Sportsmen from across the board spend a week in the land of make- believe

SPORT ON TV
Click to follow
The Independent Online
While John Inverdale may have started the second day of coverage of the Australian Open (BBC2) with the words: "Every major tennis championship wants a real roller-coaster five-setter early on to give the whole thing a lift", what the BBC did not want was its golden boy, Tim Henman, being taken for a ride.

Inverdale, less happy in front of the camera than behind a microphone, was affecting a strange slant to the right, perhaps in an attempt to distance himself from the screen in the background showing footage of the offending tennis player.

In what appeared to be a fit of pique directed at Henman's inability to win and thus keep up the viewing figures, the Beeb glossed over the first four sets, joing the action at 6-6 in the final set "amid all the tension". Tension? With only half an hour of highlights each afternoon from the first Grand Slam event of the season, engendering tension is something the BBC will have to work a little harder on.

With our brave Brit soon 6-7 down to a qualifier, Chris Bailey said authoritatively: "The thing for Henman to do now is settle back and relax." Difficult at the best of times, and especially so when you are receiving balls, as Bailey expounded, "in the hitting zone". What he failed to explain was why Henman was missing them.

The rear-view shots of Henman were disconcerting, his dark hair merging into the thick black stripe down the back of his Adidas-sponsored shirt. A skunk, perhaps, but without an obvious weapon of attack. Adidas may well now reconsider their sponsorship plans, given the amount of exposure they got from Henman compared to the world-wide coverage of Temur Ketsbaia's wild celebrations last weekend at St James' Park.

Shell-shocked and wide-eyed in the studio afterwards, Henman shifted uncomfortably in his chair, perhaps fearing the next question would ask if the stripe down his back was perhaps turning yellow.

Inverdale, a hunched model of sympathy, smirked: "Tim, as they say in the trade, very very down on himself."

Britain's other hope, Greg Rusedski, on the other hand, was victorious and so was interviewed with a Union Jack backdrop, rather than the Australian Open logo Henman endured. The message was hard to miss. He won, therefore he's a real Brit. The following day, in a last-minute addition to the schedule, "a bonus for all tennis fans", the smiling boy appeared on a programme devoted exclusively to his match with Jonathan Stark. Another victory and an extended, worshipful interview with Barry Davies, again in front of that backdrop which this time had his name superimposed across it. Goodness knows how the BBC will top that, should he carry on winning.

How quickly we forget. Henman was reduced to a quick mention at the end of the programme, but only to record his defeat in the doubles. We can only hope he does not take Chris Bailey's harsh comment of "He'll have to reassess what he's doing in this game" to heart.

However, he could follow the example of Ian Wright, who is being given the chance to move seamlessly from darling of the North Bank to luvvie of the South Bank. Following an impressive display as a guest on Clive Anderson's show, LWT are letting the Arsenal striker display his own prowess with the mouth in Friday Night's All Wright (ITV).

If the pilot is well-received, Wrighty is reportedly to be commissioned for an entire series, although, if he is to go head to head with Michael Parkinson, the guest list will have to be a little weightier than Lionel Richie and All Saints. A line-up of, say, Peter Schmeichel, referee David "Little Hitler" Elleray and Leicester's Steve Walsh should ensure bumper viewing figures and a programme to rank alongside such memorable chat- show moments as Russell Harty's handbagging by Grace Jones and Parky's pas de deux with Emu.

A less radical career move is being made by Mike Tyson. Kicking his heels while he serves a ban for ear-biting, the former world heavyweight champion is opting not for rugby union, but wrestling.

On the World Wrestling Federation's Raw programme (Sky) Tyson - originally billed as a guest referee for an event in March - accepted a challenge from "Stone Cold" Steve Austin to participate more actively. Tyson accepted Mr Austin's offer with an immense lung-puncturing push to the chest that completely flattened the wrestler.

What the WWF appears - crucially - not to have told Tyson is that it's not real. More ignoble artifice than noble art, in fact. The wrestler's name isn't the way you're supposed to leave him. Pity the man who is given the task of training Tyson for his debut. How do you tell someone who is used to going in for the kill that he only has to pretend to hurt his opponent, that he has to put on an act for the crowd? That he can threaten, but not deliver the telling blow. Who could show Tyson how to overcome an all-consuming desire to win? Somebody send for Henman...

Comments