What a wasted opportunity. Out of nowhere, a slot magically opens up in a tennis grand slam and the organizers stupidly give it away to the most deserving person. Fools! This catastrophic lapse in judgment occurred at a time when the nation was thirsting for something special it could believe in. The organizers had a chance to do something memorable but squandered the opportunity in favour of some no-name from nowhere that no-one can remember turning up at all. For shame!
It could have been so different. All they had to do is take a moment to read the room and something truly splendid could have unfolded and transformed this summer into the greatest summer of all time, instead of the calamitous bin-fire of broken dreams that it was. In some countries, they’d see it for the gift that it was and would have turned it into a reality television show spread over thirty weeks on a streaming service. To ensure that it was as entertaining as possible, those vying to take the last spot in the draw would all be deeply unlikeable. The winner would get to play in the first round of a major tennis tournament. The loser would be relegated to the next series of Love Island.
Despite our track record of producing reality television shows so outrageous that they leave the rest of the world gasping, slack-jawed in bewilderment, that’s not how the last player should have been chosen. Anyone can pump out a television show – we needed a process that would say something about who we are as a nation and as a people – even more than deporting someone famous does.
Mistake number one was replacing a tennis player with another tennis player. Boring! It’s such an incredibly predictable thing to do, particularly when there’s a better and (I say) fairer way to go about it. You’ve got to give people what they want. And what the people really want is for someone dangerously unqualified to step in. That’s why I believe the last spot in this year’s Australian Open should have been raffled off. Possibly with a meat tray.
Imagine it, the entire country rushing out to buy raffle tickets. It’d be an absolute sensation. The nation would be glued to their screens as the winner was drawn from a really, really, really large hat. You’d be sitting at home on a Sunday evening when the phone would start to buzz, caller unknown. Instead of an awkward three-second delay followed by somebody asking you whether you’re interested in low-wattage light bulbs, it’d be a voice informing you that you’ve just been accepted into the men’s singles draw.
There’s an element of surprise that you get from a raffle that simply can’t be replicated through a merit-based process. Personally, I’d like the winning raffle ticket to belong to my father. Granted, he’s over eighty, but he owns a collection of tracksuits that would surely put even a seeded player to shame.
For those who think that being above eighty is too old to play tennis professionally, I’ll only say that it’s roughly two Roger Federers. Besides, how much do we expect from a last-minute replacement for the world’s number one player? Frankly, all he needs to do is show up, get his parking validated, stroll onto court and swing the racket. It’s not as though he could somehow fail to meet expectations. There simply aren’t any.
The idea of someone getting an unexpected shot at glory is incredibly powerful. The entire ‘Rocky’ franchise is built around precisely that idea. It could have worked wonderfully well. For one thing, no one would have been talking about Novak Djokovic if he’d been replaced by an octogenarian who’s likely to turn up to the stadium wearing gumboots.
You may think I’m speaking rubbish. But that’s where you’re wrong. Having played tennis at the elite level myself, I feel I am completely in tune with the game and intuitively know what’s best for it. My extensive playing career – which consisted of eight training sessions at the Tyabb Tennis Club, whose courts were located so close to the Stony Point railway line that you had to buy a Zone Two ticket just to return a serve – gives me the mandate to spout any old rubbish when it comes to my third favourite sport. (Just behind darts and curling. Since you ask.)
Sadly, I was forced to retire due to injury. Specifically, my feelings were hurt after a suffered a loss at the hands of my twelve year old cousin. She was really quite merciless. But despite having been out of the game for some time, I still take an interest. As does my father.
The entire tournament had been done and dusted for a couple of weeks when I dropped in to see my father. He was there, in the living room; dressed in his best MC Hammer tracksuit, wearing gumboots and clutching a raffle ticket. I gently broke the news to him, saying that he’d missed his chance. He lashed out, saying it was all my fault that he missed his big chance, but he’s wrong. It’d be more accurate to describe it as my double fault.