Wimbledon has engulfed us once more. Two weeks of wall-to-wall tennis engendering either obsession or annoyance. (“I can’t believe they’ve moved Eastenders!”) I belong to the obsession camp. I’ve been watching the SW19 soap opera since the late 80s and I never seem to tire of it. This is despite a voice in my head almost constantly questioning what the fuck I’m doing: It’s two millionaires hitting a ball over a net – why do you care?! It’s like only watching films that always have the same plot! Why aren’t you reading Proust?!
This is the fascinating paradox of watching sport – it can exert a vice-like grip even though you’re well aware of how ridiculous it is. It’s arguably a complete waste of our finite time on this spinning rock. Intellectually I know it’s a joke, but I always come back for more.
Then there’s the comparison with watching films (my self-consciously self-proclaimed ‘interest’). I can’t escape the unvarnished truth that no film could captivate me like the Roddick-Federer final of 2009. That epic encounter had me in its thrall for over 4 hours. By the 5th set I couldn’t sit down, pacing the living room, heart rate jacked throughout every Roddick service game. He was refusing to give up on his dream, knowing that a few missed first serves and all would be over. Eventually he couldn’t keep going any longer and Federer broke to win another sodding time. The Sports Almanacs will list tedious, non-perspiring Roger as the victor, but anyone who watched the match will know Roddick was the hero of the day. He was like Rocky, going the distance with the champ when no one believed he had a chance. In the last 6 years I doubt there’s a month gone by that I haven’t thought about that match.
When I talk about Wimbledon, I’m predominantly talking about singles matches. Doubles is fun, but it can’t compare with two individuals in battle. The key is to not be neutral. There has to be someone you’d love to see win, someone you’d relish to see go down. Protagonist vs. antagonist. Hero vs. villain. Two gladiators going at it, with the crowd and the Gods watching.