Copyright © Will Swanton 2013. All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, ored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopyin recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Copyright © Will Swanton 2013. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

1.

GREAT SOUTHERN LAND
The Australian Open is a bloody great bloke of a slam attended by butchers and blacksmiths who grew up mule-kicking serves on ant-bed courts every Saturday afternoon, knocking off volleys with their beat-up steel Slazengers, their forearms the size of tree trunks. The Australian Open is a gruelling slam, a dogfight slam and a generous slam. Want a roof, cobber? Sweet. We’ll give you a roof. More prize money, mate? No wuckas, champion, and spend it wisely. All the sharks, flies, mosquitoes, redbacks, funnel webs, cicadas and scorpions in the grandstands are unforgiving in their assessments of locals and foreigners, squawking and screeching and snapping at undesirables at an extreme and indiscriminate slam. It is a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, Ginger Meggs of a slam – crisp and vivid and joyous and energetic; a celebration of a new year and fresh beginnings. It is the gathering of the tribe as players, agents, officials and media pour through Tullamarine Airport from all corners of the globe to escape the snow-covered, frozen-solid northern hemisphere for an intoxicating blast furnace of cloudless skies and kaleidoscope colour spread from one end of Melbourne Park to the other, as if the whole shebang will be contested smack-bang in the middle of a Ken Done. It is an incandescent slam. All the Elle Macphersons, Crocodile Dundees, Dame Edna Everidges and Norman Gunstons strolling around in their board shorts, thongs and sarongs, their singlets and footy jumpers, their cowboy hats and leather boots,
2

Copyright © Will Swanton 2013. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, 3 recording or otherwise, THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN without the prior written permission of the publisher.

their inch-thick make-up and long, flowing maxis, devouring steak sandwiches and guzzling beers. No dickheads allowed. The galahs at the pub will slap you on the back and sing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ till dawn if they believe you are of worthy and sturdy bloodstock, but whingers, moaners and bigots will be told to rack off. ‘The Happy Slam’, is Federer’s description, Federer being blissfully unaware of the requirement in Australia for nicknames to be dunked in irony. The tall are called Slim and the shy are Rowdy. Federer makes a valid point because this is a vigorous and exuberant slam, but it is also a bar-room brawl of a slam, a weather-beaten old lizard of a slam. It used to be a dead duck of a slam, too – the runt of the litter, a cross-eyed little bludger of a slam barely worth its major status when its arse was hanging out the back of its Levis in the 1980s and ’90s. Before then it was the unreliable and inconvenient slam, held in December, January, March, August, or not at all. It was an itinerant, contemptible hobo of a slam staged in Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and the New Zealand outposts of Christchurch and Hastings, before permanently pitching its tent in the quixotic Australian enclave of downtown Melbourne. It has been held on grass, Rebound Ace and Plexicushion Prestige. It has been won by greats and it has been won by donkeys. Players have flocked to it and players have refused to touch it with a barge pole. It has been an endangered marsupial of a slam, no oil painting of a slam, nothing but a big fat slovenly wombat of a slam – but it survives and thrives. Players are thrown on to burning courts to feel pain they never thought possible. There are cramps, strains, sprains, pulls, tears and hospitalisations. Shock-absorber knees buckle and crack under the jarring weight of tugs of wars lasting three, four and five hours. The weak are broken while the unfit and unwilling are taken out the back and shot in the head like the mongrel dogs they are. Spectators require the attention of paramedics and there are thousands of fans here, hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and life guards and old women who use frying-pan grips to hit backhands and serves; taxi drivers and publicans and Bobby

Copyright © Will Swanton 2013. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored 4 a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, in THE SLAMS recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Dazzlers bolting through the gates for a slam that is no longer the lesser among equals. Excuse the tardiness in the Australian Open getting its act together, but the nature of the country and the tournament itself is to take a while, everyone assuming she’ll be apples until it becomes very bleeding obvious that urgent action is required before the shit hits the fan and the slam of the Asia Pacific is shipped off to Shanghai. The country only needed 107 years from Federation to issue an apology to Aboriginals. The tournament took 12 years to decide it might be an idea to name its centre court after the least likely celebrity in existence, the gloriously humble Rod Laver. The richest and most technologically advanced slam has been battered and bashed and disrespected, but take a squiz at the magnificent old bastard now. He has washed his face, combed his hair and pulled up his socks. He has cleaned his fingernails, dusted and polished the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup and placed it on the pedestal it always deserved. Take a really good look at the magnificent old bastard because the smile on his dial is the width and breadth of the Simpson Desert, as large and loquacious as the entrance to Luna Park. He was written off for dead but the Australian Open lives. You bloody beauty. Play.

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