Chris Maume: Mirror image reflects badly on dowdy Auntie
View From The Sofa: Australian Open Tennis, BBC 2, Saturday and Sunday
Monday 02 February 2009
After the titanic first set of the Australian Open men's single final yesterday, John Inverdale remarked that it was like "Ali versus Frazier". With all the angles Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were finding, it was as much Pythagoras versus Euclid.
I'm not sure it's ever appropriate to compare tennis to boxing – in fact I'm not sure it's appropriate to compare any sport to boxing, where the object is to render your opponent unconscious – but you knew what he meant.
It was also the like Beatles versus the Beach Boys or the Stones in the Sixties, each successive hit by one of them inspiring the others to greater heights. Certainly – and I guess it hardly needs me to say it – this is one of the greatest sporting rivalries we have ever known.
And so reminiscent of another: Borg v McEnroe. On one side of the net, the iceman who produces his best with the demeanour of someone out on a country stroll; on the other the ball of fire, igniting the court with his barely controlled rage. It's there between points, too: Federer like Arthur Ashe meditating, before padding back on to court; then look at Nadal's knee jigging up and down with nervous energy while he glances balefully around him, before running back on with let's-get-this-over-with urgency.
In the commentary box, John Lloyd and Chris Bailey were blown away. "It just keeps getting better! Ridiculous!" Lloyd bellowed in the third set. And in the fourth, there was Bailey going bonkers after an astonishing passing shot from Nadal: "Get out! Get out of here! Incredible!"
The BBC do their best to make us reviewers work – it's difficult to tell Lloyd and Bailey apart, both in terms of their voices, the faint Aussie twang to their accents (where does that come from?) and what they say. It really needed a loose cannon like John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors in the mix. They were presumably working for American TV, but couldn't Pat Cash have been pilfered from Radio 5 Live to add a bit of edge?
As the match was drawing to a conclusion that was inevitably, given Federer's fifth-set decline, a bit of an anti-climax, it was back to the boxing metaphors. Federer double-faulted in the final game: "he's taken one too many punches," said Lloyd (or was it Bailey?). And at the end, it was "a privilege to watch Federer and Nadal go toe-to-toe for more than four hours – they slugged it out here," said Bailey (or was it Lloyd?).
Then we cut straight to Inverdale and Andrew Castle in the studio at home to plug next month's Davis Cup tie – now that's truly anti-climactic.
On Saturday it was easy to tell Bailey apart from his co-commentator, his co-commentator being Sam Smith, who gave a distinctly female perspective. "She did say that if she won tonight she'd reward herself with a rather large chocolate cake," she observed of Serena Williams, as she steamrollered her way to victory. "It does keep us girls motivated."
And while we're on the distaff side of things, why didn't we see anything of Laura Robson on the Beeb? After Andy Murray's exit the Corporation seemed to lose interest until Federer and Nadal hove into sight. Still, I suppose her time will come.
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