A quick thank you to Rustin, for keeping this blog afloat as I slacked for about two weeks. Maybe I’ve just been too busy watching the Australian Open…
If you stare long enough, the rubberized blue surface begins to morph from mere tennis court to bottomless ocean.
This happens after hours of watching the men and women who are standing on top of it as they hit the golden ball back and forth, lulling you with repetition and pulling you under.
And I greatly enjoy sinking into this sea.
The above happens every year; it, in fact, is happening right now. The best tennis players in the world are playing in the world’s most tennis-mad country, Australia, in the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal thrashed his first two opponents then needed a little extra effort against Philipp Kohlschreiber. Roger Federer had a little trouble in round one. America’s sweetheart Melanie Oudin lost, so too did Motherhood’s sweetheart, Kim Clijsters. Serena Williams didn’t threaten anyone yet. Justine Henin upset a top-10 player. And James Blake came heartbreakingly close to beating Juan Martin del Potro in five sets.
There’s the hot news from Australia. The short summary tells everything that’s apparent on the surface.
But the Australian open has never really been about what’s on the surface. Indeed, the literal surface has changed several times throughout the years. As recently as 1987, the major was played on grass courts. Since then, it’s moved to the greenish Rebound Ace to what it is now: the deep blue Plexicushion.
Anyways, like I said, the Australian Open is about so much more than surface characteristics. The tennis played there once a year is the kind that makes you think.
In a way, tennis has always been like that. It’s only natural. Games of tennis begin with the score at Love-Love, and the back and forth patter of the ball from each person’s racket creates a steady rhythm incomparable to any other sport.
All kinds of writers have captured this sort of phenomena. A book called “Tennis and the Meaning of Life” features brilliant authors all telling their tennis stories.
With that book containing only pieces of fiction, the Australian Open gets no mention. In real life, though, the event is mesmerizing, boasting a setting, a time and place, no work of tennis fiction can match.
That time is, of course, right now, in January. I suspect many people would consider January the worst month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the only month that doesn’t include a real holiday (no offense to MLK, but that doesn’t count). It’s the only month that doesn’t include warm weather. It’s a month that follows Chrismukah and New Year’s Eve and the college football season.
And it’s a month of transition. A new year has begun and with it comes all the hopes and challenges of something different.
For college students, the second semester begins. For businesses, the new fiscal year starts. The classes might get easier, or they might not. Investors might become bullish or they might not.
In short, January is a month of harsh uncertainty. There are no breaks from the routine and no breaks from the conditions.
You’re in Dallas. You’re in Kansas City. You’re in New York. You’re in the best place in the world. You’re in the worst place in the world.
You are where you are and transition doesn’t come quick or easy. You push through January knowing the weather will get warmer and that the new problems you encounter will go away when you discover solutions.
But when I watch the Australian Open, it feels like I’m cheating. It feels like the solutions are here, and I’m moving to some place else entirely.
The month is January, yet the women tennis players wear tank tops. The time on your cell phone says 8 p.m., yet Marin Cilic is pounding serves in 99-degree heat and sunlight.
On Sunday, I watched Yanina Wickmayer win her first round match while writing a small piece for the Dallas Morning News. Three years ago, I watched Andy Roddick defeat a young J.W. Tsonga the night before Daily Kansan orientation. Five years ago, I listened to my high school locker partner discuss how he stayed up until 2:30 a.m. so he could watch Marat Safin defeat Roger Federer.
Time, place and circumstances change. The Australian Open doesn’t.
Some may argue this same point about other sporting events. The World Series happens every fall, the NCAA Tournament every spring and so on.
But they don’t carry the same magic as the Australian Open. They don’t take place during one of the strangest times of the year, and they don’t provide such a drastic change to that setting.
And every year, the Australian Open does.
It begins in January and brings with it the comfortable certainty of men and women slapping a ball back and forth over a blue expanse.