Wednesday, January 18, 2012

G'day from Sydney

   SYDNEY -- Tuesday did not exist for me.
   It was gone, kaput, history.
   I took off from Los Angeles at 10:45 p.m. Monday with a tennis group and landed at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday in Sydney, which is 19 hours ahead of California time. Meeting our 33-member group at Sydney Airport were tour guides Camilla Byrd of Tennis Ventures and Dick and Anne Gould, former Stanford men's and women's tennis coaches, respectively.
  Rather than go to the hotel to relax, we headed straight to Maccabi Tennis White City in the Sydney suburbs to play an hour of grass-court doubles and either a two-hour climb up the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a tour of the iconic Sydney Opera House.
   My first reaction when I saw this schedule -- and I was not alone -- was, "You must be kidding." But the organizers assured us that they knew what they were doing, and they were right. We got on Sydney time by staying active all day, and we made the most of our first day in Australia.
   We have only three days in Sydney, followed by five in Melbourne for the Australian Open. Then some of us, including me, are going to New Zealand for five days. Some head to the Great Barrier Reef for five days, and others return home.
  White City, now a private club, formerly hosted major professional tournaments and Davis Cup competitions. Playing on grass was a challenge for us, especially considering we had just stepped off a 14 1/2-hour flight -- almost as long as it takes to get through the line at the post office -- and had very limited or no experience on grass.
   The ball tends to stay low and skid because it doesn't bounce as high as on a hardcourt, and bad bounces are common. You have to be ready for anything. The keys are to move your feet, bend your knees and hit the ball out in front. Easier said than done.
   Better yet, volley as much as possible so the ball doesn't bounce. Also easier said than done for those of us who go to the net about as often as the Cubs win the World Series.
   The weather today was the opposite of California's, too. It was warm and muggy Down Under, where it's summer, instead of cool and dry.    
   Still, it was fun to play on grass. You feel like you're playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon, you can dive like Boris Becker without looking as if you had been in a cage fight, and it's easy on the knees.
   After a tasty chicken and avocado sandwich for lunch, we split up for the bridge climb and Opera House tour. I chose the climb.
   But you don't just pay your (outrageous) admission fee and stroll up the 440-foot-high structure, the fourth-longest single-span steel arch bridge in the world at 3,770 feet and the widest at 161 feet. It's a fairly involved process lasting either two hours, 15 minutes (express climb) or three hours, 30 minutes (discovery climb). They put you in gray and blue jumpsuits that make you look like a) an astronaut, b) a housepainter or c) an inmate, attach a walkie-talkie to the belt, put a headset on you and tether you to a wire for the entire climb so you don't plunge to an untimely death. 
   As you clutch the waist-high railings, Jerry Seinfeld's routine on skydiving -- in which he says his primary goal was "Don't die, don't die, don't die ... because living is good, and dying is not as good" -- comes to mind. Meanwhile, the tour leader gives you his spiel over the headset. The cost was $216 (express) or $206 (discovery). But it was included in our tour, so I didn't feel the pain.
   With its spectacular harbor, landmark bridge and opera house and gleaming skyscrapers, Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's comparable to, and somewhat reminiscent of, San Francisco.  
   After a delicious Brazilian dinner across the wharf from the bridge and opera house, we returned to the 32-story Intercontinental downtown and went to bed. Finally.
  Australian Open -- Vania King of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis won her first-round singles and doubles matches in the Australian Open, but Dmitry Tursunov of Folsom was ousted in both events.
   Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native, lost to 19-year-old Aussie Bernard Tomic, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year, in four sets in the first round.

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