Big Question Marks

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Deuce!

Yesterday we took the day off job-hunting and went to the Australian Open tennis series. We'd been pumped about it for ages, watching on TV a series held in Perth (Western Australia) in the weeks leading up to the Melbourne series- just trying to figure out the rules of the game and scoring, which seems like the most random pile of numbers sometimes (though people probably say that about baseball, too).

Adrian caught a few more matches than Dayle (who was at a quasi-job interview in the early afternoon, learning all about the techniques of scooping gelato, while contemplating this new career path). With us at the matches was Nathalie, a Parisienne who was our tennis tutor for the day. It was great fun!

We bought the $29 ground passes, which allows you to check out almost all of the games, less the really big-name matches held in two grand arenas, Vodafone and Rod Laver. But since we're not exactly tennis experts, it didn't bother us too much that we missed people like Federer and Baghdatis. We were hoping to catch the Williams sisters playing a doubles match, but the stands filled up way too fast for us. Adrian tried to catch Canadian player Daniel Nestor, but the game wasn't anything special. He and Nathalie watched a ladies singles match between French player Aravane Rezai and Taiwan's Su-Wei Hsieh, which was most notable for its very spirited, flag-waving Taiwanese cheering squad (perhaps what helped Su-Wei to victory?).

We did, however, end up watching a couple of really (surprisingly!) captivating men's singles matches. When we couldn't get in to see Venus and Serena whip some ass, we joined Nathalie is cheering for Frenchie Paul-Henri Mathieu, who duked it out to win a FOUR HOUR marathon match vs. Austrian Stefan Koubek on Court 3. And what a match it was! It was great fun just being in the crowd, close enough to hear the players' grunting. But as the Rolex clock in the corner of the court kept ticking and we found it painful to just SIT for that long, our respect for these players/tennis players in general grew and grew. What endurance this battle must have taken! We got quite hungry around the 2 1/2 hour mark and had to tuck into our buns and peanut butter stash... but we didn't see these guys snack on anything. Yikes!

And just when it looked like Koubek (see pic above left) was going to take the match, somehow Mathieu (right) would come back. It went on and on like this for five sets. While much of the crowd was cheering for Koubek (perhaps the locals mixed up "Austrian" with "Australian"), there were several France flags floating around as well, and the occasional French singsong cheer made us giggle. Tabernac!

We must have been almost as relieved as the players when it finished at 4:00 on the dot. We stuck around for the next match, but the pair of mixed doubles contenders just looked really amateur after that tense contest we'd just seen.

By then, the big lights had come on, and we heard a hubbub coming from the Margaret Court Arena, where we found American Mardy Fish facing off against Jarkko Nieminen from Finland. As soon as we saw a group of eight shirtless American guys spelling "F I S H F O O D" on their bare chests, we decided to cheer for Jarkko. It wasn't long before the rain started (our first rain since we've moved to Melbourne, nearly a month ago!), and the whole match got moved indoors to the Vodafone Area- one of the big stadiums our ground pass didn't let us into! So we got to watch this match in style-- we sat two rows from the court, got to analyze replays on the Jumbotron, and watched a more enhanced version of the game, with players having the opportunity to challenge tough calls with the big screen. So cool!

We sat in a confusing mash-up of fans-- mostly Finns cheering for Jarkko and waving Finnish flags, but there were a couple loud American-sounding dudes (or shudder, they may have been Canadians) in our area who kept cheering, or almost commentating, for Mardy. "Ace in the place, Mardy," etc; WHATEVER that meant. The umpire had to keep saying "THANK YOU." loudly to shut the excited crowd up. There was plenty of good tension in this match, which went to 2:36 on the clock but by the time it was over, it was nearly 11pm! Mardy's fun to watch, as he's a bit of a hothead and wears a really silly-looking headband (see right photo). Jarkko is kind of gawky-looking but liked to challenge the calls, which always made the crowd cheer. (The tennis grunts were better in the Mathieu vs. Koubek match, though.) There were lots of comebacks and very even scoring between the pair, which was exciting. Jarkko finally beat Mardy (see left, the win!), proving that America is NOT #1. But most of all, we felt quite sorry for the ball-running kids on the court-- they looked exhausted by the end of the night. And by the end, we became totally hooked on tennis and actually understand the game now! (We may even go back next week!)

So that's the wrap-up on our first live sporting event since we left home almost a year ago. Melbourne's a big sporting city, so we plan to hit plenty more events-- Aussie Rules Football (AFL), surfing comps, Grand Prix (good news-- we are both hired on to work at the Grand Prix, March 13-16, we just found out! Insider reports to come, of course). One thing that was funny about the fans here is this crazy Aussie patriotism--ie. large groups of people wearing the Oz flag as a cape, and other Southern-Cross-adorned garments. Singing "Waltzing Matilda", no less. There were also many people with yellow-and-green face paint, wigs, and outfits, which we think is an Aussie thing too, but we haven't the foggiest why they'd choose yellow & green. We do think it might be a preview of how nuts it's going to get next week, on January 26 or 28th (depends on the state), which is Australia Day. Our first also! Woohoo!