THE ROAR AND AWE OF THE SPORTS FAN

No dis­tance is too great, no time slot too brief, writes Miriyana Alexan­der.

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My boss went to Eng­land for the week­end to watch the All Blacks win the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He says he was on the ground for so little time there wasn’t much point sleep­ing.

An­other work­mate made the 36,000km round trip to the UK to watch his much-loved fifth-tier foot­ball team lose the match that would have seen them pro­moted. He was on the ground for about 55 hours — the same time he spent in the air. He swears it was worth it.

Fans have been pack­ing their face paint and flags and cross­ing items off their sport­ing wish lists since for­ever. An Ashes test at Lords, Wim­ble­don, the Mel­bourne Cup and the All Blacks tak­ing on Eng­land at Twick­en­ham all fea­tured heav­ily in an in­for­mal straw poll of friends’ favourites.

I love sport, but I’m more likely to travel for con­certs (Sting and Van Mor­ri­son in the UK, Ge­orge Michael in Syd­ney). But ev­ery Jan­uary, watch­ing the Aus­tralian Open on TV, I’d vow to get to Mel­bourne be­fore Roger Fed­erer re­tired.

This year, my chance came.

Mel­bourne Park is a fab­u­lous venue, an easy walk from the cen­tral city. Myr­iad courts and are­nas, and even more bars, cafes and restau­rants, means many ways to spend the day.

Fam­i­lies un­packed pic­nics in the var­i­ous green spa­ces where big screens showed the ac­tion, the frozen rose flowed in the gar­den bar, and fans hung around the prac­tice courts to watch the stars warm up.

The na­ture of ten­nis means you never know if you’ll see a lowly-ranked un­known or a su­per­star un­til the or­der of play is re­vealed the pre­vi­ous night. Al­though if you’re cen­tre­court at Rod Laver Arena you’re al­most guar­an­teed a big name each ses­sion.

This was a stellar field — Fed­erer, Nadal, Djokovic, Mur­ray, the Wil­liams sis­ters — and we were in luck, see­ing a top seed tum­ble and a rock star of the game on his way to record­break­ing glory.

The lowly-ranked un­known (No. 117) turned out to be the very cool lime-green-be­spec­ta­cled De­nis Is­tomin from Uzbek­istan. The su­per­star was world

No. 2 and two-time de­fend­ing champ No­vak Djokovic, the hot favourite to bank the $A3.7 mil­lion (NZ$4m) win­ner’s cheque. Three hours in, Is­tomin was two sets down and suf­fer­ing from cramp. He might have had sore legs, but high in the Rod Laver Arena, we had sore bums — al­though no one was com­plain­ing. Al­most two hours later, Is­tomin sent the Serb pack­ing, the crowd into a frenzy and the statis­ti­cians to the record books to dis­cover it was Djokovic’s ear­li­est Aussie Open exit in 11 years.

It was ex­hil­a­rat­ing, some­thing spe­cial, and il­lus­trates per­fectly why sport res­onates. The un­pre­dictabil­ity, the drama, the ri­valry, pas­sion, tal­ent — and love. In Is­tomin’s case for his mum, Klaudiya, also his coach, who kept him fo­cused on his dreams as a teen when a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent al­most saw him give the game away. Real life. It’s al­ways bet­ter than fic­tion.

Later I al­most broke my iPhone, im­pa­tiently re­fresh­ing the Aussie Open app for the next day’s draw. Then there it was: R Fed­erer v T Berdych. I blew Lady Luck a kiss.

And then, there he was. The Fed Ex­press in the flesh. It seemed a shiver went through the crowd and we sat straighter in our seats. The star of the show tucked his hair be­hind his ear, and raised his arm to the crowd. We all roared our adu­la­tion. I won­der if he ever gets sick if it.

In the end it was over too soon. The GOAT* was too good. For some­one sup­pos­edly past his best, it took him just 90 min­utes to de­stroy the Czech. We could only shake our heads in won­der and awe.

A week later, watch­ing in my liv­ing room as Fed­erer beat Nadal in a five-set fi­nal, it felt writ­ten in the stars.

* I’m not be­ing rude. This means Great­est of All Time.

Spec­ta­cles abound at the Aussie Open.

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