Eye-opening experience even without the Aussies

Australian Open action at Rod Laver Arena comes with a great atmosphere.
Australian Open action at Rod Laver Arena comes with a great atmosphere.

TENNIS is the word come January as the best players converge on one of the best cities in the world.

A trip to Melbourne primarily for the purpose of the Australian Open had been a long time coming; a general sports fan, my summers as a teenager were always wistful of getting to see the action live.

Flanked by a Melburnian partner in crime, I arrived ready to tackle the party end (also known as week one) brimming with patriotism. Flag and all, I was armed and vocally dangerous ahead of seeing Australia's best. But we discovered it wasn't to be.

Night one happened. Lleyton Hewitt, unlucky to draw eighth seed Janko Tipsarevic, was bundled out. Respectful of his devotion to playing for our country, I was disappointed to see him go so early. And then with Sam Stosur's shocking second-round loss there was only Bernard Tomic left.

Pre-purchasing tickets can be a blessing and a curse depending on how you want your Open to play out. Excited to witness a night game on Rod Laver, night four seemed a shoo-in for the rising Aussie Tomic to be on centre court. Somewhat disappointingly (again), my chance of seeing a local was shot when Roger Federer was instead chosen. They, coincidentally, would meet two nights later.

So to my surprise, it had become easy to avoid Australian names pretty quickly. That was upsetting to realise, not least because the aforementioned flag only emerged for a brief spell in defiance to say I had arrived.

Yes, there was Australian doubles action going on, but I conceded defeat - you pay to watch the best, so you're going to watch the best. I moved past the initial disappointment to experience a week of powerhouse displays and intriguing matches, seeing some of the greatest of our time show off the gifted talent they have received in life.

What does that say about Australian tennis though? That one can go to the Australian Open and not see an actual Australian live in action? The notion felt ridiculous as the week unfolded, and still sounded so when relaying events to family and friends.

The country has had a petering of fair runs in recent years, along with some major questionable blunders (Stosur, you have work to do). While there is hope in the rise of Tomic and even younger stars like Ashleigh Barty, it may still be some time before I'm at another Open cheering with my flag on any given day.

But it wouldn't stop me from going again before that time comes. The Australian Open is all it's cracked up to be as a tournament with the right mix of a fun atmosphere, riveting sport and some sponsor freebies to boot. Tennis is the word for good reason.


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