Having a kid changes the way you watch live tennis.
Pre-progeny, I’d hunker down in Rod Laver Arena all day, working those neck muscles left, right for hours on end, me and 15,000 people getting into the soporific rhythm of summer tennis.
You’d have time to study the nuances of the game, the tweaks players have made to their strokes, their shot selection, their degree of comfort on the court.
It was total immersion. It was heaven.
Post-progeny, with said offspring in tow, it’s a different ball game. Here’s how it goes.
You buy a three-day ground pass for the Australian Open for $90. Which is just about the best entertainment money can buy.
First and foremost, leave any fantasy you have about watching an entire match at the gates. If you try to inflict that on a child, it’ll end in tears. Yours and theirs.
Head straight to the practice courts. As your ground pass doesn’t give you access to the matches on Rod Laver or Margaret Court arenas, this is your best chance of seeing the game’s big guns.
From the overhead bridge, we watch Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray iron out the kinks in their game. None of them is hitting the ball harder than Victoria Azarenka, who’s belting it like an unresolved grievance.
Ten minutes later, we’re at the slushie counter. This is one of the most important balancing acts of your day. Too little frozen Coke and your mini-me will wilt before your eyes. Too much and they’ll be harder to control than Nick Kyrgios.
Hydration sorted, I broach the idea of seeing some actual tennis. You might call this bribery. But it’s not the worst thing that’s going on in the game, apparently.
We see an ad for William Hill, the new official betting partner for the Australian Open. It’s the first time they’ve shown gambling ads at Melbourne Park. Each year the organisers make continued improvements to the venue. This isn’t one of them.
The announcement of this exciting new partnership coincides with a report alleging match fixing among some of the game’s leading players. William Hill must be thrilled with the timing. I mean, what were the odds?Embed from Getty Images
Back to my familial match fixing and we are now in a queue waiting to get into Hisense Arena, where seventh seed Kei Nishikori’s campaign is underway.
We get seats in full sun. We stay long enough to see Nishikori win the first set. I email my mother to advise her I may have melted her granddaughter.
Then we head to the merchandise, looking to buy up big on Lleyton memorabilia. But there is none. It’s not that they’ve sold out. Inexplicably, there’s none for sale. Not even a hastily screen printed ‘C’mon’ t-shirt.
My daughter finds an insanely expensive tennis ball. Even she understands the price is prohibitive, beyond the standard bribery conventions, more in the FIFA league of exorbitance.
Next stop is the garden area. It fulfils a number of requirements. We can get lunch there. I can watch tennis on the big screen. Plus there’s a swimming pool for my daughter. By which I mean fountain.
It’s fast becoming apparent that the colour du jour of this Open is watermelon. All the players are wearing it, men and women. It’s a lot better than the fluoro ensembles that dominated last year’s proceedings.
The notable exception is Serena, resplendent in bright yellow. In full flight, she looks like a ballet of the lopped daffodils.Embed from Getty Images
I’m watching tennis and my daughter’s soaked. Everyone’s happy. Until the security guards kick the kids out of the fountain. My daughter reckons they must have the worst job in the world, spoiling everyone’s fun.
After a slurpie top-up, we head to an outside court to watch actual tennis.
On our way, we see the Yonex stringing team (seriously, they have t-shirts that say exactly that) working on players’ racquets behind a perspex wall.
My daughter is mesmerised. Of all the things in Melbourne Park, this is what captures her imagination. Weaving.
We stay a good 20 minutes, then head to one of the newly shaded outside courts.
The outside courts are like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. On court 20, 27th seed Anna Schmiedlova is fighting an uphill battle against Daria Kasatkina.
It’s intimate theatre. You’re as close to the action as you can get without signing up as a ball kid.
Schmiedlova loses the first set. My daughter tells me she’s almost ready to watch an entire match. I feel the strongest love for her at this point. True to her word, we stay to see Schmiedlova bundled out of the tournament.
You could stay longer but you can see the progeny is an inch from hitting the wall. And we still have two more days to get through, including C’mon Day on Tuesday when Lleyton Hewitt takes the court.
So you pull the pin early and find an actual swimming pool in which to revive the offspring.
There’s still plenty of time to get back to the hotel for an evening in front of the telly with Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios, Sam Stosur, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and all your other mates.