Magic moment with tennis stars a one-sided affair in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 March, 2014, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 9:59am

You can tell straight off the bat who are the real tennis nuts - the weekend Rogers and Rafas, if you will - and who the hacks who have been cajoled along to pay penance for their sins. The racquet is mightier than the pen.

The former group are attired in all the right gear, enter the makeshift tennis arena at the Tseung Kwan O Velodrome lugging bags that look like they hold about four racquets (and possibly a cello or two), and bounce niftily on the balls of their feet before going for shots. The other lot, among whose ranks your correspondent numbers, boast neither raw talent nor anything like the motivation to have put in the 10,000 hours we are told it takes to compensate for its lack.

Each of the combatants at last night's BNP Paribas Showdown Hong Kong - part of World Tennis Day - held individual clinics at the venue beforehand, and their respective credentials were enough to strike fear into those of us who pine for the more sedate era of wooden racquets and Dunlop sandshoes.

Thomas Berdych, the men's world No 5, is one of the game's hardest hitters; Samantha Stosur is said to be among the most powerful servers in women's tennis; and China's own Li Na is well-renowned for her baseline aggression.

It's pretty nerve-wracking hitting against the world No 2. You don't want to mess up
James Tu

Perhaps Lleyton Hewitt would be the man to take on, then, given he sits at No 41 in the world. Alas, the Australian's reputation for cantankerousness precedes him: he could be a prickly opponent.

In the end, the draw renders such considerations null and we are pitted with Stosur's group. But what's this? It's hard to decide whether to rejoice or despair when we realise she is giving us baby strokes. My attempt at a lob does not seem to impress her; she is more taken with my fellow challenger, Andrew, who is six and having mixed success connecting with the ball.

Next up, Hewitt seems pugnacious, but matey. Berdych is all gangly, blue-eyed Czech handsomeness - although upstaged by his model girlfriend, Ester Satarova, who is being fêted courtside by reporters.

Finally it is the main attraction: Li's up. Stifling a yawn as she plods on court, it's clear this is more of a photocall for some. One chap, somewhat ingeniously, has strapped a camera onto his son's chest, to capture every precious back and forth with her.

"It's pretty nerve-wracking hitting against the world No 2. You don't want to mess up," says James Tu, 37, revealing he previously travelled to Melbourne to watch Li's triumph there. He steps on court, musters a backhand slice that shoots down the line - and seems pleased Li decides not to chase it.