Charlotte O'Sullivan: A tennis Grand Slam used to be so hard, but not in our globalised world

Notebook: It's not the players who have changed; it's the ground beneath their feet

Now it's possible that you are not addicted to watching tennis. Such people, I realise, do exist. My seven-year-old daughter, for example, on seeing me settle down to watch the French Open at the weekend, wailed, "I hate tennis players. Why can't they relax?"

But even refuseniks have a tough time ignoring Wimbledon. One, because it's as much cultural as sporting. Two, because we've grown to know the cast. It seems extremely likely that this year it will be won by either Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer because, well, winning is what they do. The world's top three are breaking records at a rate of knots. They just won't go away. Which has led some pundits to dub this a Golden Age.

To these pundits I say "pish".

Back in the 1980s, it was nigh-on impossible to triumph at all the grand slams, because the terrains were so different. The clay courts at Paris were super slow, the grass courts at Wimbledon super fast, the hard courts at the US and Australian Opens somewhere in the middle. Dominance on one surface guaranteed disaster on another, which led to some wonderful dramas. Remember Sir Gawain, whose impossible strength deserted him when the sun sank? That's exactly who anguished Ivan Lendl resembled as he tried to translate victory at the French and US Opens into Wimbledon success. Year after year, before our very eyes, a god was rendered mortal.

Thanks to various technological "improvements" to rackets, tennis balls and grounds, that doesn't happen anymore. The courts at Paris have got faster and, since 2001, the ones at Wimbledon have slowed right down. This means that if a talented player comes to grips with the hard courts of New York's Flushing Meadows, he has a fair chance of looking super-human across the field.

I was initially tempted to see this trend as part of a cunning US plot. No, seriously – what better way to undermine the idiosyncratic, vive-la-differénce sportsmen of Europe, than to force them to play ball the bland American way? Hegemony rules! However, American tennis has never been in such a bad state (tee hee). Moreover, the top three players in the world are, respectively, a Serb, a Spaniard and a Swiss, which would suggest that the true winners are athletes hailing from a European country beginning with S. And, yes, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer are splendid, sublime and effortlessly superior. But, please, some perspective. If this is tennis heaven, it has the most banal of foundations. It's not the players who have changed; it's the ground beneath their feet.

 

Quick on the draw, but not the uptake

I have always fancied myself as a bit of an artistic genius. Suffice to say, my skills may have rustified. I was recently introduced to the "social drawing game" Draw Something, a mobile app which requires a person to choose a word which they then have to represent in picture form. Their partner has to guess the word. Then they draw a picture. You get the idea.

I settled down to illustrate my word, then pressed "send" with a small but self-satisfied smile. "Rabbits!" said my friend, excitedly. Then, frowning, "Rabbits on a... banana?" It took several minutes before helpful suggestions, ie cheating, put him on the right track. Rabbits on a banana? Vikings on a longboat. It's such a thin line.

Undaunted, I began my next task, drawing a bespectacled man with a beard, plus a patient on a sofa. This time, my friend was rendered speechless. In desperation, I scribbled the words "Vienna" and "cigar". "Hey, this is Draw Something, not Write Something" muttered our host.

What makes a large group of (reasonably) sane individuals engage in such an activity when they could be putting the world to rights and/or probing each others' emotional depths? Draw Something is a childish waste of time, an anti-social drawing game. I'm hooked.

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