Thursday, February 21, 2019

Australian Open Adventure - Day 2

[Composed 1/16/2019]

Generally, tennis relies on its fans to police themselves. Unlike say, football, where the roar of the crowd is a distraction that teams need to manage, tennis typically assumes near perfect conditions. As a fan, you're supposed to be seated, quiet and avoid doing anything to distract the players. So it was a bit unnerving to find myself in the first row of the Sock, Withrow vs Cabal, Farah with a couple of guys sitting next to me chatting away during points.

Surely they were drunken, novices who didn't know any better, right? Not at all. They were none other than members of the Israeli Tennis Association, and they were sitting next to their friends, the coaches of Cabal, Farah. It was a classic Israeli move. When I asked them (during a break in play, mind you) where all the Israeli players were in the tournament, they replied that they had none. You'd have to look to the college level to see their up-and-coming players. He explained that grooming new tennis players takes patience, and that was a resource his home country was a bit short on.

Alas, we had to leave the Sock-Withrow match after the first set, which the USA team dropped. Fortunately, Sock and Withrow came back and ultimately took the match. We couldn't stay and watch doubles because we had the Wawrinka vs Raonic match to see.

Being early in the tournament, you come to expect one-sided matches. Watching Nadal obliterate his opponent is par for the course. So watching Wawrinka and Raonic duke it out turned out to be a special treat. The first set lasted an hour and went to a tie break. And so did the second set. And so did the third. Ultimately, Ranonic would win the day, but at 6-7(4) 7-6(6) 7-6(11) 7-6(5) it was an epic battle to the last shot. Even I was exhausted after watching that match.

Following Wawrinka and Raonic was Halep vs. Kenin. I didn't have any expectations for this match but was blown away by how both players absolutely slugged it out. Both players seemed to think that if they hit the ball 10% harder each stroke surely the other player would crumble. Neither did, but man, was there a lot of grunting. I'd never seen Kenin play before, but I'll have to keep an eye on her, her performance was remarkable.

During the match, a few rows back a guy kept yelling Hi Simona!. Simona is Halep's first name, and I couldn't imagine why this guy thought it was appropriate for him to be trying to get her attention. The whole thing was just creepy. Dude, she's playing a tennis match, she's not interested in flirting with you. The only thing that gave me pause was that the guy had an obvious Eastern European accent, maybe 'Hi' didn't mean what it meant in English.

During a break in play I finally worked up the courage to ask the guy what he meant. He explained that 'Hi' is Romanian for 'Come On.' Halep is indeed Romanian, and this guy was a member of the Romanian Tennis Association. He wasn't creepy at all, he was encouraging his countrywoman in a way she'd fully appreciate. Oh.

The guy turned out to be quite nice and agreed that Kenin's performance was admirable. He promised us that he'd root for her next time, assuming of course she wasn't playing against a Romanian.

We finished the day's activities off watching Djokovic defeat Tsonga, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Djokovic remained in control the whole match. As I noted at the start of this post, tennis matches almost always require silence from its fans; at least during play. One exception to this rule is the expected behavior at the US Open's Arthur Ashe Stadium. The stadium is massive, and the upper-decks ignore all tennis protocol. There's movement and noise when there should be neither. With that as our reference, it was a bit surprising that the center court at the Australian Open, Rod Laver Arena, gets totally silent during play. Perhaps it's the difference in capacity, or the fact that we aren't dealing with New York fans, but the comparatively large stadium has the same decorum as the smaller venues. Well, the smaller venues minus a bunch of chatty Israelis.

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