Amer­i­cans too used to be­ing he­roes of story

Weekend Herald - - Viewpoints - This col­umn re­turns on Oc­to­ber 6.

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.

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