As an action-filled 2021 Australian Open nears its end, it’s easy to focus heavily on all the great tennis that’s been played. Engaging early rounds. Upsets and comebacks. Contenders advancing, champions continuing.
But on TC Live today, Tennis Channel analyst Lindsay Davenport addressed a much bigger theme that will likely continue for most of 2021 when she cited, “How flexible everybody has to be.”
Think of all it took for more than 200 players to even get to this year’s Australian Open. COVID testing prior to departure. A long trip on a sparse charter flight—at one level luxurious, at another eerie. More testing upon arrival. Two weeks of lockdown, guaranteed 19 hours a day for most, but 24 hours for 72 others due to the presence of COVID on their plane. Practice, fitness, meals—all constricted. Oh, and then, time to compete at a major, where the on-court temperature often hits triple digits.
Amid such pre-tournament circumstances, how confident could anyone feel he or she was ready to go all-out?
It’s been fairly smooth in Australia these last two weeks. Yes, there has been pain, particularly among a number of men who suffered abdominal injuries and were forced to withdraw. Several players who endured the hard lockdown proved quite rusty and were eliminated early. Still, at least from a tennis standpoint, the show went on.
But, like a rumbling nearby volcano, the cumulative stress of the pandemic surely lingers and looms. COVID testing continues. I don’t know about you, but my blood pressure would rise every time I had one of those tests and nervously awaited the results. What kind of concern does a player feel should he or she get a cold or show any other COVID symptoms that may or not mean anything? Did everyone observe proper social distancing? How did it feel to be in Melbourne and suddenly see the city enter a five-day lockdown in the middle of the tournament?
As a friend working at Melbourne Park wrote me during that ultra-austere period, being at the event then felt like occupying a scene from The Omega Man, the 1971 movie where Charlton Heston played the last man on earth who could occupy daylight.
The traveling tennis circus will shortly exit Melbourne, its members headed to various corners of the world—to train, to compete, but also, to wait and wonder. As the crusty but wise actress Bette Davis said in the movie All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Indeed, as 2021 rolls on, flexibility will be vital for all in tennis and beyond.