Tuesday, January 16, 2007
No Thunder Down Under
It’s January. Tennis’ first major of 2007 is being played in Melbourne, Australia at, arguably, the finest tennis facility in the world.
There are great storylines.
Can Roger Federer continue his dominance? Can Rafael Nadal put in a strong performance on a surface many feel suits his game almost as well as his beloved clay? Can James Blake take that next step and move from “feel good story” to “serious contender”? Can Andy Roddick show that his performances at the end of last year’s hardcourt season were not a fluke? Which Marat Safin will show up?
On the women’s side, can Amelie Mauresmo defend her title and put to rest once and for all any questions about her mental toughness? Can Maria Sharapova win a second consecutive major title and secure the #1 ranking? Is Serena Williams serious about her comeback or is she simply “talking the talk”?
In spite of these positive factors, as usual, I find that I’m not particularly interested in the Australian Open.
Believe me, I have my reasons.
Are you people familiar with the concept of an off-season?
Tennis players often complain (justifiably) that their season goes on too long. The final of the year-end Tennis Masters Cup was played on November 20. The deciding match of the Davis Cup Final (won by Russia over Argentina) was played on December 4. Less than 6 weeks later, they’re playing the first round of the Aussie Open.
I contend that it’s not only the players who need a break. The fans need one, too. Only golf’s off-season is shorter, and they don’t play the Masters in mid-January.
Too many other sports viewing options
If you’re a sports junkie like me, you’ve got a lot on your plate at this time of year. The NFL Playoffs are in full swing. In college basketball, teams have just started playing their all-important conference schedules. The NBA season is nearing the mid-way point.
Something’s gotta give, and, for me, that something ends up being tennis.
3. Time Zone Issues
I know I’m going to sound like the stereotypical “Ugly American”, but I’m just being honest. In order for me to watch any of these matches live, I would have to stay up until the wee small hours of the morning. As much as I love tennis, I’m not pulling an all-nighter just so I can see whether David Nalbandian can make it to the Round of 16.
The matches are re-broadcast the next day, but, in this era of constant sports updates (via television, radio, or internet), it would practically require my locking myself in a sensory deprivation chamber in order for me to not find out the outcome of these matches before they’re re-broadcast. Again, as much as I love tennis, I’m not watching too many matches the outcome of which I already know.
4. The Power of History
In 1988, the Australian Open completed its transformation into the tournament many now know and love: rebound ace courts; a retractable roof; and everything done first-class.
Unfortunately, there are those of us who still remember when the Australian Open was the red-headed stepchild of sports’ major championships. I remember when the Aussie Open was played in December and the top players did not exactly flock to the tournament. In fact, they stayed away in droves.
I truly became a tennis fan in 1981. I loved Bjorn Borg and hated John McEnroe. During the early to mid-1980s, I generally did not find out who had won the Australian Open until I heard the player’s name mentioned during a French Open broadcast that next June. But wait, there’s more.
If anyone ever asks you who won the 1986 Australian Open, men’s or women’s side, and you draw a blank, don’t panic. It’s a trick question. There was no Aussie Open played in 1986. I know it was done because the championship was being moved back to its original January date, but that still eroded almost all of its credibility in my young mind. 20 years later, the Australian Open has regained much of that credibility, but not all of it.
5. Rebound Ace and the Agassi Factor
(If you’re an Andre Agassi fan, read the following at your own risk)
As stated above, starting in 1988, the Australian Open moved from the grass courts at Kooyong to the Rebound Ace hardcourts of Melbourne (nee Flinders) Park. Little did I know at that time that this would one day be a source of tremendous bitterness.
Rebound Ace, particularly in the January Australian heat, is a dangerous surface. If a player can walk away (preferably under his own power) with only a mild ankle sprain or two, he should probably consider himself lucky. That, however, is not why I’m bitter.
You see, once they started to play the Aussie Open on Rebound Ace, it meant that, technically, tennis’ 4 major championships were now played on 4 different surfaces: Rebound Ace hardcourt; clay; grass; and Har-Tru hardcourt. Fast forward to June 6, 1999, a date which will live in infamy. That was the date on which Andre Agassi defeated Andrei Medvedev to win the French Open Championship. This gave Agassi his 4th major title and made him one of only a handful of men to win all of tennis’ major championships.
This means that, until Roger Federer wins the French Open, I will have to listen to Agassi fans ramble on (ad nauseam) about the fact that their beloved ‘Dre is the only men’s player to win grand slam titles on 4 different surfaces. Granted, 99% of them don’t know what makes a Rebound Ace hardcourt different from a Har-Tru hardcourt, but that won’t stop them from waxing poetic about their hero’s unmatched accomplishment. They will cite it as compelling evidence that a player who wasn’t the greatest of his own era somehow merits consideration as the G.O.A.T. (greatest player of all time).
So, those are my reasons for not being as big a fan of the Australian Open as I am of tennis’ other three “slams”.
Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi oi, oi!