I’m a purist. I don’t like stuffing around with tried and tested formulas. Fifty-two types of Tim Tams? Just give me the original, thanks. The latest Star Wars? Ain’t going there.
I also like to see innovations widely road tested before I jump in. For at least a few years. Which means I was one of the world’s last adopters of the iPod, social media, T20 cricket and reading news on the web. Among other things.
So you can imagine how I felt when they introduced the hit and giggle, slap and tickle, blink and you miss it version of tennis. No thanks.
But certain things conspired to get me to the Fast4 Tennis in Sydney last night.
First, Lleyton Hewitt.
It being Lleyton’’s last summer on the court, I’ll take any opportunity going to see him play. Which includes driving to Melbourne this weekend for the start of the Aussie Open. Yes, I’m finding it hard to let him go. Yes, I should get help for that.
Second, fast sports formats are an excellent gateway drug for children. My daughter is a disappointingly late bloomer in the sports appreciation department. I can’t get her to the cricket for love or money. She has yet to sit through an entire tennis match. Fast4 Tennis is a much easier proposition to sell to her.
And finally, well I have to admit curiosity got to this cat. Plus the seats were cheap. And as close to the court as you can get without having to pick up a racquet.
So I went, with budding sports progeny in tow. Here’s what I learned.
It’s part tennis, part nightclub
Fast4 is tennis with DJs. I’m not exactly sure who was in da house but with all the doof doof, strobe lighting and smoke machines, I felt like I’d walked into a nightclub by accident.
It’s a smorgasbord
In the space of a few hours, we sampled Hewitt, Nick Kyrgios, Rafael Nadal, Gael Monfils and old timers Pat Cash and Mats Wilander.
It’s a tennis tasting plate. All that was missing was matching wines. And table service.
Audience participation: there’s no option
None of this ‘quiet please’ from the chair umpire. He was too busy at one point catching an errant Hewitt return from his elevated perch to be bothered with such things as crowd policing.
No, this is boot camp. Hands up, stand up, dance, vote, get involved. The blokes yell: “Love you Lleyton” and the girls implore: “Marry me Rafa”, all in the middle of the point.
In between games, you’re blasted by the DJs, while the host runs maniacally around the court barking at you to do the Mexican wave.
And for two hours, there was a woman in the crowd shrieking like she was being pleasured, to such an extent the players upped their grunt quota.
You don’t have to be a proficient counter
Five. That’s as high as your counting prowess needs to go and only in a tie-break. There’s no 15, 30, 40 nonsense to wrap your head around. A point is a point. Four points wins you a game. Four games wins you a set. Easy peasy.
The players call the shots
There are no linesfolk in Fast4. Maybe they can’t afford them. Instead, the players call the ball in or out and they have unlimited challenges if they think the person across the net isn’t seeing the ball right.
Call it anarchy or self-regulation but it seemed to work.
Rafa doesn’t play with his bum
Well, he does a bit but this to me was the biggest difference about the Fast4 game. I don’t know if anyone else picked up on this, pardon the pun, but there was a noticeable lack of the pre-serve Macarena that Rafa takes into the big tournaments.
You know what I mean – pick your bum, sniff your fingers, stick your hair behind your ears, yeah Macarena.
Maybe Tommy Hilfiger is trying to wean Rafa off the butt picking or maybe he’s just more relaxed in the Fast4 format but the wedgie issue is much reduced in the short version of the game.
Lleyton Hewitt will play to the death in absolutely anything
With nothing on the line, the players are happy to show off their trick shots.
Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios turned in some leaps that would score well in a gymnastics routine. And there were a lot of tweeners. Pat Cash almost neutered himself doing one of those.
But Lleyton and Rafa weren’t giving an inch. In his trademark cattle dog fashion, Lleyton ran down absolutely everything Rafa threw at him. And won.
After all, this is the court on which he attained the World No. 1 ranking all those years ago.
So, the verdict.
Look, I feel like I’ve been to an all-night rave but it’s a fun night out. A fast game really is a good game. But give me a tough five-setter any day.
The budding sports progeny, though, she gives it the big thumbs up. She got to dance to Tay Tay and, decked out in her sequinned Aussie flag dress, made it on to the big screen. And now she’s seen several tennis matches in full.