Empty, Blissful and Still

The Next Point Enterprises, in conjunction with Hallmark and the South Australian Board of Agriculture, is proud to announce the release of a truly inspirational gift, just in time for Mother’s Day.

The Roger Rasheed 2012 Desk Calendar collects, for the first time, all of Roger’s greatest tweets, presented daily (which clinical research has proven is the ideal frequency at which to be drip-fed pure inspiration). South Australia’s favourite son shares with the North Korean military junta and the self-help section of your airport bookstore an unwavering belief that a positive message will carry the day; that no problem is so great that it cannot be solved by throwing metaphors at it. Here’s a sample:

  • You can’t buy effort, mental day to day strength and hunger for the competition, YOU TRAIN IT and BELIEVE in it. Game set match Nadal.#Miami
  • Persistence,with that you will create opportunities,with the effort & education you have gathered along the way success will come.#journey
  • Opportunities will be put infront of you in life,business & sport,take them & watch the different pathways they present you with.#bluesky
  • The only challenge in life is to challenge yourself- you will be greatly rewarded and develop into a quality person through the process.

If Tony Robbins was to become a serial killer, these are the notes he would leave on his victims. For that personal touch, most messages are then topped with a saccharine hashtag, like a glaced cherry from the depths of grandma’s pantry. But it isn’t all sweet. Roger doesn’t pull his punches:

  • Novak v Baghdatis 6/46/4,if Baggy had the right strong matured people around him post his Oz Open r/up his career would have been different.

Sadly for Baghdatis, he opted for strong matured cheese, instead. If only this calendar had appeared sooner! But it’s not all sport:

  • If you have kids starting school this year take the time to hang with them before the bell rings,they love you taking an interest.#goldtime

And if your boss is curious why you’re always late each morning, just show him this. Perhaps make Goldtime! your personal motto. Have a t-shirt made up. Compose a theme song.

So there you have it: the perfect gift, for only $12.95 + postage & handling. Each individual message is also available as an inspirational fridge magnet. Order today!*

Review: *****

For all that Rasheed’s tweets are creepy and kitsch, and therefore consistent with his television commentary, there is no reason to think his advice is wrong. He presumably knows what it takes to excel at all levels of sport, from the juniors – where his foundation is active – to the elite, where he found fame coaching Lleyton Hewitt and Gael Monfils. The depressing thing is not that his advice is poor; it’s that it is good. A keen sense of reality, of the world’s true nature, is the last thing an elite athlete needs.

I have always wondered to what extent a kind of willed obtuseness is necessary for a top athlete to flourish, at least for those to whom obtuseness doesn’t come naturally. For example, it has always seemed to me that Andy Murray is too clever for his own good, too aware of the execrable texture of life; everything is made of shit. Like all born ironists, he finds it difficult to look past this and, fundamentally, he probably believes that to do so is to betray something more important than a mere tennis career.

Robin Soderling seems to be cut from similar cloth, and that sardonic smirk appears for all the world to be his ironic defence against a brainlessly macho environment that he finds otherwise intolerable. I suspect his tendency to remain apart from the other players is related to this. Even though the tour is more fragmented than it was a decade ago, especially to hear Marat Safin tell it, Soderling still never seemed interested in being one of the boys. His sudden rise three years ago owed as much to Magnus Norman simplifying his approach to the sport, rather than any profound technical adjustments. He stopped thinking so much. The cliché is that 99 per cent of sport is between the ears, but the real trick is to leave that space empty, so that it can be filled with nothing but instinct, talent and (mostly) training.

Janko Tipsarevic is the latest exemplar of this, achieving the necessary mental clarity with savage efficiency, virtually lobotomising himself in order to drown out the polyphony of human concern. He recently remarked in an interview that he is now ‘trying to make my life in a way that 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 adds up to eight. I am not trying to divide or multiply anything.’ This seems clear proof, despite Tipsarevic’s recent success, that simplified thinking can go too far, leading back to complexity, via idiocy. I’m not sure how the interviewer kept a straight face at this point, but he could have at least pointed out that 4 x 2 will get you to 8 even quicker: a little multiplication goes a long way. Had Rasheed been the interviewer, however, I can imagine him nodding knowingly, as though Tipsarevic had uttered something searingly useful, and not just blindingly commonplace. At the very least, it would have merited a retweet.

Again, this is not to suggest that Rasheed would be wrong. Indeed, given Tipsarevic’s undeniable success of late – ignoring last weekend’s Davis Cup – I’d suggest Rasheed is overwhelmingly right. There are so many things wrong in the world that in order to function at all we must edit almost all of them out. I can only write this column in the awareness that there are far more productive things I could be doing in order to improve the lot of strangers. Irony is not the only way of coping, or necessarily even the best, but it’s better than going mad. However, in order to win tennis matches at the elite level, even the awareness of what you’re shutting out is a crippling intrusion. There is simply no space in which to consider anything but what you are doing, with a little heed payed to whatever motivational kitsch you happen to subscribe to. To become distracted in a competitive match is to lose. Monfils, previously in the care of Rasheed, too often concerns himself with the crowd’s enjoyment, with dire results. When he remains single-minded, he is imposing indeed. (Mark Waugh, in a different sport, frequently fell prey to a similar vice. Despite all the skill and grace in the world, he would grow distracted by the urge to entertain, and he’d trudge skilfully and gracefully back to the pavilion soon after.)

This is not to privilege sport unduly, although we shouldn’t pretend that sport is not privileged. Concert pianists – virtual shorthand for privilege – practice a discipline in which concentration cannot lapse for half an hour at a time, if not longer; no moment between points, and no sit down at the change of ends. Any cock-up spells disaster. For trauma surgeons, it can mean catastrophe. Again, there is no corollary that the top tennis players are therefore dim-witted off the court – they clearly aren’t – although I do wonder to what extent it would matter if they were. What really matters is that they can deploy a savant-like focus on cue, and that whatever they might personally feel about the day’s news or even the match so far is not permitted to hamper the tens of thousands of hours they’ve spent preparing for that moment. For the duration of each point, at their best, they are empty, blissful, perfect, narrow and still.

*Women undergoing pregnancy should consult their physician.

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