Americans too used to being heroes of story
Canada is a country I’ve never seen, mainly because the United States has been such a magnet for travel in that part of the world. But tomorrow I’m off for two weeks in Canada. Just Canada. I have no desire to see the US in its present state.
That disinclination was strengthened this week as I watched the US Open women’s tennis final last Sunday and followed the subsequent discussion. America seems to have fallen out of step with civilised international congress in more respects than can be laid at the feet of Donald Trump.
As the stadium lights dimmed and the court was festooned in the stars and stripes for the presentation ceremony, tennis followers worldwide waited to see how the crowd would respond. The match had finished controversially and prematurely. Most of the crowd would have been hoping for a third set but I suspect their appalling reaction to the result reflected something else.
Just about every time I tuned into the US Open over the fortnight I was greeted by a promo for Serena Williams, or a panel of commentators looking forward to the high probability she would win her first major title since having a baby a year ago. When she took a maternity break John Roughan
after winning the Australian Open last year, a film crew followed her and made a documentary, Being Serena .I watched it on a plane until I got bored with the repetitions and the selfabsorption of the subject.
I don’t mind a bit of hype and melodrama in movies or the media generally. I enjoy it. But like most people, I think, I know when I’m watching it. You can enjoy it immensely without entirely believing it. I used to enjoy listening to Trump until I realised so many Americans would vote for him.
Serena’s return to glory story seemed harmless enough as on offcourt conversation for the commentators, but it turned out far from harmless. Both she and the crowd appeared unable to accept a result not in line with the script.
She went through the rounds so easily I nearly didn’t bother watching the final. Semifinals of Grand Slam tournaments are often better. I’d caught the end of the semi in which
What’s wrong with Americans, I think, is that too much of their lives have become a media experience.
Madison Keys, who comes to the ASB Classic, was beaten by an unknown Japanese player, Naomi Osaka, who seemed very young.
In the post-match courtside interview she was asked what she was thinking in the tense, tight last game and answered, “I was just thinking, I really want to play Serena.” She was just 20.
When I tuned in next morning she had taken the first set and Serena was Serena Williams remonstrates with referee Brian Earley before receiving her unhappy ending courtesy of Naomi Osaka. Photo / AP
in a funk. It reminded me of a final I saw her play at Melbourne years ago. She was lethargic in the first set against Lindsay Davenport that day, went off court during the break and came back miraculously transformed. She was all over Davenport in the second and the third. I wondered if she had been off court in the break this time.
I tuned in just as she was having her first argument with the umpire. Initially the crowd would not have known what it was about. But the screens began carrying replays of the gesture from her coach and every tennis follower in the crowd knew that was not allowed.
They also knew even the best players get umpire’s warnings at times. Next day in the men’s final, Novak Djokovic got one for taking too long to serve. He accepted it and went on to win. But Serena could not let it go.
A sport-savvy crowd anywhere else in the world, I think, would have been less interested in Serena’s repeated sprays at the poor umpire than what was happening at the other end of the court. A young player in her first Grand Slam final was managing to keep her concentration, maintain the power and accuracy of her shots, and giving a lesson in composure to a veteran of 31 Grand Slam finals, 23 successful, the posterplayer of Naomi Osaka’s childhood.
That stadium witnessed something quite remarkable but it hardly noticed. What’s wrong with Americans these days?
It wasn’t just partisanship, I suspect. A closely fought tennis match is an absorbing contest of individual talents and temperaments. Nationality quickly matters less than in team sports.
What’s wrong with Americans, I think, is that too much of their lives have become a media experience. Their stage was set for Serena’s return to the top and neither she nor they could accept that real life is not scripted, it is better.