Best laid plans

Best laid plans
Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

An early morning flight. Easy. I packed first, so I could spend the day at the tennis, pop out for a drink or two then get several hours sleep, up at five, walk to the skybus and airport before 6. No problem.

Cones and signs in place for the festival
Big Day Out (tomorrow, but still).

And there was no problem, just that I reverted to teenage years and turned two drinks into, um, I don’t know, 6? And half a bottle of wine? And forwent the sleep in favour of rolling into my room after 4, grabbing my stuff, packing the last bits in the corridor and going from there. I can, though, recommend Silgo bar in Melbourne for an atmospheric after hours drink with a view of parliament. Which I hadn’t seen – last minutes in Melbourne bonus=score.

It worked. The flight was delayed an hour which became an hour and a half before it landed, which gave me time to develop and travel the whole way with a hangover. I still enjoyed the huge Airbus A380, but had to sleep before I could watch one of the films. Going through customs with a hangover is okay, but I wish it hadn’t taken as long. If I’d been more awake I might have talked to the obviously British, obviously a band group of 4 that were next to me in line when the snaking queue aligned the right way. There were members of another band somewhere further along – them I identified not by instruments and wacky hair but the self-conscious and over-loud noise of someone who wanted everyone to know he got paid okay for his last gig.

A mural on a wall; man in a shirt with orange quiff, and a speech bubble
Grumpy graffiti.

Eventually I could get the airbus, which pushed air rather than flying through it, but dropped me handily, half a mile from my hostel in Mount Eden. The temperature is glorious – after Melbourne’s heat, 20c is lovely. The only problem is that walking in it around 6pm, I really wanted to run. At least the desire hasn’t gone, but I’m still resting an injury (parkrun is exempt).

I found trousers in K Mart, talked to German roommates who were convinced the whole of Germany is in Australia and New Zealand – not my experience, though this hostel is half German – and was asleep by 9.30. New country!

Strewth, mate

Strewth, mate
Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne, Australia

When I’m hot, it’s hard to imagine being more hot. Monday was hot. As the sun climbed, I was glad I’d spent the first hour in the shade, and decided to move after a few hours watching tennis in bright sunshine, hat and sunglasses on, topping up on sun cream as time went by.

Group of ball boys and girls and a champion. One ball girl the spitting image of Jessica Ennis.
Results board – what was Jessica Ennis doing there?

Tuesday was more hot. So much more hot. The temperature climbs through the day, but even early morning was obviously warmer. I was out by 9 again, picking up a parcel from the post office and food at the supermarket and it was as warm as a British heat wave. At the tennis before 10.15, I had my pick of courts and chose the being-renovated-but-nearly-finished Margaret Court Arena (she had the most wins in the open era, equally by Serena Williams in the second round). They’ve finished the inside of stadium, largely, just a few tiers of empty concrete awaiting seats at the top. I don’t think the roof has been added, but tuesday was officially not humid enough for rooves to be closed in any case.

I stayed there all day, 3 rounds of women’s singles followed by the highest seed I could see on the outer courts, Del Potro (5) to go along with Jankovic (8). I was going to call it a day at that point, but talking to an American suggested that Monfils is the great entertainer, so I stayed for his match. It was scheduled for ‘not earlier than 7’, but Del Potro had a battle with Rhyne Williams so it was late, though Del Potro obligingly rounded it off by 7.15 after losing the first set. Monfils obviously had Harrison in his pocked after the first two sets, 6-4, 6-4 and I left before he took the third by the same score. Some comedy with a crying baby and a couple of trick shots, but it was still hot so his role as clown was switched off to conserve energy.

People enjoying shade on the concourse behind a show court
Show court to the right, people wander in the heat.

I picked a seat that stayed shady all day, but it was so hot I can’t imagine how they played with sun beating down on them. There was quite a breeze during the day, but it was like a hair dryer blowing into the face. Phenomenal. The evening seemed warmer, though I think it was just more still, just when a breeze might have made a difference.

In the evening I was home in time to talk to my roommates. One was a Brisbaneite at his eighth open and a decent club player, the other an Austrian traveller, a tennis coach back home, there for the tennis. He showed how careful you have to be if paying the extra for seated arena passes – the men’s draw has ended up with more ‘big names’ on one day than the other, he had a ticket for Rod Laver on Wednesday evening but would only get Ferrer or Djokovic, potentially. In the end his session was an Aussie special, Stosur followed by Ebden. Hmm. He decided to pick up a day pass too, and see some doubles and Austrians. I was done by the heat, not getting in till after 12, and happily wandering the back courts to see what was going on, picking up some crucial points then moving on. So hot – as I wafted around, watching odd points, the whole thing felt a bit less intense. I don’t know if it was really the case, but I was certainly noticing the spectators who were also wandering listlessly – as well as the one who keeled over at the top of some stairs and received treatment from the St Johns ambulance. The players, too, seemed not quite on it. Trying as much as they could, but for some that involved not too much effort, then a dash to shade, even a lie down on a damp towel for a Thai player. There was much more cloud cover than tuesday, which was a relief, but in sunny periods I found it unbearable and opted to watch from the shady patches to the side. Of a court had no shady patches, I didn’t watch. Show court 2 has a decent view from under the shade of the Rod Laver arena-not on court, on the concourse-and that was my favourite, other than catching up with Tursonov, exiled to an outer court against the Uzbek, Istomin. If he goes through I can’t see how they’ll keep him from a better court; he’ll probably complain about the noise if there are more than a couple of hundred there.

On my way out I passed the member’s enclosure and should have recorded the nois e -extraordinary, like an Aussie parody. I couldn’t hear any words, just a broad twang and great volume. Nice end to my open experience. It’s a great event, day 3 noticeably quieter thanks to there being 22 courts – nothing like the excitement of having every court in use on a reasonably warm day that doesn’t impede players from charging down shots. There are picnic tables, bars with big screens, occasional bands, and areas for fans to go and hit a ball. Plus there’s a big screen in the city, 10 minutes walk away from the event, but right next to Flinders Street station. I can’t imagine Wimbledon quite has the space to be quite as grand, I’d be interested to know what the relevant attendances are-certainly the Australian open claims to be the biggest spectator sport event around, though there’s a cycle race in Adelaide that gets over 700,000 that counter-claims, though that must be without that audience paying. I think they’d also have to add an ‘annual’ caveat; surely the Olympics got a bigger audience, almost just from the main stadium alone.

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