Hello from Melbourne, where over the next two weeks I’ll be deep in the thick of things with Tennis Channel’s Australian Open production team – in the booth with our announcers during matches, in the studio for our pre-game show and overall, embedded in bringing you our broadcast of the event Roger Federer has dubbed, “The Happy Slam.”
Enter the Tennis Factory
Check out this unassuming blue door. Seems like nothing, correct? But enter it and you are in the thick of the Australian Open’s broadcasting compound, where television networks from all corners of the globe are gathered to air the tournament. Those of us working here trek around the compound all day like any other workplace – along with time in the broadcast booth, on the grounds of the tournament and beyond. Here also, a shot inside Tennis Channel’s control room. What Willie Wonka was to making confections, this spot is to making tennis on TV. Take a big bite, mate.
Matches of Intrigue:
Nick Kyrgios vs. Andreas Seppi
Two years ago, Andreas Seppi had beaten Roger Federer in the third round of the Australian Open. And when the veteran Italian took the first two sets of his next match, it sure seemed likely that in this, his 40th Slam, Seppi would at last reach a Slam quarterfinal. What he hadn’t reckoned on was the tenacity and shotmaking of one Nick Kyrgios. That evening in Kygrios’ beloved Hisense Arena, Kyrgios fought back to win 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 8-6.
Now the two meet again on Hisense. Speaking about his opponent prior to the match, Kyrgios said, “Honestly, Seppi is one of the guys I always liked to watch when I was a younger kid. I don't really care where we play. I don't think it will be Court 19. I think people will want to watch that match. At the end of the day, I kind of bring the crowds. It will be Hisense.”
Kyrgios’ career is currently following two disparate paths – or at least it seems that way. He’s cracked the top 20, in ’16 winning the first three singles titles of his career. But Kygrios has also continued to generate controversy with his behavior, most notably last fall when he tanked a match in Shanghai. Often petulant with the press, keen to proclaim his disdain for tennis, Kyrgios is enigmatic – but his racquet speaks brilliantly. One wonders: Does he pull off great shots because he simply doesn’t care? Or is he that skilled? My suspicion is that the former is a bit of a mask, a way to protect himself from the genuine passion Kyrgios does have for competing and often playing inspired, engaging tennis (except when he doesn’t). This guy is must-see tennis.
Sisters in Arms
The 15th-seeded doubles team is hardly likely to draw much attention. But when the duo consists of Venus and Serena Williams, that’s a whole different story. The four-time Aussie champs are in action today. “She's much smarter than I am,” Venus said yesterday about her younger sister. “She's a wise woman. She's actually getting a real life. She's paving the way, once again, for me. Maybe I'll grow up.”
Figure that the 3,000-seat Show Court 2 they’re playing on will be packed as they take on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Timea Babos. Pavlyuchenkova, seeded #24 here, will have already occupied this court, in the first match of the day taking on a fellow Russian, the equally well-lettered Natalia Vikhlyantseva. Babos, seeded one spot behind her partner, was upset yesterday by American Nicole Gibbs. The Williams sisters play a powerful and forceful brand of doubles; and perhaps even more, figure to thoroughly enjoy themselves.
Around the Grounds
Here’s the hardware at stake at the Australian Open. For the men, on the left, the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. For the women, the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. These are unquestionably two of the most elegant trophies in tennis. Then again, is that because they’re among the most-cherished? More later in the tournament on Brookes and Akhurst.
Behind The Scenes At Tennis Channel AO HQ
As players, Martina Navratilova and Jim Courier won five Australian Open singles titles – Martina earning three at Kooyong (’81, ’83, ’85), Jim taking a pair at Melbourne Park (’92-’93). Here they are in our Tennis Channel production office, scribbling away.
Australian Open ’17: Flashback
(big thanks to key source -- “This Day in Tennis History” an app created by Randy Walker and Miki Singh)
January 18: Once Upon A Teen
It was the year 2000. He was only 18 years old, had finished the previous year ranked 64 in the world and lost the only two Grand Slam singles matches he’d ever played. His opponent on this day in Melbourne was the formidable Michael Chang, a runner-up four years prior. But the man from Switzerland had a long-term view, and knew that he had the skills and desire to do well. So it was that Roger Federer earned a 64, 64, 76 victory. Four years later: the first of four titles Down Under. Now, at 35, Federer remains eager for more, thoroughly engaging the world with his passion and precision.