Sunday, June 27, 2010
I’m not a deep thinker, just an obsessive one. Sometimes I’ll stall somewhere, rev the engine and spin my wheels. It can take days before I admit I’m stuck and wave the white hanky for roadside assistance.
I can’t get Mahut out of my mind. How, in the twilight of a less than stellar career, he won the greatest loss in tennis history.
Mahut’s old. He’s 28, and in tennis, those are dog years; tendonitis, dislocated shoulder, down-and-goner plays up-and-comer years.
He qualified for Wimbledon, which means he worked his way through a series of matches to play in the opening round. Those who play the qualies pay their own way -- equipment, racquets, shoes, strings, plane tickets, taxis, hotel rooms. Throughout most of the year, they scrape out a living, or not, on the challenger circuit; doing it for love, or doing it because that’s all they know.
Potential tennis stars are plucked from early childhood by giant sponsors. They spend the next six or seven years at a tennis academy, often mentored by an immediate family member. Too young to love the game, someone has to love it for them. A fraction get their GDA; a fraction of a fraction go to college.
They’re not unlike racehorses; groomed to do one thing only, pampered when they do that one thing well, dropped unceremoniously should they disappoint. Nothing personal, it’s only business.
Mahut didn’t always suffer early losses. He won the Wimbledon juniors title in 1998. He turned pro at 18, and could never quite get a foothold in the big time; another victim of early promise.
On the night before Day 3 of the longest match in Wimbledon history, the American contingent threw all their best resources at Isner – medical therapists, nutritionists, masseuse, etc. So far as I know, Mahut just went back to his hotel room and took a hot shower and ordered room service.
Well, no playing field is level. And now, no doubt, all the big sponsors are throwing blank checks Isner’s way because he’s a tall, good looking kid, and young. And Mahut is probably on his way to the next job -- another city, another tournament, where it seems someone else is always serving for the match.