DL: On the eve of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, we've handed over Blog duties to Student Matt (Matt Roberts), a splendid young man who knows his tennis rather too much for liking - he beats me at predictions (albeit that isn't saying much). He also helps us with our social media activity in between university lectures. He's currently on a year working in Madrid. This is his guide to the Australian Open from afar. Enjoy.
What’s your favourite grand slam?
It’s the tennis fan’s impossible question. Generally, I go with whichever one is next. So, on the eve of the tournament, here’s the case for the Australian Open.
It’s not just the players who need a rest during the off season, we fans do too. Eleven months – the length of the tennis calendar – is a long time to follow the sport closely. We need a break, but December is always the period when I realise just how much I like tennis. I need it. And when it’s not on, I miss it. Never are my levels of excitement higher than ahead of the Australian Open. Sure, we’ve already had two weeks of tennis, but the players are still sharp and the form guides still relatively blank. Players wield new rackets, travel with new coaches and wear new kits. The New Year helps us see the players with fresh eyes and different perspectives. It’s a fascinating period.
If you live in Europe, you have to go to great lengths to watch the Australian Open. The event’s hashtag, #SleepIsForTheWeak, is not a mantra I usually subscribe to. Sleep is for the sensible and the tired. But exceptions can be made, and they are during the fortnight of tennis in Melbourne. It’s not lost on me that in Western Europe we have it pretty good, time wise, for the majority of the year.
That’s the beauty of this sport, its internationality is unifying. It’s the turn of tennis aficionados in Asia-Pacific to enjoy regular sleeping patterns. I can manage, perhaps I even relish, these two weeks of late nights and early starts. There’s certainly something oddly gratifying about setting the alarm for 3.30am, to watch a tennis match via a stream, and then opening Twitter to find that a load of other bonkers people are doing exactly the same thing. Even so, I probably watch less of the Australian Open than I do of any other slam. And when I do watch, the circumstances are not always ideal. In 2013, for instance, I caught the pulsating 4th set of Murray vs Federer in a school French lesson, phone balanced behind my pencil case with gasps agonisingly kept to a minimum.
This is why the daily Tennis Podcasts are going to be so welcome. David & Catherine will tell the story of the tournament, as and when it happens, filling us in and taking us behind the scenes. Would I like to be able to watch more? Yes. Is it a black mark against the Australian Open? Definitely not.
Knowing it’s on, following the live scores and watching whenever I can is a pretty perfect situation. Besides, there’s something to be said for not watching every ball be struck. It leaves an element of mystery, which is something to savour. With three retractable roofs, the Australian Open is also the most reliable slam. In fact, the weather is sometimes too hot for tennis. There are certainly no 2016 Roland Garros-esque washouts to be found in Melbourne in summer. This makes planning and viewing straightforward and free of disappointment.
My Australian Open memories only stretch back to 2006, and 2012 stands out as a truly great edition, particularly on the men’s side. The four semi-finalists were the Big-4. Nadal did what he so often does against Federer, while we saw the first influence of Ivan Lendl on Murray as the Scot pummelled his forehand but ultimately came up just short against Djokovic in a bruising semi-final. Well, we thought it was bruising. Then the final happened; the longest final in slam history and one of the most dramatic. One rally in the fifth set brought Djokovic to his knees. And during the unbearably long trophy ceremony (now that is a black mark against the Australian Open) Djokovic and Nadal required chairs to avoid fainting. Winning that title was one of Djokovic’s most extraordinary feats.
So, what can we expect in 2017?
Well, the variety of listeners’ predictions suggest that it’s a tough tournament to call. (On that, I’ve only seen a few prediction entries, and already their boldness has struck me. Neither Djokovic nor Murray to reach the semi-finals. That’s unfathomable isn’t it? Not according to one brave person.) Anyway, I watched the draw ceremony in the early hours of Friday with great interest, as I always do. I frantically live-tweeted the projected paths for the top seeds, all in the knowledge that they certainly won’t come to fruition. But speculating is part of the fun. As a general rule, the ATP draws are reasonably stable structures and the WTA draws…aren’t.
The more random nature of the women’s game is so exciting, and first weeks of slams always throw up surprises and close matches. With top seed Kerber searching for form, and Serena short on matches, this year is likely to be no different. On the men’s side, the low(er) seedings of Federer and Nadal are entertaining curveballs, but ultimately I think it will come down to Djokovic and Murray...again. But basically, it’s going to be fantastic.
And if you’re looking for a positive omen? The tournament dates – 16th to 29th January – are the same as they were for the 2012 epitome. For now, it’s adiós from me in Madrid. The old-fashioned living room where I sit to write this will be my tennis-viewing home for the next two weeks.
Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a very happy 2017 Australian Open.