Tennis Balls

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There are some tasks that I simply can’t take on without some sort of diversion: ironing, doing large double-sided jigsaws with pictures of baked beans on them, sorting out my tax receipts.

I usually get round to the last-named in the first week of Wimbledon. They’re a match made in heaven: Wimbledon is happy to burble on in the background without any particular attention from me, and the tax receipts will get checked by my accountant anyway, so it’s not as if I have to get them right or anything, is it?

We have a weird relationship with tennis in this country. To all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist for fifty weeks of the year, and then suddenly it’s not possible to watch anything else.

It’s as if we decided one day that kedgeree was the best thing in the world, and became obsessed with it for a fortnight.

“Kedgeree for breakfast! Kedgeree for lunch! Kedgeree for elevenses! Kedgeree in the middle of the night! Leftover kedgeree before bed! Rice, eggs, smoked haddock, you know. We all know everything there is to know about kedgeree. Originally a 14th-century Indian rice-and-bean dish called ‘kitchri’ apparently. Do you add parsley? I did it without the onion yesterday and it was pretty good. God, I love kedgeree! it’s the best! Kedgeree kedgeree kedgeree!”

Then, two weeks later, someone invites us to a brunch and there’s a tray of kedgeree.

“Kedgeree? No thanks. Not really that keen on it. Isn’t it some kind of rice thing? I’ll have a poached egg.”

It almost doesn’t matter what happens at Wimbledon. They could do it with actors. What we like is the sound of it: plop…plop…plop…scamper…ooh…plop…aaaahhh!!!…applause…”vamos!!!!”

There was a fair amount of vamosing on centre court yesterday, as Rafael Nadal kicked off his defence against Michael Russell, an American who is ranked no. 91 in the world, and therefore bound to be as hopeless at tennis as a three-legged greyhound with a feather duster.

Or at least that was the impression I got listening to commentators David Mercer and Boris Becker. As far as they were concerned, he might as well not have turned up. When he got a break point early on, Mercer’s voice took on the shocked tones of a geography teacher to whom you have handed your physics homework by mistake:

“Well! Here’s something!”

And when Russell (who, incidentally, has earned $150,000 this year alone by being really really good at tennis) took a 4-2 lead, Mercer could barely contain himself:

“Oh! Inventive tennis! He really has come here to play!” he ejaculated, as if the most he’d expected Russell to do was to sit in his seat, flicking idly through the latest issue of GQ and pausing only to whistle up another piña colada from the smartly-dressed waiters while Nadal pounded his way to a 6-0 6-0 6-0 victory in his absence.

Boris was less dismissive, but then he played the game for a long time at the highest level and knows the fine margins that separate the great from the merely very very good.

When it turned out that Russell’s nickname is Iron Mike, Mercer didn’t waste the opportunity to display his knowledge of other sports, attempting boxing banter with Boris.

“Did you ever cross swords with Mr. Tyson?”

“Inteet,” replied Boris. “I had tinner wit him ant Ton Kink, ant let me tell you, I vas pretty terrified sitting opposite him.”

I presume he was referring to Tyson’s muscles rather than Don King’s hair.

Tyson, for his part, presumably steered clear of broom cupboards until Boris had left the building.

It’s tempting to make fun of Boris, if only for his pronunciation of the word ‘Wimbledon’. But that would be churlish. For one thing, his English is far better than my German, so I’d be on dangerous ground. For another, he won the damn thing three times – he can pronounce it any way he pleases. For yet another, he is a genuinely likeable presence in the commentary box, although he doesn’t always give us the expert insight we’re hoping for.

“Ant now it is Nadal who is on de scoreboart for de first tahm at Wmpltn,” he pronounced, heading for full marks in Sibyl Fawlty’s Mastermind specialist subject, The Bleedin’ Obvious.

That’s the trouble with tennis commentary on the telly – most of the time it’s a question of staying quiet. That’s why Dan Maskell, for all that we used to make fun of him, was so good.

The radio guys, on the other hand, really earn their corn. Commentating on tennis on the radio is next door to impossible. Try it sometime. I guarantee it will come out something like this:

“Federer serves…Nadal…Federer hits it…Nadal…the ball…over…Federer…ooh…backhand…bloody hell, slow down you bastards!…Federer…”

And that’s just the warmups.

It’s all far too wearing for a smpltn like me. I think I’ll stick to my tax receipts.

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  1. And me! Of course some of us follow the rankings of the men throughout the year 🙂

  2. The radio commentary I was listening to earlier mainly consisted of “Ooooooh that was good.”

    Oh and there’s nothing wrong with having a temporary passion for a particular sport. As long as it’s suitably passionate and potentially involves Cliff Richard singing.

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