Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 1.2 - Eating Humble Paella

One of the problems with Australian tennis - I think, anyway - is our overweening sense of domination, even though we pretty much suck at it currently. It's been clear for a number of years that Lleyton Hewitt is not going to win another Grand Slam, and yet the question asked every time a Slam rolls around is 'what are Hewitt's chances?' No one ever seems to answer 'tiny' despite huge amounts of evidence (and precedent) in that area.

I don't mean to pay out Hewitt here - this is more a comment on the Australian perception of sport. We as a nation are used to being good at sport. Australia is one of the jocks of the world, used to beating up other countries and stuffing them in lockers on the sporting field. But I think the heart of this lies in the fact that Australia is very good at team sports. When it comes to individual sports... not so much. Not at the moment in tennis, anyway. But no one seems to realise this...

...which is why people get so damn cocky about the Hopman Cup every year, and get all disappointed when we don't win. It's 'Australia's Hopman Cup Shame', as I saw one headline read. To be fair, this year we did have a good team who had a good shot, but most years we don't have a prayer and no one seems to realise.

As a fan of tennis the sport, watching as a fan of tennis the sport and not necessarily of Australia, it is supremely uncomfortable to hear the stuff coming out of people's mouths when Australia is not doing well. I noticed this particularly during Samantha Stosur's match against Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. I really enjoyed the match - Stosur didn't play particularly well once MJMS started to read her kicker, but MJMS had a beautiful game and I loved watching her play.

The people around me? Not so much. There was one woman behind me who was convinced that MJMS was somehow cheating and that Stosur should get three goes on serve instead of two because of it. I'm not quite sure exactly how she thought MJMS was cheating, but there you go. Amusingly, she also thought faults were called fouls, so I'm not sure her grip on the rules was too good. Another one labelled MJMS 'grunty' and would oink like a pig every time she got up to serve. (FYI, MJMS does grunt a bit, but I didn't even notice until this woman pointed it out - I think it was only noticeable because Stosur is completely silent. She's certainly no Michelle Larcher de Brito). Sport is pretty much a universal religion in Australia and it made me sad to see that appreciation of good play gave way to sledging and hyper-nationalism. Apparently it can only be good play if it is Australian play.

Look at me, sounding all miserable. I cannot tell you what a good time I had, this first day at the Burswood Dome. The majority of the crowds were not dickheads like those mentioned above and there is, quite simply, nothing quite like watching tennis live. I was viewing the court from above on a diagonal, which was not the best angle, but it was interesting watching tennis from a different perspective.

I also have a newfound respect for Tommy Robredo. This has been compounded by his victory over Andy Murray in the final of the Hopman Cup - I confess I wanted Murray to win so Robson could have her diamond ball, but this was an awesome match for Tommy. I saw him play Hewitt on this Thursday, and one thing you realise in real life that you never quite see on television is how fast he is. Robredo and Hewitt actually have quite similar games. Robredo probably hits the ball a little harder, but they both have great wheels and are dogged, chasing down anything they can find. The scoreline was relatively one-sided, but it was actually a great match, with lots of long points. Even if I wanted to turn around and smack the bogan Lleyton supporters behind me. (Not that all Lleyton supporters are bogan. But these ones, well...)

As a venue, the Burswood Dome is probably not ideal for tennis, but it's certainly unique. I love the ceiling, high and arching, and the fact that it is temperature controlled is excellent, because Perth is very, very hot! And Burswood is not out in the sticks (which, I confess, I thought it was) - it was one short train ride from the city of Perth where I was staying. I fell in love with Perth while I was there and am dying to go back one day. It has to be one of the world's most isolated cities, but it is beautiful. It seems very relaxed and laidback and chilled out... probably something to do with the fact that it is three hours behind the rest of the country and so any news that reaches it is inevitably old. But it is sunny and gorgeous and would be a lovely place to live and has an excellent public transport system and stuff.

But back to the Dome itself. It exists in this strange place between stadium and showcourt. During points, it feels like a stadium. However, when it's a sitdown and play is not in progress, you can actually walk right up to the edge of the plexicushion. There are security guards, but effectively you can be one, two metres away from the players as they have their sitdown. It has this wonderful intimacy but also this feeling that it has been haphazardly thrown together - Court 1 is separated from the central court by a big curtain. It is also really, really hard to get from one side of the stadium to the other. If you come in the wrong door (which I did on this Thursday, not knowing the venue at all) the only way you can get to your seat on the other side of the court is to go through a tunnel. However, this is also the same tunnel that the players use when walking about, so whenever they're coming, they close the tunnel off. Which means you can be stuck for up to about twenty minutes, which is kind of a pain.

The Hopman Cup is going to be at Burswood again next year, but the year after, I understand that they're moving to the new stadium they're building in Perth proper. Which, I noticed, happens to be across the road from my hotel. Perhaps I should book my accommodation now...?

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