By The Spotter
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, and not so quiet please ladies and gentlemen, it’s the ATP tennis tour train; present stop the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadow arena, New York City.
Wielding racquets with faces roughly equivalent to the surface area of the moon, mega-wealthy and ridiculously-athletic players and legends of the sport like Roger Federer and Serena Williams hit forehands with a lethal mix of controlled ferocity and devilish bite and swerve.
These tennis stars and a good many of their contemporaries are the epitome of modern-day sporting gladiators. They are pugilists with a metallic weapon with gut in its middle for either bludgeoning or to deceive with by stealthy and artistic dinks, cuts and chips; they put one in mind of a boxer manoeuvring and jabbing his opponent into a corner and landing a killer blow sooner or later.
The action is often spectacular and the rewards even more so. A cool U.S. $3 million thank you very much for the winners of the Men’s and Women’s singles at this year’s U.S. Open.
A much different scenario to around the time the world’s first bona-fide sports agent, the way ahead of his time Mark McCormack, chaperoned old Aunty Wimbledon into the Pro era at the turn of the 1970s.
McCormack grew Wimbledon exponentially across all aspects of finance and marketing, including the landing of the biggest fish- huge deals for television rights. This of course increased the prize money kitty substantially for the players, who were suddenly catapulted into earning riches they had once surely only dreamed of.
Even in the days of McCormack establishing himself as Wimbledon’s commercial baron, the quirky traditions of the tournament were sometimes still in evidence.
Nothing better illustrates this than an incident from around the mid-70s, in the period just before the brilliant Borg started his great run of victories. A cocktail lunch party was always held on the opening Monday with officials et al invited. The only problem being that the linespeople had already consumed quite copious amounts of sherry and gin and tonic before going out on court to officiate.
One such time out on Court 3, a lineswoman by the rather regal-sounding name of Mrs. Dorothy Cavis-Brown completely missed signalling a clear wide ball right down the line in front of her. The South African player, Abe Segal was perplexed as to why such an obvious call had not been made. The reason became clearer as Segal went over to inquire why there had been no call made in the slightest. Segal rather disturbingly discovered Mrs. Cavis-Brown had in fact imbibed in one too many complimentary drinkies and was sound asleep on duty!
With the way the players charge around the court and whack the fur off the ball these days, there is very little danger of this happening at Flushing Meadow or any other of the stopovers on the Pro tour.
And we surely wouldn’t want it any other way now- watching some of the best athletes in the world trying to outdo and outlast each other at a such a breakneck pace, often over four hours and five sets, would be close to, if not the pinnacle of sporting theatre and achievement. Roll on Monday morning NZ time for hopefully a great climax.
Roll on Monday morning NZ time for hopefully a great climax.