My birthday, year after year, has always been scorchingly hot. The middle of January in Australia is high summer; the grass is dry and crunchy, feet bear strong thong tans, and noses a few extra freckles. Days are lazy and long, but there is a freshness to the new year that’s grinding to a slow start. It’s lovely. It’s my favourite time of year.
As a child, we were often by the beach on my birthday. Photos show us kids damp-haired, as brown as berries and smeared with zinc, crowded around a cake bought from the local supermarket. On my 13th birthday, my parents took me to Melbourne for my first Australian Open. I was, and remain, completely tennis mad. In 1998 Martina Hingis was at her searing best and I was her biggest fan. We watched very young Williams sisters in the doubles, and Martina demolish Anna Kournikova. I remember being furious at my father as he cheered on Anna Kournikova to provoke me (and because, really, every middle-aged father was cheering on Anna Kournikova in the 90s. Gross Dad.). My parents let me pick out a professional outfit at the merchandise store, one I could wear to the tournaments I had started entering. Despite playing with a Head racquet, and being staunchly loyal to it, I chose a navy blue Nike top and skirt combination, with matching white bike pants. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember thinking those white bike pants just topped it all off, made me as good as professional.
When I got older, and bars became an option for celebrations, no matter how many sickly sweet cocktails I was down, tradition dictated an annual blister-inducing run in my high summer heels, between the bar where I’d be celebrating with my friends, to the nearest sports bar that was showing the Open. I never missed the game that was showing on the evening of my birthday – I think my feet still bear the scars – and I will always remember screeching into some dingy place, out of breath and sweating in my party dress, to find a seat among the revellers and scream at the screen.
To me, January 24th is high blue skies, shoulder-burning sun, and tennis. Always has been.
I turned thirty this year. As I lay in bed watching the Aussie Open with my daughter, it started snowing outside. Without warning, big, fluffy flakes pirouetted frantically past my window. The sky was white, as white as the ground. It stuck, for the first time this winter, the snow stuck. It was as if the universe was having a laugh: expecting blue skies and shoulder-burning sun? I’ll give you white, white and toe-burning cold. Messages coming in from the other side of the world spoke of 35 degrees, a typical middle of summer day. A typical birthday day.
In the next room, my husband worked, shrouded in secrecy. The snow fell thicker and faster, the city outside disappearing beneath it. One match finished and Djokovic, my current Hingis, came on. I told die Lüdde to watch him carefully, and that when she was a little bigger, I would give her a racquet and teach her how to play, just like Martina’s mum did.
As Djokovic battled through an opening set tie break, the top secret wrapping work finished, and we were summoned to the living room. The tennis was on the big screen, that familiar blue court and the evening Aussie sun bouncing off it. A cake sat on the coffee table and, propped up next to it, wrapped in candy-striped paper, a familiar shape. That candy-striped paper, I am not ashamed to say, was ripped off there and then, with the glee of a child a tenth my age. My own child watched on with far more composure than her thirty year old mother.
So this year, the sun wasn’t scorching and the skies turned blue a day late. But the tennis was on and my brand new Head racquet is beautiful.