It never ends this thing, and we are not complaining. But if you spend as much time as some of us do watching sport on the telly – apparently it doesn’t count as “real work”, so it is actually a labour of love – you will know that the picture you see is enhanced or sullied by the voice that accompanies it.
This pet hate came surging to the surface on Friday night as Kevin Anderson and John Isner smashed six-foot lumps out of each other deep into the night. Tennis may well be the closest non-violent sport to boxing in the sense that it combines raw power, a bit of science, cunning and so, so much endurance. For all intents and purposes, that semi-final between the two sluggers was a rumble in the urban jungle, as they simply refused to fall. Six and a half hours they went on, their rivalry and friendship of 14 years and counting reaching a brutal crescendo.
It may well have been the best day of their lives, but you wouldn’t have known it if you had the displeasure of listening to John Inverdale and John McEnroe moaning about how long they were taking. It was disrespect of the lowest form; trolling, if you will.
From the latter stages of the fourth set, they resolved to bemoan how long the match was taking, wailing about the rules that say there is no tiebreaker in the final set, and how Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic were being made to wait. So freaking what? The rules are set in place, and that is that.
The very blatant bias towards the big names in modern broadcasting is not only ridiculous, but also very dangerous. It conditions the casual audience to only really care if the big boys – and girls – are colliding.
Note the half-hearted ovation Anderson received for ousting Roger Federer. That was probably the same sound emanating from the broadcasting studios, too, cursing their rotten luck that the final which must compete for attention with the World Cup today wouldn’t be “box-office”.
When Federer and Nadal walk off into the sunset in a few years, tennis will have a hard time convincing the audience that they have so thoroughly conditioned to suddenly care about the lesser lights that the game itself has given short shrift.
Most commentators have a limitless supply of adoration and anecdotal evidence about the greats but can barely string a paragraph together when the likes of Anderson and Isner pleasantly surprise us, reminding us that there are no certainties in life and sport.
Tennis would do well to ask golf about the “Tiger Effect” and how sponsorship and viewership dipped when Woods was injured. TV times were built around him, and the masses followed, along with the advertisers. That would explain the tsunami of Tiger-love now that he is back, and showing signs of competing. He is manna from broadcasting heaven. But he won’t last forever.
The World Cup also took a hit when all its headline acts tumbled early: Ronaldo, Messi, Germany, Brazil; all gone before the final. And then England, and their juggernaut of beer-laced delirium, falling just short of the final. Had they made it through, half of the country may have descended on Moscow, willing to pay any price for a ticket, so they could be there to see “it coming home”.
That is all well and good but the underdogs always provide the more compelling narrative. Anderson, Isner, and Croatia reiterate the point that it is possible. They are the romantic flame, the gust of wind to the eternal optimists. For that they deserve a lot more respect. These are the greatest days of their lives and they deserve to be celebrated rather than hurriedly ushered off stage, so we can concern ourselves with the faces we see every other week.
Long live the underdog.