Welcome back. Happy 2012, everyone ...
• Good for you. Someone else wrote me last week with the same request. First, know this: There's no sugarcoating the flight. It's brutal, even if your budget/miles account doesn't consign you to steerage. Flying to Europe will feel like a shuttle flight after the Miami-Melbourne odyssey. But once you land, you almost can't not have a great time. Everything is manageable and navigable and fun. It's like the Occam's razor event: Everything is as efficient and minimally complicated. As for tips, we'll revisit this in the next few weeks (the Australian Open begins Jan. 16) -- and you guys should feel free to help -- but here are 10 to start:
• Don't rent a car. Melbourne is a terrific walking city and, unlike the other Grand Slam tournaments, you can stroll to the site from a downtown hotel. Or take a free tram. And at least once, take the water taxi.
• Though there's been a creeping corporatization, the Australian Open is still more of a beer event than a champagne event. Stroll the grounds, and you never know what you'll see -- a man on stilts, a woman playing a didgeridoo, Olivia Newton John inadvertently walking into the men's room, as apparently happened several years ago.
• Bring your Amex. As with most tennis events, American Express has a strong on-site presence. As I recall (at least in past years), you could get everything from a smoothie to a massage to the obligatory radio, just by flashing your card.
• The city with the largest Greek population is Athens. Next, allegedly, is Melbourne. When a Greek (or Cypriot) player is on the court, go watch. Same for players from the Balkans, though this has turned ugly in the past.
• If you can finagle your way to the back practice courts, it's a good location for autographs.
• If you want a break, either walk along the river or cross the train tracks and tour the Melbourne Cricket Grounds.
• Bring sunscreen and lots of it, wear a hat and hydrate early and often.
• Bring lunch. Melbourne is a great food town (we've
• Try the sparkling Shiraz, which, by an order of magnitude, tastes better than it sounds.
• If you attend a match in Margaret Court Arena, feel free to
• I suppose the obvious answer is the French Open, the lone major she has not won multiple times. But,
• Someone out there, make Tan a Cyclops audio file. It will be like whale tones to the tennis fan. Seriously, Cyclops versus Hawk-Eye is like Palm Pilot versus iPhone. If I recall, the Cyclops was only used for serves, not for all lines.
• Good call. Though we could do this in all sorts of ways. Milos Raonic was born in Montenegro, and Daniel Nestor was born in Belgrade. Two immigration decisions go unmade, and suddenly the current state of Canadian tennis looks a lot different. A funny, fickle thing this business of tennis citizenship.
• Interesting question, and I'm open to suggestions here. Atlanta has a strong reputation. Charleston, S.C., too. And Knoxville, Tenn. And Winston Salem, N.C. Actually, anywhere in the Sun Belt pretty much.
• We've been bemoaning the unfortunate rise of grunting in the juniors. Now we have grunting in the 60s division? Oy vey. You sure he wasn't just trying to dislodge phlegm? Again, I think most fans feel that when players -- including Tim Farwell, the director of tennis at The Villages -- are exerting themselves and grunting as a result of genuine effort, it's one thing. When it's a routine midcourt forehand, and the players are replicating the sound track of a woman giving birth to triplets simultaneously, it's another thing.
• It's apples and oranges. Or (Blind) Melons and (Eagle-Eye) Cherries. As much as I hate hearing
• I think that's a fair question. I'll poke around when I'm in Australia, and I know we've had wheelchair competitors write in before. If anyone wants to provide a bit more context -- What is Vergeer's level of competition? How would she fare against a male? -- we'd be happy to examine this. More generally, I think there's nothing wrong with asking these questions. If anything, they're a backhanded compliment, legitimizing the competition, subjecting it to the same curiosities and scrutiny we apply to other divisions.
• But the fact remains: Nadal hasn't won a hard-court title since 2010.
• You're right. Sort of. We've bastardized the term "Grand Slam." Technically, the four majors compose the Grand Slam, and a Grand Slam winner must claim all four majors in a single calendar year. Per the baseball usage, Grand Slam means the set of four runs that are scored in the home run. Per the Denny's usage, it's the four breakfast components.
But we have taken the liberty of using "Slam" interchangeably with "major." So when we say, "Caroline Wozniacki has never won a Grand Slam," we mean, "She has yet to win a solitary major title." Not: "She has yet to win all four majors." To avoid (or, inadvertently, enhance) confusion, most of us now distinguish between "a" Grand Slam (i.e. a major tournament) and "the" Grand Slam (the box set of all four titles in a given year.) Clear as terre battue, right?
• Simply put, I've never seen a bigger forehand than Del Potro's. My only hesitation: In his prime, Gonzalez would go into that "mas macho" mode and take these comically big cuts.
Del Potro, by contrast, unloads with a certain grace. He has that whipping action and that flourish. But even as the ball is whistling past the opponent, you have the feeling JMDP is going only at 80 percent.
• Here's the thing about predictions (which probably inspire more animus than anything I write): They either come to fruition or they don't. So instead of slinging snark, why don't we just see how this pans out? Either one of us eats crow, the other eats crow, we both eat crow. Or, in this case, we can starve together.
• I don't think it's an either/or. And when someone -- prominent or not -- expresses sentiment that offends your core beliefs, silence is an unappealing option.
• Well said.
• This week's installment of encounters with tennis players:
"In my second year of college in the fall of 1986, I suffered from a brain aneurysm, had emergency brain surgery, was in a coma, and the doctors were not sure I would pull through. I was not responding to stimuli, and my family was getting very worried. My sister, Donna (as well as anyone who knew me), was well aware of my admiration for Chris. In a desperate attempt to bring me out of the coma, she looked through all my clippings about Chris I kept in several photo albums, discovered her father taught tennis at Holiday Park in Florida, and through several calls, managed to locate and speak to him over the phone.
"Every call she explained the situation and said she felt if anything would get a response from me, it would be an autographed photo of her. Mr. Evert explained Chris was on the West Coast (not at a tournament, though, as she was recovering from a knee injury) and furnished phone numbers for my sister to attempt to locate her. Amazingly, she did, and again, like the numerous times before, Donna explained the situation to Chris. The next day, at my hospital room, a large package arrived via Federal Express, that contained a poster of Chris sitting in a director's chair in the middle of a court surrounded by tennis balls. In the center was written: 'To Rick, You're a real champ. Best wishes, Chris Evert Lloyd.' ('Real' was underlined.)
"I awoke from the coma that same day and have been fine ever since. To this day, the framed poster hangs front and center in my game room and has always been my most prized possession."
"He then hung up. I asked my mom about the call the next day. She said that she saw a guy sitting alone in a casino. He looked sad and lonely so she asked if he wanted to play poker with her. It turns out that the guy was Sam Querrey. After Querrey lost a few poker hands, he (jokingly) demanded that my mom let him speak with a member of her family (hence, the phone call to me).
"We ran into Querrey a few days later at the tournament in Key Biscayne and apologized for not watching his match that day. 'It's OK,' he said. 'If I were you, I'd watch Roddick's match instead of mine also. I'm boring. I don't even want to watch me. I'm garbage.'
"What a nice, self-deprecating, and humble guy. ... That same day, Dmitry Tursunov hung around and took pictures with fans after his match. He made small talk for a while and then asked, 'What do Roger Federer and a lemon have in common? Anyone? Anyone?' He left without giving an answer. Anyone have any idea what he was talking about?"
• Old rule: Your odds of having a submission published improve if you're from my hometown. With that in mind, here's one more player-encounter submission, from
"I met Stan Smith at a summer college tournament at Indiana University when he was watching his daughter. He is my first tennis memory, beating Ilie Nastase at Wimbledon when I was about 8 living in Scotland. I have lived in the States for about 20 years and still have an accent but can generally be understood by Americans. When I met him, I let my excitement get the better of me and rambled in a strong Glasgow brogue about adidas shoes, Wimbledon and who knows what else. He looked at me like I was from Mars but did smile a lot!"
• Thanks to Nick De Toustain for this tip: "Perhaps 'Bag readers may enjoy
• The Marcelo Rios book?
• A reader from New Zealand has an interesting story:
"I was hoping you might help with an[other] odd international situation. ... There is a young tennis player called Sacha Jones, who is currently ranked ~270 in the world. She's 21 and has been battling away in New Zealand since she was a kid. Looking at her game, she likely would have done better if her parents had packed her off to Florida or some other training camp elsewhere. They didn't, and they persevered with Tennis NZ for years and years.
"Now, it is no secret in New Zealand that Tennis NZ is thoroughly underfunded and, perhaps as a result, is a complete dog's breakfast of infighting, nepotism and favoritism. It has been since Belinda Cordwell, Kelley Evernden, Chris Lewis or possibly even since Tony Wilding. As far as I'm concerned, it's a miracle that Marina Erakovic has triumphed in the way that she has, but I credit that to her determined Kiwi/Croatian parents, and their insistence on her international coaching support (at what cost to their family in terms of money, we may never know).
"Anyway, Ms. Jones' father was born in Australia. And after working her tail off all these junior years for precious little help or development from NZ, at 21 (which most observers would say is a little late, but better late than never) Sacha has asserted her Australian citizenship through her father in order to progress to the next WTA step. Subsequently, in the down time between Christmas and New Year's when there's precious else to report on, the NZ press looks like it is going to go feral.
"Please, can you give Ms. Jones a little boost in your column? Better yet, an exposé of NZ domestic tennis. The strange dichotomy is that their current marquee events, the ASB Women's Open and Heineken Men's Open (both in January), are wonderful warmups for the Australian Open and have gone from strength-to-strength the last 10 years, but other than that who knows where the money goes. ... The development of NZ tennis juniors is a total joke and also very parochial.
"Look, I don't even know this girl. The closest I come to tennis (other than as a fan) is that my sister-in-law played top-tier club tennis in NZ for almost eight years but not since 2004 or so. I married her brother in 2006. (So that's my disclosure, if any). I'm seriously worried that this girl is going to get pasted in the NZ press, and that would not be her fault. It would be the fault of NZ tennis and its miserable hierarchy, infighting and provinciality. I will leave it entirely up to you to investigate this, insofar as you care, have time, are able to do so, etc. I would appreciate if you would withhold my name. NZ is only four million with one million living outside the country at any given time, which makes it even smaller."
• Donnay has released
• The great Molly Martin adds this to our year-end farewells: Gil de Kermadec (French Tennis Federation and director of classic tennis films) and former player
• New York readers: Gelf's free Varsity Letters sports reading series returns at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Manhattan's The Gallery at LPR. Mark Ribowsky, George Vecsey and Dave Zirin will read from and talk about their work.
• Mark Hodgkinson, fine longtime tennis writer and overall great guy, is starting up a tennis site,
• Zeljko Kuzmanovic of Novi Sad, Serbia: "I have to express my regret that someone managed to persuade you to
• Randy Burgess of Woodstock, N.Y.: "No question, just congrats to you (and the two bloggers you cited) on provocative but highly thoughtful coverage of Djokovic and politics vs. sports. Sensible rather than shrill, mature rather than myopic."
• Thanks to Hui-Min Tseng of Southampton (UK) for an interesting take from
• Dan B. of Baltimore has a non-tennis submission for long-lost siblings: Comedian