Friday, December 31, 2010

The fine art of predicting

Mystics, shamans, psychics and mediums tend to be very popular among the celebrity set. I’ve often wondered if there are any celebrity tennis players who hire psychics to help them forecast what’s going to happen in the future. I suspect that most psychics would turn out to be as accurate as Daphne on the Frasier show. Remember how she always claimed to be a little bit psychic?

In fact one of my favorite Frasier episodes was the one in which she and Niles finally got together and agreed to hire a scientific investigator from UCLA to determine if Daphne had any real psychic ability. The investigator showed her a number of cards and asked Daphne to predict what they were.

Afterward, almost offhandedly, he starts questioning her about how she first knew that she was psychic. She shares that she was the only girl growing up with a pack of brothers, when a relative told her that she had a special gift that only the Moon women inherited. Overhearing this, the astute Niles realizes the significance of this disclosure. He promptly puts an end to the experiment and insists to Daphne that they get to know each other without scientific interference.

I recount this as a way of saying that I do not believe in anyone’s ability to predict the future. And I say this as someone gifted with a kind of prescience that often tells me when the people I love are in danger or hurting in some unique way. But I have often found that in the moment I tend to dismiss these feelings. It’s only afterward, when it’s all over, that I recall a particular dream, or a moment of raised pores, and recognize the soupcon of possible significance. But that is not prediction, it’s empathy.

I truly do not believe that anyone in their sane mind could ever predict what would happen in tennis. To predict things with any kind of accuracy would require that you have some means of controlling all of the variables involved. Which is why Jon Wertheim’s so-called predictions are actually quite safe, based as they are largely on events that have already occurred. His are not really predictions in any true sense of the word. They’re safe bets, not based on any kind of risk but on a fair scrutiny of events that have occurred in tennis over the past year or so.

For example, it’s pretty safe to “predict” that an Old Fart will return to play excellent tennis. After all, Kimiko Date already did it and Muster has been making threatening noises. And then there’s Kim Clijsters who came back from motherhood to not only win the US Open but to defend it as well. And there’s Federer, no longer a spring chicken, but showing others how to protect the body, live a balanced life, and enjoy a long career. Let the younger Nadal wear out his knees with his style of play. Federer seems cognizant of the bigger picture. Old Farts rule.

Others of Wertheim’s predictions are equally embarrassingly safe. For example, while the allegations against Davydenko were the most publicized, there have actually been countless other investigations into possible match-fixing in tennis over the past few years. Some lesser known players have been fined and banned for corrupt behavior. So to predict a match-fixing scandal in tennis is also to play the odds. Statistically, this is a pretty safe prediction, empirically based on events that have already occurred. Even Psych 101 students know that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

This is no really different from those so-called psychics who make a business of predicting what celebrities will get up to over the upcoming year. I mean how safe is it to predict that Lindsay Lohan will struggle with substance issues, that Rihanna will color her hair blue, or that Jennifer Aniston won’t keep a man? Safe crap.

True predicting involves risk. And true risk ideally involves a fair amount of alcohol. Because it is very unlikely that any of the following will ever occur, here are my no-holds barred drunken predictions for tennis in 2011. If any of these events ever end up happening, I will be as shocked as you.

Prediction #1: Serena Williams will spend her own money to finance a movie in which she appears as an action hero. She will persuade her ex, Common (with his fiiine self), to appear as the love interest that she disses and spurns. Unfortunately “Girl of Steel” will bomb at the box office, costing Serena millions. She will have no choice but to return to tennis. And then she will win another Serena Slam.

Now that is what I call a prediction. Hold on a sec while I squeeze some lime into my tequila. There’s more where that came from.

(Part 2 of 3)

392233 11: Gilia Chazan receives a healing treatment from Carol Francis during Fancis'' workshop on shamanism at the International Hypnosis Federation''s Mind, Body, Spirit, Fun Conference, July 20, 2001 in Long Beach, CA. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)