By Brendan Boylan,
Is sport addictive? No doubt somebody somewhere got very well paid to investigate the theory. Many a college-goer might have based a thesis on the theory too. This corner certainly believes there’s weight to the idea. Hardly surprising, that, given that sport has afforded yours truly a beloved, treasured and crucial way of dealing with some aspects of life.
Not directly, of course, but, I’ve always said writing about sport is nearly as good as actually playing. It might carry a few more bonuses indeed. Being involved in team management (these wheels have patrolled many a sideline in their time) of course brings the intensity of game day and so on, but being a sports scribbler opens totally new horizons. Far from seeing it as a job or a chore, it’s more a vocation, and most definitely a labour of love. And as more sporting codes are tackled and – to some degree at least – understood, that only becomes greater.
Here’s where addiction enters the equation. The lengths one goes to in order to take in some sporting action causes great fascination and chatter among some folk. Personally speaking, it was felt that the maximum stretching point of the elastic had been reached a few years back when the Ashes Series in Cricket between England and Australia was turned on. Well, it was Christmas Day and there was no other sport on so what option was there?!
There was another bit of stretch left though. Maybe it’s just that there’s something extra attractive about an event that only occurs once a year. Like the Super Bowl, the World Championship in Snooker, the Tour De France or the Ploughing Championships! Yes, competition ploughing is a sport too!
Anyway, being honest, getting stuck into following Wimbledon never would have registered on the radar. Tennis players have long been admired by the occupant of this seat due to their undoubted superb fitness and the level of physical effort they put into their code. Athletics and cycling might come close but surely there’s no more gruelling individual pursuit.
But the finer nuances of tennis were still a bit of a mystery though. No more than with any other code however, the more that’s been seen of it, the better grasp thereof that’s been attained. A bit of Irish interest always helps too. It was probably when Conor Niland boldly went further than anyone had or most expected him to in last year’s US Open that the interest gauge flickered a little higher. For Niland, that was the highlight of a great career that was sadly ended a short while after by injury.
So it was decided to take in as much of Wimbledon 2012 as was possible and understandable. Now, some tennis memories of the past did remain. Most notable among them John McEnroe’s ‘You cannot be serious’ outburst. Also, however, the dominance of Bjorn Borg at his zenith, the sheer class of others like Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl, the rivalry between Andre Agassi and Pete Samprass and the unforgettable occasion when Goran Ivanisevic eventually won after years of disappointment.
In terms of ladies tennis, Steffi Graff, the unmistakable Monica Seles and Martina Hingis are among the stars recalled with fondness. And for much of the recent past, the Williams sisters have been brilliantly dominant.
You know, in many ways we Irish are the complete opposite of our neighbours across the water when it comes to sport. Where we see our sports stars going into action and are filled more with hope than expectation, over there it tends to be the opposite. Build yourself up for a fall and you’ll generally take one.
It’s happened several times with the English soccer and rugby teams. Expectation levels are generally unrealistic. Thus, when the Wimbledon weeks descend every year, Andy Murray mania breaks out in much of the sporting universe. In ways part of it is a bit misguided given that he vehemently asserts his Scottish roots. And, quite often, if he loses, he very quickly becomes Scotland’s Andy Murray again!
That said, following his quest to be the first ‘local’ to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1938 gave viewers two weeks of intrigue and enthral, but ultimately ended up with a dose of reality. Superstition had appeared to be working in Murray’s favour for a while too, as Johnny Marray and Frederik Nielsen won the Doubles the night before Murray took on Roger Federer in the Singles Final. The former being the first ‘local’ to claim to Doubles since the year Perry triumphed.
Throughout the Championships, Murray showed everything needed to be a champion. Sheer class as he dispatched some of his opponents in the earlier rounds and, added to that supreme strength of body and mind as he won exhausting battles with David Ferrer and Jo Wilifried Tsonga.
Sometimes though, there’s just no way past class. Anyone that thought Federer was finished got their answer. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have held the upper hand for the last while – that’s why this newly converted tennis fan was able to have a punt on Roger at a very generous 7/2 – but the Fed Express is still rolling!