Isn’t morning television wonderful? I’m especially fond of those variety-type breakfast shows: the forced badinerie, the practiced solecisms, the brutally jolly weather segments. Their commitment to safeguarding the English language is especially commendable. One story this morning featured the delightful phrases: ‘In an increasingly global world . . .’ and ‘this has angered some members of the female community’. I assume the first phrase refers to the continuing effects of erosion in forming our planet into a more perfect sphere. The latter I suspect means ‘some women are pissed off’. It’s mind-bending stuff, almost enough to make this member of the human community see an increasingly scarlet shade of red.
Anyway, I bring this up because I’ve been rising early for some time now, courtesy of my four-year-old daughter, who has outgrown the capacity to sleep past 6.30 am. Until last week it wasn’t an issue. Until last week, you see, there was nearly always tennis on.
It’s one of the peculiarities of being Australian – in this increasingly global world – that you’re always aware of just how much stuff is going on elsewhere, and that it mostly goes on in the middle of the night. My life as a hardcore fan began with Boris Becker’s successful Wimbledon defence in 1986, and exhaustion and elation have been intrinsic to the tennis experience ever since. If nothing else, it helps make the whole thing more visceral. If you thought the 2008 Wimbledon final was a thrill-ride, try watching it at 4am, knowing you have to be at work in five hours. You feel each interminable rain delay in your soul: you’re up in the middle of the night in the middle of winter with nothing to do, and there’s no reason to think it will end. As twilight envelops Centre Court, a frosty sun rises outside your window, and you look and feel unimaginably haggard, like a refugee forced to endure one border-check too many. Then the kids get up. All the same, many of my fondest tennis memories have taken place at bizarre murky hours: Cash’s 1987 Wimbledon, Sampras’ 2002 US Open, Federer’s 2009 French Open.
Lately, it’s all been much better, entirely thanks to the European indoor season and vastly improved internet streaming. The night sessions at the World Tour Finals began at 7am in Melbourne. Watching Roger Federer imperiously dispatch all-comers, it turns out, is a pretty civilised way to enjoy breakfast. My daughter certainly enjoys it, and it’s been a real bonding experience for us. She still prefers the cute blonde girls in tiny bright dresses – her favourites are Maria Kirilenko and Alona Bondarenko, fine specimens – but the drama and adventure of the Rafa and Roger show is not lost on her. She even drew me a picture, of her watching them play. They’re playing on grass under a streaming, low-angled sun. It can only be the Wimbledon final of 2007 – the year the stands went topless – some time in the fifth set. I praised her for choosing such a fine moment to commemorate. She looked at me blankly, patiently. Just Dad talking crap again.