An ode to my obsession.
I studied various styles of theatre during my years as a diligent drama student, but these days I only seem to care about the type that takes place on a court, 78 feet long and 36 feet wide. A court that shifts from synthetic layers on top of an asphalt foundation, to slippery green grass and dirty red clay. Indoor, outdoor, fast, slow.
When I was growing up my fever for tennis would come around every January. Nearing the end of the summer holidays, I would lie on the couch during a hot day, a fan blowing on my face, dozing in and out of sleep to the sounds of the Australian Open. Occasionally I would follow the other tournaments, mainly when there was an Australian in the final. I specifically remember the time we got up in the early hours of the morning to watch Pat Rafter win the US Open. Tennis was there for me every summer, and that was about it.
It wasn’t until 2009 that it became more than a passing summer interest. I can pin-point the moment it transformed for me – that final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. This was a memorable, blistering five set match, and when it was over I understood it all. I understood the greatness of tennis. I followed all the other slams that year and in 2010 I attended my first Australian Open. I haven’t missed a tournament since. I follow everything on the ATP and WTA tour. I’m completely and utterly addicted.
Attending my first live match changed everything. Watching it on TV is one experience; being there is truly electrifying. The goose bump inducing silence during the ball toss and the point followed by the crescendo of the crowd is pure magic. Any moment can be the one that shifts the entire outcome of the match. But then the past becomes the past, so quickly, and we – the players and the crowd – have to move on: we look forward, because tennis always provides a chance for someone to turn it around, and when that happens it’s magnificent. I come for the rallies but I stay for the drama. I’m obsessed with the stomach flips, with the edge-of-your seat tension.
The players fascinate me during the change of ends – their faces magnified on screen for minutes capturing the emotion of the moment. Tennis allows an incredibly intimate experience of the characters on the stage. I love the personality quirks, ticks and flaws; when they’re real, and when they let go.
Sometimes the umpire becomes a lead character in the performance; sometimes the players have monologues between every point. Sometimes there are dramatic scenes involving their team, either a desperate look for answers or a place to fuel their frustrations. It’s a drama in two, three, four or five acts, and every character has a role to play, in the great big theatre of tennis.
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Last year I attended the US Open in New York, my first Grand Slam outside of Australia. I have dreams of attending Wimbledon and Roland Garros, maybe even chasing the European clay court swing and attending the prestigious Queens Club tournament. It’s going to happen one day; there’s no doubt about it. For now, it’s me and my sports channel subscription, staying up late or getting up at strange hours of the morning as I wait for the Australian summer of tennis.
I have turned from observer to participant, started taking tennis lessons a couple of years ago at Prince Alfred Park. I see a coach every week, I have special Nike tennis shoes, and a fancy pants Babolat racquet which I had tailored to my needs after lots of research. I cherish that racquet; it makes me feel like Li Na (she used the same one) and I love making powerful shots with it.
This weekend, I’m playing in the Club Championships at my tennis club, the first time I’ve played a competitive tennis match since high school. I’ve been working on achieving topspin with my forehand and hitting the ball deep in the court. My serves are still inconsistent, but I’m getting there and as long as I don’t rush I can hit a mean backhand. I reckon my volleys are top notch but I still haven’t nailed the backhand slice. This is the sort of analysis that occupies me now.
Like theatre, tennis can feel like magic. I see myself playing this sport until I’m a little old lady, and I plan to be attending the Australian Open for just as long. Tennis has me in its grasp and I hope it never lets go.
Catherine Kelleher is Catcall, and a writer, director and producer. She is a contributor at New Albion.