I know the allure of not wanting to win – and that’s Andy Murray’s problem too

If it’s bathos you want, nothing gives it to you like watching sport. Unless it’s playing sport

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The Independent Online

No meal can be sad, said the critic Mikhail Bakhtin. But then he never dined with me. In anticipation of a meal – supposing we are with the ideal companion at the best table in the perfect restaurant – we might indeed postpone sadness. And maybe even halfway through we will remain in tolerably high spirits, with dessert still to come. But as we near the end of eating we begin to feel anticipatory twinges of anticlimax. Soon it will be over and we’ll be wondering why we expected so much. Soon we’ll be experiencing that emptiness of spirits which no satisfaction or memory of satisfaction can dispel. Soon we’ll be asking why we are alive.

In “Resolution and Independence”, that great despondent William Wordsworth describes the descent from exuberance to wretchedness as a law of the physical universe.

But, as it sometimes chanceth, from the might

Of joys in minds that can no further go,

As high as we have mounted in delight

In our dejection do we sink as low.

The morning is too beautiful, the sense of natural joy too intense for animation to sustain itself. We sink because we rose. This is how philosophers explain the tristesse of sex, how nutritionists explain the slump after gluttony, and how I explain the hollowness that waits on watching tennis day after day.

I am enthralled until the last ball Djokovic hits, and the moment it is over and he is on his knees eating grass I sink into my chair, cannot believe I have spent another fleeting fortnight of the few summers I have left caring about the outcome of contests I will have forgotten in the blink of an eye, and begin to question my sanity. Only a madman would have murdered time as I just have, and it’s no consolation to know there are tens of millions of people out there as mad as I am. If it’s bathos you want – and I suspect we are all bathos junkies in the end – nothing gives it to you quite like watching sport. Unless it’s playing sport.

Imagine what Djokovic is feeling now. Imagine to what dejection he must have sunk after having mounted in delight so high. I read that he’s a devout Christian, so that might help. Since God never puts in an actual appearance, He can’t ever be a let-down, and so is bathos-free. Otherwise it would have to be heroin.

Winning itself certainly won’t have kept Djokovic high for long. OK, so he’s the best tennis player in the world. So what? I recall waking to the realisation that I was the best table tennis player under 17 in north Manchester and parts of Bury. The satisfaction lasted for half an hour before I saw into the nothingness of things. So how profound must be the nothingness confronting Djokovic, whose backhand isn’t as good as mine was and who hasn’t even got Manchester to go home to.

And that’s after winning. What happens when you don’t? How’s Federer feeling just now? Not quite as bad as Andy Murray, and Murray won’t be feeling quite as bad as Nadal. Unless he is.

I worry about Murray. There is a particular thing that’s not quite happening, and I don’t mean winning. I mean apprehending what it is that’s not quite happening. He has enough people helping him, I know, but I suspect I have inside knowledge the others don’t. I understand the allure of not wanting to win.

That this is a qualification that won’t earn me a place on his management team I accept. People who don’t know what’s best for them don’t know what’s best for them. But assuming he is a regular reader of The Independent, I offer him the following thoughts which he is welcome to print out or transcribe into a notebook of the sort that Vasek Pospisil, his opponent in the quarter-final, kept by his chair and from time to time consulted – without success, admittedly, but we don’t know how much more decisively he’d have lost without it.

Court notes for Andy Murray:

To thine own self be true – not. Pop psychology makes much of the need to find ourselves. Ignore it. Find someone else.

Don’t be at peace with yourself either. Peace has no place in sport. Sport is war. But don’t hold your coaching staff responsible for everything that goes wrong. The thing you’re locked into with your mother – blaming her and your various mother-substitutes for every point you lose – is not so much unhealthy (mothers exist to bear our blame) as debilitating. It depletes your energy reserves. Hate your opponents instead.

Face facts. The fastidious Federer scorns you and proves it with every ace he sends down. He doesn’t care for the sort of tennis you play and would rub your face in your limitations, winning 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 if he could. Learn contempt from him.

Djokovic is too busy hating Federer to have time to hate you, but he remembers how much he dislikes you whenever you get to two sets apiece, and that secures him the fifth set.

Courtesy is a fine quality in a tennis player provided it is false. I see through the Hibernian cussedness you affect; in reality you’re a pussycat. That’s the wrong way round: act nice, play nasty is the rule. “This Duncan hath borne his faculties too meek”, and so have you. Be Macbeth instead. Think that’s a dagger you see before you.

Don’t expect other players to co-operate in your success. Don’t wait for them to give you points. Win your own. You have thunderous strokes. It breaks the heart to see you not using them. Softly softly catchee monkey, but you don’t want to catchee monkey, you want to breakee monkey’s balls. Go to passivity-management classes. And get a second serve. Then you’ll be a man, my son. Still sad, but at least a man.

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