All I see is blue when I close my eyes on the number 1 tram home. Plexicushion blue, the colour of the surface of the tennis courts at the Australian Open. According to something I read just then, in a hastily opened search window, Plexicushion Prestige has served as the official surface for all courts at the Australian Open since 2008, when it superseded the old Rebound Ace.
In 2009 I watched the Australian Open while heavily pregnant, and for part of my 26 hour labour. I can’t remember who played in that final match I saw – it was an epic women’s quarter or semi. I can’t remember the Plexicushion, but that was because the television set I had was a black and white portable TV, the kind you have on a boat (I guess); I’d borrowed it from a friend, who’d borrowed it from her dad.
Today I was at Day 3 of the 2017 Australian Open with the same child who joined me during the heat wave of 2009. I can’t remember who won that tournament, though it would be easy enough to look up and probable enough to guess it was Federer (or Nadal?) in the Mens and Sharapova (or Williams?) in the Womens. I also took my son to Day 1 a couple of days ago, and explained the basics of the game while sitting at Court 12, where we watched a classy American woman, Alison Riske, beat her compatriot Madison Brengle. Today we watched Riske play again in an arm wrestle against the higher-ranked, but less mannered player from China, Shuai Zhang – who went in as crowd favourite. The first set went to a 9/7 tie break and took over an hour to complete. We left Show Court 3 and looked for a hot dog, only to return to court to find seats nearly impossible to come by. It was suddenly the hottest match of the morning session. Or so I believed, when I showed the live score on my phone to a lady in line behind me, who wailed charmingly, ‘why is it so hard to be at the right place at the right time!’
Against the advice of the seating attendants my son and I managed to find seats again. Better seats. Ripper seats, just at the boundary, to the left of the umpire’s seat. My son fidgeted with a sock that was suddenly troubling him, eventually annoying the woman seated to his left enough to make her change places. I realised later she was Riske’s coach.
I liked the Nabokovian names of the players today: Riske, Isner, Lacko, Dudi, Sock.
I’ve never been happier than at the tennis today, my son and I sitting quietly, like gentlemen, applauding rallies and whispering ‘out’, or ‘in’, when Zhang challenged. Three hours and a ball, and the blue Plexicushion. And a small stadium in silence. My heart set to buzz in the final game and I was as excited as the kids I joined at the boundary, holding my sharpie and autograph pad. Alison came to me first. ‘Thanks for coming to watch’, she smiled. ‘I love how you fight’, I answered.
Someone – a ‘sports mad’ old man, to use the lingo, once told me that tennis was less interesting than watching paint dry.
Tennis has no time limit. The question: ‘when does the match end?’ makes no sense. Tennis just goes on and on. What is a better question? Why is it so hard to be at the right place at the right time?
A serve is a question, sometimes a rhetorical question. A rally is of course a battle, but it is also a mindless conversation, two birds in song.
Birdsong is not pretty to the birds who sing it: song is aggressive claiming of territory.
Australia is home to the world’s loudest and most varied song birds. It is believed that song birds originated in Australia. It is believed that human song developed in mimicry of birds.
Dudi Sela is from Israel. His fans wore the Star of David and sang his name between points.
A rally is also two shots in the dark. All you really see is the flare.
A rally is a conversation: ideally a oneupmanship, the win that makes the loser better each time. A rally shatters the players’ hours of loneliness. A rally is a reckoning.
Tennis is lonely. When the players change ends, they nearly touch by the umpire’s chair. They nearly smile. All they have is each other.
Tennis is quiet. But actually this means that all noise is simply heightened: each rustle and remark amplified around the court.
To play is to focus, but to watch is to be immersed in distraction. A bird slings by just before serve and is nearly hit by the receiver.
A racquet needs to maintain a certain tension.
A return is a consequence, a conditional answer. A return is a territorial swoop.
I watched the neighbourhood wash by as we trammed north. I closed my eyes and saw Plexicushion blue. More blue. A thought crossed my mind. More blue.