Sunday, January 22, 2012

Grand Slam finally completed

   MELBOURNE, Australia — It took decades, but I completed a Grand Slam on Sunday.
   Not as a player, of course.
   I've now attended Wimbledon, the French Open, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open either as a journalist or spectator.
   The final and most difficult piece of the puzzle was the Australian Open — not so much because of the distance but because of the timing.
    But about six months ago, I received an e-mail from Dick Gould, who led the Stanford men to 17 NCAA team titles in 38 years as head coach (1966-2004), and his wife, Anne, who coached the Cardinal to its first NCAA women's crown in any sport (1978), saying they were taking a group to this year's Australian Open. I knew both from covering their teams for the Stanford newspaper as a student there in the mid-1970s.
   The tour was organized by Tennis Ventures owners Chadwick and Camilla Byrd, our guides on this trip. Chadwick and Camilla met at Boise State, where Chadwick played strong safety for the 1994 team that lost to Youngstown State in the NCAA Division I-AA (now Football Championship Series) title game. Youngstown State was coached by Jim Tressel, who went on to glory and infamy at Ohio State. Chadwick is from Spokane, Wash., and Camilla from Norway.
   The trip — three days in Sydney, five days in Melbourne (including playing tennis on various surfaces in both cities) and a five-day extension to New Zealand — looked too good to pass up.
   So, 41 years after my first Grand Slam, Wimbledon, our group attended Sunday night's session at Rod Laver Arena. With a capacity of only 14,820, it doesn't seem to have a bad seat.
   From our perch only eight rows up at one corner of the court, we watched Swiss maestro Roger Federer dissect 19-year-old Australian sensation Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 and top-ranked Carolina Wozniacki hold off former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-0, 7-5.
   Federer wields the racket like a baton, commanding the ball to do whatever he wants. He blasts serves to the corners, rifles forehands and one-handed backhands, hits feathery drop shots and effortlessly hits backhand overheads, the toughest shot in tennis. By the third set, Tomic was shaking his head in disbelief in his second career match against the 16-time Grand Slam singles champion. 
   Wozniacki, who has great offensive and defensive skills at 5-foot-11, had a game point for a 6-0, 5-1 lead. Jankovic leveled at 5-5, but Wozniacki broke back and closed out the match.
   Earlier Sunday, we played on clay and grass at the stately Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, the former home of the Australian Open. We were required to wear predominantly white, the men with collared shirts, at the 8,000-member club. Kooyong — with its remodeled clubhouse, rich history and manicured courts (26 grass, 22 clay and three Plexicushion) — and Wimbledon are the nicest tennis clubs I've ever seen.
   So which Grand Slam is the best? They're all great, but I'll take Wimbledon. There's nothing like Centre Court, aptly called "the cathedral of tennis."

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