Our second year of travel started with us going separate ways – just for 10 days or so. After spending the holidays with our girls in San Francisco, we embarked on another year of adventures nearly to the day of the start of our first year. Ksenija flew to Cambodia with a group of volunteers and I to Australia to fulfill a life long dream of seeing a tennis Open, not on a TV screen, but LIVE!
I was lucky to be able to stay with amazing Aussie friends Nellie and John in their beautiful home on the outskirts of Melbourne, taking the train into the city every day.
I arrived on a Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning saw me already in the Rod Laver Arena, on the court of a huge fifteen thousand seats capacity. I was very happy in the full swing of my tennis mode, despite having had arrived without my luggage. My itinerary took me from San Fran through New Zealand and during the process of transferring myself and my luggage I managed to transfer myself to the Melbourne flight but Singapore Airlines could not do the same with my duffle bag. Spectacular landing over striking shores of New Zealand.
Luckily the airlines generously provided me with a male emergency kit and my lovely hosts welcomed me with an Aussie T-shirt, so I looked civilized enough on my first Major of the year. My opening salvo was watching Serena Williams The green outfit, unfortunately was not very flattering
in her post-maternity heaviness, looking like a hippopotamus (those are very dangerous and deceptively fast when attacking), delivering to her opponent many successful shots accompanied with threatening killer screams. Luck would have it that she played one of those Czech tennis players with a difficult name to pronounce. Karolína Plíšková to me looked like a giraffe. It was difficult to believe the official statistics putting Serena’s and Plíšková’s weight at almost the same 70+/- kg (154lbs) according to AO released information. Karolína Plíšková, serving.
Excuse the quality of the photos but hey, I cannot carry one of those huge tele-lenses on our trip around the world! The photo was taken by my minuscule iPhone from my AUS$300-seat in the row F, seat 28!!! You can even see the ball in the right upper corner without tapping and zooming in! So, please do not complain! It was a very dramatic match with the Goddess of Luck distributing evenly between both ladies. In the final set, Serena started fully in charge taking the lead 5:1. Then suddenly the Czech giraffe took over, nailing six games in a row pushing herself into the Thursday semis for which I had already secured my ticket. This time AUS$200+, a cheaper deal, but this happened only because the rest of the Arena’s more expensive seats were already sold out.
The next morning I unwisely decided to stay for the Day Session. The heat and the humidity were growing by the minute even as I took my seat in the shade, watching one of the men’s double semis. Those doubles can be interesting, but not this one. With the roof open the sun lit seats were almost empty with spectators killing time in the cavernous air conditioned corridors sipping their drinks or having snacks.
By the time the next round came up for the first women’s semis match between American Collins and Czech Kvitova it was clear that the heat like this and top level tennis cannot coexist. When the score of unforced errors reached 4:4 an official showed up on the court and announced that the heat index, a combination of temperature (42C/108F at that time) and humidity (must have been 100) crossed the limit set by Australian Open rules (some magic number I do not know) and therefore they will close the roof and start air-conditioning. I did not hear what the players’ verbal reaction was but the crowed went wild with excitement that the weather torture was over. Sitting in the frying sun and looking at the players struggling with cruel court conditions was simply too much. The rest of the afternoon, including the other semi between Osaka and Pliskova was played in decent airconditioned environment, resulting in this OPEN becoming the first INDOOR MAJOR in tennis history. Still, it was not very good tennis. A lot of unforced errors, Collins arguing with umpire in one semis, and Pliškova’s subdued performance in the other made me feel rather disappointed. Well, you cannot get everything!
Stepping outside of the Rod Laver Arena the atmosphere was great, even if it felt like getting into a pizza oven with you being a pizza. But you got a few opportunities in the park to cool down. Like this walk-through-tunnel spraying cold mist all over you from all sides. Refreshing, indeed! To make spectators feel better the organizers released information on other places in Australia where the heat was even worse! Adelaide in Southern Australia reported a temperature of 47C/117F, the highest recorded temperature in major Australian city EVER!
I decided not to stay for the Night Session (Nadal beat somebody in quick three sets) and went to a beach bar instead.
As the forecast for Friday was 41C/105F I decided to save the money and stay on the beach with friends drinking good cold Aussie beer. I did not miss much with Djokovic beating someone quickly and everyone going home disappointed.
With temperatures mercifully dropping by 15-20C/30-40F on Saturday, I jumped on the suburban commuter train shortly after breakfast taking me to the arena well before the evening’s Women’s Finals! After my tennis quality of younger years made it clear that I will not qualify for any Pro tournament I wanted to at least see it. To be there and participate. I did try to get a ticket to this Australian Open Men’s finals early, ordering it nine months ahead, only to learn from organizers in October that this event was hopelessly sold out. When they offered me a seat for Women’s finals instead I took it.
Now that Day has finally arrived and I will spend it enjoying the atmosphere. Not just in the Rod Laver Arena but in the whole Tennis Center. You do not have to necessarily pay obscene amounts of money for the ticket to watch the game in the Arena, like I and fifteen thousands other fans did. You can get to the tennis center for a modest fee, enjoy the ambience of the Major with other fans and simply BE THERE! And drink and eat, AND SHOP! In the Adidas shop you can buy the same stuff worn by those playersrepresenting the brand. Many of them were eliminated in the first week of the Major, well before my arrival to Melbourne. Other tennis stars were making big bucks in non-tennis related businesses like my hero Roger supporting Barilla pasta, his friend Rafa, proudly acting as the Global Ambassador of KIA cars (I wonder if he’s ever sat behind its wheel), or André Agassi favoring the Lavazza coffee machines promising that “each cup can change your life”! I like Lavazza, but I am afraid it did not change mine!
Caffeinated I walked past the statue of the famous Australian player Rod Laver and took my seat to see the final of the Boy’s draw, delivering the drama in the third set tie-breaker, drama so much missed in many one-sided matches in Men’s and Women’s single draws.
Then just walking around and following the crowd got me a close glimpse of some participants of the finals. On the practice court no.17 I found American Japanese finalist Naomi Osaka preparing herself hard under the hot Melbourne sun barely two hours before the women’s highly anticipated final.
I even saw Novak Djokovic hit practice balls in the Rod Laver Arena a day before his final.
But even he had to leave, the roof was closed and the entertainment show could begin. And when this artistic show of lights ended the arena roof opened again with players coming in.
When I bought my ticket sight unseen long time ago I had no clue which two women would make it to the last round. To make the final even more interesting the winner of this match would become the world number One player! Naomi Osaka, who won the last Open few months ago in New York was now facing Czech Petra Kvitova whose return to the top tennis was questionable after a serious injury she suffered in a gruesome knife attack by a robber in her own apartment two years ago, severing the nerves and tendons in her playing left hand. It was certainly an interesting game in which player’s luck shifted from one to another. Kvitova managed to survive three match points winning the second set, before Osaka prevailed in the last third set.
From my perspective I think Osaka was the better of two and her victory was much deserved. For Kvitova it must have been emotionally a very difficult match and let’s hope it signals her return to top tennis. The women’s final ceremony had not been the final closure of Australian Open for me, as the Laver Arena audience was treated with a nice dessert of mixed doubles played till wee hours of the Sunday morning. In the mixed finals the Czech-US couple Krejcikova-Ram beat their Australian opponents. It must have been disappointing for those Aussies still sitting in the arena, while giving happy Czechs at least half of the title in the first Major of this season.
And this was the end of Open for me. I ran from the Arena to the Richmond station to catch my train to my temporary home sweet home in the beach town of Mordialloc for early Sunday morning breakfast.
My first, and probably the last, tennis Major was over. This is it! Another big item on my bucket list could be checked off.