Thursday, 11 February 2010

Oz Withdrawal Symptoms: The Time Traveller's Tennis Partner.

You know you watch too much tennis when……Pete Sampras offers you tennis advice in a dream.


We play a set of tennis on a broken-up gravelly court in surroundings I know I should remember all too well from the early nineties. Only I don’t.

It’s a dream, right - so I can return his serve, and am able to keep him from visiting the net too often.

He doesn’t look like the legend I remember from TV – just an overgrown kid in his early twenties; his hair is a lot shorter than it should be and for some peculiar reason his eyebrows meet in the middle(?). As warped as you might expect a dream to be.

I don’t remember who won. The script writer of my dreams doesn’t seem to consider this significant.The stage manager meanwhile, has gone and painted the sky a pale red - like those surface shots of Mars Nasa released many years back.

All I remember is that afterwards, Warped-Pete is extremely sweaty and mildly irritated.

He’s also scathing about my groundies.

He mimics my shortened back swing which according to him demonstrates “a blinkered view of how I might use the court - a most unsatisfactory want of form and variety”.

I’m somewhat taken aback by this slightly abrasive assessment, not least because it’s simply not true.

For one thing, I didn’t have a shortened backswing back then - to be honest, it was more like Dinara Safina’s; and I used to wield a Dunlop Max 200G for maximum effect (you don’t get any better than Steffi Graf’s racquet) - the way you might wield a cricket bat held in one hand (was I, am I Robin Soderling?).

Only in the last four or five years (since my switch to Babolat) have I shortened the backswing and, funnily enough, begun packing more topspin into every forehand than I ever thought possible or productive. It works a treat against most club players, though I say it myself.

I protest my case with mannerisms I’m not meant to have developed yet – not the only bothersome incongruity in this netherworld of sensory displacement.

Still, Warped-Pete doesn’t like it.

His moodiness doesn’t subside as we down cans of Dr Pepper and Cherry Coke (very big during that period) and discuss Oz, in a landscape chequered with other nostalgic motifs.


Me: So, awe-inspiring work from Federman?

Warped-Pete: I gotta say, as thrilled as I was witnessing the toppling of my record last year (one which I truly believed would stand the test of time), and as swoon-worthy as his performance opposite Murray was this time round, you do sometimes feel that such a pronounced difference in class, is something we ought to be seeing a little less of in this age of supposed parity.

The way I see it, there’s currently only two guys at the top that have proven that they have what it takes to test him in the final of a Slam.

Me: Nadal and Delpo…?

Warped-Pete: Quite - except one of them is injured (perhaps chronically), and it’s not at all certain yet that Delpo will follow up against a Federman in this form.

Me: So….not that awe-inspiring then?

Warped-Pete: Oh it very much was…but let’s not forget that the prevailing theme coming into this event was…?

Me: The state of British/Aussie/American tennis?

Warped-Pete: No you galoot!

Me: French tennis? Serbian Soap Operas? I dunno!

Warped-Pete: *#&***”£$£&^*&####!!!


Warped-Pete: Parity!

Me: Parity, sure.

Warped-Pete: Parity was the name of the game, parity was what it was all meant to be about.

Me: And…what, it didn’t happen?

Warped-Pete: What do you think?

Me: Well….

Warped-Pete: Let me enumerate: del Potro our US Open Champion, goes out to Marin – the only guy other than Murray, playing seriously enough to mount a credible challenge, who then plays himself to the point of extinction, in a total of three five setters.

Me: But…

Warped-Pete: …lemee finish – Big Rob, purveyor of seismic upsets, the “It-Man” of 2009 – exits unimpressively in the opening round. Djoko continues to raise doubts about his fitness - pukes his guts out in fact, though not nearly as impressively as I once did…


Warped-Pete: Murray, we all know what happened there…and Davydenko, of whom we all had such high hopes – arrives, and then promptly departs, as flat as a pancake. Sound like parity to you?

Me: No.

Warped-Pete: Still not convinced?

Me: I just think that…

Warped-Pete: Three words: Jo-Willy-Blowout.

Me: You had me at Jo…

Warped-Pete: I’m with your buddy, what’s his name?

Me: ?

Warped-Pete: The fella that shares your blog?

Me: 2Hander?

Warped-Pete: Right.

Me: This is all a little uncomfortable, I’m not meant to know him yet.

Warped-Pete: What?

Me: I’m scheduled to meet with him around the time of my finals, which judging by your tennis gear, is still around 4-5 years away, and….what’s a blog anyway?

Warped-Pete: You’re also not meant to be hitting with a Babolat – they’re still string manufacturers at this stage of the game – we’re not meant to have the faintest idea who Roger Federer is, over half your readership won’t have heard of Netscape Navigator (or Mosaic for the more archaically inclined) which is what we’ve only just begun surfing that curiosity known as the internet with, and we sure as hell shouldn’t be discussing the 2010 Aussie Open!

Me: Fair enough. (Smart a**).

Warped-Pete: So like I was saying…what?

Me: Nothing.

Warped-Pete: Your buddy was a little underwhelmed by it all, and said something about tennis having come “full circle”.

Me: Not good?

Warped-Pete: It’s not a question of good or bad, and it’s not Federman’s fault he’s a cut above the rest – but 2Hander has it spot on. 2004-2007 was full of that kinda stuff.

Me: Academy Award nominated beatdowns?

Warped-Pete: Right. Call it “the age of enlightenment”, call it whatever the hell you like. The point is we’ve been there and done that.

Me: And now?

Warped-Pete: This is meant to be a Post-Modern era. One with “at least five possible contenders” at each Slam, remember? One where parity -- not Fed, Rafa or anyone else -- reigns supreme.

Me: I dunno….surely it’s a good thing that Federer displays this intimidating form in what’s likely the last act of his career – his passion and ambition clearly undiminished by age, by parenthood -- maybe even a chance to answer those critics that continue to peddle variants of the ‘weak era’ theory, in an era which is anything but - no?

Warped-Pete: …..No.

Me: No?

Warped-Pete: No.

Me: Care to elaborate?

Warped-Pete: Not without parity.

Me: Why’s that now?

Warped-Pete: Federer has only ever played five five-setters over the course of twenty-two Slam finals.

Me: So?

Warped-Pete: Three were against Nadal – you’ll remember he lost two of those. Then there was that epic with A-Rod at Wimbledon last year and of course that infamous loss to Delpo at the US Open.

Me: I’ve been very patient up till now – but would you kindly get to the point?

Warped-Pete: It’s very simple – we need more matches of that calibre in Slam finals.

Me: So…hang on, we’re moving the goalposts again, is that it? 16 Slams – on all surfaces - still doesn’t quite cut it?

Warped-Pete: Doesn’t cut what? This has nothing to do with Fed – we already crowned him GOAT last year – at my expense remember? We’ve been there and done that too, despite having shown it to be nothing more than a philosophical construct.

Me: Then?

Warped-Pete: Parity.

Me: What is that!? Your middle name?

Warped-Pete: If we are to believe we really are in an age now where there’s four or five legitimate contenders at every Slam – then finals like last Sunday’s should be a thing of the past.

Me: What makes you think they’re not in the past? Don’t forget that in the finals of both the previous two Slams, Federer was pushed to five – one of which didn’t end so happily for him.

Warped-Pete: His fans would argue ‘Federman’ didn’t show up.

Me: And he did here?

Warped-Pete: The haters will argue the competition didn’t show up.

Me: Bulls**t!

Warped-Pete: Language Timothy! I’m just doing that devils advocate thing. And besides it’s only a dream.

Me: Already in this ‘dream’ of yours…

Warped-Pete: Mine?

Me: …ok mine, already in this dream of mine, we’ve engaged in a ‘Lawrencian’ set of tennis, indulged in a caustic appraisal of my game and now you won’t even dignify this debate by committing to a position.

Warped-Pete: Just who the hell do you think you are!? This is a dream you muppet, you don’t get to define the rules. I don’t remember Alice complaining half as much during her little trip to Wonderland! And for our set of tennis to be truly ‘Lawrencian’, it would have to be indoors in a stately room in front of a fireplace - we’d also have to be butt naked! Hey what a great idea for an exho! But we’ll not go there.

Me: She called it ‘the stupidest tea party she ever was at in all her life’ – but we’ll let that one slide – just what exactly are you saying?

Warped-Pete: Compare the final of Wimbledon last year with what we saw the previous Sunday. Which did you enjoy more?

Me: A better match, I get it, but…

Warped-Pete: Which of Federer’s two performances were you more convinced by?

Me: Pile not thick enough for you…? I get it.

Warped-Pete: Which do you suppose the haters were more convinced by?

Me: ALRIGHT-ALRIGHT! But you yourself conceded that ‘Federman’ wasn’t maybe at that Wimbledon final – that he truly fought his way to victory that day by applying his shoulder to the wheel.

Warped-Pete: And that’s my point, I could do with a little less razzle-dazzle from Federman, if it means we get to witness more evenly contested five set Slam finals.

Me: Who’s to say those finals won’t be ‘evenly contested’ because it’s Fed-Long-Shanks and not Federman that turns up to play?

Warped-Pete: Who’s to say the final in Oz wasn’t so unevenly contested because Murray’s game – though much revamped – still has some way to go before it’s capable of smothering the Federman genie before it gets out of the bottle?

Me: So Fed looked good because Murray allowed him to – is that it?

Warped-Pete: Not at all – Murray gave it his all and for once, as you yourself observed, came armed with the right weapons – he’s just not sufficiently travelled down that road yet.

But it’s an interesting question is it not? And not one upon which we’re all ever likely to agree. I mean who’s to say Goliath wasn’t suffering from a rather unsavoury hangover when he faced off with young David?

Me: There’ll always be fans willing to explain away all of Fed’s losses just as there’ll always be haters claiming every one of his wins are down to the lack of competition.

Warped-Pete: Indeed, and it’s not our job to persuade everyone. The truth probably lies somewhere indeterminably in between. In the meantime, can we not just agree that it makes for better tennis?

Me: What does?

Warped-Pete: Parity.

Me: *Rolls eyes*

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