Ranjona Banerji Column: Dealing with tennis withdrawal

Of all the things that the end of the year means to all of us, to the diehard tennis fan it means being bereft and lonely for a month and a half. Now you might argue, and very aptly and correctly too, that that is the stupidest complaint you’ve ever heard. After all, the end of the year in India can mean a little bit of ‘cool’ into our hot lives, a welcome respite from eternal summer in some places and freezing cold in others.

In the hours between Sunday night and Monday morning, the tennis world more or less came to a standstill. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals, but whether you celebrated or mourned (most of us mourned, right?), you also felt a slight sense of loss. Pic/AFP
In the hours between Sunday night and Monday morning, the tennis world more or less came to a standstill. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals, but whether you celebrated or mourned (most of us mourned, right?), you also felt a slight sense of loss. Pic/AFP

For those so inclined, this time of year means parties and holidays and weddings and celebrating Christmas and welcoming in 2016. In my case, it also means my birthday approaches, though you may well ask what there is to celebrate about 53.

But all that is meaningless. In the hours between Sunday night and Monday morning, the tennis world more or less came to a standstill. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals, but whether you celebrated or mourned (most of us mourned, right?), you also felt a slight sense of loss.

Yes, there is the final Davis Cup tie of the year coming up between Britain and Belgium this weekend, but that’s like a tiny tennis teaser, just to turn the screw a little more. The women had their year-ending finals just before the men.

We all know that tennis players are human and deserve a bit of rest. We all know that they fought for a slightly longer holiday so that they could rest and relax before they got back to the grind. And what a grind it is — non-stop travel and non-stop play. But while we sympathise, we have been spoilt. There’s no other way to look at it. Because there is play through the year, you can go to a television sports channel through the day, through the week, and find someone playing somewhere. The Internet covers up all deficiencies that TV offers. We’re used to tennis all the time.

On Twitter, you (I say you, but I mean we) discuss latest results and forecasts and share pictures. You fight over your favourite players, you bemoan the bad taste of everyone who is not a Federer fan and you are easily moved to anger by mild censure of your favourites. I have seen parents take criticism of their children with more equanimity than some random uncomplimentary remark about a tennis player.

It is an entire global universe of our own that we tennis fans inhabit. Our body clocks have to keep to world timings. In India, the first adjustment is made for Australia and then you move to America, both North and South, to Europe, back to America, to Asia and back to Europe. We know when different countries shift to daylight savings timings sooner than the people who live there do.

There are, inevitably, WhatsApp and social media groups that share tennis information. Late night furtive conversations and messaging, as any indulgent spouse soon learns, have little to do with an ‘affair’ and everything to do with when the match is about to begin and ‘did you see that superb smash’.

There are other sports you will say, and so they are. But almost none of them play through the year all the while. Even a cricket Test match — surely an extremely long format of a long format game — lasts a maximum of only five days.

A Grand Slam tournament lasts two weeks. Even the shortest tennis tournament lasts a week. It’s a commitment like no other.

Oddly, we fly under the radar. You won’t see sports channels in India deliberating on the hopes and dreams of the tennis fan, filled with fake TV emotion and soul-stirring songs. All that hoopla is for cricket and football and hockey. We don’t need all that, see? We’ve made the commitment. We’re there for the long haul, night and day. Usually, of course, there is no proper idea of night and day when you have to go to work or have a life.

So all you wonderful tennis players out there: have a lovely fun-filled break. And remember: while the rest of the sensible world is nursing a hangover on the morning of January 1, 2016, we’ll be tracking timings for Chennai, Brisbane, Auckland and...

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona

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