Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The dark side of the Eagle-Drakken rivalry

I’ve said before that some professional tennis players remind me of serial killers. They have a relentless desire to hunt, punish, and slowly destroy their prey. This does not apply to every pro of course. In fact the last time I used this comparison was to talk about Pete Sampras’ physical and mental destruction of Andre Agassi. I remember once saying that Sampras with his racket was no different from a serial killer with a knife, repeatedly stabbing at his hapless victim. I wouldn’t want to meet either one in a dark alley.

And yes the comparison is provocative. But you know what? Years later, I still stand by it. There is a ruthless killer instinct to some of these pro tennis players. Thank goodness they discovered tennis at an early age because Lord knows where that negative energy may have been channeled had they not.

And speaking of Lord, did you too catch that moment when Djokovic looked up at the heavens and seemed to implore his Maker – no, seemed to desperately beseech him – to come to his aid? Actually, he appeared almost to be chastising Him for not coming to his succor before. It must have been His fault that Sam the Eagle – tell me that you see the comparison – had not closed it out in the fourth set.

So on the penultimate point of the match, Sam the Eagle looked skyward, lapsed into his language of birth, and beseeched his Redeemer for help crushing the man standing in his way to making history. And when The Eagle got that point, he turned his head again to the heavens and implored his Messiah to help him get the next one, crossing himself frantically, kissing the cross around his neck desperately, as he begged and beseeched.

I suppose that if you were a devout Christian you would have found the moment to be deeply inspirational, especially since He seemed to grant him the two desperate wishes. But for me it was completely distasteful.

I did not see a believer re-affirming his faith. I saw a frantic man who wanted to win so ardently that he was willing to pull out any card that would help him do so. Where others may have seen Christian belief, I saw a dark, nasty delusion. 

And really, there is an ugly side to this rivalry that is increasingly getting in the way of my enjoyment of it. But I’m not sure that I am doing a good job of explaining this. In fact I’m quite sure that I am not, because I can’t become entirely cerebral about this issue. It’s about the way I feel. It’s a gut response really, a recoiling in distaste. I felt it in the same moment, alongside my excitement at watching a terrific match. ESPN dubbed it an instant classic. I agree. But they also said the same damn thing every single time Sampras destroyed Agassi.

And it would be fair to accuse me of being an Agassi-lover who couldn’t bear to see her favorite lose. But I swear it wasn’t that. Or at least not only that. It was more so that I did not enjoy the rapacious aspect of the performance. I did not enjoy the single-minded hateful destruction. There was no joy in Sampras’ spirit as he won. He never smiled, never joked, never seemed to enjoy the sport of tennis in and of itself. He was a single-minded Terminator, bent on destruction. There was no joy in that. Only killing.

And these same thoughts and feelings found their nexus in this almost six-hour finals match between the men at the 2012 Australian Open. Increasingly, as each hour passed, the match seemed to me to become less and less about tennis and more and more about murder. Of the serial kind. Never mind the implorations to the Messiah.

(Part 1 of 2)


brian said...

theres a ruthless killer instinct hiding not so secretly in most tennis journalists and commentators! who regularly write of matches with words like crush(the ball or the opponent!), demolish, destroy, and speak of players 'weapons'....Perhaps they think tennis is a blood sport?

tennischick said...

Put bloggers in the bunch and I entirely agree.

Anonymous said...


There was an interesting comment made by David Mercer in the USO semi, last year. It was the end of the match, 5-5, Roger was serving, and Novak played a destructive rally to earn a break point. Mercer said: "This Djokovic is possessed."

He indeed looked possessed after that forehand return.

In the debate we had I didn't agree with your opinion that Djokovic would fade. I was (am) a huge fan of Connors, and he learned me that a kind of feeling about competition almost never fades: something I called "the hate" in my rather poor English on another blog (Tennis-x). I could have written "killer instinct", but it is not an instinct.

Roger was beaten by that "hate" again and again and again.

For Rafa, it is innate. He always has it, from his first match on the ATP tour, from the first point of a match to the last. [It could be a compensation for the frustration he feels not to be the "alpha male" in his family, in his team (his uncle and his father are).]

Nole had to learn it. That's why he prays in the late fifth set: he has the will, but he lacks the adrenaline. He has to find support in God, in his team, his girl friend. Rafa has it deep inside him (that's why I still don't understand how Djokovic beats him).

Roger never managed to grasp it, and in an awkward way, he said it after that USO semi.

It underlines a different conception of the game itself. I wrote that Roger tries to manifest, exteriorise (?) the game existing inside him. Rafa is there to win.

Novak is midway. He likes beauty (he often applauds), and above all, he loves to be loved. He would have certainly lost that semi if the public applauded and supported him the way they supported Roger. In such occasions, he is a gracious loser (Rafa is not a gracious loser, in fact he can't stand it; I watched videos where he left his bags just to go and hug Novak who was playing football. But it was before, and a few defeats changed everything.)

But when recognition didn't come, the "hate" was unleashed. He said it afterwards: "I didn't want Roland Garros to repeat." I wasn't about losing. It was about being ignored by the crowd although he was part of an epic fight and played beautifully.

[not-so]happygeek said...

:-O !!!

Anonymous said...

You just didnt understand, what Novak was praying for. Only for a littlebit more energy... After a five and a half hour ...