Someone from Maria Sharapova’s box should have bounced a banana or sports drink off the Rebound Ace court and into her hands at the Australian Open.

One of my tennis buddies has trouble with his work schedule during the slams because he insists on staying up late to watch the matches live. I keep telling him to record the matches, that way he can skip the commercials. But he likes the commercials and his favorite is the Bud Lite ad where a beer drinker installs rubber flooring in his house so he can bounce beers off the floor and into his buddies’ waiting hands. At the end of the commercial, a small dog bounces up off the floor to greet a guest and goes flying out the door and over the guest’s head because the rubber is too bouncy.

Someone from Maria Sharapova’s box should have bounced a banana or sports drink off the Rebound Ace court and into her hands at the Australian Open. The court is made from crushed rubber tires and gets sticky and bouncy when it’s hot. And it’s been very hot. The temperature got up to 103 degrees F/38 degrees C and Sharapova’s 5-0 lead in the third set started melting away. Needless to say she had trouble functioning: “sometimes when it is that hot outside, your mind doesn’t work properly.”

The Open has a heat policy. If the temperature gets above 100 degrees F/38 degrees C, no new matches are started and the roof in the covered courts will be closed for the start of new matches. But not matches already underway. Sharapova would have been luckier if it had rained instead of overheated in two ways. 1. She could have cooled off. 2. The roof would have been closed. That’s right, the roof can be closed in the middle of a match if it rains but not if it gets too hot.

First of all Australia goes out and builds a ton of Rebound Ace courts even though the players don’t really like them and the surface certainly doesn’t benefit their top player – Lleyton Hewitt -because it’s slower than other hard court surfaces. Then they wait until its 100 degrees F/38 degrees C to close the roof then they refuse to close the roof until a new match starts. It may be the most fan-friendly grand slam but it’s not so player friendly.

Not that the fans are always friendly with each other. I always hoped that tennis would become as popular as soccer and that’s never going to happen but at least now we’ve satisfied one of the requirements for a soccer event: a fight broke out between Serb and Croat fans at the Open. The AP reports that “Croatian and Serbian spectators kicked each other and used flag poles as weapons” before police took control of the situation and threw 150 spectators out of Melbourne Park.

I’d certainly prefer to avoid the senseless violence that happens in and around soccer and I can’t think of any player except Safin who’d head butt an opponent – well, not an opponent, chair umpire maybe – but I would like to see more edginess on the tour. Hawkeye has taken personality out of the game because players don’t have anywhere near as much to yell about since line calls have gone the way of the robot. Roddick was noticeably pissy with the chair umpire during his first round match because he was on a court without Hawkeye. His behavior was boorish and included an f-bomb aimed at his opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but at least it was more exciting than the love fests we sometimes get – it actually looked like a fight out there – and it certainly made me wonder if Roddick is starting to channel his coach Jimmy Connors.

It’s funny that tennis has become so tame considering that other sports have gotten decidedly more combative. In U.S. baseball a few years ago, a father and son ran onto a field and attacked the first base coach. Spectators throw things at players and sometimes players throw things back. The NBA had a full-scale brawl between players and spectators after a spectator threw a beer cup at a player.

Andy Murray is probably the most entertaining player next to Safin and he’s usually talking to himself. Now, except for a few fights here and there, most of the abuse is self-abuse.

Sharapova held on to win the third set 9-7 and moved on to the second round. As I speak, Sharapova is up 3-0 over Anastassia Rodionova and reports current weather conditions in Melbourne as follows: 90 °F / 32 °C Smoke. Whoa, smoke. Does the Open have a policy for smoke?

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See also:
The Australian Open: Early Rounds
2007 Australian Open Picks: Second Life

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