriguing match ups than odd numbered ones.
First up on my agenda today was Dominika Cibulkova, who needed to redeem herself in my eyes after subjecting me to a double bagel final the previous week. Instead, Domi fell in straight sets to Russian qualifier Valeria Savinykh. As much as I’ve come to enjoy women’s tennis and its quirkiness a lot more over the past 2 years, it is matches like this that does the women’s sport disservice.
At it’s pure and simplest, the match consisted of two pushers, grunting, slogging, excessively fistpumping and glaring across the court at each other, while the intensity of their internal dramas did not match the intensity of the tennis. Cibulkova was constantly self chastising, Valeria barked like a small dog on every shot, half a beat AFTER she took a full swing at the ball and followed through (surely that should have been hindrance). Domi committed 57 unforced errors in 2 sets; Valeria barely hit 16 winners over 2 hours. Neither could serve. Neither would step into the net. Neither played with any real sense of strategy, attack, or feel. My eyes burned with tears of boredom until I could take no more at the 1:40 mark.
But I was back soon for the beginning of My Friend Stanley v Tobias Kamke, by which time I had met up with LJ and Cecilia, my twitter buddies and loyal Federbitches, and were busy musing over the question I posed to the pair of them: do we like Stanislas Wawrinka as Stanislas Wawrinka? Or do we like him as Swiss? What do you think?
Swiss or not, unfortunately for us, the quality of the match wasn’t dramatically better than the previous one. Stan continually shanked a la Fed and insisted on using the Melbourne sign 2 meters behind the baseline as his default rallying point. Kamke’s serve deteriorated through the first 2 sets, until he eventually retired after the second set.
Fed up with the day’s play, and with a cool breeze circulating around Melbourne Park, we decided that we might be game enough to brave the human meat sandwich that is a Federer practice session. And a human meat sandwich it was. Roger’s typically casual hit with the Australian Luke Saville drew such a crowd that at times it was possible to take your foot off the ground and remain suspended in midair, a sensation not unlike catching public transport in peak hour China.
Federer was his typical happy little vegemite, lazily whipping a few forehands and backhands while conversing with Anaconda and Luthi, the three of them so at ease and attuned to each other. (Also, I’ve kinda forgotten how good looking the man is in real life … Because, ya know, he’s not the most telegenic of persons. BUT HE’S REALLY GOOD LOOKING IN REAL LIFE. I’M JUST SAYIN’.)
50 minutes and it was all over, Federer taking his time to sign autographs and small talk with the now frenzied human sandwich before waving his goodbyes, proving that there’s nothing like a bit of Federer to fix up an uninspiring day at the tennis.
But inspirations aside, there is still something about live tennis – good quality or not – that beats watching it in front of a screen. Maybe it’s the sound of the ball popping against a racquet to the gasp of a thousand people. Maybe it’s the slow burn of sun on the back of your neck. Maybe it’s the smell of fish and chips in the air, or talking to complete strangers about matches you’ve both watched. There is something unequivocally charming about live sports, live tennis that connects you to a wider community through something that you love. And that’s why I keep going back, day after day, year after year.
See y’all tomorrow.