A tennis trip back in time

To call the AMMI Kooyong Classic quaint may seem like a backhanded compliment to some or even a downright insult to others, but a day out at this boutique tournament held at the iconic Kooyong tennis club is like taking a step back in time to tournaments of the past.

This is tennis before the commercialism of modern sports. Stepping into the venue from Kooyong Road you find yourself immediately in the grandstands. There’s no lap of the arena because you’ve walked in the door furthest from your seat. The intimacy of centre court carries over to the bench seating, creating an environment where you naturally connect not just with the action taking place on the court but you interact and share the spectacle with fellow spectators.

Admittedly, the seating is quite cozy. I’m a giant of the pixie world and now I understand what economy seating on most airlines feels like. But this is all part of the charm. This is the spiritual home of Australian tennis as the tennis club suggests. This is the original home of the Australian Open. To think that once upon a time, spectators were so close to the action.

So, what about the tennis? Well, it’s also a trip back to tournaments of the past. Where are all the tantrums? In Sydney, not in Kooyong. I saw Wednesday’s action on Channel 7 where the action was being split between Kooyong and Sydney. Here’s a brief glimpse of what went to air:

Kooyong, Hewitt v Raonic. No tantrums, no arguing over lines calls. OMG, they played tennis. Ok, Raonic is no John Patrick McEnroe, so no surprises there but Hewitt played the same gentlemanly game.

The action cuts to Sydney. Isner v Harrison. Isner is arguing with the umpire about taking too long between points. Thankfully, Channel 7 quickly cut back to Kooyong.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go Kooyong and guess what? Yep, no tantrums, just some great tennis. Sitting in the stands yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder, is this how tennis was played in the past and I suspect it was.

All of the players signed autographs, irrespective of if they won or lost. Berdych walked off court with a smile. Hewitt’s little poppets ran around centre court during his post match interview and kept the audience quite entertained.

I know that this tournament is not a Grand Slam, that it is an exhibition tournament but these are professional tennis players who do not go out on court half heartedly. They are using this tournament as their preparation for the Australian Open and the quality of the tennis has been great. Hewitt looks relaxed and fit and his form is hugely encouraging for next week. The beauty of this tournament is that it guarantees each player three competitive games. That is after all Berdych’s main reason for playing. After reaching the quarters in Chennai, Berdych wanted more match games in preparation for the Australian Open, so signed onto the tournament earlier this week. There is no doubt that we have seen some great matches this year.

The AAMI Kooyong Classic is a trip down memory lane for some and for those of us too young to remember this era, it gives us a glimpse of tennis tournaments of old.

Published on www.theroar.com.au 13/1/13

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