Lani Writes: The true confessions of a tennis addict

At a time of year when people both earnestly and ironically declare, “new year, new me”, when goals are set, when it feels like everyone tries to get their shit together, I don’t. I watch tennis.

The first two weeks of the year are filled up with Auckland’s own ASB Classic, the next two occupied by the Australian Open. My obsession with the game grew slowly, starting in January 2007, after moving to Wellington for my first “real” job. I was in a new city with no friends, flatmates who were never home when I was, and in a house which, for the first time in my life, had Sky TV.

With access to sports like never before, I would find myself alone in the lounge, watching the Australian Open, trying to figure out the rules, the scoring system. In Andre Agassi’s book Open, he talks about the loneliness of tennis players, how solitary it feels out there on court. That January in Wellington was also a solitary experience, and watching tennis gave me a certain comfort, company in my self-imposed confinement.
It was excruciating, it was frustrating, and after the match — though it had nothing to do with the game itself — we fought, and it was nasty.

I remember Serena Williams, ranked 81 in the world, winning the championship and I remember deciding to support James Blake and Marat Safin. Admittedly, this was based on a little more than just their tennis skills. In 2008, I was more than just a casual observer of the game. I was back in Auckland, where I’d discovered that in my absence, my boyfriend had developed a more fanatical interest in the game, and schooled me up on the Federer vs Nadal rivalry. We were Team Federer.

That year, though, tennis became the catalyst for conflict. Our relationship already on the rocks; watching together, my boyfriend and I witnessed Federer lose in five sets to Nadal at Wimbledon. It was excruciating, it was frustrating, and after the match — though it had nothing to do with the game itself — we fought, and it was nasty.

Weeks later, we broke up. And months after that, we made up. Which was handy, I suppose, because had we stayed broken up, we might never have gone to the US Open in 2011. The long train ride from our apartment in Harlem to Flushing Meadows in Queens, the nosebleed seats, and recognising, even while seated in the clouds, the elegance of Federer as he beat Tsonga that day. There are few memories from my six months in New York that can beat that.

This year, after two years of taking tennis lessons with a group of friends, six of us booked a trip to Melbourne for the Australian Open. I was no longer some loner in a room with the curtains pulled, watching tennis on TV. I was with a group of people who shared in this sporting fixation.

We bought official merch and $7.50 frozen cokes, we camped for hours in the sun to watch Sharapova, Murray and Federer practise for a few minutes. We got wrapped up in the Cinderella story of Zhang Shuai — who reached the quarterfinals after failing to make it past the first round in 14 previous Grand Slams. We were total geeks, and we loved it.

Maybe that trip will be a one-off thing, or maybe in years to come we’ll look back at 2016 as the year we began our Aussie Open tradition. In the same way certain albums or songs may define, or hark back to, a period of your life, I’ve found the same to be true with certain Grand Slams in my life.

 

Illustration by Anna Crichton.