Magazine article The Spectator

Seriously Good

Magazine article The Spectator

Seriously Good

Article excerpt

WHEN the great public has a close encounter with true excellence, it tends to purse its lips in a non-committal fashion and say, `God, how frightfully boring.' That, certainly, is the general response to the victory of Pete Sampras at Wimbledon.

Well, this is only one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, tennis player ever to swish a racket. I can quite easily work up a rage on the subject. If you find Sampras boring, if you find sporting excellence boring, then you have no right to be watching sport.

Sampras has now won Wimbledon five times, equalling the record of Bjorn Borg. And did anybody ever call Borg boring? They didn't, though you could certainly have made a case for it. Borg was relentless rather than brilliant, but no one noticed because he had extremely long hair. He was a Roundhead in Cavalier's clothing.

Neither Borg nor Sampras has a theatrical nature. Sampras moves like a man in the middle of a bout of terminal depression. Such people do not excite the love that flows towards the theatrical champions such as John McEnroe and Boris Becker.

Tennis is one of the most theatrical of all sports; Wimbledon, especially Centre Court, is one of sport's greatest theatres - the intimacy, the sudden extraordinary changes of fortune compel the attention. But Sampras just hits the ball, generally uncommonly hard, hangs his head and walks about a bit. When he prepares to serve, he looks like a hunchback. He is the picture of misery.

There are just two things that Sampras does that give away his immense but normally deeply hidden relish for the battle. …

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