Friday, 1 February 2013

Victoria Azarenka and *that* timeout

By now you'll have read the pieces chastising, excoriating or otherwise pouring scorn on Vika and her infamous MTO-that-was-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent.

You'll have read all the incensed calls for her disqualification, the cries of 'bushleague' and variously coloured J'accuses of a system that allows for such MTOs.

And you'll likely also have read the many pieces at least appearing to cede to the demands of impartiality/balance by highlighting the triumph of her will and nerve in exceptionally difficult circumstances whilst continuing to use the same emotive language about a MTO-that-was-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent.

You'll probably also have read the pieces that are a little less severe in tone, perhaps even garnering some sympathy for her but nonetheless proclaiming that some kind of tipping point has been reached and that something ought to be done.

You may even have read the Economist piece that actually attempted to grapple with the complexities of that "something"- without, to its credit, piling on anyone - though come away feeling that its slightly prosaic, academic handling of the issue hadn't actually solved very much, and, well, what business it was of the Economist anyway.

Having had some time to reflect you'd probably have concluded that it wasn't really the Economist's fault. That it was well within the stylistic remit of a column entitled 'Game Theory' to come up with a somewhat dry, detached piece that read more like a business proposal, within which the principal actors are referred to as 'Mr' and 'Ms'. And that the cost/benefit analysis of applying various restrictions to MTOs-that-are-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent had essentially proven the point that no one solution would appease or satisfy everyone (or indeed anyone).

If you were inclined to be at all fair at this point, you might accept that Vika had bought at least some of this on herself. That by electing to take a MTO-that-was-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent at such a conspicuous moment she had after all violated the spirit of the game.

You may even have conceded that there was such a prevalence of this sort of thing on tour that whatever she might have said afterwards it was probably fair to assume that she could have lasted another game and was simply looking to break the hoodoo by getting off court.

In which case, you'd still be left wondering why her MTO-that-was-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent was being subjected to such unique scrutiny.

Why neither Novak, Janko, Rafa, Mary Pierce and countless other players, though much vilified for doing much the same, have never had to endure anything quite like Vika's post match presser in which barely a single question was raised about the particulars of the match and which felt more akin to an interrogation.

And whether such a good-cop-bad-cop interrogation was even appropriate for a MTO-that-was-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent; or whether it, and not the latter, was in fact 'bushleague'.

You would probably also have thought that it was Vika's own clumsy handling of the incident that had, in part, escalated things to this level. That her (right) answers to questions not actually put to her by Sam Smith and the multiple clarifications and damage control she engaged in afterwards had actually made things worse.

You might also have felt that, whatever else the case, Vika does need to come to better terms with the press who, much like an MTO-that-is-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent, are very much part of the scenery, and though far from perfect, do also offer certain very tangible benefits to someone in her position.

Of course, many people didn't think she was being clumsy or inaccurate. They seemed to find it much easier to believe that she was admitting to a) choking (true), b) taking an MTO for choking (not true), and c) cheating or something far worse (both counterproductive and highly unlikely).

They didn't seem to think it was at all relevant or important that Sam Smith's questions were both ambiguous and vague, and that English isn't, after all, Vika's mother tongue.

Or that she may not have come out expecting to be questioned about a MTO-that-was-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent, and as a result answered a question she only assumed she had heard.

You might, in any case, have thought it very evident that she plainly wasn't answering the questions Smith had posed, and found it most odd, therefore, that this should be lost on trained professionals that regard English as their mother-tongue; people well-versed in both the art of writing and the conducting of interviews, who might, by virtue of their trade, reasonably be expected to have an above average grasp of comprehension, but who, instead, mistakenly saw this as an unmistakeable confession of cheating.

You may even have thought that her answer to the wrong question was less a function of how the question was put - and that were it even to be put with absolute clarity, and were Vika to speak the Queen's English, that this was simply something that players do from time to time. And that if you had cast your mind back just 24 hours prior, to Federer's match against Tsonga, you might remember Roger making much the same mistake: speaking at length to Jim Courier on how he'd performed early on in a set without once referencing the breaker that had preceded it - in response to a question about precisely that breaker and nothing more.

You may also have thought that it isn't that surprising that a player should make such an error in the immediate aftermath of a match, and how in different circumstances other players might have been given the benefit of the doubt, but that Victoria Azarenka under these circumstances almost certainly wouldn't.

Of course if you were more generous you may have actually believed her story about a locked rib and the breathing trouble it was causing her.

You might also have wondered just how many people that were panning her had even experienced a panic attack (or even knew what one was), much less tried to play GS tennis through it.

You might, in any case, have thought that once the medics who appraised her during the MTO-that-was-completely-within-the-rules-and-not-without-precedent had confirmed her side of the story, and the tournament director had satisfied himself that there really was nothing either peculiar nor remiss about the affair, that that ought to have been the end of it.

And that perhaps the fact that that wasn't the end of it had something to do with her a) playing a darling of the American (and much of the international) media, b) being a woman and c) being Victoria Azarenka; that this maybe wouldn't be happening if even one of those were untrue.

And that elevating it to the level of a global scandal with a somewhat misogynistic edge to it, in the same week that tennis continues to feel the reverberations of the biggest drugs scandal sport has ever seen, wasn't perhaps the most proportionate or helpful way of dealing with the fallout.

You might, in other words, have thought that Victoria Azarenka has a lot to answer for, but that all of that is far worse.

(Image: Telegraph)

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