The 2014 Australian Open Men’s Draw, and Vacation Planning.
As those close to me already know, despite feigning indifference to the world of tennis for some months now—mostly in the form of not writing about it, and by canceling the Tennis Channel in a fit of futile protest against the nefarious skimming price-structure of the Comcast Corporation— I have actually been busy scheming to get myself to the 2014 Australian Open. All that’s left now is to put a final coat of paint on my Balsa wood raft, print out a PDF of the Google Maps version of the Pacific Ocean, and pack some snacks. Oh, and copies of the tournament draws will be useful, too. In case I need a focus for my travel anxiety—there’s no telling if that Elmer’s wood glue is going to hold against tons of sloshing salt-water— I can always fret about the Men’s top half of the draw. (There are few other anxious pleasures as delicious as worrying over the fate of your favorite during the lead-in to a tournament.)
Of course, I am not serious about the raft. But I am serious about going to the Australian Open, and also about that top half of the draw, which is as over-loaded with fine tennis players as my Balsa boat is with Cheez-Its and bottles of sunscreen. In actual fact, my meticulous preparations for my journey to the land down under began just after Christmas, with a concentrated and drawn-out bout with flu (to get me in a competitive mood), followed by more sleep than I had in all the nights of twenty-thirteen put together, followed by the online purchase of a purple skort (with reflective zipper pockets), and a stack of guidebooks on Australia and New Zealand. (Did I mention I’m also stopping over in the land of teenaged Lordes and flying Concords?) I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
Sure, it might have helped to have actually read my guidebooks. But why bother? Not when I’ve been getting plenty of advice from friends, colleagues, and complete strangers ever since I purchased my 20-hour plane ticket. Even in this modern age of jaded, Twittified, digital global interdependence, a vacation in Australia is still viewed as something of an adventure. Generally speaking, after a person learns about my travel plans and has finished telling me Australia is located far, far away indeed, he or she sorts themselves into one of two camps: Those who have been to Australia, and therefore to Melbourne, and who think the city is the most wonderful place on earth and enjoy telling me exactly why this is so; and those who have never been to Australia and spend long sentences warning me about snakes, spiders, venomous birds, pterodactyls, and Australian men. Also, they tell me to always wear sunscreen because Australia is hot.
(A notable exception to this intimate knowledge of Australian weather came in a recent conversation with my hair stylist, who simply refused to believe it’s currently summertime in Melbourne. How can this possibly be, when it’s winter and (almost) chilly in Northern California? To illustrate to her how this seasonal anomaly is made possible, I created a makeshift diagram of our solar system out of hair product containers. Earth was a pink bottle of Kevin Murphy POWDER PUFF — aka poudre volumisante— which happened to be vaguely spherical. I explained that if we, in the NorCal temperate zone, are the “F” in the vertically printed POWDER PUFF, then Melbourne is the powdery “P” all the way down near the bottom of the bottle. Thus, the sun —which turns out to be a vial of peppermint-scented “Naturaltech” Energizing Lotion— is way closer to the P than it is to the F at the moment because of the magic of gravity, which was invented in olden times before anybody had good hair days. Ta-da, summer!
I’m not sure my makeshift solar system was able to demystify the southern hemisphere for my hairdresser, but at least it didn’t cramp her style. My bangs are now neatly trimmed for travel, and I am the proud owner of a pink bottle of corn starch to puff onto my head in the mornings. Incidentally, Kevin Murphy products are “Australian designed and formulated,” and everybody knows that products designed and formulated closer to the ‘natural tech’ of the sun work better.)
But, instead of taking all the generously given travel advice from friends and strangers along with me to Melbourne—there is only so much room in a suitcase—I’ve decided to make note of it here, manipulating it until I manage a connection, however spurious, to the 2014 Australian Open draw. Because that’s the purpose of a tennis blog —and, one could argue, even of tennis itself— to offer metaphorical linkage to the larger game of life. Also, as Oscar Wilde once noted, good advice is best passed on, as it is never of any use to one’s self.
So here goes, a list of advice for those on sojourn in Australia, those intending to sojourn in Australia (or even those who have ever considered a sojourn in Australia), in no particular order, and in no way at all derivative of any hit radio single concocted by Baz Luhrmann*—
Always wear sunscreen;
Do not bother with makeup — it will only make your face look like it’s melting;
Try not to melt;
Avoid being bitten by spiders, snakes, venomous birds, or Australian men;
Carry a bottle of antibiotic wherever you go (to treat the bites);
Put corn starch on your hair in the morning;
Watch out for any animals carrying extra vowels;
Visit the bush country, but leave before it makes you too hot; nothing – not even sleeping with ice packs under your pillow— will make you too cold;
Remember that you are still young(ish), and therefore better looking than you think you are;
Try not to blame David Ferrer;
Drink lots of coffee (it’s good there);
Stay up too late; siesta; misbehave; don’t eat meat pies;
Do not check your work email;
Watch tennis, cricket, and people in general;
Remember to look the other way when you cross the street;
Write; listen to forehands (and Tommy Haas’s backhand); then write some more;
Blame David Ferrer;
Do not fall asleep on the plane, because if you do, your mouth will fall open and that’s how the germs get in;
And don’t forget the sunscreen.
As tempted as I am to tell you that the advice about the germs on airplanes came to me in a tweet from Boris Becker, it didn’t. It is real advice. It might even be my favorite advice. But the advice that relates most to the Australian Open Draw is —you guessed it— the bit about blaming David Ferrer. As many of you know, I am fond of David Ferrer, and not just because of his tremendous calf musculature and his subtle use of poudre volumisante. I enjoy watching him play tennis. I admire his speed, his split-step, and his finely calibrated forehand; and I enjoy being impressed by the intensity of his effort. But I also spent a pretty penny on a semifinal ticket for the bottom half of the draw. If the seeds should hold, I’ll have paid well over a hundred dollars to watch Novak Djokovic demolish Ferrer in less time than it takes a motivated flotilla of germs to seek out a snoring airplane passenger. Which is to say, hardly any time at all.
Of course, it isn’t Ferrer’s fault that Murray and Federer have bad backs. Nor is it his issue that Tsonga has, well, issues. Or that Wawrinka doesn’t win the big titles, that Berdych is Berdych, and Juan Martin del Potro is forced to keep returning from injuries. (Though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if 2014 turns out to be the year the Argentine bushwhacks his way to a more permanent residence near the pinnacle of the game. I cannot think I’m alone in this expectation. After all, he did dethrone the fearsome Bernard Tomic in Sydney last weekend.) David Ferrer made a fitting and able World No. 5, the steadfast guardian of the gate to the impenetrable fortress of the Big Four. Over the past few years Ferrer has been part of some of the most exciting mid-round contests in Majors. But, as a Top Four seed he has also been a part of a few of the most lopsided and painful-to-watch matches at the tail end of the Slams and Masters. Several of them against Novak Djokovic. Also, Ferrer does not seem happy as the fourth seed (let alone the third)! A player with calves like that deserves to be happy.
But it is not only Ferrer who is throwing off the balance of the draw. Some of the other 127 tennis players present must also share in the burden, especially the ones with the little numbers next to their names. Consider the breakdown of seeds in the four quarters:
Nadal’s quarter: Monfils, Seppi, Nishikori, Raonic, Dimitrov, Paire, and del “dethroner” Potro
Murray’s quarter (alternatively known by the old-school appellation “Federer’s quarter”): Lopez, Kohlschreiber, Isner, Tsonga, Simon, Verdasco, and Edberg
Djokovic’s quarter: Tursunov, Gulbis, Fognini, Gasquet, Robredo, Pospisil, and Wawrinka
Ferrer’s quarter: Chardy, Janowicz, Youzhny, Haas, Anderson, Dodig, and Berdych
I don’t like to name names (I prefer to list them), but some of these names are not quite like the others. Murray and Federer probably have it worst, since they have to fight the likes of Isner and Tsonga, each other, and their own bodies. Nadal is likely to be OK (don’t tell anyone I said that) until he bumps into del Potro, who should present a formidable challenge. If Rafa gets past del Potro, he’ll have to face Murray or Federer, or possibly Tsonga, or possibly an army of venomous Australian pterodactyls. And all before meeting either Novak Djokovic or Serena Williams in the final. A tough draw.
If I had to guess—which I realize only I am obliging myself to do—despite his relatively gentle draw, Ferrer will go out before the semifinals this time. Parting ways with Javier Piles, his coach and a father-figure since childhood, is a massive change, and one that requires a period of transition. Meaning, of course, that Novak Djokovic will get to beat somebody else very quickly in the semis. Maybe Haas? Or is it possible – and now I’m dreaming big—a Haas/Wawrinka semi? Or Youzhny and Gulbis? Fognini and Berdych? Gasquet and Chardy, a fickle French affair? Tursunov and Janowicz could be entertaining if the tournament officials interviewed both guys every changeover. . .
Who am I kidding? I simply cannot imagine Djokovic losing before the very last moment (and even that is difficult to picture). So, whomever finds himself in the semis with Novak Djokovic, as the Serb seeks to clinch his fifth Australian Open title —whether it’s Ferrer, or Haas, or Jordan Thompson— I hope he’s been sleeping with his mouth closed. Because the guy who takes on Djokovic is going to need all the vigor he can muster.
But, there’s a lot of tennis to be played before the final weekend. And I couldn’t be more pleased to be headed out to watch it live. My Balsa raft and I should be washing up on Australian shores sometime during the second half of the first round. So, until then, farewell! I’m off! Next time I write, it’ll be summer.
*Although Baz Luhrmann released the song “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” with voice-over by fellow Australian Lee Perry, the original words were written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, who also wrote the sexy (sort of) Brenda Starr comic strip for nearly 30 years. Or so Wikipedia tells me.