Thursday, January 30, 2014

Our trip to Benella

Team USA went to Benella, which is about 2 hours outside of Melbourne. The population is around 9,000. The countryside looks very much like traveling through south Texas in July. The only differences were the hills and a few kangaroos. Plenty of sheep and cattle filled the “pastures” On the outside of town, we stopped at the golf course. You think our gophers are a problem, try getting rid of kangaroos! The are all over the course and like eating the grass. They don’t dig, but do like green grass and leave a lot of “chocolate almonds” . Many of the local birds are parrots. They would like to get rid of all of them. You should have seen the look on their faces when I told them the white ones sell for $600-800 in our pet shops. They were ready to box them all up and send them back to the states. Like our squirrels, these birds get to the walnut trees, eat a bite and let the rest fall to the ground. Very destructive and messy. Our next stop was the Benella Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Established in ???, the club has 20 grass courts and a large croquet field. We were greeted by the President of the club and our host families. After dinner everyone got their luggage and headed to their host’s homes. Katherine and 2 of the Australian team girls, Kelly and Sharon, stayed with Liz and her husband while Don and I stayed with Doris, Bruce and their son, Tom. Bruce’s family has been a part of Benella’s history since the 1800’s. Doris is a party planner. They had purchased a home that needed extensive remodeling. We had so many things in common, we stayed up really late talking. It was fun but 6:00 am came very fast. January 26th is Australia Day and is much like our July 4th. Team USA were the guests of honor at the town breakfast. Our team looked great and all tattooed up courtesy of the Australia Team. The breakfast was attended by 200 and over looked a river which is used for Australia’s top triathlon. Both teams enjoyed several rounds of Waltzing Matilda. I am not sure why that song is so popular, but they all love it. When breakfast was over, the players left for the rest of the afternoon. We didn’t see Katherine until 3. She had lunch in town, went swimming and played volleyball. Don and I walked around with Tom, Doris and Bruce’s son. He took us through the park and told us about the things he and his friends like to do. He did ask me if we were going to spend another night because his friends wanted to come over and meet us and see what we were like. They have never met Americans from Texas. Wish I would have brought a hat and some boots, ya’ll! At 3, we all met at the Benella Club and it was time to play on grass courts. They have about 20 courts. Very well maintained, which must be hard when it is so dry and there isn’t any humidity. Also, the nets don’t touch the ground, so they are able to turn the courts if they need to. Playing on grass has been one of my bucket list items so I was really excited. Boy was I bad!!! Serves were just fine, but once that ball hit’s the grass, it can be anybody’s game. Take it on the rise doesn’t work very well because there isn’t much rise. Timing is everything. You REALLY have to move to the ball because that ball it NOT coming to you. Let’s just say Don and Katherine picked it up faster than I did. If you are a tennis player, this is a must, a least once. Team USA and 4 members of Team Australia played singles and mixed doubles for the people of Benella. After those matches everyone was invited to get on the courts and play. I think the boys had the best time making Don run all over the court! They couldn’t believe he could play tennis and they talked about it all day! I played with Tom (Doris and Bruce’s son ) and helped him with his forehand. He really loves swimming but we had a good time and he did get several over the net. His friends came and decided “the Americans were pretty fun and they should come back again and play more tennis.” We had grilled onions, sausage and lamb on the “barbie”, a beautiful cake and a couple of native desserts. After dinner, there were several speeches and exchanging of many gifts. The Mayor spoke as did Robyn and Barry. Their were some happy tears. The bond between all of us is something special and it was evident as you watch the interaction. It was more like a family reunion than meeting for the first time. We all hated our experience to end.

The Finals at Melbourne Park

The Finals of the tournament are played at Melbourne Park. The players who made the finals are picked up by a car and taken over to the park. Kia is the official car sponsor of the Australia Open. The matches began at 12, but we decided to go over early. Our credentials got us in and since there weren’t many people around AND we were early, it seemed to me to be the perfect time to sneak on a court and hit a little!!! Yes, we can all say we have officially hit on courts at the Australian Open! These weren’t the practice courts, but the real deal. Not only did we play, but a few of us climbed up in the chair and did some officiating. A special thrill for Don, was being made an honorary ball boy. I didn’t know this was a dream of his when he was young and played competitive tennis. Let’s call this picture, “One of these things is not like the other.” As I watched all the final matches being played, I kept wishing everyone could see this level of tennis. Adaptive players with 80mph serves and the ability to take on any 5.0 player and most likely win is out there and I am seeing it first hand. How does the USA look? We are good, but now we have a starting point. We need to train our higher level players all year long to be able to compete in the world wide tournaments. This tournament is a template. Over the next few years, work will to have all the Grand Slams include an Adaptive section. This is an exciting time to be a part of tennis!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Australian Open Day 4 and 5

In an effort to get caught up, I thought it would be best to combine a couple of days. Both days consisted of a lot of tournament play and I mean a lot! Each match was one set, but they were playing 3 and sometimes 4 matches each day. We were at the courts about 8 hours each day. It seems none of us can even figure out what day it is much less what time it is "in America" Team USA was privileged to receive a visit from the US Consulate General, Mary Warlick and her staff. They are tennis fans and when they heard the USA had a delegation, they came right over. Photos were taken and they stayed for quite a while, visiting and watching our group play. So exciting for all of us and very special for Team USA. On this day, which would be Thursday, Team USA did very well. Everyone moved on to the next round in both singles and double. The nerves had settled and they were feeling right at home. If you looked around the park you could see a lot of new friendships. Katherine's FB page is going to get another international boost! Our uniforms have been a huge hit! I hear how great they look at least 4 or 5 times a day and this is everywhere we go. We are a colorful, sharp looking group! Besides the interview and photo with 774 ABC Melbourne radio, the Australian Open radio station came over to the courts to interview Barry Holman and Katherine and Ben. This will air on Saturday. They will be sending us the link after it airs. Friday we attended a Sponsor's breakfast. Tennis great, Wally Masur spoke about the importance of having more players from all over the world compete in this section of the Australian Open. He also said having the USA participation shows The Open the commitment to growth in the Adaptive section. Wayne Bird, President of Ausrapid said, " Indeed 2014 is an historic year..... There are 2 players entered from Japan and in a first, we have a team of 4 players joining us from the United States. This is a significant step forward for the event. Steve Healy, Pres. Tennis Australia said, " this long standing tournament continues to attract talented local, interstate and an increasing number of international players to Melbourne to compete during the world's best Grand Slam tournament, The Australian Open." The Lord's Taverners Australia and Tennis Australia are presenting sponsors and have been committed to this event. All matches were pushed back until 1:30. Some of Team USA visited with another tennis great, John Alexander, who was staying in the hotel. I have know idea what they talked about, but I hope Katherine didn't try to help him with his strokes! She said he was very nice and asked a lot of questions about their team. And like magic, the sky cleared up and we were on the courts. Katherine had 4 matches. She won her singles, but didn't make the finals in the end. I haven't talked much about the competition, but I will in a later email. We arrived not knowing what we would up against. The competition is wonderful and is certainly a new level for us. I will say we are not at the bottom, but if I had to guess, would put USA around #4 or 5. Rankings will be out later and we will see. In doubles, the girls came in third. They did very well against the #1 team in the World, which was very impressive considering they have only played together once. When the day was over, Team USA did not have anyone in the finals. We are not discouraged, although it is hard to be so close and not able to play in Melbourne Park. A lot of new friendships have been made and our hosts for everything we did have been amazing. An amazing experience and we are so fortunate to have been able to be a part of it all. The finals are this morning, at Melbourne Park. This evening we leave for Benella. More tennis and celebrations. It is Australia Day on the 26th and Team USA will take part in all the celebrations. Still 3 more days of events for us!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Australian Open Day 3

Today is the first day of the tournament. It takes place in Albert Reserve Park. All play will take place here until the finals, which will be played in Melbourne Park. A little history on the tournament. Tennis Australia is the organization that oversees sporting events in Australia. This includes the Australian Open. Within the Open there are several tournaments. The Grand Slam event, the juniors, wheelchair and Australian Championships. The latter is what our team is in. The tournament began small and has steadily grown with more international players each year. The top or elite players (their words) play a round robin format with the finals being played in Melbourne Park. As former tennis great Wally Masur said, "It is only a matter of time before you will be playing your entire tournament in Melbourne Park." Albert Reserve was the starting point for wheelchair tennis for the AO. Team USA looked great and we were ready to play! Singles were played first, then doubles. This round everyone plays 1 set with a 7 point tie break at 6 all. Katherine played the #1 seed first. Kelly Wren has won this tournament since it's inception in 1998!! She is a wonderful player and Katherine did manage to get one game off her. Then Katherine's second match was the #3 seed........4/6. Both were tough opponents to have on the first day, but as everyone began to settle down the afternoon was much better for Team USA. Katherine and Brittany won their doubles and so did the boys. Our new favorite place to eat is right across the street. It has really good food and the owner is very nice and seems thrilled to have us there. It was the place to be after the first day of competition. If you are wondering if we tried Kangaroo, we did. No it doesn't taste like chicken. It taste a lot like beef cooked medium rare. We sat with a group of Aussie's and they wanted to know all about jerky. They don't have it here and they are just dying to try it. Luckily, I brought some!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Australian Open Day 2 1/21/14

After a good night's sleep and a fantastic breakfast at our host hotel, Team USA boarded our bus for some sightseeing. Our Australia host, Robin, has arranged a private tour of the MCG, a multi use stadium and the National Sports Museum. This is also the home of the Melbourne Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club in the world. Everyone is excited, but Don is beyond thrilled because this is a very impressive stadium which seats 100,000 people. I hope he can stay with the group and not wander off or up to the top! Peta Phillips is our guide. She is with The Lord's Taverners Australia Branch, a sponsor of the tournament. They have raised over 10 million since their inception in 1982 The museum is amazing and beautiful. Every exhibit has such detail about the history of the specific sport in Australia. There is an interactive section and booklet with questions to answer as you go through the museum. Katherine completed the booklet and really enjoyed the hunt! Her gift, a rugby bank. The museum is inside the MCG, so out we went and down to the field. It's hard to believe you could fit up to 100,000 in here. That has only happened once....when Billy Graham came. Don examined as much as he could and our host will be sending him more information about the structure. Do I see some future work here? Our next stop, to spend the afternoon at The Open! Barry Holman, Founder and Pres of Athletes without Limits and Ben Hadden, our player from Ohio, joined us. The weather is perfect with beautiful blue skies. At this point, I think pictures tell the story better. Our highlights of the day: It took Katherine and Ben 4.5 minutes to get their first interview for a radio station, the Legend's match was awesome and Djokovic looks good warming up. Enjoy the photos!