Watching and playing tennis

I’ve always had a mild interest in tennis. I enjoy playing it and don’t mind watching it, but not to the same degree I follow other sports, especially rugby, cricket and Australian football.

Pancho Gonzales tennis racquetMy father taught me to play squash before he let me use his Pancho Gonzales tennis racquet (example pictured). Dad was good at both sports until his back injury precluded him from playing much.

Because I started with squash, that was my dominant racquet sport until I stopped playing in my mid 20s.

Tennis was only ever a social game for me, and I never considered myself very good, although in relative terms I’m a capable player even today.

Australia was a declining world tennis power when I began following the game in the mid 70s. From 1950 to 1967, Australia won 15 out of 18 Davis Cup titles.

Australia won the Davis Cup 16 times between 1937 and 1973, but only five times since.

Australian players topped the rankings in the 60s and early 70s, including Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong.

John Newcombe

John Newcombe

I recall watching them all play on television, except Margaret Court, although they were in their twilight years as professional players. Newcombe last won the Australian Open in 1975 and Goolagong in 1977. She also won Wimbledon in 1980.

Most tennis was played on grass in those days. It was also very much a serve-volley game. Search YouTube for players from that era and you’ll see what I mean.

The introduction of hard courts made the game accessible to more people in Europe and South America. It also saw a shift to power tennis and the demise of serve-volley strategy.

Australia subsequently declined as a tennis powerhouse.

I haven’t watched much live tennis. The only time I’ve been to an Australian Open was at Kooyong in 1981, where I saw eventual champion Johan Kriek, from South Africa, win an early-round match on grass.

In a lesser league, but more enjoyable, I watched the Mount Gambier women’s tournament two years in a row, taking photographs and filing match reports for the local newspaper.

In 2009 I saw former world number eight Alicia Molik contest the tournament on her comeback trail.

But I’m not one to watch tennis on television and I’m not particularly motivated to sit in the stands at a major tournament.

The modern players are largely anonymous to me and I don’t find the style of play as enjoyable as it used to be on grass.

Young Michael is really interested in tennis though and wants to see the Australian Open next year.

For those who don’t know, Evonne Goolagong was an Aboriginal player who won 14 grand slam titles. Her father was an itinerant shearer and she grew up in the small country town of Barellan.

Here’s a musical tribute to the great Evonne Goolagong from 1981:

[audioboo url=””]

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