Sport Tennis ‘Off my face’ at the Open, a fortnight of excess
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‘Off my face’ at the Open, a fortnight of excess

Andy Murray'
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It’s over for another year, and without being blasphemous and risking eternal damnation, thank God.

I’m sure whatever branded headband God wears, he or she was among the celebrities and corporates at both finals.

I watched it on the tele and I’m sick of Michael Chang telling me it’s “your game our way” on behalf of a bank that’s pandering to the north Asian market.

I’m also sick of Hamish McLachlan’s “much ado about nothings”. Surely networks can pay commentators to say something of substance.

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But I do love Craig Willis’ tonsils.

They’re wasted on tennis. Get a London West End job, Craig. If the Open’s any indication, you’re the Larry Olivier of courtside announcing.

Imagine Ozzie Craig doing Lear or Henry IV, or even a Righteous Brothers’ medley in Vegas? That’s cause for the nasal-toned national chant: “Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie, annoy, annoy, annoy.”

In an Open in which the same old mediocrity high-fived their way around the court, old golden tonsils Willis was a star and the rest just soap opera.

The lead role was played by Novak. As Aussies, we have a bit of trouble getting our tongues around his surname. One commentator has frequently called him ‘Joekovich’, so it’s safe to stick with the more pronounceable Novak.

Murray had to make do with Bruce 'off my face' McAvaney. Photo: Getty
Murray had to make do with Bruce ‘off my face’ McAvaney. Photo: Getty

After you watch this bloke for long enough you can’t help feeling it’s a sport for prima donnas.

Friday Djokovic was on the ropes. By the end of the match he was off them and pocketing a bucket load of money for playing five sets of tennis that most of us can only dream about.

Then there was the final. At the other end of the court was “Andy”, a dour and seemingly unmarketable Scott.

After the squeaky clean Fed – more a brand than a person – and Rafa, who seems the most likeable of the lot but hasn’t quite mastered the language of the market, Andy and Novak just don’t seem worth the trouble of a $300-plus ticket to the final – five sets or not.

Prima donna? Novak Djokovic repeatedly came back from adversity to taste success. Photo: Getty
Prima donna? Novak Djokovic repeatedly came back from adversity to taste success. Photo: Getty

Novak won in four, stripped off and threw the sponsors’ products to the faithful. Andy kept his clothes on and waited for old golden tonsils and the presentation.

He, like the rest of us, was disappointed. It was Craig’s night off.

Then you’ve got the women.

Surely Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams could manage best of five sets. Photo: Getty
Surely Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams could manage best of five sets. Photo: Getty

They play half the time for the same money. That’s not equity but a rip-off.

Williams and Sharapova are quite capable of playing the best of five sets. If the rest can’t, then get out of the game.

It’s time the women manned-up. If the mug punter’s paying at a minimum a lazy $300 for a seat at a Slam final, then it’s the organisers’ and players’ responsibility to give them value for money.

The 1990s was the decade of the two-set routs. From 1989 until 2012 only two Oz Open women’s finals went into the third set.

It’s evened-up a fraction since 2000. But if you’re paying good money, you don’t want Williams’ 6-1 6-2 thrashing of Sharapova in 2007, or her 6-0 6-3 mugging of Safina in 2009.

At its best, women’s tennis is better than men’s. The women don’t rely on power so there’s more subtlety and guile. If they play five sets they’ll outdo the blokes in the tennis market.

Let’s face it, since Jacob’s Creek got rid of Andre’s musings on life, death and pecuniary interest, the Open’s never been the same. Maybe we can get him back here for one last on-court bow in the Wimbledon wig, if, of course, the wind is blowing from the right quarter.

The 'Kok', Thanasi Kokkinakis, has caught the horizontal habit. Photo: Getty
The ‘Kok’, Thanasi Kokkinakis, has caught the horizontal habit. Photo: Getty

Then there were the Aussies. Stosur and Dellacqua crashed early, but the boys kicked on.

There was the Tomic show, always entertaining and he’s good for a quip, and the new kid on the block, Nick Kyrgios. He’s got the game, the haircut and the attitude, and nation hopes the kid can pull off a slam.

After trouncing the kid, however, the dour Murray let slip Kyrgios has only won a solitary tour match outside a Slam. (Two, actually.) Surely not!

The kid’s got good management – none other than IMG – and enough forgivable racquet-breaking grunge to pocket a packet from sponsors over the next 10 years. He knocked off Nadal at Wimbledon, but Murray was just too classy.

Kenny Rogers hanging with Evonne Goolagong Cawley. Photo: Getty
Kenny Rogers hanging with Evonne Goolagong Cawley. Photo: Getty

The highlight was Thanasi Kokkinakis’ lap of honour after knocking out Ernests Gulbis. As Gulbis waited at the net Kokkinakis lay flat on his back looking to the heavens. There’s been a lot of that lately in Australian sport and ‘the Kok’s’ caught the habit.

Then there was his high-five lap of honour, the headlines and the media beat-up.

By mid-week he was gone, defeated by our own Sam Groth, apparently the fastest serve on the planet.

By the end of the week, he too was gone, obviously beaten by the best return of serve this side of Uranus, and by Australia Day so too was Kyrigios.

For more than two weeks commentators seemingly competed for the most lasting one-liner since Nike apparently appropriated Gary Gilmore’s ‘just do it’ for its slogan. Gilmore (the American criminal, not the Australian cricketer) was strapped awaiting execution at the time, but the commercial imperative won out in end.

Bruce McAvaney pulled it off. The doyen of the inconsequential statistic briefly morphed into Hunter S Thompson during a close match and started talking about fans being ‘off-their-face’.

As I passed the Keith Urban tent last week to the sounds of Boom Crash Opera and ‘Daryl’ singing The Horses, I thought of Thompson’s report on the 1970 Kentucky Derby. Like Thompson, I was at the Park to watch ‘the beasts’ – the human ones – and find out what made the “atavistic culture” of the Open click.

Despite the drama of Novak’s on-court collapses, Andy’s endless tortured looks, and Serena’s latest burst of humanity, I probably should have stayed in a pool at a pub with a cocktail, and made the whole thing up.

A quick glance of any media website offered the Surreal Housewives of Melbourne, a couple of local tattooed footballers, a few fly-in-fly-out Hollywood types, and Kenny ‘Coward of the County’ Rodgers.

It was my ‘off-my-face’ moment.

The Open’s the best example of atavism we’ve got on the sporting calendar. Can’t wait till it hits town next year to see what it serves up in the celebs’ tent.

Dr Tom Heenan writes on sport and teaches sports studies at Monash University

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