Offside, 3 July
How does Rude-eski's Wimbledon performance compare to the great tirades of history?
For a minority of people – let’s call them tennis fans – Wimbledon is a Grand Slam tennis tournament. For the rest of Britain it is a two-week long self-analysis of our national sporting character.
The problem is that we invented modern tennis and now we are not very good at it. Nor are we particular interested in tennis for much of the year. But every summer we examine our proverbial sporting testicles and invariably find ourselves wanting. A case of new balls please, as it were.
This year was no different. When all the British women had been eliminated by the end of day two, the hand-wringing commenced in earnest. Are we a nation of losers? Are British tennis clubs too elitist? Where are the programmes for inner-city youth? Why don’t we have any indoor courts? Why are the Belgians better than us? Yada, yada, yada. The whinging is all so tiresomely familiar.
British tennis, it is true, is run by old duffers, watched by union jack-waving social inadequates, and largely played for fun. And the sorry truth is that if we were to coach and drive our children from an early age to become tennis champions we would probably be accused of child abuse.
Another clue to our lack of tennis success can be found in our reaction to the foul-mouthed outburst from Greg Rusedski – or ‘Rude-eski’ as the Daily Mail dubbed him. ‘I can’t do anything if the crowd fucking calls it’, screamed the British number two, after an over-excited Lithuanian spectator had called a ball out. ‘Absolutely fucking ridiculous. At least replay the point. Fucking ridiculous. Fucking ridiculous. It’s fucking ridiculous. Frigging ridiculous. Some wanker in the crowd changes the whole match. Well done. Well done. Absolutely shit.’
Given the stuffy, buttock-clenching uptightness of the All England Club one might have expected ‘disgusted’ of Tunbridge Wells to be choking on his Pimms. There were of course the usual theatrical expressions of outrage from the press. ‘Rusedski’s obscene tirade humiliates British tennis’, frothed the Daily Telegraph, while the Daily Star ranked Rusedski’s transgression as the ‘worst abuse Wimbledon has ever seen or heard’.
But the truth is that few people seemed terribly bothered by Fucking-ridiculous-gate. As Des Kelly pointed out in the Daily Mirror: ‘No-one was rushed to hospital in shock. In fact, Rusedski’s outburst seemed to provoke more amusement than anger’ (and yes, that’s the same Daily Mirror whose headline screamed ‘Rusedski’s four-letter tirade drags Wimbledon into gutter’) (1). Even the Wimbledon blazerati showed uncharacteristic leniency in handing Britain’s favourite half-Canadian a £1500 slap on the wrist.
Indeed, Rusedski’s string of expletives may have positively enhanced his reputation. ‘I was cheering him all the way to the umpire’s chair’, enthused Will Buckley in the Guardian. ‘His bland, cheesy personality was forgotten, here was a fiery man. It was as if a block of Edam had been transformed into a suppurating volcano of Gorgonzola.’ (2) ‘Personally, I enjoy seeing my sporting heroes swear from time to time’, wrote Des Kelly. ‘It demonstrates they feel the same as me, because I am undoubtedly unleashing a Thesaurus of abuse at the television screen at home.’
So how does Rusedski’s performance compare to the great tirades of history? For my money it had none of the shock value of the Sex Pistols swearing on the Bill Grundy show, something unprecedented on 1970s daytime television. Rusedski’s outburst also lacked the sheer vitriol and poetic splendour of Roy Keane’s salvo against Mick McCarthy on the eve of the 2002 World Cup finals. I mean, ‘Well Done. Well Done. Absolutely shit’ has none of the elegant bluntness of ‘You can stick it up your bollocks’.
Nor did Rusedski’s volley of f-words carry the dramatic power of John McEnroe’s finest tantrums. Superbrat commanded his audience by stomping around, waving his arms, smashing his racket, and projecting his voice in Shakespearean fashion, whereas Rusedski’s rant, although captured by the TV microphones, was inaudible to much of the crowd.
McEnroe’s eruptions were also excusable because he was a champion who was able to regain his composure and, more often than not, win the match. Ultimately Rusedski’s hissy fit does not deserve our praise because: (a) he profusely apologised immediately afterwards, but more importantly (b) he was consumed by self-pity and stopped playing and lost the match. What kind of example does this set to youngsters? Our children need to learn that, if they must throw a tantrum, they should use it to psyche-out their opponents McEnroe-style but never, never as a prelude to capitulation.
Do you think the Australians would have any time for Rusedski’s pathetic petulance? No way. And nor should we. If we want sporting success we shouldn’t indulge such behaviour. So, grow up Greg – adult language is fine but wimping-out like a sulky child is fucking ridiculous.
(1) linkable text, Daily Mirror, 27 June 2003
(2) Why does Rusedski have to be sorry?, Observer, 29 June 2003
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