Friday, January 28, 2005

Tennis Anyone?

There was a time when the status of the Australian Open as a Grand Slam event was in serious doubt. It was played in a continent that seemed far away from Europe and America and was played on grass, the same as Wimbledon and in those days, the US Open. Most of the top players began shunning the event – some of the names on the winners’ roll in the late seventies and early eighties hardly ring a bell. Then the event reinvented itself. The venue shifted to Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park), the surface changed to a more universally appealing rebound ace and the prize money was increased to lure the top stars. Massive improvements in the aviation sector and technological changes over the years helped as well. Now the Australian Open is firmly established as the first major on the calendar. No one complains these days about having to make the long trip Down Under. Andre Agassi has gone on record saying it is a regret that he chose to skip it for about eight or nine seasons – one can see why, given his phenomenal record here. In contrast to the pretty low profile tennis enjoys in the US, here in Australia, and particularly in Melbourne, the Australian Open is ubiquitous. There are promos everywhere, everyone is talking about it at the office, and the newspapers and television are full of it. The average fan is refreshingly knowledgeable. On my first day here, the cab driver said he thought Federer wasn’t going to win this one – “Too much talk about him, mate”. I think he picked Hewitt and Safin, if I remember correctly. They are playing the final this Sunday. - NK

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