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Australia opens

WRECKORDER - FGS Gujilde (The Freeman) - February 11, 2021 - 12:00am

This is about the first grand slam of tennis down under. There is nothing wrong with the title. It tells something is amiss about the live crowd watching the Australian Open.

It’s not because courts are not filled to the rafters, it is expected of the first week of action when top seeds merely warm up for the more exacting round of sixteen and beyond. Four famous women of color are safely through, Coco Gauff, Naomi Osaka and the Williams sisters with different self-imposed missions. Serena started hers, to equal the all-time record of Margaret Court. But Venus already accomplished hers, to avert her recent habit of first round exits.

But two former champions cooled down and out, Viktoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber. Veteran campaigner Sorana Cirstea floored Petra Kvitova. Crafty Su-Wei Hsieh tamed rusty Bianca Andreescu. These women left the elite company of homegrown top seed Ashleigh Barty, defending champion Sofia Kenin and multiple slam winners Garbiñe Muguruza and Simona Halep. Meanwhile, the best woman without a slam lurks, Karolina Pliskova. And of course Osaka who could be the next Serena and the original but ageing Serena who threatens despite a four-year title drought.

It is because curiously, while players observe strict health protocols, no one in the audience masks while seated next to each other, screaming and spewing droplets while rooting for their bets. Especially when they reacted to Stefanos Tsitsipas for struggling to say the right words to describe his lopsided first round win.

Thankfully, there is Jim the Courier to the rescue, a former slam champion who reinvented his court brilliance to interview par excellence. The guy is witty and funny, speaks with clarity, asks the right questions, and settles down disoriented winners to courier better answers.

But on play Rafael Nadal didn’t have to better his usual best, he handily won the first round. Not favored to win though, the king of clay always struggles in the first grand slam of the year where he is least successful, winning only once out of five finals appearances. More so now against younger and hungrier players, Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev who eased through their first round matches in three sets.

Then there is a guy named Novak Djokovic who guns for a record-extending ninth crown to strengthen his claim to hard court supremacy over Rafael Nadal who owns clay and Roger Federer who eats grass for breakfast. But the Swiss maestro opted not to protect his shared billing for the most number of slams with Nadal to protect his family. Who would not, he has two sets of twins he will never trade for anything. Or maybe he does not expect Rafa to win and stick with him in number twenty. Let Novak win, he would still be a couple of slams away anyway.

But again, somebody please explain why the fans down under behave the way they do. No masks, no distance. Living the old normal in the new normal. They must feel isolated from the world they open up Australia to corona. Or are we the last to know they have been vaccinated? We are always the last, you know. Even this fact we still don’t know. If we do, we act like we never knew. That is why we never grow.

TENNIS
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