Keeping Tabs: June 27

Thursday, June 27, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

WIMBLEDON, England—Interested in becoming a sports columnist? Forget journalism school, forget college, drop out of high school if you can. The only thing you need to do is this: Learn to use the word bestride in a sentence.

Bestride, bestrode, bestriding: You might as well practice conjugating it for a few minutes. The past tense is useful as well. Once you have the forms memorized, you can start clearing space on your mantle for your Pulitzer.

I know you don’t believe me, so I’ll point you to a higher authority on the subject. Here’s how today’s column by Simon Barnes, chief sports writer at the Times, begins:

HAVING BESTRODE CENTRE COURT AS AN IMMORTAL FOR SO MANY YEARS, ROGER FEDERER WAS MADE TO LOOK ALL TOO FALLIBLE

See what I mean? But Barnes isn’t finished there. This is what he writes when he steps back, adjusts the pince-nez, and takes the long view of Federer:

“He remains perhaps the greatest master of his sport any of us has seen, bestriding tennis as Don Bradman once bestrode cricket.”

Two in one sentence; the man knows his business. Barnes could have used “straddled.” He could have used “towered.” He could even have settled for—God, no—“dominated.” But this was the time for something more, the time for elegy, the time for wistfulness, the time to begin Federer’s transition from earthling to legend. Barnes ends his piece by getting a head start on the coming onslaught of Federer nostalgia:

“So we have to brace ourselves for an unfolding sadness: for further experiences of Roger failing to be the Roger of the glory years. Respect the things that makes such a man carry on: relish for the struggle, sheer love of the game itself, glorious self-deluding ambition, and behind all that, the certainty that nothing will be as good ever again.”

Second tip for aspiring ink-stained wretches: Whatever your subject, you can't go wrong with Barnes's last sentiment—"The certainty that nothing will be as good ever again." This, more than anything else, is what people long to hear.

Anyway, it’s true, there are a few times when Barnes leaves this American behind in his descriptions of Federer. Like here:

“He wore a white shirt that gave him the look of a pox-doctor’s clerk. I never felt confident of the result when I saw that jacket.”

Yet all was forgiven when I read this perfect phrase, about Federer’s final error:

“Ah, that terrible ballooning backhand error on match point.”

That's good, really good. Still, it's too bad Federer's last shot couldn't have bestrode something along the way...

*****

But, You Know, No Pressure or Anything

There are, of course, other, less autumnal and nostalgic ways to describe Federer’s defeat. Here’s how The Sun chooses to put it:

ROGER GETS STAK-WHACK

This is the Independent’s sympathetic spin:

FLAT FEDERER TAUGHT A LESSON BY OLD-SCHOOL STAKHOVSKY

But the real story isn’t what happened to Federer. It’s what his loss means for Murray. Level-headed perspective is needed—the trophy isn’t Murray’s just yet, of course—and the tabs are here to keep us grounded:

The Sun goes the extra mile by damping down expectations in two separate headlines:

MURRAY’S SPOON-FED FINAL SLOT
Andy Murray was gift-wrapped a route to the Wimbledon final after Roger Federer crashed out

and:

SCOT IT MADE
As others buckled under the physical and mental pressure of the world’s most testing tournament, the Scot truly was a man alone

Caution is obviously the theme here, and it’s picked up by the Independent....

CASUALTIES LEAVE CLEAR PATH FOR MAGICAL MURRAY

...the Mirror...

I’M STILL STANDING
Flawless Murray survives the carnage as his path to the final opens up

...the Times...

ROGER AND OUT
Federer stunned by world No. 116 to leave Murray with clear path to final

and the Telegraph...

MURRAY KEEPS HEAD AS PATH TO FINAL OPENS UP
Dream draw for Scot

It’s a perfect scenario...for the tabs. If Murray wins, there’s celebration; if he doesn’t, there’s an equally festive round of I-told-you-so recrimination over the lost opportunity. The papers can spend the next 10 days building to both conclusions at once.

*****

Splitsville

What about the women, you ask? There’s a theme there as well, which can be summed up very simply: Maria Sharapova, on the grass, with her legs splayed underneath her. Every one of the papers features a shot of her in this painfully provocative position.

The story that goes with this Warholian repetition? Right, I almost forgot: The grass is slippery and dangerous. Sharapova and a few other women made comments along those lines, comments which are deemed outrageous by Telegraph columnist Simon Briggs:

“Have you ever heard so many complaints?” Briggs asks. “Victoria Azarenka says the Wimbledon courts are not in good condition. Caroline Wozniacki thinks they have been cut longer than usual. Michelle Larcher de Brito, most ridiculously of all, suggests there was dead grass on the surface.

“Anyone who knows the All England Club will appreciate that this is nonsense. You might as well accuse Rolex, one of the Club’s sponsors, of supplying clocks with no minute hand.”

Briggs may be right in defending his home Slam so vigorously. One day of pratfalls doesn’t mean the grass has suddenly gone bad; people have been playing, and slipping, on it here since the 19th century. But I wouldn’t trust Wimbledon just because its watch sponsor has a sterling reputation. This is the value, in reverse, of Wimbledon’s association with Rolex. Each profits from the perceived flawlessness of the other.

*****

The Nick and Boris Show

OK, enough jibber-jabber, what does Uncle Nick have to say today? As always, he speaks for so many of us with this headline in the Independent:

HOLY COW! I NEVER KNEW MICHELLE COULD SHOCK MARIA
Of all the holy cows in all the holy herds in the whole of the goddamn world, who saw that one coming?

Yesterday Bollettieri was introduced to the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Nick was, as the Times puts it, “half-impressed, half-baffled”:

“He’s a great talker,” Nick told Radio 5 Live. “I didn’t know if he was a mayor or not. I thought he was part of a theatrical team.”

*****

Is anything left of this tournament after Wednesday? I’m heading out now to find out.

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