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Forget Football: It’s Tennis Frenzy Down Under

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Illegal motion! Penalty: change channels.

Finally, a weekend without football and what better place to enjoy it than at The Australian Open where summer is in full swing. For many of us bone-chilled Americans, it's a welcome sight to see tennis stars in tiny tennis skirts or doffing sweaty tennis shirts between sets. And, hey, they are pounding those tennis balls at a pace that makes football look lackadaisical.

We are swooping into the final weekend of the Open, held in the charming city of Melbourne, Austrailia (population: four million) and it seems there's no end to the fun or the drama. This year Justine Henin returned from retirement to shoot right back into the finals. Few doubted that she would, just as Kim Clijsters returned from retirement to grab the title at the U.S. Open last September in New York. These women are too young and too talented to spend time as homebodies.

But there was some unexpected drama on the women's side too. After sister Venus Williams folded to Chinese player Li Na, it looked as if Serena Williams was about to head home also when playing Croatian Victoria Azarenka. After losing the first set, however, Serena just roared to life. Heavily bandaged and looking more like she was headed home from the E.R. than stomping on the court for a second set, she just burst with power, suddenly pulling all those patented "Serena" moves, such as whip-like returns and highly angled, unreturnable serves. Unleashing that scream of hers, Serena became a lioness and won two sets from a rather bewildered Azarenka. "I figured I had nothing to lose," she said sweetly to announcer Pam Shriver afterwards.

Serena Williams will play Henin in the women's final at 3:30 a.m. EST (2:30 a.m. CST) on ESPN2HD Saturday morning, with replays at  8 a.m. and 10 p.m. later that day.

The men saw two frustrating injuries that could effect the future of the game.
America's great hope, Andy Roddick, the man who always comes so close only to have victory just vanish before him, was playing confidently and well until his shoulder went out in a match against Marin Cilic. Even the announcers noticed that Cilic's game was not great enough to beat Roddick at his best, but Roddick, in great pain, had to play conservatively. Still he managed to eke out two sets of five. He went down proudly. Rumor is that he will not play the Davis Cup this year, so he can rehabilitate that shoulder. The man who took Roger Federer to the longest final in Wimbledon history in 2009 is not about to miss this tournament season.

Rafael Nadal, the bad boy of Spain who is in continual contention with cool champion Roger Federer of Switzerland, suffered a knee injury in a match with Great Britain's Andy Murray, giving Murray a berth in the final with Federer. Of course, everyone expects Federer to win — and this is starting to hurt the sport, in my opinion, because an edgy sense of the unknown is vital to keep tennis exciting.

However, Murray is the man who could overturn Mr. Perfect. He has beaten Federer before in lesser tournaments. So put on your rally caps. It can be done. The men's final will air at 3:30 a.m. EST (2:30 a.m. CST) on ESPN2HD Sunday morning, with a replay at 10 a.m. for the surface dwellers.

Before the matches, look for interviews with the stars, amusing pastiches as the announcers attempt to eat the Aussie food product Vegemite, and perhaps a replay of Roddick's antics in the announcer's booth. Roddick, always a favorite with the staff, is known for his offbeat humor and ability to skewer everyone from John McEnroe to arch-enemy Federer himself. It's worth watching for.

And don't forget the doubles tourneys, all of which are listed on the excellent website.

Then it's back to the long slog of No Tennis, which won't end until the spring. So catch it while you can.

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About Lynn Voedisch

  • As an ex-Queenslander, (now living in Florida) I completely enjoyed your story on the Oz Open. Yes, it’s good to turn on ESPN and get other than football. Also gives me a few nostalgic pangs. Good on ya, mate!

  • Thanks for the tennis write up Lynn. I live in the UK and even though we have football of the soccer kind… I understand the refreshing feel of a tennis weekend instead of football. Cheers!