Keeping Tabs: August 2

Thursday, August 02, 2012 /by

LRWhat else is different about tennis at the Olympics? The crowd is liable to start up an impromptu version of “God Save the Queen” at any moment.

“You’d never hear that at Wimbledon,” says Great Britain's Laura Robson, who was the beneficiary, in her match with Maria Sharapova a few days ago, of a highly vocal audience inside Centre Court. At first I thought she meant that they were singing the Sex Pistols' song of the same name. Now that would have been cool. I can hear them now, screaming in unison: “God save the Queen/We mean it, man!” 

Still, as much as people there seem to be enjoying the run of the All England Club, the British press hasn't followed along. It’s been a pretty thin week for the sport in the tabs, which isn’t surprising. There are a lot of other things going on around London at the moment. For instance, yesterday the city’s mayor and leading attention seeker, Boris Johnson, got himself stuck hanging from a zip wire. 

With the tabs failing us, we’ll take it a little more upmarket today. 

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Muzz Makes the Tough Calls

According to the Guardian:

ANDY MURRAY AND LAURA ROBSON CAUGHT UP IN DOUBLES ROW

Robson lost her match to Sharapova, but she also received some good news: She was picked to play with Murray in the mixed doubles for Great Britain. Unfortunately, this was not good news for her friend and countrywoman Heather Watson, the U.K.'s top-ranked women’s dubs player. Watson wasn’t pleased, though she expressed her displeasure in a suitably diffident way:

“I thought I might have deserved a spot,” Watson said, “especially as I won a [doubles] tournament only two weeks ago [in Stanford]. I’m a little upset I did not get picked, but there’s not much else I can do about it. I wanted my Olympics to carry on.”

How Robson snuck past her is something of a mystery. She asked Murray about playing the mixed in March, but didn’t hear anything definite from him or from British tennis officials until this Tuesday. The Guardian says:

“Murray said that, after consultation with the team selectors, Robson was considered ‘the best one to try and win a medal,’ He conceded, ‘Heather has played some very good doubles this year, she is our No. 1 player as well—so it’s obviously tough on her. But tough decisions have to be made sometimes.’” 

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Points Taken
At the Tennis Space, Simon Cambers makes the logical argument that players should be awarded the same number of ranking points for the Games as they are for Masters events. The format is virtually the same, but currently the Olympics come with just 750 points for the winner, compared to 1000 for a Masters.

Along the way, Cambers also floats the idea of changing the Olympics from a standard knockout tournament to a dual-gender team competition like the Hopman Cup. I like the way it’s done now, but I’ve always thought the Hopman Cup had a lot of potential as a concept. It would certainly emphasize the nationalistic and team elements of the competition more. I wonder if players like Serena and Federer, the ones going for gold on their own right now, would find it appealing to put their fates in others' hands. 

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Everything's a Blur
Speaking of nationalism, Chris Clarey writes in the New York Times, that its lines are getting ever harder to discern. Korean swimmers train in Australia, Lithuanians in England.

“It is not uncommon for swimmers in the London Games," Clarey writes, "to have much deeper connections with swimmers from other nations than with their teammates.”

It’s been this way in tennis since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

“At this post-modern stage, nationality can even be a symbolic choice for a star athlete,” according to Clarey. “Maria Sharapova, who has lived and trained in the United States since she moved to Florida as a young girl to become a tennis champion, continues to represent Russia, the nation of her birth, because she wants to honor her parents, her roots, and her Russian identity.”

It almost seems that the more fluid national identity becomes, the more athletes want to hang on to theirs, even if they don’t live or train in their home country—blood, family, roots remain important, even in the abstract. Someone like Martina Navratilova had to leave everything and everyone behind for good when she defected from Czechoslovakia; not surprisingly, she embraced an American identity. She once stopped a reporter in mid-sentence after he addressed her with the words, “As an American...” Navratilova told him, “Thank you, you don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear that.”

Sharapova is an extreme example of the opposite, post-Cold War case. She has lived in the U.S. since she was 7, but she never had to cut ties with Russia or her Russian self. While it was annoying a few years ago to hear Sharapova say how much she wanted to beat the U.S. in a team competition—I think it was Fed Cup—I can’t begrudge her a desire to feel a link to her family and its history.  

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The View from 40th St.
The New Yorker throws its high mind into the Games. Louis Menand writes about the ritualistic quality of the Olympics, and how television helped create it. 

“Wide World of Sports was significant for two reasons,” he writes of the ABC program of the 1960 and 70s. “First, it lived up to its promise of ‘spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport’ (a classy touch, the singular noun). Second, and most important, the show established an intonation, a cadence, a discourse for high-level athletic competition. This wasn’t the hopped-up staccato of ordinary play-by-play. It was weightier, more momentous, more world-historical. ‘The thrill...the agony...’ It was Churchillian.”

—Elsewhere in the NYer, Anthony Lane writes about “The Body Olympic” with a trademark flash of wit:

“Not until you gorge on the Olympics, sport by sport, do you arrive at an obvious truth: all human shapes are here. Well, all but one; the obese, it must be said, are scandalously underrepresented, despite the encouraging presence of both McDonald’s and Coca-Cola as offiical sponsors.” 

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Red, White, and Gray?
Speaking of that other Olympic specialty, overweening sponsor presence, Chris Chase at Yahoo wonders why the American athletes are wearing gray Nike jackets on the medal stand rather than something more...American. The company apparently sold them on the idea that the "reflective" quality of the color would make them “shine” and “stand out” on the podium. But Chase thinks he sees another reason to go with the neutral color. 

“The [jacket] and its highly reflective properties is selling for $450 at some retailers. There’s the real reason Nike went with these jackets. It can sell them outside the Olympics.”

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