I felt for Sabine Lisicki yesterday at Wimbledon. So agonising was it to watch her agony that The Daughter went and cleaned the kitchen entirely of her own volition. There she was, that big blonde endearing German tennis girl, the nation’s new sweetheart, presented with a golden opportunity on a perfect summer’s afternoon to repay her watching parents for all the sacrifices they had made for their daughter in her youth… and she imploded.
|Isn't she a sweetie?|
Debs arrived half way through the second set after a busy morning in Brive. Chomping through an enormous sandwich that represented lunch, she surrogate-tapped for all she was worth for the poor suffering Aryan and briefly, miraculously, Sabine found her game and won three on the trot. But it was too little, too late. If the whole world had tapped together, we wouldn’t have created sufficient energy to stop Marion Bartoli, the delightful French eccentric, from fulfilling her imagined destiny.
I’ve been in love with Sabine Lisicki for a couple of years. Anyone who smiles as sincerely and as ingenuously as she does has got to be a genuinely nice girl. Fortunately, though, the cat-napping, cat-loving Bartoli – with her wry self-knowledge and endearing heft, a kind of Gallic personification of Betjeman’s Pam, Whizzing them over the net, full of the strength of five – is equally charming. I didn’t begrudge her for one moment her victory. She’d been here once before and wanted it more. She bounded off towards her box at the end like an ungainly teenager who has just won a school skipping contest.
Lisicki was the unanimous choice of the BBC pundits: after all, she had the big serve and the big shots, and she was riding the viewing public’s wave of gratitude for having eliminated the beastly Serena Williams. But they failed to take the mental game into account. Some are born with a killer instinct, some have it inculcated upon them and others wouldn’t recognise it if it passed them in the street. Debs wants to get in touch with Miss Lisicki to let her know how EFT (or Emotional Freedom Techniques) can help her conquer her nerves and give her a competitive edge. Dear Sabine, I watched with torment when your serve broke down and you cried as you looked in vain for somewhere to hide. I think I can help you… And why not? Look what the glacial Lendl has done for Murray.
I’m one whom killer instinct passed by. My sporting achievements were always tempered by a Lisicki-like failure to perform on the big stage. A surfeit of empathy doesn’t help. My natural instinct has always been to take my foot off the pedal rather than press home an advantage. Consequently, I’ve experienced that awful bowel-churning feeling that Sabine must have felt there on Centre Court, watched by millions: that feeling of wishing for some minor fracking-induced earthquake to create a chasm in the ground into which you can fall and curl up at the bottom in the foetal position.
When I found myself 5-1 up against Stuart Smith in the St. Polycarps Under-15 final, playing on the red clay of Finaghy, dressed in a lilac polo shirt handed down from a 2nd cousin once or twice removed, a pair of yellow socks and my Slazenger Les Paul, I caught a faint whiff of victory and my head did the rest. Like Sabine Lisicki, I could find no hiding place as my game collapsed around my ankles like a pair of pants with perished elastic. It was mortifying. All you want to do is get it over with as quickly as possible.
It was one of the friendliest finals I’ve ever witnessed and it was lovely to see both contestants embrace so warmly at the end. But sportswomanship like this comes at a price. It was no contest and no spectacle. That would have demanded a fairer distribution of killer instinct. The day before, the metronomic Djokovic and big awkward Juan Martin Del Potro produced a match of such intensity and such indomitable passion that it left you as drained as the pair of them must have felt at the end of five sets.
|A certain commitment to the cause|
Still, yesterday I learned that the British and Irish Lions had conquered the mighty Wallabies in Australia. Whenever an Australian is beaten at any sport, I give thanks to the spirit in the sky, because it confirms that a killer instinct doesn’t always prevail. These guys, on both sides of the half-way line, are stark-staring mad. Not only prepared to kill, they are prepared to lay down their lives for team and country. They’ll throw themselves into a ruck without the slightest thought of concussion or paralysis. It does indeed make for a great spectacle, but I’m happier to let others die for the cause.
I glimpsed such madness as a teenager among my betters at school – and didn’t like what I saw. Which is why I was happy to shine in what was dismissively known as The Rabble. The trouble was, if you enjoyed yourself too much and shone too brightly among the ‘messers’ and the wasters, the teachers mistook you for someone with the necessary talent and attitude to grace one of the proper teams. On the few occasions when I played for a serious team, my self-belief would vanish like Sabine Lisicki’s and I’d drift around the field like a damp mist. Tackle, Sampson! The cry would go up. Er, no, thanks all the same. I don’t think I really want to risk injury…
And so ended my rugby career. Stillborn. I left it to the big boys and have continued to enjoy watching the likes of the Lions put their bodies on the line in the name of immortality. I’m very glad that the current crop made it without serious injury. They’ll be talked about by generations to come, which must be very nice, but I’m not sure if it’s really worth the sacrifices.
I like to think, as Marion Bartoli suggested, that Sabine’s opportunity will come again. We owe her big time, after all, for what she did to Serena Williams. With or without my wife’s assistance, maybe next time she’ll find her composure and play to her true ability. Jana Nvotna got her second bite of the Venus Rosewater dish after similarly falling apart. It would be so nice if Miss Lisicki acquires just enough, but not too much, killer instinct to follow suit. She’s such a sweetie.