The Australian Open – Two Weeks with Rafa, Roger, Novak, Layton and Jelena
As Eli Manning declares his plans to visit Disneyland, and New Yorkers bask in the afterglow of our ticker tape parade, I am still recovering from two intense weeks that were the Australian Open. (That’s tennis for those less obsessed than I.)
Thanks to ESPN2 and my Time Warner Cable DVR, I awoke every morning for two weeks to a Christmas morning of sorts, full of 10 some hours of tennis coverage. Putting aside the incredible athleticism, the fit and attractive main characters and the fashion considerations, just the fact that I had a window into beautiful summer weather made the tournament an uplifting addiction.
But there was more to it than that. When you spend so much time observing the drama that was those two weeks, it is only natural to have thoughts that beg to be shared. Shared with someone. Friends, yes, but also, my blog. (In great part because I have not had a chance to write in a while, so this offers great inspiration.)
So, some observations. We know that psychology is important to sports and that tennis, in particular, is as much a head game as a game of skill. In fact, I had the opportunity to have dinner with Tracy Austin a few years ago at which time she acknowledged that a primary reason she won her first U.S. Open is that she was too young to know what a big deal it was.
So back to the observations. Andre Agassiz observed that tennis is like life. And like Russian dolls. Points make up games. Games make up sets. Sets make up matches. Matches make up tournaments – in the same way that seconds make up minutes, make up hours and so on. And what I find so interesting is that as hard as you fight for a particular point or game or set, when it is over, you are back to square one. A set won 6-0 is equivalent to a set won 7-6 in a grueling tiebreaker. Hence, when a match is tied 1-1, it is completely equal. Except for this. The player who won the second set is pumped, even deliriously happy as when Nadal fell to his knees after winning the fourth set of the finals. And the player who won the first set, who came out of the gate flying, is dejected, frustrated, even angry. I noticed this especially when the young 21-year-old Canadian player Raonic was playing the “old” 30-year-old Layton Hewitt. Going into the break between the second and third sets, Raonic looked distraught and Hewitt invigorated. But, from a scoreboard point of view, they were equal. That’s what they mean when they talk about “momentum.”
What else? Well, if it is not already the case, then Novak Djokovic’s girlfriend (Jelena Ristic) needs to be approached by a clothing manufacturer or designer for product placement. All the players have logos galore, but she, who seems to be on screen more than anyone other than the two players, is left to her own impeccable taste to decide how to dress. (By the way, she’s gorgeous if you were not aware.) This is a missed sponsorship opportunity.
And, how about those tennis fashions? For some reason Adidas felt compelled to subject those they sponsor to a disturbing combination of peach and coral that even men on the courts in Central Park remembered two weeks later. My nephew, who plays wheelchair tennis competitively, tells me it’s because the manufacturers want to show off bright colors at this first summer event. But I found it cruel. It took me a while, by the way, to understand why so many players were wearing the exact same dress or style. At first I thought they might be from the same Eastern European nation. Then I realized it was Adidas. I imagine they feel that by having multiple players, who may not make it very far into the tournament, wear the same outfit, they get similar air time as they would if a highly seeded player wore it for many rounds. That said, the fact that the women’s tennis has become a game of “your guess is as good as mine” makes it hard to predict who might actually have significant airtime. Even Sharapova, who made it to the finals, went down in a quite brief 6-3 6-0 match.
But let’s get back to Nadal. Nadal has become my inspiration. Yes, he’s cute and cuddly and muscular and fit and a magnificent athlete… wait, where was I? Ah, right, inspiration. As one of the commentators observed, Nadal plays every point as if it is match point. No matter how unlikely it seems that he might win – as with the, sigh, U.S. Open of last year, he will never lose hope. He will never stop fighting. If Nadal (oh, and Djokovic too) can play a 6 hour final match, then I can (in theory), run for 45 minutes on the treadmill, or hold that tortuous yoga pose until the instructor lets me (please, for G-d’s sake) move on. So, somehow, even when Nadal loses. (And, don’t get me wrong, I’m still in mourning for this year’s final), I feel somehow inspired.
To expand upon that point, I have friends who are not Nadal fans. I don’t fully get it, but it’s true. Many are Federer fans. And I can appreciate that. He’s a class act. But it does make me wonder what makes someone a Nadal fan and others a Federer fan. (Putting Novak aside for the moment.) They are, after all, different. Nadal is wearing bright swaths of color. Lime green and sporty blue – on simple (high tech) t-shirts. Federer’s shirts all have collars. (Federer has Rolex as his sponsor.) But I love Nadal. He’s PASSIONATE. And he’s physical in a warm way. When Federer first lost to him and was crying, Nadal put his arm around Federer’s neck and his head on his shoulder. (I could die!) When Nadal passed Novak on the grounds of the Ossie open, he patted his back rather than just shaking his hand. It’s these little things that appeal to me.
So, back to fashion. What’s up with the mismatched yet coordinated wristbands. One blue, one white. One black, one red. I don’t know. I can’t think of the colors, but it’s a thing. Someone ordained it. They take the colors from the tennis outfit and break them out into two wristbands. This meant, of course, that when Novak switched from his white shirt to his black shirt in the second or third set – also an interesting move – his blue wristband didn’t make sense, as it was not reflected in the shirt.
So…. what was supposed to be a quick post feels like it could go on and on – much like the 6 hour final, so I must end it somewhat arbitrarily and abruptly. I hope you’ve enjoyed my tennis musings – brought to you thanks to the coverage of ESPN2 (and the Tennis Channel) and the DVR functionality of Time Warner Cable.