Matt Butler: Whether it's sport or nostalgia, they cannot be serious

View From The Sofa: Statoil Masters Tennis, ITV4

Madness are playing the O2 in four days' time. And anyone who has seen Suggs recently will know he has, erm, filled out a little since those heady One Step Beyond days. But such is nostalgia, the place is likely to be rammed with misty-eyed people remembering how they were with their snappy suits and crisp synchronised dance steps, rather than taking in the spectacle of a gaggle of portly middle-aged men delving into their back catalogue. They want to get a facsimile of what they used to be like.

Just as the people who bought tickets for yesterday's Statoil Masters Tennis legends final did not head to the Albert Hall to see top-class tennis. They came to indulge in that peculiar chumminess that tennis fans revel in when reminiscing about the game's characters.

And on the face of it, it looked like they wouldn't be disappointed, as the final featured one of the biggest characters of all in John McEnroe, looking every bit of his 53 years in baggy "Dad-on-holiday" shorts.

His opponent, Mats Wilander, who is five years younger than McEnroe, has not cultivated an off-court personality nearly as much as the American, but did his best to play up to the novelty aspect of the tournament by wearing a stripy shirt that would not have looked out of place on CBeebies.

But McEnroe made it clear he had come to play, not act out his famous argumentative side. And the commentators sounded a little cheesed off that the New Yorker seemed to forget he was playing in a theatre, rather than a sports venue. They took to mentioning how fit he looked (for a 53-year-old) and how good his shots were (for a 53-year-old) before remarking repeatedly on the outstanding standard of competition we were all watching (for a 53-year-old against a 48-year-old).

There was an intake of breath on every tight call from a line judge, but McEnroe failed to take the bait. He was too concerned with wiping the floor with his opponent. As it went until he was 5-0 ahead in the first set and he pulled a shot wide which would have handed Wilander his first game. McEnroe pulled a theatrical annoyed face, standing with hands on hips. The crowd fell silent. Would he explode? He then turned to the umpire and said in a Jim-Carrey-as-Ace-Ventura slow-motion voice, "Chaaaallllenge." It was unsuccessful and McEnroe duly threw his racquet, to the unbridled joy of the audience and commentators.

But that was as good as it got. McEnroe, who trounced Wilander 6-1, 6-2, clearly still has the competitive fire. It is just that, predictably, his body is not nearly as quick as it was. And Wilander, poor lamb, had one knee braced up and walked with a hunch between points. And, with a dearth of theatrics and a mere two over-acted quarrels between the players, all there was left was the tennis.

And watching the match was difficult in places, given that even though there were occasional moments of quality, in the main it was like looking at two rival business colleagues running themselves into the ground on the court while at a company away-day. With the lack of laughs you'd expect from a couple of old guys looking to prove something to each other.

And you have to ask, why do the players do it? And, more to the point, why do people persist in watching it? Madness.


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