The French Open has always held a sacred place in this tennis fan’s heart. Parisians aren’t like you or I. Fact is, they’re better. Whether it’s smoking cigarettes in the stands or vociferously booing players for no discernible reason, they do things their own way. Refined jerks add so much more to the sporting landscape with their hooting and demonstrative sighing than the casual fan. The game – nay, the world – would be worse off without them.
Here’s looking at you, Satan.
We head into the second major of the year with less questions to answer than expected. Rafael Nadal’s knees have withstood the rigors of the European clay court season. Serena Williams dispatched Victoria Azarenka with ease in Rome, proving the only person who stands a chance of stopping Serena from winning her second French Open title is Serena herself. The favorites have made an impressive case, one so strong that seeing someone other than Nadal and Williams leave Roland Garros with a garish trophy and fat check in hand will be quite surprising.
It’s the ‘others’ that will intrigue in Paris. The others being the group of players that have a shot – however fleeting – at knocking off the overwhelming favorites. On the men’s side three names come to mind, all with their own personal demons when it comes to taking down Rafa on clay, let alone at a major. Roger Federer will need divine intervention to win it all, and no, Robin Soderling is not walking through that door. Novak Djokovic is the only hope for the anti Rafa crowd and he’s coming off an uncharacteristic loss to Tomas Berdych. The Czech big man could be this year’s Soderling. Unfortunately the words ‘could be ‘ have been synonymous with Berdych’s career up until this point.
On the women’s side there is slightly more belief. Serena bowed out in the first round last year, losing to Virginie Razzano in one of the biggest upsets in French Open history. Azarenka will be there at the end, as will Maria Sharapova. Unfortunately for those two their head-to-head numbers against Williams are terrible (4-25 combined).
I don’t believe in fate or destiny, but I understand why others might. Sometimes, seemingly unrelated circumstances coincide so perfectly to form a singular result that it’s difficult to not believe in an unseen and powerful guidance shaping the outcome.
Like many Canadians of a similar background and age to my own, I loved open-wheel racing before I even understood that it was open-wheel racing that I loved. Also, like many Canadians of a similar background and age to my own, my love for North America’s premier source for open-wheel racing came to an abrupt halt in the mid-nineties when the departure of Jacques Villeneuve from the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) series conspired with the introduction of the Indy Racing League (IRL) – and subsequent desecration of the Indy 500 – to reduce the relevance of the sport on the entire continent.
Eighteen years later, the IndyCar Series is haunted by this past, even as it strives to return to a time when its brand of racing attracted new fans and captivated long-time supporters. Leading the charge to fight these ghosts and bring the sport back to an era of increased public interest is a 26-year-old driver from Oakville, Ontario – James Hinchcliffe.
Sergio Garcia would like to remind us that racism still exists. Unfortunately, his method for doing so was not a public service announcement, but a joke aimed at Tiger Woods that referred to fried chicken. There are two things that are awful about this: 1) The public reinforcement of an incredibly demeaning stereotype that the majority of us would love to do away with; and 2) His attempt at irreverence wasn’t even remotely funny.
It all started two weeks ago during the Third Round at The Players Championship at Sawgrass. Tiger Woods decided to take a wood out of his bag – signifying to the crowd that he was going for the green on the par-five second hole – just as Sergio Garcia was taking his swing. The crowd cheered Woods’s decision, causing Garcia to slice his shot.
During a rain delay, Garcia vented some of his frustration while speaking with the Golf Channel:
Well, obviously Tiger was on the left and it was my turn to hit. He moved all the crowd that he needed to move, I waited for that. You do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit and right as I was in the top of the back-swing, he must have pulled a wood and everybody started screaming. So that didn’t help very much.
Spending all day – every day – immersed in sports is a bit like working at Pizza Hut and eating nothing but pizza. If one is unburdened by such matters as personal health and waistline size, pizza is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, too much of a wonderful thing is likely to leave one no longer believing the wonderful thing to be all that wonderful.
Sports are really, really great. However, the more time you spend reading and writing about a topic, the greater the chance its ugly little cracks and cobwebs will begin to emerge. This is why, over time, the focus of writers and fans alike becomes embittered by the more negative aspects of sports. The cheating. The discrimination. The exploitation. The inequality. It all becomes overwhelming. We forget why sports are so great, and why they fascinated us long before we grew caustic to what they could offer. And so, that’s where The Week In Sports Happiness comes into play.
Every week, I’ll present the ten things that are making me happy from the world of sports. It might be a particular article, it could be a winning streak, it may even be an animated GIF. No matter what, it’s from sports, it made me feel good inside, and I hope it does the same for you.
During my summers off while I was in university, I had a range of horrible jobs: laborer at a gun factory, framer for a residential development, junior member of a concrete cutting crew. During breaks from the often exhausting and always demoralizing duties, I would sit around with the other workers, and together, we’d remind ourselves of the virtues of working with our hands and being able to work toward a visible accomplishment on a day-to-day basis.
While there is certainly some merit to believing such traits to be beneficial, we mostly elevated the glory of our menial tasks for the purpose of justifying our current state and forgetting the bad decisions that led us to physical labor as a livelihood. In addition to fooling ourselves in this manner, we’d mock office workers, imagining their professions to be less honorable than our own.
“How can they feel any measure of self-worth?” we’d ask ourselves.
Ten years later, as part of my job, I would embed a YouTube clip of a Callaway Golf executive putting a golf ball down two sets of staggered stairs and into a cup. If my former co-workers could only see me now.
If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau
There is an eleven-year-old girl to whom I look up. Her name is Keila Penner, and she lives in Lachine, Quebec, a fifteen minute drive from Montreal. Penner is a fan of the Ottawa Senators, which is somewhat uncommon, considering that the franchise has only been around since 1992, and she lives near Montreal where the Canadiens play hockey. Les Habitants have been a professional hockey franchise since 1909, and have won the Stanley Cup 24 times, which is more than any other team.
Outsiders often compare Montreal’s devotion to Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge to a religion, but there is no denomination of followers so fervently aligned, while simultaneously critical and suspicious of every edict that comes to be promoted as truth. La Sainte-Flanelle are more like a sometimes-benevolent dictatorship of culture. After all, there is no blind faith in the team, fans demand to see evidence instead of trusting in the unseen. However, there is uniformity in the following.
Or, at least assumed uniformity.
With the Canadiens and Senators set to battle in a first round playoff battle, Penner’s school decided to hold a “Habs Day” event in which students were encouraged to dress in the local hockey team’s gear. Not only did Penner wear a Senators jersey to school that day, she refused to take it off when confronted by teachers. She was, in turn, sent home by the school.
Oh, sure. You never played MASH. You were far too cool to imagine a life with your grade five crush, in which you lived in a house with five children and drove a submarine around. You didn’t purposefully pick a number between one and twenty that would mathematically ensure Natalie Anderson’s name would be the last one remaining. And you definitely didn’t ask your friend to tell Natalie how the MASH game went, gauge her reaction and then report back. No way.
Grade school crushes, much like sports, were of the utmost importance to us as children, but as we matured, our relationships to both altered. Crushes changed into attraction, and sports – depending on how much you’ve managed develop – went from being an obsession to a distraction, an outlet to plug in and recharge.
Nonetheless, despite our supposed level maturity, we occasionally revert back to grade school crushes and attaching too much importance on the outcomes of sporting events. Typically, this leads to disaster in our personal relationships and levels of disappointment to which we were previously unaccustomed.
Fear not. There is a safe way to regress back to childhood when crushes were everything, and the results of games were meaningful. All you have to do is click on the Vines below, and wherever it stops will inform your destiny as a sports fan.