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Let the slams begin

A Seshan 

The Australian Open in Melbourne marks the commencement of the Grand Slam season in tennis on January 15,2013. It has certain unique characteristics. In the first place, unlike in the case of the other majors, in its logo, it features the image of a real player serving in a classic stance. I wrote to Tennis Australia (TA) enquiring about the identity of the player. Darren of TA said the Australian Open logo is not based on any specific player. On further research into the matter, I found on the website of ATP Champions Tour on the page devoted to Stefan Edberg that it was a picture of his distinctive serve that was used to create the logo of Australian Open.

Secondly, Australian Open is as much a test of physical fitness, nay, endurance, as tennis skills. Due to a quirk of geography, being in the Southern Hemisphere Australia has summer at a time when it is winter in the North. I remember the 2007 weather when the on-court temperature was around 50 degrees Celsius at one stage. The authorities had formulated an Extreme Heat Policy in 1998. It takes into account not only temperature but also other ambient factors bearing on play. It comes into operation when daytime temperatures hit 35 degrees Celsius and a stipulated stress level is reached. The tournament referee may suspend matches at his discretion.

The Rod Laver and the Hisense arenas are the first among the Grand Slam courts to have retractable roofs to provide shade to players under conditions of extreme heat and rain. Tennis Australia should try once again the idea of changing the schedule. Wimbledon has agreed to defer its Championships by one week in June from 2015 to provide more time to players making the transition from the clay courts of Roland Garros to the grass.

Australian Open was also the first to introduce the Challenge System using the Hawkeye.

For anyone who desires to become the calendar-year Grand Slam champion, by winning all the four majors, victory at the Australian Open is a necessary but not sufficient condition. As of now, there are two only two Grand Slam champions, Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969). Without belittling achievements of Budge and Laver one has to point out that the court surfaces were uniformly grass till about the 1980s with the exception of the French Open, unlike today where there are four different surfaces each calling for different skills.

Serena Williams has already given a notice of her intention to be the calendar-year Grand Slam champion this year. If she continues serving in the same way she did at Wimbledon — the world number four eventually finished with 102 aces after hitting 17 against Radwanska in the final — her dream of dominating women’s tennis once again could well come true.More importantly, she needs to keep her cool.

Calendar-year Grand Slam is the only honour missing in the career of Roger Federer. Although the recent tournaments at Brisbane, Chennai and Doha produced champions ranked low and not well known, they could win in the absence of the bigger players. The hard court at Australian Open is slower compared with the ones seen a decade ago. It is Plexicushion, a cushioned, medium-paced, acrylic surface with lower rubber content leading to firmer underfoot conditions, retaining less heat and making bounces more consistent. Its pace is midway between clay and grass.

However, as in the US Open and Wimbledon, long rallies are now seen in Melbourne due to the slowing down of the courts, about which players have complained but the authorities do not agree. Federer feels that, as a result, the game has become more defensive and less aggressive.

Among Indians the hope rests on the doubles players playing separately — Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. They have already achieved career Grand Slams in men’s doubles and mixed doubles, respectively. With their non-Indian partners, either could bring a 50-per cent honour to India.

First Published: Sat, January 12 2013. 00:08 IST