Monday, January 14, 2008

Australian Open Day 2

Let's start the second day of the Australian with a few first principles...
The Australian Open is the first of four Grand Slam tournaments for both the professional men's and women's circuits and is the kickoff tourney for the year. There are 128 entrants in each draw, and it's single elimination (think of your March Madness bracket; looks about the same) After a match, there is a day off for the player before they take the court again. A good way to start to learn names, follow seeded players, and look for interesting matchups is to watch the draw sheets posted online at the tourney website.
Every tennis tournament takes on a pulse and rhythm of it's own, and the early days help set that tone. Are there lots of upsets or a hot new name making an early move by taking out a favorite (read Jo-Wilfried Tsonga yesterday)? Is the weather a factor like usual at the Australian, where temps routinely hit 100+ on the court? At a Slam, those themes are amplified one hundred fold, and make the first week just delicious.
Because it is a Grand Slam, the Australian has the unique ability to launch a player into the forefront of the sport, and, because tennis is so popular worldwide, into the international spotlight. You hoist that championship trophy, and you're on the cover of just about every sports page in the world. These tournaments are such a big deal that you don't even have to win the thing; if you're a fresh face and you make a surprising run, you get the coverage, the ranking points, the loot, and the name recognition, which honestly never goes away.
A perfect example of how the hot lights of a Slam can forever sear someone in the sports consciousness is Marcos Baghdatis, who just rolled to a first round victory. At the start of 2006, the smiling Cypriot was known more for a successful junior career than any real tournament impact. At the Aussie; however, he upset Andy Roddick on his crazy run all the way to the final, where he took a set off Federer The Great before losing. His ranking shot into the top twenty, his smile was everywhere, and his crazy fans with their waving Greek flags and ouzo-fueled singing became part of his exploding fame. Since then, he's made one run at Wimbledon, but otherwise is best known for his marathon 5 set battle against Agassi in 2006 at the US Open, which he lost.
Not exactly the stuff international fame is made of, right? Well, ever since that 2006 run, he has had a film crew following him around filming everything he does for two different movies: a documentary about him, and another about the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in France where he trained as a junior. Not only that, but he is has a huge fan following at every tournament he participates in. Even in tennis, charisma can trump talent, and there's no better stage to showcase it than a Grand Slam.
A local touch: there is a 5 year old named Zach who plays at Pacific Beach Tennis Club, where I take my lessons, who is an absolute prodigy. He was actually in the recent issue of Tennis Magazine. Anyway, the Mouratoglou Academy contacted his parents a few months ago and offered them just over $1 million to come train there. Thankfully, his parents declined the offer.

No comments: