…the greyness of this Saturday morning.
The cold and wet feels somehow appropriate, following the carnage of last night in our city. Such madness has no easy explanation and the city collectively ‘stood still’ to absorb and process.
And then carries on, as it must, with ‘life as usual’
although of course for many, that will never be.
“Come to the tennis Mum”
“It will be long.”
And so I did and it was…
Cool and wet, we park at Gardiner, a newly renovated train station with some interesting artwork (although the renovation leaves some question marks). As always a train ride into the city is an adventure. This time, most passengers are on their way to the tennis; hats, backpacks, suncream, umbrellas, jackets (this is Melbourne after all 🙂 and the excitement and anticipation is tangible.
Flinders Station is always a lovely spot to alight and as we emerge from the ‘old lady’ we are greeted with a city ‘on fire’ – people everywhere, buskers, beggars, tourists, locals, volunteers in highly visible blue uniforms, police, cyclists, horse carriages, families, : just ‘Life’.
A wander down Birrarrung Way reveals a wonderland of games, buskers, views, people. The girls keep chasing me cause I want to dawdle and sample and savour this space.
We stand in line waiting for the gates to open to allow us into the tennis precinct. ‘Friends’ whom we have never met before share thoughts on the weather, yesterday’s tragedy, the tennis, our favourite player, what tickets we have; some have Rod Laver and/or Margaret Court tickets (fancy tickets); some – (that’s us), have Ground Passes (unfancy 🙂 We banter and joke and enjoy a coffee from a ‘walking kettle’ – a Lavazza man who carries some contraption on his back that pours out hot water, like a they would siphon soda into your glass in a pub.
The gates open.
And with that, the clouds, wind and drizzle fade and Melbourne produces a perfect day.
With our ground passes we can visit all the outside courts and the Hisense Arena.
We do. Although we could in fact spend 8 hours here and not watch a single game of tennis, there is so much else to see and do. We can test our serve speed; have a massage; get our nails done; buy a whole new wardrobe; or a new car, a Rolex watch; we can have a coffee ($5+ or a beer $10); visit any number of ‘countries’ to eat, or just sit and people watch. My favourite. There is also a Huge section for younger people, fields of Lego, climbing equipment, tennis games – I didn’t have time to explore 😦
But we do watch tennis, lots of it.
We see Jennifer Brady play a Russian lady (is it just me that has trouble with their names? They are long, all similar and the women too, are long, similar, (blonde and gorgeous) and vocal.) We sit at outside courts, we watch singles, doubles, fun doubles and more singles indoors at Hisense Arena.
And then there’s ROGER FEDERER.
I hear he is practising at 3.30pm on Court 17. So at 2pm I find court 17 and at least two hundred people already waiting to see him. I am so lucky that a couple right up at the glass backing of the court, invite me to squeeze in with them. And squeeze I do. We are like sardines in a tin. We were also friends, although none of us have met before. Our admiration for Roger makes us instant comrades and the hour and a half passes pleasantly as we share memories, matches, stories (some of my new friends have been standing here since 12 noon waiting – they saw Andy Murray come and go, a Russian lady with a long name, and some others whose names I have forgotten.) Some have tickets for the full two weeks. Some know every player, (almost), their stats, their history, their parents, favourite colour, meal, you name it, they know it!!!!
Two very large young men dressed in heavy blue clothes (it is a very hot day now) arrive on court and we know the ‘time is near’. Photographers arrive, TV crews are here with all their paraphernalia and then Roger himself.
Carrying a small tennis bag talking to his coach. His is accompanied by one other person, Seppi and Seppi’s coach (who has a smile like an elf which doesn’t leave his face all afternoon). They all ‘hang around the net’ and chat amiably, clearly old friends and finally move onto the court. He is larger and more powerful than he appears on TV.
It is not possible to describe the grace, fluidity and elegance of his game. He practised serves, – lots of them; then backhands, – lots of them; then volley’s. Yes you get the idea, lots of them too. He and Seppi trade shots, laugh, talk and continue to play. And then quite suddenly they stop, sit down, have a drink, chat some more and then Roger moves across to the fans.
He signs balls, he signs hats, he signs paper, arms, t shirts, hands. He smiles for photographs, he spends more time with his fans than he did practising. With the same grace, fluidity and elegance. He is a most unusual man.
And then he is gone and we look at one another, smile and sigh; content. We swap numbers and promise to share our photographs and now we all go our separate ways. I have new friends whom I will in all probability never meet again, but am linked to forever by this special time.
The rest of the day is spent in the cool of Hisense Arena. Hingis in doubles. Henri Leconte and his friends, including the ball boys in a delightful interlude – not sure who actually won that. And Milos Raonic/Gille Simon. Raonic wins and we leave the arena and walk out to a perfect evening.
The skyline silhouetted against the last rays of what has been a glorious day. We wander back to the station and home.
To watch more tennis on free to air TV.
I love my city.