Sunday 5th July 2009

So, Roger Federer, who looks like a strangely sporty Quentin Tarantino, has won Wimbledon for the million-billionth time and been crowned king of the World, or something. I had the misfortune to watch the match unfold on a large screen in a pub.

The BBC coverage seemed to mainly involve wallowing in the purchase of a new super-slow-mo camera. The tedious seconds between points were stuffed choc-full of material from this new technological wonder, which showed in painstaking time-resolution a variety of things which would have been pretty dull to watch at normal speed. Andy Roddick bending over to pick up a ball, Federer’s facial expression as a function of very slow time, people in the crowd, sitting there, looking slightly more bored than I was, but with every second literally lasting five. When the technological wonder was occasionally turned on, er, the tennis, it didn’t quite deliver. Unfortunately the cameraman wasn’t quite as fast as the monstrous frame rate on his new toy, and an out-of-focus shot of the ball would be followed by a precise slow-mo shot of the ripples in Roddick’s shirt, showing in humiliating, painstaking detail what was probably, to idiot camera-boy in real-time, a mad dash to pan to anything approximating 'the action'.

Things that would've been good in slow-motion that we didn't see: the gently-oscillating, pert, young breasts of an attractive Wimbledon streaker, glistening with sweat; or a fireball tearing through the court, ripping limbs and eyeballs as it engulfs the crowd in searing flame, sending them cascading, spinning mesmerically across the frame to the Blue Danube Waltz, until the image goes poignantly dark.

Commentator Boris Becker did little to lift spirits. His commentary was so banal that even I think I could have vomited nonsensical phrases (which sound like they could be clichés were they more coherent) better than he did. ‘Federer wants to win,’ he informed us at one point, ‘But zat is not part of Roddick’s plan.’ Ham-acted, slightly guttural emphasis on the word ‘plan’ made it sound like a quotation from a strange, sports-based B-movie starring an Arnie in the twilight of his career.

Many of Federer’s supporters, including his dad, had turned up in T-shirts and hats emblazoned with an ‘RF’ logo so twattish and self-satisfied that it would look slightly out of place on the crystal cufflinks of a gentlemen’s club in Monaco exclusively for smarmy, swaggering cocks. To put it on a baseball cap should be a crime against humanity up there with cocktails containing real gold leaf and owning a Bentley. (Incidentally, earlier in the day we had seen a man in a smart suit driving a Bentley asking a passer-by for directions to the nearest public convenience. I thought cars that unnecessarily posh would probably have built in catheters. ‘Oh, yes sir, it’s got all the mod cons, heated seats and steering wheel to lull you into a warm, upper-class stupor; automatic gears, engine management and steering so you don’t have to trouble your thick head with such fripperies as ‘driving’; and a tube for your piss so you don’t have to stop at those ghastly service stations, or indeed stand up at all, to relieve yourself. That will be £340,000, please.’)

And, lest you think having your own too-classy logo was the height of twattery, Wimbledon’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club had to go one better. Ball boys and girls are one thing; it’s a job which couldn’t be done better by robots and is probably allowing local, disadvantaged schoolchildren to fulfil their dreams. I saw them training on Blue Peter once, and it all looked thoroughly aspirational. But making them hold umbrellas over the players for the few moments they sit down between sets? Please, how degrading is that? At least in your rôle as ball retrieval attendant a competent robot would be required to replace you (my recommendation is Sir Killalot from Robot Wars, who might ruin the lawn with his flamethrower and slice clean through the balls with his hydraulic clamp hand, but would add an air of excitement, especially if we leave the current ball boys and girls in place, dress them in retiarius gladiator get-up, and make ball retrieval competitive), but holding a fucking umbrella is a job that a metal pole could probably do as well or better than you. What kind of message does that send to the kids? ‘One day, Jimmy, when you grow up, you might be lucky enough to replace an inanimate rod, in demeaning subservience to the privileged, until the day they decide to eat your legs, not because you taste any better than a filthy animal grown to slaughter, just because they get a kick out of every exploitative bite of your stringy, malnourished flesh whilst watching you count your paltry wages, which literally comprise beans in the hope of fattening up your arms for a Christmas do.’

As the fifth set dragged on and on into extra time (or whatever it is tennis players get), the only thing separating the two blokes was that Roddick had fallen over twice (neither time was the slow-motion camera pointing in the right direction, sadly, and we were treated instead to normal, jerky slow-mo footage from one of the regular cameras. That slow-mo crowd doing nothing in particular stuff was gold dust, though. I imagine it would’ve been a real shame to sacrifice it just for some prick losing his footing... I mean, that’s not why we’re here, is it?).

The thing which was really starting to bug me by this point was the absurdity of the whole endeavour. I know, I know, deconstructing any sport, or indeed any human activity, into its elements renders it absurd—but tennis is surely one of the top contenders. There’s an enormous network of people gone into making it as simple as possible for two white-clad idiots to be watched by millions whilst they attempt to precisely adhere to the minutiae of an incomprehensible and tedious rulebook which governs the allowed moves with a small, yellow furry ball. And what rules! I’m doing a PhD in physics and I found it all a bit hard to follow. Love, 15, 30, 40; = 1 point; = some fraction of a set; break points; advantage; deuce; and challenge?! Challenge, some kind of weird Who Wants to be a Millionaire?-style lifeline system where you can question the linesmen’s judgement but only so many times, whose invocation heralds a split-screen with strange, Amiga-style CGI of a tennis ball hitting the court, which adjudicates it in or out. How does it work? Multi-angle camera triangulation? A system of seismic sensors beneath the court which are used to monitor illicit nuclear tests under the whole Greater London area when there aren’t any fixtures? If the method used initially to gauge the ball’s position is fallible, why don’t they use the amazing computer thingy all the time?!

Laden with questions, I left the pub (our friends had to get home, thank God), the match dangling by a tedious thread (it was two sets, eight points apiece by now, though Roddick was still leading on falling over), both players precisely evenly-matched, each waiting for the other to make some miniscule, likely random slip and get hold of the meaningless gold crock and enormous cash prize.

From home, I watched Tarantino give his anodyne acceptance speech in his white-and-gold chav suit embroidered with knobbish ‘me’ logo, flanked by rows of ball kids. Can’t hold his own fucking brolly, but he seemed to be able to manage the enormous, pointless metal trophy. Was that worth watching for four and a half hours of your life? (Nearly a day in slow-mo.) Federer’s furry, yellow, repeatedly-racqueted grand-slam balls it was.


  1. I agree about the cameras and the stupid commentating. Also, Federer has turned into a total ponce. You will have missed the jacket emblazoned with the number 15 in gold that he had made specially just in case he won this, his 15th grand slam. There were a few matches this year that were actually good, this wasn’t one of them. Especially at the end, there was just nothing between them, it was basically luck. And I *like* tennis. This match was like watching a really high quality version of Pong, with a computer player on both sides.

    It’s always easier to spot the dullness or the flaws when you’re watching professionals play it at the top level because they are right at the edge of what is within the rules, all the time. When you’re an amateur, it seems like the scope is nigh on endless. This applies as much to noughts and crosses as to tennis, it’s just that everyone eventually becomes a perfect noughts and crosses player. Any sport played perfectly would be dull to watch.

    Does it happen less often with team sports? It seems the greater complexity should help. Which is better – increase the number of players or increase the number of rules? Maybe the supporters of Britain in the zero-G chessketball 28-a-side tournament can argue over the en passant offside rule instead.

  2. I watched Tarantino give his anodyne acceptance speech in his white-and-gold chav suit embroidered with knobbish ‘me’ logo, flanked by rows of ball kids.

    Um. Yes. Knobbish indeed. His own logo, I mean honestly! What an absolute tosser!

    (That aside, I didn’t watch it. he probably is a tosser. Logo bashing makes me twitchy, is all…)

  3. It’s not having a logo per se I object to, just having such a cocky, cockish one. I mean, look at it. It looks like he asked the graphic designers to brand him as a swanky hotel chain launching its own range of diamond-encrusted handbags made of perfume. And, when he wasn’t happy with that, he asked them to try again but this time in gold.

    Besides, there’s also an element of context: a logo ironically on a silly website is one thing; but if anyone had, say, showed up to my graduation with a gold Statto logo on a white baseball cap, I would have smothered them in the BA gown and battered them repeatedly in the kidneys with a rolled-up degree certificate.

  4. And what about the poor sods who thought they were going to be ball boys, and ended up being given the job of sweaty towel monitor? “Yes, all you have to do is run up to the player after EVERY point, and offer him this towel to wipe the sweat from his troubled brow.” Yeuk!

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