Diary of a tennis weekend in Cygnet, Tasmania
by Kevin McLoughlin

January 2009

Saturday 24th

It is only when the lady umpire informs the players that they may "feel free to correct me" that I feel sure the 2009 Cygnet Tennis Tournament is my kind of sporting event. The chill wind and squally showers that buffet the open viewing deck have initially dampened my enthusiasm but now I settle back in my seat. And relax. It could've been different. If the bus to Hobart had departed this morning I'd have joyfully boarded and headed to the capital with my single bag and a sense of relief. I'd be celebrating Australia Day weekend in Tassie’s capital; by the sea, mixing with the crowds in the Salamander market and downing a few choice Guinnesses in the craicing New Sydney Hotel. But this is rural Tas' and there's only one bus a day out of town; and it only runs Monday to Friday. And it doesn't run on Holiday Mondays. So this vehicle-less traveller is stuck in Cygnet 'til Tuesday morning. I need something to occupy me for three days and this tennis tournament fits the bill.

There are four dirt courts featuring all the combination of matches tennis has to offer. Singles, doubles, mixed, men, women, boys and girls. Sometimes children play adults - it seems unfair but the youngsters are game and the swirling wind sometimes evens it up. Only sometimes. One young fella can't get to grip with the devilish wind; his serve consistently finds the net. Like the salmon in Ireland's River Moy. Only the salmon in the Moy have a spring and on occasion evade capture; not these salmon - they've more of a lead belly. So, the young man resorts to a tactic so extreme it's magnificent; audacious, even. He releases the tennis ball from waist level and whacks it over the net. He serves underarm! Brilliant. I wouldn't consider myself an avid tennis watcher - Wimbledon, grass courts, Venus Williams are my yearly fix - but I do know you're not supposed to serve like that! This lad is doing what captains of industry ask all eager young things to do: he's "thinking out of the box". A bright future ahead for you me laddo! The receiver of the 'serve' watches open-mouthed as it loops high over the net and bounces 'in'. Now I know people back home who'd catch the ball, throw it back to the lad and insist he serves in a legitimate manner. Or damm well bugger off. Not here. The receiver is a well built athletic man wearing a ponytail. Not sure if he ever so slightly shrugged his shoulders but what I am sure he did do is bludgeon the ball back with alacrity for a 'winner'. And moved for the next point. Now that's a good sport. Sport.

The wooden pavillion at Cygnet allows spectators to wander its length and view matches on all four courts. You can pick and choose, find a game that appeals and settle in a chair. It also allows you to step inside and watch the tennis away from the showers and wind. I'm braver than most and am happy to sit outside but it's nice to pop in for some warmth and a drink. The ladies behind the counter provide beer, fruit and sandwiches at a reasonable price and with a gracious manner. They even try to get the barbie on the balcony going but the rain and wind give that little earner short shrift. My only gripe is the bottle of Pale Ale isn't chilled; but I am a man of fortitude. And not constant sorrow.

I stay 'til late afternoon watching all manner of contests before slipping away; back to my abode. Quietly satisfied.

Sunday 25th

Tennis has started by the time I arrive. No dawdling here. Everything seems well organised and runs like clockwork. The sun's out today and the wind has dropped - there's a few more spectators; maybe 30. Fewer seats to choose from. I like my own space and time to think so buy a Pale Ale and wander below where there are some rudimentary wooden platforms that serve as seats. Impressively, the Pale Ale's chilled. The lady who served had put a few bottles in the chiller alongside the lager - made a comment about making sure they were cold today. Had someone complained? Or, had she registered my mild disgruntlement with yesterday's warm offering? No matter - all's well today.

A woman stops and asks if I know which court so and so is playing on? I don't. "Is she a friend of yours?" I ask; "No" she says, "I'm her playing partner" and off she wanders to the officials hut to find out when and where her match takes place.

I climb the steps to the top of the pavilion and find an open space on the balcony. The slight breeze ruffles my hair and turns a nearby wind turbine; tin roofed weatherboard houses stand solid beneath the nearby verdant hills. Below me cries of encouragement as amateur sportspeople vie for a place in tomorrow’s Finals Day. This is competitive tennis and played to the best amateur values; play hard and true and no cheating. And when you finish, spray the court with water and sweep out the scuff marks so it's fit for the next match. You can't hold back their enthusiasm. I can see it. I can feel it. I can smell it!

It's great being in Tasmania. I slip away; quietly impressed.

Monday 26th

It's Australia Day and Cygnet has turned out to support its biggest tennis event of the year, the barbie's running hot and there's a buzz about the Club. The sun is shining, it's hot and that tiresome wind has blown itself away. By the time I arrive the Men's Singles Final is underway on Court 3. Its significance underlined by the ballboys in attendance and the fact that it's the only match on show. A chilled Pale Ale in hand and a seat on the balcony affords me contentment and a great view. Did you ever see the Borg v McEnroe matches of the early 80s? Cool, calm and ruthless v emotion, drive and undiluted talent. Okay, there's no wooden rackets and Centre Court it ain't. But today we have a similar match. One guy sliding around the court, berating himself, throwing his racquet in the air, urging his inherent tennis ability to produce winners. Across court the quiet, studious approach - steely determined and very much a match in tennis ability. The match is intense, classy; the spectators are enthralled. We get a chance to collect our breath when one of the few wild shots clears the boundary fence and both ballboys set off in pursuit of the ball. It takes a while and they return empty handed - maybe they should have engaged the help of the dog with the pink bow a few seats down from me. Play resumes and after what seems like hours in the punishing heat finally reaches its conclusion.

A representative from Tennis Tasmania is on hand to present the trophy and cheque. Our winner is the McEnroeish Richard Wynwood, runner up J. Marik. Richard thanks the ladies running the bar and BBQ, the Cygnet Tennis Club, his opponent and us, the spectators, for turning out to support the event. It's an eloquent, modest speech which sits well with my feelings about this whole weekend. I think I saw a little of what makes Australia a great sporting country. Guts, determination, skill, patience and perseverance.

As the afternoon slips away so do I; hoping one day to return.

Kevin McLoughlin