I, Witness: Things I Learned at the O2 Last Night
Posted by gauloises1 on November 27, 2009
Check under the cut for the New Balls version of ‘what I did on my holidays’ …
1. Crossing Over To The Enemy Feels a Little Bit Good
I became one of those people who everybody hates last night. Sitting in my corporate box, eating and drinking, blithely chatting away between points. And it was basically awesome, except for the company. Which is not to say that the people I was with weren’t great and even in some cases related to me. But something in me rebels at having to explain the rules of a tiebreak during the tiebreak, or overhear comments like ‘Del Potro’s number five? So he’s only got five points?’, or being the only person who didn’t leave during the final set to catch a cab or a train in comfort without having to deal with the crowds. All things considered, I’d almost rather have been down with everybody else.
Almost. The free bar just clinches it.
2. Tennis at the 02? Actually Brilliant.
I could not have imagined, having been acres away from Girls Aloud and so forth, that sticking a tennis court in the middle of the arena would have worked so well, but it did. There can’t have been a bad seat in the house in terms of the view you were getting of the court, and for such a large venue it felt surprisingly intimate. And the somewhat cheesy gimmicks – the countdown, the ‘let battle comence!’, the heartbeat with accompanying graphics and so forth – actually weren’t that annoying. A bit patronising, maybe; I overheard someone remarking in annoyed tones when ‘BREAK POINT’ flashed up over their heads, “Yes, we know.” But it is immediately involving and allows the casual tennis fan to get a sense for the narrative of a match instantly. So, in general, good job.
3. I Suck In Front Of a Camera
I am never judging the people in the little ‘talking to the audience’ vignettes they show on TV ever again, with their frozen smiles and inane comments. I’d always assumed that they chose to be on camera, maybe even queued up for it or something. It doesn’t happen like that. How it happens is that a benign-looking woman approaches you and says ‘Can I ask you a quick question?’ like she’s about to ask you for directions. You say ‘Sure’, at which point she spins you round to face the two men armed with a giant camera and one of those sound thingys who have crept up behind you while you were completely oblivious, and barks ‘So who do you think is going to win the whole thing?’. You’re so startled that you say the first thing that comes into your head – which, oddly, is ‘Roger Federer’. At which point, not content with totally ambushing you and shocking you into an inane answer, she actually has the temerity to ask you to give your stupid answer again and better.
Anyway, you know the bit in High Fidelity when the journalist asks the protagonist for his top five songs or whatever, and he’s been waiting his whole life to get asked that question, and he’s so shocked he says completely idiotic things and it torments him internally?
It was basically like that.
4. Juan Martin del Potro. The Mona Lisa. One of These Things Is Not Like the Other.
I was concerned that actually properly watching Delpo play, finally (after a mere fleeting glance of him at Wimbledon when he was just a stripling) would be a let down. How could it not be, right? At best, he’d be exactly the same as he was on TV and I wouldn’t get anything more out of it. Plus he’d look smaller, because in my head he’s an actual giant. You can see where the Mona Lisa comparison comes in.
But unlike going to the Louvre and seeing that painting, it turns out Elf is actually bigger and better in person. As it happens, my hugely inflated idea of his stature was quite literally correct; he IS an actual giant, a fact that was not lost on those around me (the words ‘brick’, ‘shithouse’ and ‘built like a’ were generally floating around in the ether). He’s also, and I know this sounds odd, much quicker than he looks on the TV. His slow, unassuming mooch around the court is much more purposeful, and his movement is just remarkable. I’ve grown to hate hearing commentators and pundits say, whenever his name is brought up, ‘del Potro moves well for a big man’. But when you see how he maneouvres his long limbs and gets his body out of the way of the ball, it’s actually really hard not to turn to the person next to you and say in tones of slight awe, ‘Moves well for a big man, doesn’t he?’.
And those limbs are LONG. At Wimbledon, I couldn’t take my eyes off Federer’s legs. Last night, I barely noticed Roger was there. My god, Elf’s arms. The acres of them. I can’t write further about it otherwise I will need a lie down in a darkened room.
5. He Plays Tennis, Too.
I had convinced myself (with some justification) that there was almost no chance that he would win. I just wanted him to get a set so that I could enjoy him for longer. And there’s no question that the majority of the audience were there expecting him to play the role of sacrificial lamb. They wanted to see, to quote my sister’s disappointed comment at the end of the first set, ‘awesome Federer’. Instead we saw a match.
Does anybody crash a party quite like Delpo? When I think about his previous matches with Federer, particularly the double-bagelling which will live long in infamy, and then about how he played last night, I can’t believe how far he’s come in such a short space of time – or how young he is. (People around me refused to believe he was only 21 when I told them.) I can’t speak about the match in detail and I refuse to try; it’s pretty much a blur and was at the time, I just got so lost in watching him. But the way he came out and took the match away from Federer and refused to give it back … that was something to see.
It’s a cliche, but the force with which he strikes the ball is unbelievable when you see it live. I know, everybody says it – but it’s true. From the very first game, his forehand drew involuntary gasps from the whole crowd, whoever they’re supporting. You can’t not react. It has a visceral effect. And the clean, relentless pace of his backhand … I really do need to lie down for a bit.
Basically, what I’m saying is: did you know Elf is actually really good at tennis?
6. Wimbledon Awaits
All that’s needed for del Potro to be taken to the hearts of the British public? Going deep at Wimbledon so people become aware of him (getting past the second round would be a start). Don’t get me wrong, there are obstacles, most notably the fact that he has three syllables in his surname; that’s not how we like to cheer. “Rog-AH!” or “Fed’RUH!” on the other hand works well after a good “come on!”; “del Potro’ not so much. But then some bright spark starts shouting ‘come on, Del Boy!’ and it’s love.
Seriously. There were two quite young boys in the box next to mine who started off by yelling ‘Come on Roger!’ after literally every single point. By the end, they’re screaming for Delpo. So, incidentally, was I.
7. You Can Rely on the ATP to Ruin a Good Moment
I hear rumours that people watching at home had handy charts and graphs and stuff. Not so much where I was. The best we had was the ‘sets won/lost’ tally I’d scribbled on the back of my hand on the tube, and even that had (a) been done from memory, (b) smudged quite a lot, and (c) probably inaccurate to start with. I knew that if del Potro won in three it would come down to game differential. What I didn’t know was what that meant: number of games won, or the win-loss percentage? Where I went wrong was assuming that someone, perhaps oh, say, the tournament organisers, would know. ‘This is a very awkward moment, isn’t it?’ Petch commented while Delpo was left standing there like a lemon. He was not wrong.
All of which is to say that I think a large number of people left the o2 not sure whether del Potro had made it through or not, and those of us who did stay to find out weren’t sure quite how, although a heated debate on that subject did serve to liven up the weary waiting for the tube. Shouldn’t there have been people with spreadsheets and calculators or, god, an abacus or something backstage keeping track of how each game in the third set affected the qualification scenarios? Is it THAT hard, ATP? As it was, if anything could have made me sad last night, it would have been seeing Murray’s rather forlorn tweet still not knowing whether he was in or out fifteen minutes after the match.
I’m not sure at what point it was confirmed to Elf, but the crowd weren’t told after he’d spent a good few minutes knocking up with Carlos Tevez. Who is crap at tennis. Anyway, the whole thing was ridiculous and marred what had been a fantastic match and (I thought) a brilliant Elf performance.
8. Carlos Tevez Is Really Ugly.
And yet strangely hot. True story.
… And that is what I did with my Thursday night.