often that watching a tennis match reminds Tramlines of Super Mario Kart,
the Black Death or the theory of black holes - but Novak Djokovic's retirement
from the final in Cincinnati managed to do all three at once.
that missed it, the Serb's annus mirabilis came to a grinding halt on Sunday as
a painful shoulder forced him to retire after losing the first set and slipping
3-0 behind in the second, handing Andy Murray his second title of the year.
doing so Djokovic gave us all a gloomy reminder that, just like all those who have swept before him to the top
of tennis's tree, he was at some point doomed to fall back down to earth from the moment he first made it to the top.
has ever played Mario Kart on a Nintendo console knows roughly how Djokovic was feeling when he woke up this morning. The go-karting video game incorporates
an ingenious artifical intelligence system known as 'rubber banding', which
means that if one player gets too far ahead the game finds ways to slow him
down and speed up the other competitors. While making the game fun for lesser players as it helps them catch up, it's miserably annoying for those who get into the lead only to find themselves stuttering just when everything was going so well.
same thing appears to have happened to Nole. He had got so far ahead of the
competition that people were beginning to talk about his chances not of winning the US Open - that was being taken as read - but of beating McEnroe's 1984 record of winning 82 matches and
losing just three in a single season.
sooner had those thoughts started to gather momentum than the new world number one picks
up a physical niggle that slows him down. You'd think that somehow the Gods of
Tennis had a system - a rubber-banding system - to slow down those who were in danger of making the sport a one-man
Yet it's obviously
ludicrous to suggest any such thing - right? - which is what got us to thinking
about the Black Death, and more specifically the slightly barmy explanation for
it offered by 18th century economist Thomas Malthus.
Malthus's argument was
that any time systems become too big, or too dominant, something will come
along - often something completely unpredictable - to bring things back towards
the average. The overpopulation of Europe before the ravages of bubonic plague
in 1347-49 had reached such a level that many people were in danger of starvation;
and thus the Black Death came along to bring things back to the status quo. This is, necessarily, a simplification; but the point is that something happens, something annoying always just happens, whenever the pendulum swings too far in one direction.
Yet is that
really fair? It suggests that Djokovic's injury was both inevitable and random, rather than
something that was itself generated by an endless schedule of practice,
tournament play and ridiculous media appearances. Because those media duties are beginning to make Tramlines scratch its metaphysical chin.
It's great that the Djoker is
a joker, but is half-way through his US Open build-up really the time to be
taking part in crass TV sketches which see him hit phoney reporters in the
nether regions with his racquet? Or donning a blonde wig and doing an impression of
Maria Sharapova for an advert for his sponsor? It's a bit like seeing Alex Ferguson
go on Question of Sport two days before the FA Cup final.
All of this brings us on to the black holes. Black holes, as every GCSE physics student knows, are merely stars that have become so big they
collapse under their own enormous weight.
And that is
very much what appeared to happen to Djokovic on Sunday: it's as if the
magnitude of his own achievements this season, combined with the weight of
expectation on his shoulders for Flushing Meadows, mixed in with the innumerable
hangers-on trying to cadge a ride on his coat-tails, all conspired to make him implode.
One way or
another, we feel robbed of witnessing another historic chapter in what is
already one of the greatest seasons of men's tennis ever played. Let's hope
it's just a blip, and that we'll be treated to Djokovic at his imperious,
fully-fit best when play gets under way in New York next week.
- - - - -
often that Tramlines relegates a Masters series victory by Andy Murray to
footnote status, yet here we are among the footnotes and only now is it time to
talk about the Scot.
fact speaks volumes about how expectations of the world number four have
plummeted over the last 18 months. Once, in this very online space, we'd have
reacted to Murray beating the world number one in a big final as another significant milestone
on his way to winning a Grand Slam tournament.
feels little different to, say, watching Nikolay Davydenko win the ATP World
Tour Finals in London a couple of years ago. We were watching an extremely good
tennis player winning an extremely big important tournament, and that's a significantly
different thing from watching a Grand Slam winner winning a Grand Slam tournament.
it's a good result achieved in fine style (the anti-climactic final apart), nobody
in the world - with the possible exception of the Scot's most rabid fans - is
pointing to Cincinnati and claiming that this is it, Murray is back, and he is a shoo-in for glory at the US Open. Murray wins, yet remains under the radar. The only story was that Djokovic lost for the second time this year.
enough, this new-found, relative obscurity could very well play into the Scot's hands - as
none other than Djokovic would happily admit. Just a couple of years ago
Djokovic was the forgotten man of the big four, winning the odd big tournament yet
still regarded as inherently inferior to Federer and Nadal, with Murray the only player given any hope of catching the big two.
But being out
of the spotlight allowed the affable Serb to re-think his approach to the game,
setting him up perfectly to come back and show everybody exactly why they were
- - - - -
BETS OF THE WEEK
are offering a series of special markets on women's world number one Caroline Wozniacki
and her new boyfriend, Northern Irish golf superstar Rory McIlroy. You can get
2/1 on the pair getting engaged next year, 6/1 on a wedding by the end of 2013
- and all this between two 21-year-olds who have done little more than flirt
online for a few weeks, remember. You can also bet on their combined income
from prize money in 2012 (put it this way: if Tramlines gets an invitation for
the wedding, it ain't gonna bother buying a present).
But the most
interesting bet to our mind is the odds given on which of the two will be next to
win a Major. Wozniacki, despite years of underachievement in the game's top
tournaments, is a stingy 1/5 on, while McIlroy - who has contended in three of
the last five Majors, and won one of them in fine style - is 3/1.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
believe us about Murray not being the draw he once was? Then check out this
image of the crowd - if that's a word that can be used about a lone spectator -
who turned out to watch Murray's match against Alex Bogomolov in the early
stages in Cincinnati. Closer inspection confirms that said fan was not UK A-Bog.
OF THE WEEK
This fan of
Maria Sharapova went above and beyond the call of duty when preparing his
banner to cheer on his favourite star in Cincinnati. He might be well into his
mid-40s and sporting the sort of grizzled beard that David Bellamy would be
proud of, but this guy's faux-primary-school-art-project style is so
endearingly idiotic (particuarly with the little Russian flag) it makes you want
to cheer alongside him. Go Maria indeed!