John Pages

Match Point

GRAEME Mackinnon lived in Cebu for 13 years. He was conferred the Cebu Hall of Fame award for bolstering the sport of football. But the Australian’s “first love?” The game he played when he was only six years old? Tennis. And so I asked Graeme, now relaxing at home in Bateau Bay, a 100-km. drive from Sydney, to comment on the year’s first Grand Slam event…

Who is your favorite Aussie player? “There have been so many through the years although that list is definitely diminishing for whatever reason. My favorite would have to be “Rocket” Rod Laver. His four Grand Slams in the same year (1962 and 1969) set him apart from so many great players. He had finesse and guile and his touch was exquisite.”

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How do you find Nadal’s pink/orange attire? “The fashion police should be out in force and just give Rafa a mirror. It is a shocker.”

On the noise: “The grunt and shriek debate continues although with Mike Limpag’s “flame” (Sharapova) extinguished, it will be markedly decibels quieter. When I watched Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin play in the Queensland weeks ago, I thought there was something wrong with the audio. Both played at the highest quality without grunting and shrieking. What a pleasure it was to watch and hear the noise of the racquet actually hitting the ball.”

What’s your favorite chant? “Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi.”

Ticket prices? “Depending on the day, between $60 (P2,500) for the first few days before it starts to spiral upwards before peaking at $290 (P12,200) for the men’s or women’s final.”

A Roger-Rafa finale? “We can expect another Roger-Rafa final because they are the two most consistent players and their meetings are legendary. But will they play in the final?

There are probably four who could make the final and it would not be a surprise. Roger, Rafa, Andy Murray (away from the expectation of Wimbledon), Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro’s my choice against either Roger or Rafa.”

Why does Australia love tennis? Did this start during the era of Laver and Rosewall? “No, it happened well before them. In fact the Australasian Lawn Tennis Association was formed in 1904.

We won the first of our 27 Davis Cup crowns in 1907. It also marked the year that Norman Brookes became the first of 12 Australians to win Wimbledon. Tennis has been around in Australia for a long time. Laver and Rosewall are just part of the legacy of those humble beginnings.”

Notice the drums beating in between points? “Because of our cosmopolitan heritage there is always strong nationalistic support for many of the overseas players. These players come from countries with a strong football culture and the supporters bring that football support to tennis.”

Have you watched the games live? “No. And I most probably won’t in the future. With the unbelievable TV coverage that we get and the line-up of commentators who give such an insight into the players’ psyche, I’m happy to be a couch potato for two weeks.

We have around 12 hours of live coverage daily.”

Who do you find the prettiest? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My favorite is Elena Dementieva. There are many lovely Russian players but Elena always looks feminine. The outfits she wears always look so good on her. But my favorite female player is Henin.”

Is tennis your most popular sport? “In national participation, tennis ranks low. The Australian Football League and rugby league are No.1 in winter depending on what state you live in.

Soccer is No. 2. In summer, cricket is No. 1. Girls netball is getting stronger. Tennis becomes No. 1 for couch potatoes in January.”

Why is Lleyton Hewitt considered arrogant? “He became famous at a young age by beating Andre Agassi in 1998… when he was 17. He was the third youngest ever to claim an ATP title… Maybe it was a case of too much too soon.”

Federer vs. Laver, both at their peak, who’d win? “I think it is difficult to compare different eras. It most certainly would have been a great game but for no other reason than I am unashamedly biased, I would say Rod Laver.”

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