In Melbourne, a valley of tears

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This is where it all stopped, this is where it all starts again, or almost. A year ago, the Australian Open had been the last Grand Slam tournament, and even one of the last tournaments to be held under normal conditions, although there was already emphatic talk of a unknown virus from China. A year and a week later, we played again in Melbourne, with the public, almost “like before”.

Read also: The pandemic takes us back to the days when the Australian Open was an adventure

Usually, we do not see the work that there is upstream, nor that of the organizers to plan everything than that of the players to prepare. By force of circumstances this year, the incredible sum of efforts and resources made to guarantee the tournament in a semblance of normality occupied the minds for weeks. In the heads, the headlines and the tweets, it was only tests, quarantine, training, confinement, problems, solutions, controversies, adaptations.

Also read an old article (2020): The Australian Open on the verge of suffocation

After a final alert (a positive case Thursday in a hotel where a hundred players had stayed), everyone came out safe and sound, but not necessarily unscathed. In this Melbourne Park open to 17,922 spectators spread over all the courts, we first perceive the changes in the little things of everyday life: the disappearance of the linesmen, replaced by an instantaneous control system which also killed the “challenge”. »And the accompaniment of the verdict by the applause of the public. We will regret less the ritual, now prohibited for sanitary reasons, of systematic sponging, and its corollary: the ball collector reduced to the state of towel rails.

“Everyone is crying”

Some of the players have left their hotel rooms weakened. On the one hand, because they were able to train less, to the point of seeing the blisters typical of their return from vacation blooming again in the palm of their best hand, on the other hand, because they were deprived of their landmarks. And a tennis player without landmarks is a tennis player who doubts, who is afraid. Who even cries. Three, and not the least, have publicly acknowledged this.

Sofia Kenin came out of the court in tears on Friday, after having been curtly in a local preparatory tournament, the Yarra Valley Classic, by Garbiñe Muguruza (6-2 6-2 in the quarterfinals). The next day, the American admitted tackling with great stress her first Grand Slam tournament as the title holder. “I have to find a way to deal with my emotions during the Australian Open. My opponents will not have the pressure against me and will probably play better than usual. I have to prepare for it… ”

Nervousness also won over a player with a similar profile (North American from Eastern Europe, titled very young, often injured since). The Canadian Bianca Andreescu struggled through the first round against the Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu (6-2 4-6 6-3) and did not hide it. “I was very, very nervous. Last night I cried, I’m not afraid to say it because everyone cries sometimes. ” The pressure on her shoulders was heightened when she withdrew from a pre-test, generating speculation about her health. On Monday, Bianca Andreescu greeted the victory as “a relief”.

“We are really drawing right now”

A feeling that Gaël Monfils does not know. The French suffered further disillusionment in the first round, beaten in five sets by the Finnish Emil Ruusuvuori (3-6 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3), his seventh consecutive defeat since February 2020. Completely distraught, Monfils broke down at the press conference, his eyes full of tears and shy eyes. “I don’t feel good, it shows…” In his case there is the classic confusion of the player in search of his tennis (“I have zero confidence”) but the context does not help. Alone in front of screens in an empty press room, beaten by his training partner during his forties, he becomes a bit paranoid: “I feel judged. I’m already on the ground, don’t shoot me… ”

While Benoît Paire, also eliminated from the outset (by Belarusian Egor Gerasimov, 6-2 2-6 7-6 7-5) but closer to the nervous breakdown than to the crisis of tears, railed against “a shitty tournament ”after losing his form and his calm during his strict quarantine (“ I spent fourteen days in my bed ”), their compatriot Alizé Cornet tried to explain these uncontrolled tensions which suddenly emerge. “Gael [Monfils] is not used to that. It really goes to show how much we are drawing right now, morally and physically. It is not complaining to say that it is hard. Honestly, I’ve had zero morale for a month, I’ve been crying a lot lately. ”

Alizé Cornet won her match against the Russian Valeria Savinykh (6-2 4-6 7-6) after a great tie-break which cost her “ten years of life” but from which she survived because she did not. did not want “to have done all that to lose in the first round”. Perhaps the solution to not crying at the end is to cry at the beginning. In the New York Times, Sofia Kenin admitted to having cried “last year here in Melbourne before every game”. Until victory.