I know, I know, I should be writing about the World Cup and how Brazil couldn’t seem to catch a break – being shut out by the Netherlands in the consolation match – and whether or not Pope Francis has made a bet with Pope Emeritus Benedict re: the Argentina-Germany final.
But instead I find myself still on a Wimby high after Nole’s gutsy win, surfing the Net for tennis news. This is the delicious period before the start of the hard court season when tennis players take to the beach. (It’s one of the reasons I made the four athletes in my new novel “Water Music” two tennis players and two swimmers. Tennis players love water.) With Nole imposing a paparazzi blackout on his wedding – and kudos to him for keeping a private affair private – the paps have had to content themselves with delectable pix of Rafa in hot-pink board shorts.(Rrrrrrrr!) Which brings me to…
Andy Murray. Rafa’s fourth-round loss to Nick Kyrgios may have given the tennis world pause (though why it should I don’t know. Rafa has tender knees and Wimbledon grass is harder on them than French Open clay since he can’t slide on grass the way he can on clay.) But Andy’s quarterfinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov (aka “Baby Fed,” aka Maria Sharapova’s gorgeous beau) shocked a nation.
A nation that for better or worse has a tremendous literary tradition and so took to the tabloids to vent, parse and grieve. Was a woman (his mother and first coach Judy, girlfriend Kim Sears, new coach Amélie Mauresmo) to blame? (People, why are you going there? Why is a woman always thought to be behind a man’s flameout? Already there are concerns about how becoming a husband and father might affect Nole’s game. Gee, has being a hubby and dad hurt Roger Federer, particularly when Mirka Federer is said to run the show with Swiss clock precision? What about the effect that being a wife and mother will have on Jelena Djokovic?)
But back to Andy. In Wimbledon 2014’s “Rosebud” moment, Andy was heard to exclaim, “Five minutes before the f****** match.” What did he mean? Will we ever know what happened five minutes before the f****** match?
Here’s an idea: Isn’t it possible that Andy, who had back surgery at the end of last year, is still playing himself into shape? That he came up against someone who was simply better that day? Grigor is definitely an up-and-comer.
Much has been made about Andy’s tempestuous temperament. (I saw him play an exhibition against Nole at Madison Square Garden on World Tennis Day March 3 and found him charming.)
But competitive tennis, the most deceptively individualistic of sports, encourages tempestuousness. The tennis player, perhaps more than any other athlete save for the Olympian, plays not only for himself but for the team of people who coach, train and condition him, the family that has sacrificed to get him where he is and the country that takes such pride in his achievements and shares the pain of his fall.
Look at Nole. “He’s a head case,” one of my doctors told me. A head case who was bombed as a child, who carries with him the baggage of Serbia’s history and of a family that was so desperate for him to succeed that it sought out a loan shark to fund his fledgling career. How’d you like to drag that onto the court with you each time you played? (The effect of the past on the present and politics on sports is one of the themes of my book “Water Music.”)
Like his own country – and I don’t mean Great Britain but Scotland, which holds a referendum on independence from Britain Sept. 18 – Andy seems to be at a crossroads. And transitions are never easy …
Particularly for high-strung young men, who like the characters in my book, play for God, country, family and not least of all themselves.