Thursday, January 19, 2012

On the surface, it looks easy

   SYDNEY — Another day, another tennis surface.
   After playing on real grass at White City in the Sydney suburbs Thursday (Wednesday in the United States), our 33-member tour group took a 30-minute ferry ride to Manly and tried synthetic grass at the Manly Tennis Centre,
   Like White City, the centre has a rich history. The former Manly Lawn Tennis Club opened in 1884 and has hosted the Seaside Championships for men and women since 1933. The honor roll includes Australian legends Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Frank Sedgman, Neale Fraser, Fred Stolle and Evonne Goolagong. The surface was changed to synthetic grass in 1984.
   Sand also is spread around the court. Otherwise, coaching director Scott Blackburn explained, the ball wouldn't bounce because the blades of artificial grass are too high. Why just not have shorter blades? That would work, Blackburn said.
   The good news was that, unlike on real grass, the bounces were consistent. The bad news was that the ball skidded off the surface. At times, I was able to capitalize on that with a deadly slice. But I also sprayed service returns all over the place.
   We played doubles for 90 minutes and did volley drills for 30 minutes. Our session ended with a fast-paced reflex volley drill with three players at each service line. Anyone missing a volley left the court and stood line and waited for his or her next turn.
   After sandwiches at the club, we were on our own. I walked along Manly Beach, took the ferry back to Sydney and shopped downtown for a rugby or Australian rules football jersey for my son. With the hotel concierge's help, I found the appropriate store.
   Once I got there, though, I was clueless and intimidated. I might as well have been shopping for sewing machines. Countless jerseys were displayed, and I had virtually no idea what teams were represented. The salesman wasn't much help. An Iranian who had been in Australia for only 10 months, he said he was "just learning (about the leagues) myself." Great.
   At that point, I was running out of time. I saw something I vaguely recognized, bought it and hurried back to the hotel to shower for dinner.
   It's now Friday morning and time to meet in the hotel lobby for our bus ride back to White City. As our tour guide says, "Be on time, or be left behind."  

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