Nice Rally

Sunday, January 16, 2011 /by

Rally The sun was out, Rod Laver Arena was sold out, and the stars of tennis were out. It was all for fun and a good cause, but here are 14 things I learned along the way anyway, at the Rally for Relief.

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1. Tennis players are fun! This can be difficult to remember when you all see is them glowering, grunting, Vamosing, fist-pumping, and whinging. But let them get together, instead of pitting them against each other, and they turn totally normal. Speaking of which . . .

2. Justine Henin is a regular person: Whenever I see her interviewed, I'm reminded of this semi-startling fact. She seems so untouchably intense when she plays. But put an infant, like Lleyton Hewitt’s today, in front of her, and she gets googly like anyone else.

3. Aussie fans make good exo fans: They seem to laugh more easily, and more in unison, than we do in the U.S.

4. Novak Djokovic is an exo MVP: He’s not a wit, per se, but he works hard to give full value the whole time, without trying to show anyone else up or be the coolest guy on the court. He’s man enough to mimic a woman’s squeal and talented enough to hit a winner sitting down. And I’ll never get over how well he speaks idiomatic English. It was cool to hear the word “mulligan” come out of his mouth.

5. Still, Andy Roddick had the best, dryest lines.

On court with four girls, Roddick said, "I kind of like my odds."

When captain Pat Rafter substituted Roddick for Murray, Roddick asked, "How much do you want to bet that Rafter chose us so he would only have to remember one name?" Funnier because it took some thought.

6. Victoria Azarenka looks good: She's also more fun than I would have expected. I liked her failed tweener and her pretend humiliated walk off.

7. Justine Henin can really play tennis: She stepped in and returned a 125-mph Roddick serve, and she picked off an amazing little low backhand volley at one point and directed it perfectly crosscourt.

8. Vera Zvonareva is too nice: She slid a brilliant forehand winner past Hewitt, and then threw her hands up in apology. She also hits a good ball as a lefty.

9. Clijsters and Stosur can kind of hang against Federer and Nadal: At first I thought Stosur would look awkward next to Sire Smooth, but such was not the case.

10. Pat Rafter was not quite as I remembered him.

11. Tennis players are good athletes: Loved the Murray-Djokovic game of keepy-uppy, and Roddick finally taking the ball and throwing it like a QB.

12. Tennis players are just plain good: How about that series when everyone hit every ball behind their back or between their legs? It could have gone on forever.

13. The tours should do this more often: Even without a natural disaster to justify it, this would work well at the start of any dual-gender event. It humanizes the players for fans, especially casual fans, who tend to think of the pros as overpaid automatons. And the players, as you can tell, seem to like it themselves.

14. It's been said by journalists many times, but it's true: Tennis really is just like high school.

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Let the real games begin. See you Monday morning Melbourne time, Sunday evening Eastern Time in the U.S.

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