Me, Watching Tennis

Me, Watching Tennis
Me, Watching Tennis

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day Two of Paris, Or Why I love Gabashvili vs. Mahut

I know, I know, Federer, Nadal and for you real wierdos, Andy Roddick means tennis. They are in the American Express Ads. They're on the covers of magazines. They're rich as shit. And Nadal is a wet dream to boot.

But Day Two of Paris inspired me in ways that somehow Day One didn't. And it wasn't because my favorites were playing--although, frankly, I still have to watch the evening matches. The hard work of watching tennis in the early rounds is never ending, man! It's almost as if there are not enough hours in the day! Whew. It's hard work, but someone's gotta do it. And that person shall be me.

So yesterday, feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed by other, unimportant shit like being a mother, getting ready for Halloween, dealing with my renovation, or stupid, unimportant shit like that, I, of course, decided to watch tennis as a means of mental escape.

But instead of really escaping, I delved deep into something inside me, although I still managed to avoid other stuff, like housework.
Which brings me to the title of this post.

Gabashvili vs. Mahut. Mahut is French and was playing in Paris, so he had the crowd behind him (although not as much as Santoro would have later), but in reality, Mahut is not the most well known player in the world. I would look up his actual ATP ranking right now for you all, but I don't want to accidentally see some results since I am a bit behind in my watching. Mahut is a serve and volleyer, practicing a dying if not basically dead art-form of tennis. Mardy Fish, Karlovic, Sam Querry-- am I forgetting someone? Of all of those, he is perhaps the least well known, but he had these incredible runs earlier this year(or was it last? Yikes, but my point is still the same). He made it to the final of Queens, the very prestigious grass court, lead up event to Wimbledon, where he barely lost to Andy Roddick. I think he cried there. And there was some other event, also on a fast court, which my husband claims he won. (Again, I can't look it up right now! I don't want to see any results!!) But what I am fairly certain about, is that the guy is like 29 years old. He's not some young guy! This is it for him. He's got maybe three to five years left, and he's in not in the top one hundred--or maybe he is now, only after his incredible summer-- and he's been playing tennis his whole life and probably just getting by. Tennis doesn't pay very well when you are battling it out at the far end of the ATP, going to challengers and futures and making a few grand here and there.

And yet, of course, he's a very talented player. One can be very talented and still not get to where one should be. And that is my understanding of him. It's not just talent. What else is it? I'm not talking about the genuis of Federer or the insane athletic ability of Nadal, I'm talking about, let's say, how one gets to number 75 in the world and stays in the top 100 for a nice run. And how others never get past 375. Anyway, when Mahut barely lost to Roddick, I was so moved. So moved. He had done so much, perhaps more than he thought he would ever do. It reminded me of Bartoli at Wimbeldon. So perhaps this is about something very elusive- self belief.

So I want to hug Mahut and tell him I believe in him. I also wierdly wanted to tell him that he had accomplished so much and that that was enough. Of course, he could do more. But that didn't matter. Sometimes, if I vacuum but I didn't do anything else all day- it's still enough, you know? And what he accomplished was huge and would be passed down for generations- as in, "My grandfather Mahut got to the finals of Queens, here's his trophy", that sort of thing. How many people can say that? Very very few.

But even moreso, in some way, I want to hug Gabashvili. Now, Gabashvili is higher ranked than Mahut (or so I think! I can't look this up right now, as you all know) and I've had the great pleasure of walking past him in Canada (where I go every year). I could make all these comparisons to Karlovic, because of Karlovic's stutter, but I won't right this second. Gabashvili is Georgian/Russian, from a part of the world where women sell themselves as Russian brides to dumbass American men out of desperation, and men do things like, behave corruptly. Now, this is a huge generalization! But an important one if you consider the geographical make-up of the top players in tennis! I'm sure there are lots of wonderful things going on in Georgia/Russia, but it's not an easy place to be from! I hear it's beautiful! But I gather that life is hard there, you know?

So here is this guy with this impossibly strange name, tall, gangly, and like Mahut--not wearing some fabulous gear provided by Nike. (Although I will say I think they both have deals, clothing, racket and shoes, but not deals like Roddick or R-Fed.) And he has horrible acne scars. And I think of him as a teenager, pustules on his face, so tall, playing tennis and playing tennis and playing tennis, in godforsaken Russia (think of Ivanovic playing tennis in some emptied out pool, which she's spoken about, and you get an idea of where Gabashvili had his origins). And you think about the intense dedication. The desire. The ability to dream of a world so different than from Where One Comes. So we are sort of back to self belief. What is it? Yes, I'm sure he has talent, don't get me wrong.

But watching him out there, fist pumping, jumping up and down, talking to himself, trying so hard -- getting so emotional! -- you have to think this man, this acne-scarred, somewhat lowly ranked (in comparison to most of the players at this event, and Mahut being French probably had a wild card), a man who probably had to win two or three qualifying matches to get to the first round, a man who has to be careful how he spends his money on tour, who is not a star -- you have to think he has self belief. And not a total, hard thing sort of self belief. But the honest kind- the kind that wavers and falls and soars and drops. And God, he is brave in the face of so much adversity. The adversity of the land from where he hails, of the unliklihood of making it in the terribly hard world of professional tennis, and of the difficulties of being on national television with pockmarked skin. And there he is, pumping his fist.

And when he lost I wanted to cry. But at the same time, I hope he know what Mahut's grandchildren will know- I hope he knows very very few people ever qualify for a first round at a Masters. Very few people ever travel the world playing professional tennis. Very few people get as far as he has gotten. Most people are like me. Vacuuming is a good day. And if he dreams big and he feels disappointed, I hope that later in life he can be realistic about his accomplishment: it is huge. And I want to hug him. And I hope he has some great results. And I love him even though he has acne scars and maybe even I love him more because of his acne scars. God Bless Gabashvili.
Yours Truly and a Bit Emotionally,

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