Thursday, January 30, 2014
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 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!