Ongoing Commitments

As intimated earlier in the week, one of the more fascinating battles going on this week has been waged not between players, but between the media and the English language. This has entailed an exhaustive quest for original ways to describe the prevailing atmospheric conditions. Renae Stubbs found a way, though it didn’t necessarily lead to victory: ‘Can she survive in this heat, which is extraordinarily hot?’ Rhetorically, we might generously call this a polyptoton, although it would exhaust generosity to call it a good one. On the other hand, Serena Williams’ assertion that the Australian Open is ‘a great start to the beginning of the year’ is just a tautology. That’s okay – words are not her business. Quinn Rooney/Getty Images AsiaPacHer business is winning tennis matches. Thankfully Darren Cahill was on hand to explain in simple terms how she not only continues to do so, but is actually getting better at it, in clear defiance of her age.

Today Williams faced Daniela Hantuchova, who several days ago achieved the rarest feat in tennis: prompting the commentators to add a new line item to her official fact sheet. In this case the new fact is that she can play the piano, an astonishing feat that was demonstrated to the gobsmacked Australian media several days ago, who summarily dubbed her ‘a concert pianist’. The fact sheet having been amended, there’s now a legal obligation to bring up her astounding musical prowess whenever she appears on screen. From today: ‘She’s so good at so many things: tennis, piano . . .’ The media love nothing more than celebrities – athletes, actors, US presidents – demonstrating hitherto unrevealed musical talents, no matter how meagre those talents truly are. The fact is, Hantuchova is a concert pianist in the same way that I am a professional tennis player. Youtube suggests her pianistic wizardry has been revealed many times before. For the record, Williams was out of sorts, but still won. Hantuchova played very well.

Of course, supplementary talents don’t have to be musical. Anything not directly related to tennis will do, down to and including functional literacy. More than once I’ve heard Janko Tipsarevic called a ‘borderline genius’ because he has read Dostoevsky. Perhaps Benjamin Becker should try that, since the poor guy’s fact sheet hasn’t been updated in nearly eight years, and still only features two items. Firstly, he isn’t related to Boris (Boris confirmed this personally in the Australian Open’s draw ceremony). Secondly, he was the guy up the other end in Andre Agassi’s last match (Boris also mentioned this, amply fulfilling his ongoing commitment to supply no insight whatsoever).

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