As a nation awaits tonight’s men’s final showdown – a slow centre court seems a million miles away from derailing a tennis championship that has had everything, and where even the commentator’s are getting frisky!
The longer the Australian Open goes and bring us the most sustained, exhilarating and nail biting tennis in a grand slam tournament that I can remember, the more the Seven network and TV rights holders around the world should get down on bended knees and kiss the Rebound Ace surface on Rod Laver Arena.
How ironic that a centre court so conclusively trashed by Lleyton Hewitt and others in the Australian tennis mafia even before the Open started, has hosted so many epic contests that have truly tested the talent and nerves of the world’s best players who have shown just how finely tuned they are to this 100th Open anniversary event.
To be able to savor watching the top four men’s seeds going head to head in a grand slam for the first time since Wimbledon in 1995, is to see the cream rise to the top on a surface that while it might make it tougher for Hewitt, has done world tennis a huge favor for delivering the best major I can remember. Where the women’s tennis in recent days has also seen the competitive juices being brought to the boil by not just the weather, but a centre court that puts a premium on delivering a brand of stellar tennis we usually only dream about, but now being delivered in such sustained quantity and game turning thrills – it’s no wonder the country is following the Seven TV coverage in record numbers.
This also means that in the court of public opinion the Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee stands totally vindicated by the way the championship has unfolded regardless of its remaining finals’ denouements. Now as we head towards the final match where the shock exit of Roger Federer has added the most unexpected twist yet to the men’s championship, just how many more tantalizing tweaks does this Open script have in its finals’ storyline?
Epic series of nail biting matches rules Hewitt court speed attacks out of court!
The argument was a relatively simple one but is now ruled to be way out of court! Our best male tennis player Lleyton Hewitt, and with the support of other Australian players past and present, believed the centre court at Melbourne Park’s Rod Laver Arena was too slow – way too slow.
But Australian Open boss Paul McNamee declared he’s very happy knowing he is trying to appeal to a wider constituency than Hewitt and his alarmist retinue. His mission was to provide a compromise of sorts where the Open showpiece court can claim to be the United Nations of centre courts. Neither too fast and slam bang like the US Open; the interminable sliding baseline rallies of Roland Garos; or the favored serve and volley of grass at Wimbledon. McNamee would like to think his Open offers a court for all seasons and all comers, albeit baked under a very hot sun.
If the Seven Network was handing out gongs in recognition of the Herculean efforts daily unfolding in its compelling coverage of the tennis titans playing a brand of tennis more familiar to the tennis gods than us mere mortals it would have little difficulty identifying the most unsung hero of this Open., even more than the likes of Hewitt and Alicia Molik who have been keeping the Australian flag flying higher this year than we have been accustomed to since the gods turned their back on Australia’s, it’s that much debated centre surface that must be saying “what about me”?
Yes Hewitt and Rafter do have a right to argue the court could be faster and more conductive to local players than it has hitherto been, but McNamee has made no secret that his brief is to provide a competitive court that doesn’t unfairly penalize players by being an extreme of one kind of court or another. Rebound Ace from its original birth was designed as supposedly the one grand slam surface that would have enough characteristics to reward all good players, but most importantly not unfairly penalize some. It was never meant to be super fast and certainly not a dream surface for players who think the coming to the net is something you only do at a café!
Yet after watching day after day of players rising to the occasion as they battle the elements of oppressive heat and each other to produce a slew of games of the highest standard, what’s not to like about the courts that are helping deliver such monumentally riveting contests and many five set last man standing affairs. Even the women have been turning on some classic three set “get outta town” mandates to ensure the words “women’s tennis” and “boring” can’t be connected as they have in the past by this writer.
So the overwhelming evidence suggests McNamee has overseen a centre court particularly that not only tells the best players of all nations that the Australian Open is a level playing field (sic) – and the Hewitt chorus needs to change its tune when for the first time in a grand slam since 1997 we have had the privilege of being able to enjoy the top four men’s seeds playing off for one of the season’s great prizes. No promoter, TV rights holder or sensible tennis fan could wish for more.
But if there is one glaring area that is having far too much impact and needs to be massively addressed before 2006 – whatever system is in place to provide the linespeople calling the shots, it’s delivering too many incapable of handing the job. Some games are turning on demonstrably bad calls and there’s been far too many of them. The players deserve much better otherwise perhaps the Open should be sponsored by OPSM!