Apologies for the lack of bloggage post-AO. If you follow me on the Twitter you know that I've been having internet issues throughout my stay in OZ so it's been difficult to not only set aside the time to write, but also to figure out where the wifi is, how much it costs, and then determine whether or not I can write what needs to be written in the allotted time period.
It's actually an odd situation. I typically write “whenever inspiration hits”, but when you don't have ubiquitous wifi that allows you to just hop into a cafe and pop on the internet (as it is in the States), having to pre-plan what I write is a whole new thing. It's not a bad thing. It's just taken some getting used to.
I have to say, Melbourne was absolutely fantastic and hands down my favorite city in Australia so far. From the minute I stepped off the train from the airport it just agreed with me. It felt foreign enough to still be interesting, yet I felt like I'd been here before. I've intentionally been without maps or guidebooks throughout this trip and Melbourne is the only City where, if I just followed my instincts as I wandered about, I was usually right on.
Of course, I didn't get to see much of it during the two weeks of the Open. That was two weeks of cold media center sandwiches, as many “long blacks” as I could muster with my $16 per day media credit, and quickly packing up my stuff to catch the last transport back to my hostel, which left two hours after the last match, between 1am and 2am. I'd typically stop off at a dingy backpacker bar to down a few drinks to ensure I could fall asleep as soon as I got back. Crash out for 6 hours, wake up, and rip it up and start again.
Oh yeah, and then there was the tennis.
This was obviously my first Slam as credentialed media and I have to thank the good people at Tennis Australia and USA Today. It was truly the best of situations as I wasn't expected to file daily reports or write up matches, so I could enjoy and cover the tourney the way I normally would for Forty Deuce. What does that mean? That means watching a shitload of tennis matches.
It's hard to describe the scope and scale of a Grand Slam from a media center perspective. There's just SO MUCH, especially in that first week. On one hand, you have a crazy number of matches going on simultaneously, 10 of which you'd want to watch courtside if you could. On the other, you have players coming and out of their press conferences. If you want to be at the press conference, you need to physically be in the media center, which is under Rod Laver Arena. To the extent that you're traditional media, this isn't a problem. You can sit in the media center, get feeds for all the show courts, track scores on your computer, write, and when the announcement comes on that a player you need is on his/her way to the interview room, you can grab your notebook, ask your questions, and get back to doing whatever you're doing. In other words, it's pretty easy not to miss too much if you keep your butt in your chair.
But if you're not charged with covering tennis in the traditional way, you find yourself stuck right in the middle of a war between two masters. “I want to watch Sam play. But Nole's just finished his match and will be in press in 45 minutes or so. But I want to watch Sam play. But I want to see Nole's presser in-person. But I'm here to watch tennis. But you can watch tennis anytime. The pressers are what you don't normally get. BUT I WANT TO WATCH TENNIS.”
Lather, rinse, repeat, and that was the hamster wheel in my head for two weeks. It was, at times paralyzing. I would end up doing neither on some days, just sitting in my seat, watching a fave play via the ESPN feed, and then click over to the press conference feed when another fave was in the hot seat. In short, there were times where I went stupid and shut down from all the overload.
But when I didn't go dumb, usually tennis won out. Melbourne Park is just a fantastic venue for tennis. The worst seats in Laver or Hisense are better than the best non-corporate seats at Ashe. The site and the courts feel intimate without feeling cramped. Even on its busiest days (Heineken Day and Australia Day) I never felt suffocated walking around the grounds. If anything, it still felt slightly under capacity, despite the daily reports that they were breaking attendance records. This was in stark contrast to the US Open, the only other Slam I've been to, where I felt like I was constantly being swept up in a wave of people heading from court to court. The best comparison I have for MP is Indian Wells, where you feel like you can walk around and not get knocked over. It's quite fan-friendly in that regard.
Speaking of being fan-friendly, let me just say that being a fan with a big piece of plastic around your neck is awesome. It also completely blows. Allow me to explain.
If there is one thing I learned after two weeks as credentialed media, it is that 80% of my enjoyment of live tennis comes from being able to cheer. Cheering makes you feel like you're a part of the action, as though something you say or scream could have a positive impact on the match. It also gives you an outlet for the stress and anxiety you feel while watching one of your favorite players.
Now imagine being completely muzzled. No cheering, no fist-pumping, no clapping. Just you, a notebook, a pen, a cup of coffee, and, if you allow yourself, a shaking leg, completely poker-faced, while you sit courtside and watch Ana battle but ultimately lose, Sam get railroaded, Moose with the worst body-language ever. It truly sucks and I would leave those matches far more emotionally and physically taxed than I would have otherwise. It just took so much energy to keep it all in.
In some cases I couldn't keep it in so I would go back to the media center, where I could sit in my cubicle, fire up a live blog or tweet up a storm, whispering my cheers under my breath and throw up an occasional fist-pump. This was my habit particularly once Hisense proved itself to suck ass. I don't think I went back into that arena after Janko choked.
Totally objective and rational journalism, right?
All that said, this was truly a chance of a lifetime and I absolutely had a blast. It was a pleasure meeting tennis journalists from all around the globe and get full access to any match you wanted to see. Long queue for Delpo vs. Dudi? Flash your badge and grab a seat under the shade just to the left of the baseline. I'll take it, thankyouverymuch.
So that's my super-vague, unfunny write-up of the overall experience. I'm still processing it all and I'm sure more bits and bobbles will come out over time. I know some of you have tweeted/Facebooked some more specific questions, so I'll turn to those in a bit.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)