When I was a kid, late night sporting events were always my favorite.
Since I had a set bedtime, and only basic cable in my room, I always looked forward to the World Series, NBA Finals and March Madness the most, as those were the games I could stay up for without anyone knowing. Looking back, I honestly don't know what I enjoyed more, the games themselves, or all the sneaking around that came with them. Remember this was before kids had iPods, cell phones and the internet. Watching a bad World Series game with the volume so low only the dog could hear it was the most exciting thing I had going when I was 10. Well except for Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo.
I still even remember the first game that I was allowed to stay up late and watch, the 1997 NCAA Championship Game between Arizona and Kentucky. Sure it was only because Connecticut was getting hit by a "Storm of the Century," type of blizzard that night. I didn't care.
To this day I remember everything about that game: The excitement of being up so late. The shine of the floor at the RCA Dome and of Rick Pitino's hair. Mike Bibby's tattoo's. My eyelids getting droopy as the game headed to overtime. And of course, the cheesy line Jim Nantz used after Miles Simon led Arizona to victory: Simon Says, Championship! I only wish I could remember my senior prom or college graduation that vividly.
Fast forward to 2010 and into my adulthood. Things are different now. I come and go as I please. I obviously don't have a bedtime. And if I want to stay up late for a game, I do it, just like any guy in his mid-20s would. Well except for the ones with girlfriends.
Which is why the Australian Open has been so fun for me these last few weeks. The coverage starts just as my day is winding down, and usually concludes right when I'm waking up.
I've passed out and woken up to the Australian Open for close to 14 days in a row now, and I'm loving it. Which makes sense.
When you think about it, tennis is the perfect sport to have on in the background as you're falling asleep: There's only crowd noise at the end of points, and even then it's rarely too loud. Announcers speak in hushed tones. The symmetry of the ball getting hit back and forth is eerily calming. And unlike football or basketball, you don't feel like you're missing much with your eyes closed. How many points in a tennis match are "must see"? Half a dozen?
When I actually have been awake, I've seen more tennis than I have in a long time. At the same time, I've learned a lot about the game and its players too.
As a matter of fact, here are 10 things I'll take away from the 2010 Australian Open, in no particular order:
1. Apparently the Williams sisters are worth their weight in gold. I talked about this phenomenon after my trip to the U.S. Open in August, and it holds true now. It didn't seem to matter what time I turned on the TV, went to bed or woke up, one was always playing.
Singles, doubles, mixed doubles, you name it. I'm pretty sure I even woke up a few nights ago, rubbed my eyes and saw Serena playing in the Boys Juniors draw. Don't ask me how. But I'm pretty sure this happened.
2. The most surprising bromance goes to Andy Roddick and his bff Terrell Owens, who flew around the world to watch his buddy play in this tournament.
I've got to admit, at first glance, T.O. seemed about as out of place as Mike Tyson did during The Hangover. But as he sat down for an interview with ESPN, T.O. actually, unbelievably, became likeable. Well, at least a little.
He was smart enough to throw away the "I love me some me," public persona that we're all tired of, and seemed genuinely in awe of the play on the court. He was just a normal, regular, guy enjoying some tennis. Almost humbled by the whole experience. As humbled as T.O. can be in front of cameras anyway.
I just wish we got to see this side of him more often.
3. The awkward announcer exchange of the tournament came from the makeshift "studio," and the team of Chris Fowler, Brad Gilbert and Pam Shriver. After Gilbert commented on seeing Maria Kirilenko working out in the gym a day after upsetting Maria Sharapova, the three engaged in a conversation that went like this:
Gilbert: I think Kirilenko is finally maturing. I saw her up early this morning, getting in a good workout at the gym.
Shriver: Yeh, and I bet you a put a chair right behind her while she ran on the treadmill. (Aaron's note: Shriver actually said this, I swear. I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't heard it with my own two ears)
Gilbert: (With a terrified, 'God, I hope my wife is watching right now,' look on his face): Ahh, umm, no... I prefer lifting, umm, weights. Ahh...
Fowler (With a producer screaming in his ear): Hey let's go over to Dick Enberg who's over at Rod Laver Arena. Dick...
Again, this conversation actually happened, I swear on my life. I also think ESPN might leave Shriver in Australia because of it.
4. Juan Martin Del Potro is absolutely the most fascinating guy on the tour right now.
For my money he's got the best package of skills in the game: He's 6'6 and powerful, but nimble and athletic too. He covers an insane amount of ground on the court. Basically, if a scientist were building the ideal tennis player in a labratory, I couldn't see he or she doing much better than Del Potro.
Unfortunately, right now, he's also got a two cent head. He seems immature and aloof on the court, and during his loss to Marin Cilic, kept complaining about crowd noise that simply wasn't there.
As Del Po (Or JM DP as I like to call him) showed at last year's U.S. Open, he's got the talent to beat anyone. But he's still got a long way to go mentally, before he's able to do it consistently.
5. Moving on to another subject. I swear, if I hear the term, "Shrimp of the Barbie," one more time, I'm going to jab a skewer into both my ears. I'll do it. Don't tempt me.
While I've never been to Australia, I guarentee you that our Aussie friends don't use the term nearly as much as ESPN's commenting crew made them out to. I must have heard the term at least once every 15 minutes, of every hour, of every day of tournament coverage. I wish I was kidding.
By the way, if we're going to throw every Australian stereotype at the American viewer, why not just take it a step further? Maybe bring in Crocodile Dundee to do color commentary? Or better yet, just have Dick Enberg crack a Foster's live on the air. At least then I'd be entertained instead of just annoyed.
6. I'm always amazed at how attached I get to the players over the course of a major. It happens every single time.
As far as I can tell, the reason is this: Tennis is an individual sport. It has no helmets, masks or pads hiding the players faces and emotions, so you see everything. When a guy (or girl) isn't playing their best, you see it. When a player is genuinely hurt, you see it.. When someone thinks a line judge screwed them over, you see it. And after two weeks, after seeing every agonoizing emotion, over five or six matches, you really feel like you know these guys. You start pulling for them.
The other day, I woke up in the middle of the Novak Djokovic- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga match, and I actually thought to myself, "Damn, I don't want to see either of these guys lose."
Which is probably my least favorite part of any major tennis tournament. Saying goodbye to old friends. Even as you're making new ones.
7. Speaking of Tsonga, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention him. I'm smitten. I think, I might even have a full-fledged man crush.
Did you ever have a friend in college that you used to play pickup basketball with, and might see around campus every once in awhile, but really didn't know that well? Then one night you catch him at the bar, he insists on buying you a shot, and two hours later you're best friends?
That's the vibe I get from Tsonga. He's cool. He only gets emotional when the moment calls for it. And I feel like he's just a guy you just want to grab a beer with after a match.
I also think he's my new favorite player.
8. Rafael Nadal's wardrobe never ceases to amaze me.
This year he went with a bright orange top, and what appeared to be white and red board shorts.
Only Nadal could pull this off. I love him for it.
9. On a serious note, you have to feel bad for Nadal, as he was forced out of the tournament with another knee injury.
As someone who has had broken bones, sprained ankles and a dislocated shoulder, I can tell you that those things heel. But as someone who also has had two knee surgeries, I can also tell you that no matter who your doctor is, no matter how much physical therapy you do, knees are just never the same. They never are.
Nadal put his body through hell these past four or five years, and watching him, you realize how much he truly loves tennis. He's a great player and more importantly great for the sport.
I'm just not sure we'll see the Nadal from last year's Australian Open or Wimbledon in 2008 ever again. And I really, really hope I'm wrong about that.
10. Whether Roger Federer wins or loses the championship on Sunday, he's simply the best.
Honestly, I could write a whole 2000 words just on him, and as a matter of fact, I once did. There has never been anyone quite like him, and I really don't believe there will ever be another.
I mean honestly, do you understand how great his streak of 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals is? The next closest is Rod Laver who had 12 in a row, back when guys used to wear wool sweater vests and play with wood racquets. What he's doing is incredible. So why is nobody talking about this? Why? WHY???? Someone answer me!?!?!!?!!
I'll miss Fed when he's gone. But I'm glad he's right here with us now.
So there it is. The 10 things that I will take away from this year's Australian Open.
Ohh, and one more thing.
It's been awhile since I felt so guilty for staying up late to watch a sporting event. But it was worth every second.
So with that, it's time to say thank you.
Thank you to Roger and Rafa, the Andy's (Murray and Roddick of course) and the Williams sisters. Thanks to Justine Henin, Jo-Wilfried and Shriver and Gilbert. Thanks for sharing the last two weeks with me, keeping me up way to late, and waking me up way to early.
Thanks for making me feel like a kid again.