Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The Latest Quest VIII

In my sadly normal and law abiding youth, I used to follow the work of a couple of cartoonists - Chris Garratt and Mick Kidd - who went under the name Biff.

Their productions were invariably a light-hearted mockery of art-house cinema snobs, frustrated writers and pseudo-intellectuals. To a certain extent you had to have leanings towards these domains to appreciate the gist of the ribbing. So I loved it.

I was reminded of Biff while standing in the Maria Sharapova press conference on Monday night. For there was a woman of some 21 summers with 12 million dollars in prize money for having given the ball a good biff.

Unhappily for La Sharapova she had played against someone in the fourth round who also gave the ball a good tickling.

And so it will be the 13th seed Dinara Safina who takes to the court on Wednesday afternoon at Roland Garros in the quarter final.

Safina is the little sister of Marat Safin. He’s a former world number one. When he pulverised Pete Sampras in the US Open final in 2000, he was acclaimed as the future of men’s tennis.

Safin – a partying kind of chap – has only taken the 2005 Australian Open since that win and through an amalgam of injuries and attitude hasn’t fulfilled that prodigious promise.

But at times in matches you can see why everyone was drooling, controlled power, a wonderfully disguised double fisted backhand down the line and court presence.

Safina hasn’t got the same innate ability as her big bro but she’s worked hard and this season has achieved some notable wins – mainly the German Open in Berlin where she beat the then world number one Justine Henin as well as Serena Williams en route to lifting the crown.

Safina beat Sharapova here in 2006 coming back from 5-1 in the final set. This time Safina saved a match point in the second set and returned from a break down in the decider to oust the top seed.

At one point Sharapova annoyed the crowd by urging the umpire to come off the chair and check a mark. It was patently in and the people didn’t take too kindly to the gesture.

From then on they got on her back and cheered riotously for Safina. It’s the second time in as many years that the People have risen up to show their wrath.

Last year Sharapova upset the spectators for apparent gamesmanship during her fourth round match against Patty Schnyder.

In the press conference after that match…Sharapova famously commented that she wasn’t Mother Theresa. This time she was talking about being a competitor fighting for every point.

One journalist asked her if she cared about the hostile environment. She said hadn’t noticed it.

The player as hermetically sealed unit operating in a pocket of oblivion? Biff would have had a field day.

It’s a shame Akira Kurosawa is dead he would have been perfect to direct the metaphorical portrayal of a roaming player’s rise from the mean tennis courts of - say Russia to the brutal cauldron of the American hard court circuit. Blown to Blood would be a good title.

It would tell how opponents would be ritually dissected to the sound of cash registers and multiple sponsorship deals.

Then there could be a sequel - the Seven Linesman – a tale recounting how an errant mishmash of cynical officials stood up defiantly to an all conquering force questing for glory.

I like these possibilities better because the one she was suggesting at her press conference: tennis player alone in a volatile landscape is a mite too existentialist for me.

But then again this is Paris.