Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO – “Is there an ear, nose and throat specialist in the house?” This was the medic the Fat Lady desperately needed at Court Eighteen of Wimbledon last week, and (fortunately for the record books) she couldn’t find one anywhere in the crowd.

The Curmudgeon, aka Michael Royster.

We hasten to explain. Normally, tennis sets last until someone wins six games, but if it’s tied 6-6 you have a tie-break procedure. At Wimbledon, however, if the match goes to five sets, no tie-break is allowed in the final set. Someone must win by two games. The game goes on until someone does win; or, as they say in America, “it ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings!” No one knows who the Fat Lady is, but sing she will, unless aphonic.

At Wimbledon this past Tuesday, June 22nd, American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut played four sets, each winning one without tie-breaks. Gathering gloom, “bad light” as they say in cricket, so… let them play on the morrow. And on the morrow, Wednesday, June 23rd, they did play. They started out at 2PM local time, and they played. The appetizer was two tie breaks, one won by each. And they played on. And they huffed! And they puffed! But the Fat Lady just sat there in the stands, silent as a sleeper on a sidetrack. The score was knotted at 6-6, and again at 16-16, and…unbelievably, still, at 50-50, when both players received a standing ovation from an enraptured crowd—saving only, of course, the mute Fat Lady, clearly struck dumb. NOT finally, upon reaching 59-59, after no fewer than seven hours and six minutes of play, “bad light” was called. Again.

Why “Again”? Well, because this is written by a baseball fan who remembers the NY Mets playing the NY Giants in the second game of a double header, in 1963. The first game started at 1PM and the second game ended eleven hours later, when the Fat Lady, by then almost overdosed on throat lozenges, croaked out a syllable. And “Again!” last Sunday, June 27th 2010, when the NY Yankees, down by four in the ninth inning, scored four and then two more in the tenth and won! And nobody in the ball park (or on the internet) was looking at their watches. Why? Because time is relative, that’s why.

Baseball and cricket have the Fat Lady (alias “time”) in common with tennis. Time can be measured in objective ways that have no relation to clocks, such as “innings” and “outs” and “overs” and “wickets” and “games” and “sets” and “matches”. This different kind of time should be named “Hope” because, no matter how far down you are in a game of tennis, baseball or cricket, YOU CAN STILL WIN! You can be reduced to your absolute last chance, and if you win that, you can win the next, and the one after that, and why not? All the rest! Because you can still hope!

But look out for The Fat Lady, whose name is most definitely not Hope. When you still need to win, keep her worse than hoarse, keep her aphonic and unable to scritch or screech or scratch any sound at all. And for goodness sake, don’t let an ear, nose or throat specialist get anywhere near her.

If the Fat Lady isn’t around, things can get truly boring. Consider the second half of the Brazil/Portugal and Spain/Chile World Cup games, when both teams were satisfied with the result, and played football so soporific it saw spectators snoring on their sofas. Or, think of the contrary, the USA/Ghana game, the minutes and seconds ticking down, and everybody knows, after a certain point, that there is NO Hope! So the players give up. They stop. They go through the motions, but “there’s no there there”, and everybody knows it.

“There” is the Fat Lady’s middle name.

POSTSCRIPT: On the to-morrow, Thursday June 24th, Mr. Isner defeated Mr Mahut, 70-68 in the fifth and final set; he went on to play the very next day, losing in straight sets, the Fat Lady cackling all the match long.



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