Monday, March 17, 2014

When the backstory trumps the tennis

My weekend could have been so perfect. All Federer had to do was dig a little deeper, hold his serve a few more times, believe in himself a smidgeon more. And I would have enjoyed the perfection of a weekend in which both and men’s and women’s tennis finals yielded not just perfect results, but interesting back-stories about how the players got there.

As it was, I had to settle for Panetta. And that is not settling at all because Flavia delivered, didn’t she? And I loved it when her Italian team threw water at her, almost reminding her that just because she had just earned a cool million was no reason to become swellheaded. All in jest and love, of course.

I remember Flavia from the days when I too had a crush on Carlos Moya. He was just so hot, and as his girlfriend, she came in for more than her fair share of my jealousy. But I had no idea that he had broken her heart so terribly, or that she had written a book about it called ‘Dritto al Cuore’ (Straight to the Heart). In it, she says things like this:

“I put everything aside to support him. If you count the times I did it, probably the number is in itself ridiculous. My passion was him, I gave myself completely, and I lost my balance.”

And after their break-up?

“People felt sorry for me and I could not even defend myself. It was as if I had lost my taste for things. I was trying to be numb towards life, not to feel pain. I did not even feel physical pain. A silly example: even when I was waxing, I did not even feel anything.”

Tennis is full of such interesting back-stories, and I have to say that the Tennis Channel has done a marvelous job of tracking down some of the more gossip-worthy details to share with us. But there were times, during this Indian Wells, when I felt that the back-story became more interesting than the tennis. Certainly among the American players, there seemed to be more back-fill than tennis, am I right?

So who cares if Sloane Stephens is dating Jack Sock when she can’t even go out there and pretend to be interested in her sport? She looked dull and lifeless in every match. But cut to her playing bocce with her pals and there is Sloane, all lively and grinning. Is it too much to ask her to bring some of that energy onto the tennis court, or will she insist on looking as if somebody put a gun to her head and forced her to pick up a racket, as she complies, sullenly, resentfully?

And then there were the constant cutaways to John Isner’s new girlfriend. Did the powers that be want to convince us that said player is now truly a Big Man because he is assumably getting laid on the regular? The only other girlfriend who seems more annoyingly aware of the camera is Djokovic’s, and even she, I have to admit, has toned it down lately. Or maybe now that he seems prepared to put a ring on it, she doesn’t have to try so hard anymore?

But back to Flavia and the deliciousness of her win. Flavia has always had game. But she has also tended at times to fizzle. Now we know why – Flavia in love plays better tennis than Flavia getting her heart broken. The solution of course is for her to learn how to channel some of that emotion into her tennis. Why waste it all on a penis-bearer?