by Pey Jung Yeong, Special for Tennis Grandstand
There’s a little known fact about Melbourne: it has a hidden trove of laneways around the city center – featuring whimsical bars, artsy bistros and eateries, and even a famous restaurant in Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. These laneways are funky, cluttered and decorated with colourful graffiti on their walls, and Duckboard Place is the laneway lucky enough to be chosen as a spot for adidas’ second location in its “The Game is The Game” Series. The promotional series features tennis-based games set around the grand slam tournaments, and this edition spotlighted the sport of stické tennis. (Andy Murray helped launch the first series, featuring Road Tennis, in East London in November 2011.)
Stické tennis is described as “lawn tennis in a box”, played with standard tennis racquets, sidewalls, and slightly depressurised tennis balls, aiming to create interesting bounces and angles. Duckboard Place was transformed into a miniature tennis court in preparation for a game of street-inspired stické tennis.
To promote the event, adidas had organised an in-store Q&A competition throughout the week, and the lucky winners had the opportunity to participate and watch a match of stické tennis, as well as a meet and greet with the players involved.
In this adidas-sponsored event, Team Wozniacki was comprised of world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Australian junior Ashleigh Barty and rugby league player Billy Slater, while Team Ivanovic consisted of Ana Ivanovic, Gilles Simon and AFL (Australian Football League) player Dale “Daisy” Thomas.
The players were quickly taught the rules by the MC, local Australian newscaster Hamish McLachlan, before play began: competitors play in pairs at any one time, and the scoring follows the rules of lawn tennis. However, the server must play the ball off the walls when serving in order to make it valid. The match was represented by one normal set of tennis – whichever team reaches 6 games first (with a 2 game advantage) would be deemed the winner.
Slater and Tsonga for Team Wozniacki were up first to serve, against Ivanovic and Thomas, and both teams took a while to figure out how to land an effective serve by playing the ball off the walls. Needless to say there were plenty of “double faults” as the ball bounced off the wall and dribbled back onto the same side of the court. However, the players soon adapted to this brand of tennis and play began flowing more effectively. The Frenchmen then experimented with “power serves”, with Simon hitting one serve so hard that it ricocheted above everyone’s heads! The tennis was exhibition-style tennis, with exaggerated lobs and smashes.
“Playing off the walls was tough at first, but once we got that hang of it we all had a great time,” Wozniacki offered.
In between games, the players not on court were interviewed by the MC, most notably about their first-round opponents in the Australian Open. Tsonga, who will be facing Denis Istomin, anticipated a good match and he will be prepared for it, while Wozniacki hoped it will be an interesting match against Anastasia Rodionova. Barty was clearly excited about her Grand Slam main-draw debut (she won the Australian wild-card playoff) and seemed at ease with the other seasoned stars of tennis.
Team Wozniacki was broken halfway into the match, and Team Ivanovic managed to break their serve again to win the match, 6-3.
There was good camaraderie between the team members , and the atmosphere was informal and light-hearted, accompanied by break-dancing ball boys. The match was never really competitive and neither team was competing to win. It was evident that the players were really enjoying themselves, particularly the tennis players, who perhaps were taking this as an opportunity to loosen up and have a bit of fun before two weeks of competitive Grand Slam tennis that begins Monday.
After the match, the players all posed for photos for the media, and then took the time out to personally meet and greet the winners of the adidas in-store competition. They signed autographs and posed for numerous photos with the fans. There were smiles all around and the fans were clearly excited to meet the tennis stars. The tennis players, on the other hand, were equally happy to oblige fan requests.
The whole event was very well organised, providing an intimate yet casual and funky atmosphere for the players to interact with the small group of fans as well as the media. It was also really refreshing to see the top players – usually so serious and focused on court – smiling and goofing off with each other on a miniature tennis court. It enables the fans to see another side of the players that is perhaps not often visible on a tennis court. Overall, it is indeed an event to remember!
UPDATE: Per adidas, you can watch video of the event here! http://a.did.as/zTFfPC
(All photos courtesy of author.)