I have to admit that few people who know me well would use the words “sports fan” to describe me. I’m appreciative of sports, of the rigor with which the athlete trains his or her body and even find a great deal of beauty in the enterprise. It’s not uncommon to see great dramas unfold on the field, and I love that idea of a huge number of people sharing a transcendent moment. And yet it’s rare that I sit down and really watch. When I do, I enjoy it—but I enjoy so many things, and when it’s athleticism I want to see I prefer to watch dance, or else the circus. (Since I’ve taken classes in both of these areas, perhaps it’s not so surprising. Whereas the one time I played touch rugby I was rubbish at it; I contend that this is in large part because I didn’t know the rules and at fifteen I was playing with a bunch of army enlistees in their twenties. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that this affected my ability to put in a good showing.)
The exception to the rule is tennis. Coming to Melbourne for a family Christmas, I decided to stay through January so I could see some of the Australia Open in person, and watch the rest of it on the television set at my parents’ house. This week I put in a nine hour day of spectating: nine hours, and I didn’t open a book to read once. There are not many things, besides Christian Marclay’s mesmerising film work The Clock, and Dumas’s thrilling The Count of Monte Cristo that can hold my attention for nine hours at a time. Orson Welles might die at midnight every night, and the mysterious Count who was once a Corsican boy might take revenge at regular intervals, but when the players are playing a fifth set to advantage, the outcome is not foreordained, even if respective rankings suggest otherwise. I like to pick an underdog and hope he’ll rise to the second week of the action; almost invariably this leads to heartbreak.