Saturday, January 22, 2005

Desperately Seeking Anke Huber

I have so many good suggestions still to get through, but Claire wanted me to tell this particular little tale, and the poor little lamb is having a rough week, so ya know...this is for you babes!

Desperately Seeking Anke Huber

If you know me even vaguely, you'll know that I look like a particular low ranked tennis player who I have developed a paternal instinct for following. Supporting her through her trials and tribulations has given me an appreciation for failure...what it must be like to perpetually front up to tournaments, knowing you had no hope of winning. It must be amazingly frustrating to never quite seize the spotlight. In contrast, when you play a player that you know you can whip, it must be tempting to just see how much hope you can give them before dropping in the big guns. I do have some special insight into tennis though, and I got it in Fitzroy of all places...

Melbourne hosts the Australian Open tennis every year in January, which means it's school holiday time and as a kid, you can see big name tennis players casually wandering around Melbourne ordering sandwiches and coffee. For me, this was no big deal, until for some vague reason in the middle of 1994, I had gained a giant passion for tennis. To the point of picking up a racket and seeing if my hand eye co-ordination was good enough to make me the new Kristine Radford or Kerry Anne Guse. Alas, I was such a benny, I kept not only missing the ball, but positioning myself in such a way that I would slap my arm with the racket. I had a pretty good Monica Seles grunt (a sort of HEY-YAHA!) but by the time the grunt the out, I had usually already missed the ball. I realised then and there that I was probably best suited to keeping a tennis scrapbook, alongside my penned in results for the world surfing championships.

So it was tennis time, 1995, January, the big names in town: so there I am, casually wandering through Fitzroy, on my way to get massaged (I had a weird back thing going on in 1995, it was really worrying, especially given my surfing career would have been over) and get my back clicked into place, when a Mercedes with a chaffeur zoomed past at 100kmhs, straight past two old men on their way to bowls or something in a Skoda Bravo, overtaking illegally, and just managing to get back into its lane in time to narrowly avoid a head on collision with a Toyota Crown. Everyone stopped and beeped their horn loudly at the Mercedes. Out of the window came a defiantly feminine middle finger, and the Mercedes drove off, leaving the old men to put their teeth back in and recover from the shock. "Bloody hoons doing blockies" sagely noted a Jamaican woman, who then bizarrely did a black power fist in the direction of the old men. "Right on sistah" I said, under my breath, and continued on my merry way.

When I got to the masseuse, about 1/2 an hour later, I noticed the Mercedes was in the private parking space, and the chaffeur was reading a German newspaper (Bild I think) and chuckling at the German equivalent of Fred Bassett. I was going to go and introduce myself, but he was so into Herr Bassett, I didn't have the heart. I went through the double doors, and as always the receptionist greeted me like a long lost cousin. "Hey Y!" she said, beaming. "Hey Betty" I said, smiling broadly. "Have you lost weight?" said Betty, handing me my swipe card to the waiting room. "Not as much as you have you old fox!" I said, and swiped my card. We had quite the banter, Betty and I. I wish we'd exchanged numbers.

I went into the waiting room, and sitting in the waiting room in an all white outfit and a cowboy hat was top 10 ranked German womens tennis Anke Huber, sitting reading a copy of German Vogue from about 1976. She was intently studying the orange pastel colours that lit up the rooms in those days. I couldn't believe it. From my scrapbook! I mean, THE Anke Huber! I didn't know what to do, but I was sufficiently star struck to hold in a burp that I had to do after drinking too much fizzy orange juice. I sat in this weird tense state for about a minute, then I had to blurt it out.

"I saw you before - you're Anke Huber!"

She looked at me funny and pulled her face into a mask of disdain. "At the car...thing...your driver...he el loco..." I said, clearly mixing Spain and Germany up, but I didn't know the German for crazy. She broke into a dis-arming, if slightly patronising smile, and put down her magazine.

"He is crazy," she said, spinning her finger round her head in the internationally approved sign for crazy.

"Crazy," I repeated, as if I had made a breakthrough with a Sri Lankan man who had just got off the plane, or in the voice Jane Goodall used to communicate with chimps, as opposed to someone who could speak English just fine. She went to pick up her magazine, but put it down again and looked at me oddly.

"Is he GOOD?" she said, pointing to the name of the masseuse on the door.

"Yeah, really good!" I said, nodding. "Dr Oldfield, he's...well he's good...he's worked on my back..."

She smiled again, and paused, like I was going to ask for an autograph. She even held her hand out like I should give her a pen. I didn't have a pen, and if I asked Betty for one, she'd tell me people are people and I shouldn't be lowering myself for autographs. It got the point where Anke was clearly bored of waiting, and took out her own pen, and signed a piece of paper she tore off a doctors pad, and handed it to me wordlessly. It said "Best wishes, Anke Huber" next to the address for a gynaecologist. I studied it for a second, and she smiled warmly for the first time, and went back to reading.

After two more minutes of tense silence, Dr Oldfield came out, and said "Ms Huber - time for your ankle workout..." Ankle workout? Did they not have a problem blurting out such information at this time? I could have gone to the Herald Sun with such vital news that Anke had a an ankle problem. Anke turned to me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, I swear to god: "Champions...drink milk...good for the bones..." And then she was gone, forever, out of my life, and my doctor, Dr McLooe, took me into his room, and clicked my back into place. When I went out into the carpark an hour later, the Mercedes was gone, the German Vogue was gone, and Anke went out in the last 16 to Mary Pierce, and made the final the year after, losing to Monica Seles. Betty, citing patient confidentiality, wouldn't tell me where she was staying, and it soured our relationship to be honest.

I still that autograph somewhere, and I've thought a lot about meeting Ms Huber. I've thought it must me great to be a champion at something, to live out your dream. To be athletically gifted, to be strong, self confident, to tour the world doing something you utterly, utterly love, and being paid a fortune to do it.

It doesn't, however, mean you still can't be a spaced out absolute benny though...


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