On the ball

The heatwave gave me many excuses to retreat to the shade, windows open front and back for a cooling breeze, whence to follow the ATP Masters tennis on TV. It was too hot to move but I went to Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Queens, Wimbledon, Toronto, Cincinnati and will soon be at The US Open. I’ve seen ‘em all courtesy of Eurosport and Sky. Not all of all of them of course; just bits of all of them. Mostly I pick matches with top players, particularly against young pretenders and, of course any Brit hopeful, like Kyle Edmund, or Joanna Konta, and even Heather Watson, who, in case you’ve forgotten if you knew, is a former Wimbledon mixed doubles champion.

Then there’s Andy Murray, out of circulation for about a year, and hoping for a come-back. I can’t say I’ve missed the psychodrama. He’s a magnificent athlete, played breath-taking tennis, won three Grand Slams, and was briefly world Number One, for heaven’s sake. Then why is he so bloody miserable? Considering his much deserved good (and large) fortune, I don’t find him easy to like, unlike his cheery brother, Jamie. I mean what’s not to like about having very good fortune and thoroughly deserving it? Come back, but for God’s sake lighten up!

Being selective has its downsides. The hours I’ve spent watching Djokovic bounce that ball before he serves, averaging at least a dozen times, I reckon, or the diaphoretic Rafa adjust his underpants and the shoulders of his soaking shirt, then wipe the sweat pouring off his nose, forehead and temples in his service build up, exceeds, I suspect, those spent watching them actually hitting the ball. Its’ not as bad as cricket, but give me Roger any day; three or four quick pats of ball on court and, with incomparable athletic elegance, it’s up and away and probably an ace.

Watching one of the young outsiders spring a surprise is riveting. The season’s shooting star is a young Greek, Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose ranking improved from 169 a year ago to 15 today. This lanky, slightly bow-legged, knobbly kneed youth with the face of a Renaissance Christ portrayal, and a strikingly self-confident and winning persona, recently pulled off such shots and showed such steel in Toronto to beat: Thiem (ranked 9), Djokovic, hot from winning Wimbledon, from one set down, Zverev (ranked 4) also from one set down, and Anderson, Wimbledon runner up, all aged only 19. On his 20th birthday Rafa’s present was a brutal drubbing in the final’s first set, but the Tsitsipas come-back only narrowly failed to materialise in the second set tie-break. What a run!

The most inscrutable pro on the circuit right now is the saturnine Australian, Nick Kyrgios by name, curious by nature. Unmistakeable for his stroppy manner, disinterested body language, avant-garde haircuts, diamond earrings, and insolent tweenies (between-the-legs shots), he can deliver, when he can be arsed, forehand stroke-play of miraculous virtuosity, and when he can’t, a second service at least as gunshot fast as, and more accurate than, the first.

In the women’s game, my favourite is the Romanian, Simona Halep. She’s not particularly glamorous, tall or fashion obsessed, but she’s a wonderful player, a fighter to the last and I like her attitude. When asked once how desperately disappointing was it to be world Number One without ever having won a Grand Slam, she laughed as she replied, ”Nobody died.”

Serena Williams provided this season’s fashion sensation. In her first tournament, after the birth of a daughter, she appeared at the French Open wearing a black cat-suit with pink waistband, which, so she said, made her look and feel like the Superhero she’d always wanted to be. By all accounts, Serena is a very decent person, and a fine figure of a woman, no irony implied, with a career that makes her an all-time great. I don’t wish to be unkind or indelicate, but how can I not observe that her bottom is pretty much in the same category? It’s difficult to keep one’s eye on ball in the distracting presence of such unusually spectacular gluteal enormity, and even at my age, I simply can’t contain a puerile mirth in me that the sight of this mountainous posterior provokes. The same goes for Joan and Neal.

Now Roland-Garros officials have announced a future ban and new dress code, on the murky pretext that such attire goes ‘too far’ and ‘fails to respect the game or the place’. Nike, who supplied the offending garment, retorted indignantly that it was a compression suit designed to promote blood circulation and help Serena with clotting, a problem that had recently made her seriously ill.

As a matter of fact I think she should wear what she bloody well likes. I mean it’s perfectly decent and we’ll all get used to it, or over it, or put it behind us perhaps, one way or another, soon enough. Definitely.

One thought on “On the ball”

  1. Very good, please keep them coming, Richard. I too am a tennis fan and have an admiration for Halep, now a grand slam winner I believe having won the French. Am glued to the US Open but it is ridiculous it is only available on Amazon Prime – another cost! Richard.

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