31 January 2020

Postcard from Australia – the final instalment!

As we approach the final weekend of the first Grand Slam of a new decade Local Tennis Leagues' Simon Wood reflects on what was an eventful yet confusing three weeks following the tennis Down Under

As with Wimbledon in UK, tennis is heavily covered by the local media in the run up to the Australian Open so you never feel too far away from the gossip and the news even if you are lying on the beach in Bondi or necking wine in the Yarra Valley!

Right, Simon makes a new friend - "I've got your back".

Below, tennis is unavoidable, even if you are lying on the beach

Below, on hands and knees, clearing away the red dust

Even before I decided what swimming trunks to pack, I could tell that the build up to AO would be different this year with Australia hitting  the headlines for unusual reasons. As my partner and I flew into Sydney, we could begin to see the impact of the bushfires first hand with a thick blanket of smoke below us for at least 30 minutes before we landed. As we approached the city, the iconic city landmarks were difficult to make out in the haze.

We were in Sydney while the inaugural ATP Cup was on and although  there was TV coverage, people that I spoke to seemed confused about what it was? Was it the new Davis Cup? Did players have to play to qualify for the Olympics? Had it replaced the Laver Cup? Overall the ATP deemed it a success but with yet another team competition in the calendar year, they need to a do a better job of communicating this to tennis fans.

From Sydney we travelled to Auckland where we were greeted with clear blue skies. We didn’t watch the tennis but with the debut of Serena Williams in town you could tell tennis fever had gripped the city and when she won her first title since giving birth, this felt like icing on the cake for fans.

After Auckland we went to Melbourne and the smoke returned. Our hosts there said having lived in Melbourne for 30+ years this was the worst they had seen it.

The weather and the impact on the tennis made headline news during the qualifying week with players complaining that they were being kept in the dark about air quality and some even retiring all together. Once the tournament started, it felt like the tennis took over and the references to the weather refuesed to take a back seat completely... The Melbourne weather can be quite unpredictable and instead of air quality stopping play, the 3rd day was interrupted with red dust-laden rain, meaning that all the uncovered courts needed to be hosed down and cleaned and dried before play started 4 hours late.

So there we have it, we are now down to the last 4 players with Kenin taking on Muguruza for the womens' crown (Sat 8.0 UK time on Eurosport), and Djokovic taking on Dominic Thiem for the men’s title (Sun 0830 on Eurosport) in what looks like being a tantalising end to the what is possibly one of the strangest build ups to a grand slam for decades.

After the AO most women will head off for Fed Cup duties. Great Britain will face Slovakia next weekend for a place in the inaugural week-long Fed Cup Finals in Budapest with live coverage on the BBC red button from Friday so support if you can! I will be there courtside with live updates @tennisleagues on Twitter as the tie progresses.

The men will either take a break or head to some smaller tournaments in India, Argentina or France and with this year being an Olympic year, players are keen to impress to be included in Tokyo.

The tennis season has well and truly begun!