Wednesday 24 June 2009

Wimblemund part 2: Numbers

Yesterday, every British player bar Andrew Murray and Elena Baltacha were sent packing and the BBC helpfully pushed some footage of Anne Keothavong leaving her press conference in tears after some rotten 'quick, prod a stick in it' questions from the floor. The BBC HD channel even had an option where you could watch the replay and taste her tears as they ran down the screen. I'm not going to say that interrupting the coverage of the Murray match to show us this and then sticking it up on the website so we could all watch it again was distasteful in any way. No, in fact, I am. The BBC do a brilliant job year-in, year-out at Wimbledon, but this was prurient gutter journalism of the worst kind. Thanks, BBC.

The match which really caught my attention yesterday was the first one on Court 2. Caroline Wozniacki, who last week won Eastbourne and is the youngest woman in the top 10, beat Kimiko Date Krumm in three sets, picking up confidence all the way through as Date Krumm flagged. This is perhaps understandable. At 38 - 39 later this year - Date Krumm is the oldest person in this year's singles draw. Wimbledon fans may remember her from 1996, where in her pre-marriage incarnation as Kimiko Date she took Steffi Graf to a deciding set in the semi-final. The fascination for me was the age difference on display in yesterday's match. Date Krumm turned professional in 1989, a full year before her opponent was even born. This kind of differential is remarkable, as it would be in numerous sports. Tennis at the top level is a preserve of the young. Roger Federer, at 27, is considered a veteran whilst if you stick a pin in the ladies' singles draw you can pretty much guarantee that one of the competitors in the match you selected will have been born in the 1990s.

More notable still is the fact that Kimiko Date Krumm just returned to the circuit last year after a 12 year absence. The thing about doing this is not just the fact that when you step back out on court you'll most likely be playing someone who was in nappies when you last walked off. Tennis is run by the rankings system. It dictates your position in the draw, it even limits which events you are permitted to enter. A low-ranked player, if they are fortunate enough to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament or be given a wildcard entry by the organisers will almost certainly be rewarded with a spectacularly unwinnable first round match. You're the world number 348. You're excited to be out on Centre Court at Wimbledon, but the key thing to remember is that, after you've knocked your pipe ash out on your shoe, finished your sausage roll and fixed your racquet with sellotape, you have to play the world number 5. He's 7 foot 4. He looks like Boris Karloff and serves at 160 mph. He's taking you down to Chinatown.

Date Krumm, whose highest ranking was number 4 in late-1995 is now ranked 142. Aside from admiring the physical conditioning which she must have maintained, just as impressive is the mental strength to start slogging away again. Because the rankings hold no sentiment, they are cold, hard - and often incomprehensible - facts. Nevertheless, 142 is pretty good for someone who has been out of the system for over a decade. And it got me thinking about how to improve and extend the relevance of rankings in sport.

Needless to say, my idea is almost bewilderingly stupid as well as being totally unsustainable. However, I can't help but feel it would benefit everyone in the world if we all had a ranking. As well as being a shorthand indicator of excellence, it would give greater meaning to those men and women currently in the world top 10. There are approximately 3 billion men and 3 billion women in the world. If you're Rafael Nadal, suddenly you become the best one from a monumental field rather than an exclusive bunch of sweaty herberts. I am fabulously bad at tennis. However, I can't believe I am the only one. I reckon that, as an able-bodied adult male from Northern Europe, I could make the top 1 billion. Just thinking about that has increased my own feelings of self-worth and positivity. This system will work.

Of course, the downside of this framework will be for the poor soul ranked 3 billion. He or she will almost certainly commit suicide. Luckily, they will probably fail, such is their dazzling ineptitude. Yes, this system will bloody work!

P.S. There has been an elephant in the room throughout this post, so I had better lay my cards on the table (and mix as many metaphors as I can): Caroline Wozniacki is really beautiful. There. I said it.

P.P.S. The 7'4", big serving goliath who looks like Boris Karloff may very well be based on Argentine number 1
Juan Martin Del Potro, who bludgeoned Arnaud Clement yesterday in straight sets. He's my outside tip for the title this year, sports fans.

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