Well, this January past was the month I got back into watching tennis after a long lay-off. Seeing Rafael Nadal play the Fast4 event in Sydney brought back memories of 2004 – 13 whole years ago! – when I watched him play doubles at the Australian Open. And then that final against Roger Federer the other weekend, which simultaneously broke and melted my heart because I love them both.
Rafa and I are the same age (he’s my senior by a few months) and I have a habit of tracking time with my famous peers. It’s crazy thinking about what’s become of each of us in that time.
I can hardly believe I ever thought tennis was boring. It was a short-lived feeling, one that lasted maybe the half hour it took me to understand the rules and decide that I wanted Thomas Enqvist to beat Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
It’s my belief that if you watch any sport long enough you’ll learn to love it.
It happened to me with Premier League football, Formula 1, grid iron and even UFC boxing.*
I love sport. I get more of an emotional high seeing Real Madrid win than I do seeing Lizzie and Mr Darcy get together. I get tingles all over. I wanna yell YESSSSSSS at the top of my voice. I wanna fist pump the universe.
(Surely that makes me pretty Strayan).**
I love sport both on an emotional and a philosophical level.
I love (and hate) how some really good-looking and some really average-looking people get paid ridiculous sums of money to kick a ball around. And get penalised when they accidentally touch it with their hands. But not when they pretend to be hurt.
I love (and hate) how millions of dollars of research and material are poured into a constructing a car that goes round and round in circles and has a high chance of getting smashed to smithereens.
I love (and hate) everything about the Superbowl.
I love (and hate) how two men or two women stand in a ring, punching and wrestling each other, hurting each other, knocking each other unconscious – but all according to rules and not actually for the sake of hurting or killing each other. But outside the ring it would be, y’know, assault.
I love how it is rational yet irrational, meaningless yet so imbued with significance, universal yet elite, aggressive and divisive yet such a unifying force.
There is so much science, strategy and logic that goes into sport athletically and tactically, as a profession and financially as an industry.
Yet at a meta level, isn’t it inherently absurd?
We invent a game, constructing it out of completely arbitrary rules, and then we try and push the boundaries of what is possible within the limitations we set ourselves. It’s cool and postmodern (and liberal) to oppose excessive and pointless regulation, and yet we embrace them for the sake of sport.
Spectator sport is merely a form of entertainment, yet when it comes to your team it certainly feels like life and death.
It’s entertainment, yet at a professional level it pushes the boundaries of science and human capacity – not to mention making a lot of people (quite apart from the players themselves) super rich.
At an amateur level, it’s a leisure activity, but it’s also a form of exercise.
As a competitive thing, it is in many ways a form of controlled warfare, yet it also has the power to bring divided people together.
It bridges entertainment, science, health, business, art and even politics.
I could go on. I could go into specifics about the Spanish national football team of the 2002 World Cup or when Spain won Euro 2008; or Federer’s backhand … and forehand, and really everything about the guy’s game; or how I stayed up till ridiculous hours of the morning to watch the grand prix; or the role of sport in post-conflict societies.
But really, ultimately, it’s these contradictions and this absurdity that make me love sport. In case you were wondering.
*Okay, so I don’t love boxing yet, but I only sat and watched it once and I left feeling like I was able to appreciate it as a sport and wouldn’t mind being dragged along to see another bout.
**I should also admit that I’m yet to get cricket, league, union or AFL – but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.