Monday, July 09, 2007

A cracking game of tennis!!

The love of tennis grew slowly in me.

In my earliest childhood, the Wimbledon fortnight was an obscure torture - banishing my favourite TV programmes from their accustomed slots, and seducing my parents' attention (especially my mother's) away from me. The scoring was unfathomable. The action was repetitive. And the matches seemed to last all day. Sometimes, indeed, they really did last all day - or at least, far, far beyond the range of a 4-year-old's temporal imagination.

But somehow I got sucked in. Maybe it was the relentless, hypnotic rhythm of the thwop-thwop-thwop of the balls. Maybe it was a desperate wish to find some form of communion with my parents. Maybe (a few years later) it was the very short white dresses (although all the pretty girls crashed out in the opening rounds; amongst the serious contenders only Chrissie Evert and Gabriela Sabatini exercised any hold over my pre-pubescent libido). Within the space of a couple of years in the early '70s I went from being a tennis-hater to being a tennis nut.

I became enraptured by the compelling geometry of the court. I finally started to appreciate the logic of the scoring structure, and the very protractedness of the game, the fact that a drama - of many shifting scenes - could play out over 2, 3, 4 hours or more. I loved the gladiatorial aspect of it, players locked in desperate combat before the eyes of the crowd. Above all, I was fascinated by the psychological dimension of the encounters - the way that you could so often see the shifting balance of power between two players not in the quality of shots they were making but in their facial expressions, their body language, their aura.

[This is something of an aside here, but I think one of the most startling, most revealing sporting spectacles I've ever seen was the Borg/Connors match-up at Wimbledon near the end of their careers. I believe it was the quarter-final or the semi in 1981, probably the last time they played each other. Connors came out like a man possessed - realising that this might be his last chance to defeat his nemesis, and determined to do something about it. I don't think I've ever seen someone playing with such furious, sustained emotion for so long. I don't think I've ever seen somebody hitting the ball so goddamned hard. And he was seeing the ball beautifully, striking it so well every time. Borg couldn't live with it. He lost the first set to love. He hardly won a point. In the second set he started to be able to hold his own service game, with difficulty - but he was still basically getting blown off the court. He could hardly get his racket on the ball most of the time. The great 5-time champion was not just being beaten, he was being outclassed, humiliated. But (like my great hero and role model, Cool Hand Luke) he just would not give up. And you could see that it was starting to get to Connors. It looked like the match was over and done with. He'd hammered Borg into the ground for an hour or more. I think, if memory serves me, that he even got an early break - perhaps two - in the third set. But Borg would not give up. He just kept hanging in there, kept coming back for more. And Connors wilted - more mentally than physically, as if he had burned himself out with the emotional intensity of his initial onslaught. His self-belief wavered, and then crumbled. Borg somehow clawed his way back into the third set; and then won the next two fairly comfortably. It was an awe-inspiring, heart-rending piece of sporting theatre, utterly unforgettable - and a powerful lesson. And maybe Borg burnt himself out in that tremendous struggle, too... That was the year he finally lost his crown to McEnroe.]

I haven't been able to watch much tennis since I came to China. There's not that much on, it's always at crazy hours of the night, and it is strangely hard to follow without the familar English-language commentary accompanying it. And, much as I admire Roger Federer's ability, his dominance of Wimbledon does seem to have become a bit of a bore in recent years; there aren't that many people around who can give him a really good scrap - at least, not on grass.

Not until last night, anyway. I had practically forgotten that Wimbledon was going on; I hadn't seen or heard anything about the Championships this year. But I happened to get home last night just as the Men's Final was starting, and stayed up watching it on local TV - mesmerised, ecstatic - until the denouement at 1.30am (local time in Beijing). It's been quite a while since we had a 5-set final, hasn't it? I don't think anyone took 2 sets off Pistol Pete in the last round..... Did Pat Rafter take Goran Ivanisevic to a fifth set? I think maybe he did; can't really remember now. But before that, you're probably looking back to the Becker/Edberg days for such a close-fought contest.

And what a 5-setter last night's match was! That has to be some of the best tennis I've ever seen, and the match was on a knife-edge most of the way through. I thought Nadal was playing the better tennis for most of it, but he just couldn't make it stick; apart from the 4th set, when Federer lost his focus badly for a while, he rarely looked like breaking his opponent's serve (managing to do so only once, as far as I can recall - I confess that, dazzling as the match was, I was very weary, and did doze off briefly a few times). It's often said of the great champions (it was certainly said a lot of Borg back in the '70s) that they play the big points better (ah, the beauty of that scoring system!). That certainly seemed to be true of Federer yesterday. He was a little inconsistent, making too many unforced errors; kept getting himself into trouble, kept getting himself out of it (apart from in the 4th, when he had a bit of a suppressed tantrum). He only really showed his dominance in the tie-breaks, and in the final set, when his game went up a gear-and-a-half.

Nadal, though, is an extraordinary player. I wonder if he can go one better next year. I'll be watching.


Anonymous said...

Send all your good vibes to Andy Murray next year...but then again Nadal deserves to win, and probably will, given his determination. But Nadal's only 21 (correct me if I'm wrong) so plenty of time to win the title he wants so desperately to win.
(Scottish Ali...keep forgetting my password!)

Froog said...

You also keep forgetting how to type your name in the box that says 'name'?? And you're "an IT person"?!

Who's this Andy Murray? Does the UK finally have a realistic contender rather than a perpetual nearly-man like Henman? (Not that I like to knock Tim. He is certainly the best British player there's been in my lifetime. But he was never going to win it. He might have had the skills to be a champion, but he didn't have the mental toughness. The really formidable players get better when they're under pressure; Tim used to turn to jelly. In the '01 semi, for example, the match was his.... but Goran was tougher.)

Anonymous said...

You need to log in with a user name AND password (as a Blogger, you don't need a password, so I believe), and I now have password-overload. I did have Ali Bali Bee as a user name, but forgot the passwork. So then changed it so Scottish Ali. And forgot the password. Even had a flash of inspiration one day and remembered it. So wrote it down. Then lost the small piece of paper. Was a small Post-It which attached itself to another piece of paper. Then probably got shredded as I was doing my company account prep/clearing out. Only remember important passwords like internet banking (I have 3 passwords for 3 different accounts...) and Facebook (you didn't accept my invitation to join...why not??? :o))

Andy Murray is the best tennis prospect Britain has produced in a long, long time. A young, energetic Scots lad from Dunblane, he did at one time have a bit of a temper on him, but has now channelled it into his tennis, with outstanding results. Didn't go in for Wimbledon this year due to a wrist injury, but decided to think of the longer term, in case he did further damage by playing.

His brother, Jamie, won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon on Sunday, the first Brit to do so in a very loooooooooooooooong time! Rumour has it he won it because his playing partner promised him "many kisses" if they won. Incentive indeed for any 21 year old male!

Froog said...

Tick box marked other. No password. You can leave any name you want. It's what I do much of the time.

Will have to do some research on the Murray bros.

Froog said...

I sent the words "A cracking game of tennis!" as a text message to several friends here in Beijing at 11pm or so on Sunday (around the beginning of the third set), to alert them to the sporting feast that could be enjoyed on BTV-6.

Not one of them replied. Well, only Tulsa, and not until the next day, and in a state of complete bemusement. I am living in a land of tennis-philistines.

Anonymous said...

I would have replied to your text if you had sent it to me, Froog (as good at texting as I am at e-mailing, ie not very), but I think my text would have got lost somewhere in space between Glasgow and Beijing...

Did news about the terror attacks on Glasgow and the heroic John Smeaton reach your far shores?? Did I send you the link to the web page sent up in his honour????

Froog said...

Blocked in China. Obviously very subversive!

omg said...

I didn't catch any of the finals. The one part of the earlier games that I saw involved a match between Venus Williams and Alla Kudryavtseva. The commentators kept referring to Kudryavtseva as "The Russian." I felt sorry for her. She works hard and makes it to Wimbledon, and the commentators can't even take a minute to learn to say her name. Geez.

That is all I have to say. Except to admit, in order to give you a laugh in return for the ones you have given me, that I once had a full-size poster of Andre Agassi in my bedroom.

Froog said...

OK, you're allowed to fancy Agassi, OMG. Because he was kind of cool - good-looking in a way that even men can recognise, without disparagement (although I suspect he did wear eyeliner on occasion!). And he was a hell of a tennis player. He had a couple of match-ups with Pat Rafter at Wimbledon - both semis, I think - which are firmly amongst the greatest I've ever seen.

For me, there's never been anybody comparably gorgeous (and awesomely talented) in the female game. Sharapova is probably the hottest really good player there's been in my lifetime - but she's way too young for me, and blondes haven never really been my thing anyway.

Although I did grow up in that generation where pretty much every male teenager in the known world had the Blondie 'Parallel Lines' poster on their wall. Now, Debbie Harry was hot!!!

Tulsa said...

hey!! i was not completely bemused!!

in fact, i had tennis (wimbledon) on the night before, but as usual, my TV cut off at 10pm (completely unreliable service after 10pm, every night, not sure what they are trying to censor) and so I found other activities. And no doubt when you sent me the text at 11:30pm I was sound asleep (I do occasionally try to get some sleep the night before Monday).

And, i don't exactly recall my state of mind when I saw your text the next morning, but no doubt I was on my commute to work and wishing I was on a commute to a tennis court instead... hence, the excited "you play tennis??" sms response I sent you, in the hopes of having found a tennis partner.

But, in general, I prefer to play a game rather than watch it. Even if it's Wimbledon.

Tennis anyone?