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The Chokers

October 9, 2010

Despite my avoidance of all things Astroturf and a refusal to play on cracked courts, I am as far from a tennis snob as you get when it comes to watching the game. I may fork out thousands to attend the Australian Open and follow the professional circuit all year round, but I am not adverse to watching the local hackers either. Hence every now and then I trudge down to Albert Park to watch my 20-year-old brother battle it out against men much older than himself. In all honestly I would go more if I didn’t look like an absolute loser, sitting down there by myself watching club tennis, drink in one hand and my blackberry updating me on the pro tour in the other. When he gets home I quiz him the result, his level of play, and his opponents personality. The latter often gives me far more insight into the human sporting mind, (or the Australian mind at least) than any amount of ATP or WTA can teach me. For as much as we say Vera Zvonareva can’t keep her cool, or that Victor Troicki was an absolute choker in his Tokyo match against Rafael Nadal, the truth is that at club level these traits become a lot worse.

My brother brings out the worst in tennis players. It’s a rare day he faces a calm and rational opponent. What is it exactly that gets under the skin of seemingly every A-Grade club player at Albert Park? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but they certainly can’t stand losing to him. Sure, he’s young and extremely quiet; he refrains from fist pumps or swearing over a bad shot. This might come off as arrogant, but in truth it’s more of a Roger Federer attitude than any of them would dare admit. It’s probably more his style of play that bugs these players with greater experience. He’s not afraid to chuck up a moonball and counts the lob among his favourite shots. He fears the net and his number 1 game plan is to get everything back. He’s fully capable of playing an aggressive game, and when challenged he will bring it out, but he’s generally content to run every ball down Andy Murray style. He’s also unbeaten this season. I’ve seen many a thrown racket, many a wet handshake, and too many curse words to fathom at Albert Park. Watching them you’d think Daniel Koellerer is in more of us than we’d like to think.

I guess that’s why I leap to the defense of the likes of Zvonareva and Elena Dementieva. Sure, it’s frustrating when you see a player throw away a winnable game simply because of the person down the other end of the court, but in reality these players are far more mentally stable than the rest of us. Yes, Zvonareva may have cried on court at times, but I’ve seen far worse than that at the local club by people who are playing for nothing but their own inflated pride. Perhaps before we leap up to blast Federer for blowing a lead against Nadal we should consider what we’d most likely do in that situation. Slam a racket and double-fault would be my guess.

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