January 29, 2000

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Memories of the Australian Open

Rohit Brijnath

After 14 days of watching too many thousands of yellow balls on varying journeys at the Australian Open, the mind gets addled. It jumps to conclusions, it retains odd memories.

That Anna Kournikova's clothes are designed better than her backhand. That anyone who watches mixed doubles seriously is in urgent need of therapy. That Jennifer Capriati's father Stefano was a stuntman but even he could never have pulled off what she did on Saturday. That there is a place in Japan where people go and hurl crockery against a wall for a fee to rid themselves of frustration, whose address needs to be sent to Marat Safin. That if the Williams sisters laughingly challenge you to a friendly arm wrestle, gather your humility and run the other way.

Pete Sampras That Pete Sampras is playing volleys from behind, and at, the service line which is a sign that his pension cheque should be handed over post-Wimbledon. That Andre Agassi could thread a needle on a dark night in gale force winds because what else can you say of man whose accuracy of passing shots make snipers sweat. That short people are not be banned from tennis (as thought by this writer), though for the record let it be noted that in the end Jennifer Capriati was 5' 8 1/2" and Martina Hingis 5' 7", a further reminder that Ms.Vertically Challenged is not winning the Big Ones.

That if you want to water your lawns merely invite Patrick Rafter to play on them (he can, I'm told, sweat in a fridge). That if Lleyton Hewitt needs, as some say, to be sent to the local finishing school, that might be difficult for it's been indefinitely booked by the Australian Cricket Board. That Damir Dokic is not, contrary to unfounded rumour, going to be named Australian of the Year. That players who wear their cap backwards even during the night session are a trifle odd. That do not attempt to do Mark Waugh-impersonations and catch balls that your opponents hit else you might wind up with a broken finger like Wayne Ferreira.

But, despite the hallucination-inducing heat, and scurrying between courts, and having my hand crushed by Andre Agassi' strength coach Gil Reyes, and paying $3.50 for a bottle of water (they don't carry warnings that say "rip-off") there's one thing I remember with better clarity. Five unusual heroes.

Patrick Rafter Patrick Rafter. Because in the middle of a match, concentrating hard, with the crowd bellowing, and sweating like a man wearing flaming shoes, he saw a man in a wheelchair high up in the stadium, and after the match sent a ballboy up to him with one his shirts (an un-sweaty one I presume) as a gift, a souvenier.

Said Rafter: "You look around sometimes and you see these sort of people and it's very, very sad. And they're trying to enjoy the match and you know they really can't see in the position they're in, and you think, 'Okay, now if I'm going to win this, whatever happens, I'm going to get a kid to take it up'. So it's very small gesture, (but) it makes them happy."

Todd Martin. Because he'd been beaten by Pete Sampras the last 13 times they met (or something as cruel), and possibly takes a handful of Calmpose every time since that he's just seen The Great Man, yet when he beat him in four sets, he did not gloat, he said 'sorry'.

Said Todd: "Pete's a friend of mine and I don't like to see him lose. If I have to see him lose, I'd just as soon it be to me, but that doesn't mean I can't be sorry for him, because I think he felt like he had a good shot win today and a good shot to win the title."

Lindsay Davenport Lindsay Davenport. Because losing hurts, it sucks, it's expensive, but there is no crime in graciousness, in accepting that life does not begin and end with a tennis match, which is why when Jennifer Capriati beat her she reached out and hugged her and kissed her and then wondered what the fuss was all about.

Said Davenport: "I think she's really nice, and she's a great girl. I'm not going to hit her or do anything bad."

Magnus Norman. Because at match-point, in a tight match, in a tight situation, when he was aced, but the umpire called 'let", he conceded the point and the match to Sebastien Grosjean because he felt the machine had malfunctioned and the serve was way high over the net and thus the serve legitimate.

Said Norman: "We play for a lot of money; we play for a lot of points. But when I grew up, my mother always told me, never give up but to always play by the rules. I think my mother will be proud of me when I call tonight."

Arnaud Clement Arnaud Clement. Because he completed a startling striptease after beating Yevgeny Kafelnikov (shirt, towel, socks, shoes into the crowd), yet in the semi finals, after being down two sets and 3-5 and coming back to win against his friend Grosjean, he did not scream or strip or dance or gyrate, for to celebrate loudly was to ignore another man's wounded heart.

And let me explain all this, this choice of heroes I've made.

This week, in America, I hear and read, that the Baltimore Ravens are in the Super Bowl, whose star linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with murder last year. Hed been in a fight, which left two men dead, but got off with a fine and by making a deal. He has never suitably explained himself, or visited or called the dead men's families. But he says nevertheless, that, "What I'm most guilty of is being successful."

It's enough to make you sick. Its enough to walk away from the Australian Open, fall on my knees and say the words Clement, Norman, Rafter, Davenport, Martin, over and over again, followed by a Thank you, God.

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