Mac the mouth - the very best of men at the very best of times
Sport on TV
Sunday 29 June 2003
Call off the Baftas, tell the judges they're not needed this year, because television does not and will not get any better than Rusedski's outburst last Wednesday. But it wasn't so much that choice bit of Canadian that made it all so effing watchable, than the man the BBC had on hand to analyse this Gregorian rant.
Imagine having Achilles at courtside to diagnose the severity of a heel injury, Lazarus in the studio to weigh up the magnitude of an unlikely comeback, or Sisyphus at the bottom of Henman Hill to size up the impossible challenge facing some brave Brit or other, and you will see how lucky the BBC were to have John McEnroe in the booth when Rusedski rocked up his storm.
And what a storm it was. The last time the All England Club experienced such a showcourt-stopper Sir Cliff Richard had so forgettably grabbed the mike, but this time it was more Livid Doll than Living Doll. "I can't do anything if the crowd f***ing call it," Rusedski began as he set about inflicting everlasting damage on not only his reputation but on the asterisk key of journalists' laptops everywhere.
Yes, we all gasped in horror as it unfolded in front of our disbelieving eyes at 6.15pm on a school night and agreed that our Timmy would never have stooped so low. But deep down we loved every obscene second of it.
True, it can't have been a pleasant experience for the ball girls, but then maybe a sport that has allowed so many Tracys and Jennifers fresh out of junior school to be exposed to pressures of untold horror should not get too comfortable on its highchair of judgement.
What was truly offensive was the so-called "apology" trotted out by the BBC that was as much an insult to the intelligence as it was a gross act of hypocrisy. Who exactly was it who put microphones into every conceivable area of the court so that a player can barely admonish himself without disgusting half the Home Counties?
The BBC, that's who. But their "apology" strangely made no reference to their own culpability. In law they might even call it entrapment. "If you did hear that exchange, we at the BBC would like to apologise on Greg's behalf for the language that he used," Barry Davies said.
But less of the morals, get back to the quarrels, because what we really needed was someone to exploit this drama for all it was worth and in McEnroe we had the perfect ringmaster, the very man who turned "getting the hump with the Ump" into an art form. Big Mac sensed there was blue in the air as soon as the bogus line-judge called "out". "That has added intrigue to things," he said before launching his one-man search for the truth of what had actually just occurred. "Am I missing something here?" McEnroe asked Davies and his fellow analyst, John Lloyd. But they weren't about to admit that they didn't have a clue what was going on either and why Rusedski and Andy Roddick had stopped playing the point.
Three replays later and it still wasn't cleared up. McEnroe, God bless him, was not about to let it lie. "Tell me what happened, Barry. Tell me what happened, John," he implored. "It makes no sense at all." Fortunately, the videomen came good in the nick of time to show us just why Rusedski was turning bad and when he had run out of expletives, Davies asked McEnroe: "As someone who's been in similar situations, what were you thinking as the swear words came out?"
"I was thinking, '5,000, 6,000, 7,000...'," McEnroe replied. "Because I can tell you from painful experience that that was one costly little exchange." As it turned out, Rusedski was fined a paltry £1,500 (he would have had to have put more in our office swearbox) but maybe that was because the disciplinarians had seen some of the emails that had flooded into the BBC sticking up for poor Greg by then.
That night on Today at Wimbledon John Inverdale read one out. "What is wrong with these farcical umpires?" it said. "In more than 30 years of watching tennis I have never seen such an obvious point that had to be replayed." A deadpan McEnroe butted in: "Hey, didn't you see any of my matches?"
If they didn't, they should rush out and buy the box set. Because McEnroe was Oscar Wilde to Rusedski's Johnny Rotten.
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