Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: June 2004

Women’s tennis – in rude health

Well, it was supposed to be a bad women’s tournament. Wimbledon would miss the Belgians, the Williams were too good, end of story.<br /><br />Instead, we have an open field, with contenders everywhere. It could well be Mauresmo’s chance to land a major, which would be overdue and very welcome. Or Davenport’s last hurrah. Or Capriati, if she can overcome Serena today (a massive match). Or Serena could land her 3rd title in a row after a long injury layoff. Whatever the outcome, however, there is a new star. <br /><br />Maria Sharapova is a tabloid’s wet dream. She is tall, blonde, pretty, hits the ball extremely hard and makes strange little gasps and grunts. And she is 17. <br /><br />Not far behind is Golovin, who lost to Serena yesterday. Only 16, she was subjected to a pathetic critique of her hipster-style shorts by John Barrett and Virginia Wade. The oldies were surprised, to say the least. Frankly, she looked far better than Serena in that silly dress, and her shorts are actually far more modest than most tennis skirts, which always give in inadvertant flash of the knickers. And who the hell is Virginia Wade to comment on fashion? The clue is in the name.<br /><br />Tennis has been about the commoditisation and objectification of players ever since Borg was surrounded by screaming teenage girls. Players are there to sell products, tickets, and if they turn us on, so much the better. We are complicit in the process.<br /><br />The papers will love Sharapova, especially if she beats the less glam Devenport to get to the final. Men will find her sexy, and the fact that she is only 17 will be OK, because she is untouchable – surrounded by an entourage, in the papers and on a pedestal.<br /><br />There. A blog about sex in tennis and I haven’t even mentioned Kournikova.

Tennis on the Beeb

Ah, the BBC. As part of the wimbledon fortnight as strawberries and cream, etc etc. In truth, the BBC have upped their game the last few years. <br /><br />Firstly, they have got some great commentators in. McEnroe and Tracey Austin stand out especially. Andrew Castle and Chris Bailey keep the ship steady. Boris Becker and Pat Cash once had a tendency to not bother finishing their sentences, but they have improved in the past few years out of sight. Old John Barrett must be looking over his shoulder, and thank God Virginia Wade’s droning voice is now a rarity. Michael Stich put in a good performance yesterday too. Another two they might try to pick off Eurosport are Mark Petchey and Lief Shiras, who are an excellent combo.<br /><br />Secondly, the interactive service is brilliant, especially early in the tournament. Skipping between matches, you can drop in here and there for set point after set point. Great fun. And nicely designed, too. <br /><br />Lastly, Sue Barker is now a seasoned host. She knows the game so well, and her links are concise and informative. The only shame is that McEnroe hops back to CBS for the second week. But he still does the highlights show, which John Inverdale runs with his usual smoothness.<br /><br />Oh, and there are no ads. Sometimes you just have to love the BBC. The Wimbledon team could teach the football panel a thing or two.

People’s Sunday

Amongst the delight of getting such a passionate crowd into Centre Court for the third ‘People’s Sunday’, a few words of warning:<br /><br />- Number 1 court was only about 1/3 full, despite the billing of Capriati and Roddick/Dent. Roddick is number 2 in the world and the US Open champion, for heaven’s sake. Where were the fans? Either the price for tickets (�35 for centre, �30 for #1) was too high, or people really are just interested in Henman. Which is a surprise – the first people’s Sunday in 1991 was a sell-out to see Connors and Sabatini, plus #1 court was also packed. So what if Henman hadn’t been playing? Hmm.<br /><br />- Cheering and flag-waving and chanting at the change of ends is fine. But one or two “fans” went over the top. Best example was during the last game of the match, when Henman hit a defensive lob. Arazi had a long time to think about his smash, and the crowd were silent. Then one idiot yells out “CHOKE” just as he hits the ball. Predictably, it goes in the net. Perhaps he would have missed anyway. But it was very ugly. Another crowd member kept screaming during the rallies for seemingly no reason. Shame. Stewards ejected one or two of the worst offenders, but people should have a bit more respect for the players.<br /><br />On a brighter note, there were almost no mobile phones going off. Seems that the corporate crowd can’t find the ‘slient’ mode like the rest of us.

Euro2004, Eng vs Portugal

I haven’t looked at the press yet, but who needs to? The same articles that appeared after other penalty shootouts will be recycled ad nauseam.<br /><br />The only point worth making is that Portugal deserved to win. They played attacking football, wanted to win, and it would have been a travesty if they had gone out of the tournament. England spent most of the game hoofing the ball up the pitch to clear the lines, only to be backed up again and again. Only once we went behind in extra time did we look like scoring, given that we actually had to.<br /><br />The disalowed goal will also be picked over, but Portugal had a shot cleared off the line that looked like a goal. We were not robbed, despite what the tabloids will say.<br /><br />Rooney’s injury was a blow, given the way he has played recently, but I’m not sure he would have made any difference. England will never win a major championship playing like this, and we should have no complaints.

Wimbledon

I hate to be negative, given that I am a huge tennis fan, but there are certain aspects of Wimbledon that really annoy me. In no particular order, they are:<br /><br />- people who think its the only tournament in the world. Thank christ Tim Henman got to this year’s French Open semis. Some Brits realised that there are 3 other grandslam tournaments. Sure, it’s important, but frankly, the US open is probably harder to win.<br /><br />- On the subject of Henman, the perception he is a choker. He should have won a slam by now, but even if he retires tomorrow he has had a good career. Who else has Britain produced in the last 30 years? Jeremy Bates? Case closed.<br /><br />- The timing. The French Open is barely over and the next slam starts up. If tennis wants to stay interesting, you need a contrast of styles. Cramming the grass season into what is basically 4 weeks means the tour is dominated by baseliners who flourish on clay. Move the French back a week, Wimbledon forward a week or 2, make Queens a masters event (second tier to the slams) and then people like Moya, Kuerten and so on will have to play on the grass. Actually, Moya is playing this year, and you can hardly blame Kuerten for winning the French 3 times and then not giving much of a show on the grass. But anyway. <br /><br />- People in those ridiculous Union Jack hats. They should be banned. They cheer at all the wrong points. <br /><br />- Anyone who leaves their phone on without setting it to silent. Any fool who can use a mobile can switch the ringer off. If you need to be in contact, put it to silent or stay in the office.

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