As the Carolina Panthers prepare to take on the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina, a world away Down Under, they've become the most talked-about NFL team at the Australian Open.
Thanks to Victoria Azarenka and John Isner, one of the Panthers' biggest—and tallest—fans, Carolina is a hit in Melbourne.
According to Courtney Nguyen's 2013 story in Sports Illustrated, the Panthers are the "unofficial NFL team of the tennis community."
It started with the 6'10" Isner, a longtime Panthers fan. A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, Isner often tweets about the squad. He's even taken to mimicking quarterback Cam Newton's "Superman celebration" after victories on the court.
Juan Monaco @picomonaco
@JohnIsner @Panthers lets do it vamos ! 👊1/17/2016, 4:34:39 AM
With so many fellow tennis players as friends and followers on Twitter, Isner's love for the team has spread.
Andy Roddick's wife, Brooklyn Decker, is also a fan and never misses an opportunity to give shoutouts to "Panther Nation."
Carolina Panthers @Panthers
Help support a big #Panthers fan! https://t.co/OP10Qso4xO1/13/2016, 4:41:25 PM
The franchise returns the love by sending Isner its support via Twitter before matches.
With the Panthers on the verge of a Super Bowl bid, Isner's fanaticism is at a fever pitch.
In an interview with Charlotte Observer writer Scott Fowler, Isner said he can't sleep through a Panthers tilt. "There’s no way I could sleep through it. I’m serious. My body naturally wakes itself up for Panthers games. If I’m in Europe and the Panthers game is starting at 3 a.m., I just wake up right before kickoff anyway. I just care so much that my body knows when to get up."
Azarenka brought the team's notoriety to another level when she decided to "dab" on the court. The two-time Australian Open winner did her best version of the dance made popular by Newton.
Perplexed, foreign news reporters asked her about the odd gesture. "It's called a dab," Azarenka told them in her Belarusian accent (via ESPN.com). "The dab. D-A-B."
Although Newton made "dabbing" a household term, he didn't create it. The dance reportedly originated in Atlanta. Newton, a native of the city, started doing it after scoring touchdowns.
"Dab on 'em, Cam" became a playful phrase used by Newton fans.
As relayed by ESPN, Azarenka told reporters: "It comes from American football. ... I think it's really fun. It's entertaining. I love doing it."
Juan Monaco @picomonaco
10-0 and counting 👊🏽 @Panthers @NFL @JohnIsner11/22/2015, 9:07:28 PM
And she won't stop doing it. She first drew attention when she dabbed after her second-round win over Danka Kovinic. Then she dabbed again after defeating Naomi Osaka in the third round.
Suddenly, people who knew nothing about American football were interested in this dance Azarenka was talking about.
But it wasn't the first time Azarenka dabbed on the court. She also did it during her run to the title in Brisbane.
CJ Fogler @cjzero
https://t.co/e10A1rbByE RT @Edwerderespn So @CameronNewton has Victoria Azarenka dabbing after wins. #CrossOverStar1/23/2016, 3:03:39 AM
Although the NFL rules the sports landscape in the United States, on a global scale, it trails tennis. That the Panthers—not even the most popular franchise in the NFL—would be a topic of conversation at the Australian Open is a testament to the contagious nature of Newton's playful manner.
Carolina is trying to win its first Super Bowl. But no matter how the Panthers do Sunday, Isner and Azarenka must take to the courts to pursue their own hardware. Both advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open.
If they continue to roll through the tournament and Carolina advances, you can expect Azarenka to keep "dabbing" and big-serving Isner to "keep pounding."