Sunday, 22 January 2012

I play tennis too...

I’m supposed to be writing, but I play tennis too.  The Australian Open is on, and with two Australians making the fourth round, there’s a bit to watch.

An old hero is back – Ivan Lendl is coaching Andy Murray.  Do you remember Ivan?  People said he was robotic and boring.  He hit the ball hard on both sides.   Fantastic.  I caught a glimpse from the entry to a packed Margaret Court Arena, and saw him strike a forehand.  The ball boomed through the air before topspin took hold and the fluffy green ball dove for the baseline.  He won three consecutive US Open finals and played in eight consecutive US Open finals.  He trained obsessively day after day.  Every hour of his professional life was scripted, from the hours spent on physical training, to practice, to what he ate.  Despite not being the most gifted tennis player, through his physical and mental regime, he remains third in number of tournaments won.

Lendl leads me to think of the scruffy Miroslav Mecir, nicknamed ‘The Big Cat’ because of his court movement, and the ‘Swede Killer’ because he kept beating the endless array of Swedes that followed Bjorn Borg.  At University, with an unshaven look, one of my tennis playing friends honoured me with the nickname ‘The Big Cat’, unfortunately, not because I could play like Mecir.  Have a look on youtube.  He was deft, loving the angles on the court, and balls seemed to accelerate away from his racquet.  Impossible, but it comes from the timing and the effortlessness of the shots.  His talent was inspiring when it was on display.  He won Gold in the Seoul Olympics.

And then youtube sucks you in.  You can watch Rosewall playing Laver.  If you’re my age, or younger, you probably haven’t seen either of them play much.  I saw Rosewall play on grass at Kooyong when he was about 40 years of age, sliding backhands down the line and volleys finding corners of the court.  There’s an argument for Rosewall being the best player ever, but his peak occurred when he played professional tennis and was ineligible to play in the Grand Slams.  He had the most wonderful slice backhand.

I still remember when Madeleine, my first daughter, played an outstanding backhand in competition.  She served out wide to a boy’s forehand, he scrabbled it back to the middle of the court, and she leaned into her double-handed backhand and banged it to the other side of the court.  The boy had no chance.  I can’t play that shot.

John Newcombe is commentating now on the Nadal / Lopez match.  He spoke of how Tony Roche coaches children, and asks them to hit balls as hard as they can into the corner.  They hit them well for the first four or five shots and then slip away in standard.  Tony stops them and says, Rafa practices that shot one hundred times.

I didn’t have a playing or practice partner in my late teens, so I trudged to the tennis courts, alone, with a bucket of balls and a target to position in the backhand corner of each service box.  To this day, I can serve to your backhand every time.  If I had practiced serving to the other side I might manufacture an ace or two.  Still, the logic remains sound – at my level – the backhand is always weaker.

At Rod Laver’s level too.  He sported a set of left arm much larger than his right, used to whip his topspin forehand around the court.  For a right-hander, that forehand springs up and away from your backhand, a very uncomfortable position.  Much practice builds up muscles, and there’s the parallel with writing – it too is about practice, and the more you write, the stronger your writing muscle.

So it’s ok to take a break from writing, to learn lessons from other activities.  Just as well, because one of my highlights of 2011 was the tennis tournament at Kerang with the family.  Four days and fourteen matches left me a broken but happy man, and I played doubles with Shelley and Madeleine, and with Siena in her first ever competitive match.  Siena has now played a full season of competitive tennis - undefeated in seven singles matches!  I can’t wait to get back to Kerang in 2012 and I might start training soon.

Meanwhile, I’d best get back to writing.  The leaders of my favourite sport demonstrate the commitment required to get to the top.  If you want to sell a million copies and reap the rewards, the lessons are there.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Siena's bored at Venus Bay.

‘I’m bored.’

If you’re a parent, you’ve heard those words a few times.

‘Name ten things that aren’t boring.’  Ditto.

‘You could go for a swim.’  There are thirty or more kilometres of sand on the Venus Bay beach.  The water temperature is fine in summer.  One time my heart nearly stopped when a fin went past, but it was a seal, and it surfed a wave or two with me, then took off.  A penguin popped up one time too.  Crabs are plentiful, along with the odd bit of a seaweed.  A nipper got my toe the other day, but he was there first.  A wave carried me away.


‘You could take the dog for a walk up the lookout.’  Anderson’s Inlet stretches away in front of the lookout.  Kangaroos are always visible.  The rule is, ‘A kiss for the first person to see a kangaroo.’  Somebody always scores a kiss within thirty seconds, although they can be tricky to spot.  Their brown fur camouflages them against the flood plain the Tarwin River runs through.  The dog likes to run through puddles on the way.


‘How about a game of shuttle-cock?’  There’s no breeze today.  It’s the calm before the storm.  The grass out back is soft underfoot.  Perfect conditions for shuttle-cock, although we’re not allowed to damage the two flowering gums struggling for life by the back fence.  If ever they take off and flower, the kangaroo paws will breathe a sigh of relief.  The wattyl birds sit on the flower stems and poke their beaks in the flowers.  The stems move from side to side with the weight.


‘Why don’t you go for a ride?’  We’ve a few old bikes in the garage, picked up over the years.  The roads are unsurfaced, although every so often we get asked by the council if we would vote, and pay, for road surfacing.  We like the country feel of the gravel roads, although they get a bit dusty in summer.  It’s a small price to pay.  Last year Maddie and I rode through the reserve to the beach and then along the sand.  The sand was soft and we had to push from time to time.


‘Would you like to play a game of cards?’  There’s a full arsenal of games and card decks at the house.  I’m leading Shelley two-nil this weekend in Spite and Malice, a rare occurrence.  We can play Uno, Spit, Fish, even Twenty-One with the gambling chips my mother-in-law bought for us.  Some days, back when my father-in-law was alive, we’d start playing Canasta after breakfast, stop for lunch, and get back into it as soon as the dishes were cleared.  ‘Are you heavy, love?’ he’d ask, before finishing the hand.  It won’t be long before both girls are ready to play Canasta.

‘Boring.  And you cheat.’  How would a ten year old know?

‘Read a book.’  We had friends come to stay last weekend.  They forgot to bring books, but we have a few on the bookshelf.  They came with the first house, purchased seventeen years ago.  That house is gone now, knocked down seven years ago when we realised it was too small for four people, let alone having friends stay.  We built a modern house with a dishwasher.  The kids don’t have to wash the dishes.  We can laze around and read books, and often do.

‘Boring.’  Not quite true.  She often reads for hours.

‘Do you want to play tennis?’  We’re members of the Tarwin Lower tennis club, about ten kilometres away.  We can be on the courts in ten minutes, and sometimes we’re there every day.  The dog comes with us and gets tied to the net post, and watches the balls go back and forth.  The four of us can play a decent game of doubles now, and it won’t be long before they’re taking Shelley and me on, and beating us.

‘Boring.  Why can’t I play on my 3DS?’