On Friday, January 18, I had the chance to enter Rod Laver Arena to watch the afternoon matches. First up was rising star American Madison Keys vs. Angelique Kerber from Germany. I was excited to see Keys play as I watched her practice in Sydney. She had some obvious nerves but how can you not playing in this arena for the first time? I would encourage anyone who doesn’t get tennis to attend a major event like this. It puts so many things in perspective and makes watching on tv that much more fun.
I think it’s kinda like NASCAR. Yes, I just compared tennis to NASCAR and I’m pretty sure this is the first time in history that it’s been done. But I used to be one of those people that said, “I don’t get it. You watch people drive fast and turn left all day.” Then I went to a NASCAR race. “Oh I get it! You watch people drive fast and turn left all day!” It is a really fun atmosphere and I’m telling you try it once and you will be back.
|Madison Keys with a big serve|
Anyway, watching tennis live lets you into a world you don’t get to see on TV. First of all, the ball kids are worth the price of admission by themselves. They train for twelve months. Seriously! They will start training for next years Open immediately after this one ends. They are constantly graded and get placed at matches according to their grade. For example, you have to have a 1 to be placed in Rod Laver and only the best of the best get to work the big matches. That is why you will see kids make unreal catches and move around the court like little spider monkeys.
Plus, they don’t just get the balls they are responsible for the players towels, getting anything the player might need, they clean the scuffs off of the court in between matches and they run out with towels and wipe off the lines when it starts raining all for free. Well, they get their gear and stories to last a lifetime. Lots of current players have been ball boys including the greatest of all time, Roger Federer. The next time you watch a match pay attention to the ball kids. These kids are good.
|Drying the lines when it starts raining|
|They work quickly as the roof is closing|
Plus, before each session the Hot Shots kids come out on the court and play. It is so cute. They get announced and run around the court waving at the crowd. Very funny.
|The Tennis Australia Hot Shots Kids|
|Li Na - China, WTA Ranking #6|
I also got to see this year's possible champions Li Na and Novak Djokovich. Not a bad afternoon. I also understood better how so many older people were watching tennis. The day before it was a combination of oppressive heat and long bouts of sitting still. I was barely hanging on and I’m only 35! I kept seeing groups of older ladies all dressed the same walking around the grounds looking immaculate. How are they doing it? I couldn’t figure it out. Ah, now I see, they planned ahead and have tickets inside Rod Laver. I had a nice seat in the shade and actually wore a sweatshirt for most of the day. What a difference a day makes?! Very pleasant.
|Novak Djokovich - Serbia, ATP World #1|
|Novak waves to the crowd after a win|
By the way, I’m currently recruiting people to join me in my 70’s and 80’s to travel to Grand Slam events. We will need a cute name, matching shirts, and unbelievably positive attitudes. A British accent is a plus.
Also, I love the spider cam. That’s what they call the suspended camera that allows you to see the players up close on the changeovers and the iconic shots of the players above the Melbourne sign on the baseline. It’s suspended from all four corners and flies around the court. The thing is supafast. I kept singing in my head, “Spider cam, spider cam, does whatever a spider can” every time it moved around. Once again I prove that I’m easily amused.
|Novak is always good for an entertaining interview|
I also got to see the court with the roof closed. I might be the only one in the Arena that was excited that it started sprinkling. It was like someone pushed a button and all of the sudden the court was full of people down on their hands and knees wiping the court and about 10 minutes later the roof was closed and play continued. The feel of the court definitely changes. It became a little more humid and playing under the lights must be a different sensation. I was excited to be able to see it. But the showers passed so the roof was immediately opened for the next match. Melbourne Park is undergoing major construction that will add a roof to Margaret Court Arena as well. It will be the only Grand Slam event with three courts with closable roofs. Your move New York.
|The court changes with the roof closed|
|Garden Square with TV announcers in the background|