Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tennis (Conspiracy), Anyone?

The Fix is on, the Brain is off

"Sorry Mr. Roddick; you
missed it by that much

I've given up on face-to-face social networking. The other day at work I was helping a woman in a tennis camp t-shirt and we got to talking about, natch, tennis. Saying she was a big fan of Andy Roddick, we got on the topic of Roddick's great, heart-breaking five-set loss to Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final. Then out of the blue she said, "I still think he cheated."

Huh? Who cheated?


I gave her a WTF look in reply.

"How did Federer cheat?" I asked, incredulously. "He doesn't make the calls. It's not like club tennis where each player is on the honor system to make their own calls; the pro circuit has paid umpires to officiate, linesmen and women to make line calls, Hawk-Eye, electronic gizmos to record lets, and players can always use the challenge system to dispute close calls." I didn't even mention that everyone pretty much recognizes that Federer is a sportsman's sportsman, renowned for his honesty and fair play.

"Those officials can be bought."

Wow, I was aghast as this woman's ignorance. In her mind, what everyone else thought was a great and historic competitive match was fixed - compromised by foul play.

I wonder how this woman would explain the previous 20 matches Roddick has played with Federer. Did Roger amass his 19-2 head-to-head record with The Rocket by bribing officials 18 times before Wimbledon?

The Usual Suspects

Talk about synchronicity...almost immediately after the woman left another Conspiracy Theory fanatic walked in asking for "anything about the Freemasons." It's a frequent request here, as if somehow believing that a vast, organized network of secret societies is at hard at work ensuring that the nitwits who believe in them never get ahead (because the game of life is fixed, see?) - that somehow this knowledge enpowered them and it was worth all the research just to have someone to blame - be it a lowly tennis official or heavy hitters like the Rand Corporation and Bilderberg Group. "You know, like the Illuminati and stuff like that," he added, as if I needed help figuring out where he was going with this query. I made eye contact with my Jewish co-worker who once sarcastically observed that all conspiracy theories ultimately came down to two words: "The Jews." "I could save these people a lot of time," he sighed, "When in doubt, blame it all on us. We are the Illuminati. We're behind it all."

Blond Ambition

Vera ventured but Venus vanquished

And speaking of people who lack brain power, is there any better way to explain unseeded Russian Vera Dushevina's 7-6, 5-7, 3-6 opening night loss to Venus Williams at the U.S. Open than an utter lack lack of imagination? Well, nerves (and talent) as well, I guess. But on this night the 47th-ranked Dushevina (now 1-27 against Top 10 players on the women's tour, with that lone win coming against the ever-disappointing self-defeater Amelie Mauresmo) was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set in a match that seemed gift-wrapped for an upset by her erractic, error-prone opponent: World No. 3 Venus Williams out-hit her opponent in winners by a 2-1 ratio, but also had twice as many unforced errors as winners. Venus had 10 double faults - including seven foot faults! She embarrassingly missed an overhead so easy that a PeeWee Tennis tot could have made. Things looked so bad for Venus after the first set (which went to a tie-breaker after Dushevina was unable to serve it out) that her hitting partner David Witt, in a courtside interview with Pam Shriver, sarcastically suggested that instead of trying to pummel every ball Venus should "try something different - it's called strategy." Ouch!

But Dushevina, a 22-year-old baseliner with a decent two-handed backhand but little else in her arsenal, had no answer for Williams other than letting the champ self-destruct. Dushevina couldn't buy a first serve (and was repeatedly punished on her second serve) or a forehand winner and mostly stayed on the baseline, where she volleyed back short balls to Venus for passing shots out wide or brutal overhead smashes that landed somewhere in the upper tier of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Watching her try to match Venus' booming groundstrokes I thought: how about a slice? A drop-shot? A kick-serve? Consider taking off some pace? Consider taking the ball early and coming to net? Variety may be the spice of life but as Rosie Cassals observed recently, today's baselinner generation don't know any shots beyond Big Serve, Big Forehands and Big Two-fisted Backhands. There's nothing else in the arsenal but the usual big guns.

In the end, the match was exactly as broadcaster Mary Carillo described it: a close match, but not a good match. There is a difference. In entertainment value and in end result. Lack of imagination means predictable and predictable means dull.


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