The top photo shows Leylah Fernandez from Canada. That’s Angelique Kerber of Germany in the bottom one. They’re both professional tennis players.
Before I reveal my tennis fandom, however, I’d like to return to the days of yesteryear and my passion for golf. I could glue myself to the TV set with the best of them, and the object of my adoration was Mike Weir, a Canadian professional golfer. Mike stood 5 feet 9 inches and was a masterful shotmaker. Speaking of which, he won the Masters tournament in April, 2003, an event that many people consider to be the most important in men’s golf.
Even before the Masters, I lived and died with every tee shot, praying that it would find the fairway, not the rough. I’d watch Mike’s long irons soar towards the green, groaning if the ball flight seemed to be veering far away from the pin. I held my breath as a long putt slid towards the hole. Would the curves of the green take it to the bottom of the cup, or would the ball lip out? I was a fanatic.
As I look back on my marriage with Jody, I feel remorse about a few things I did. One of my most vivid pains comes from a vacation we had in Montreal in August, 2003. On the final day of the PGA tournament, Jody wanted to go exploring. I wanted to see Mike play in the last group. I won. Through a mean display of willpower, I cajoled my wife to hang around the hotel while I lived and breathed Mike Weir. (Sigh)
“What happened to tennis?” you ask. Two years ago, Bianca Andreescu came into my TV life. Essentially, change the details of the sport, insert “Bianca” for “Mike”, and you have the story. My fanaticism included the purchase of a red t-shirt online, honouring my heroine: “She The North”. Sadly, Bianca’s been injured for more than a year, so I had to find a new shining light. Enter Leylah Fernandez, an 18-year-old Montrealer. It was easy to transfer my fervour to her matches on TV.
A few months ago, I looked in the mirror and saw some things:
1. I need heroes
2. I cheer for you if you’re Canadian
3. I cheer for you if you’re young and therefore an underdog
4. I cheer for you if you seem to be a nice person
5. I cheer against you if you seem to be a mean person
So I cheer for Leylah. But what about point number five? During one tournament, Bianca was playing Angelique Kerber, a pro who’s been near the top of the game for years. Bianca had one or two medical timeouts to deal with an emerging injury. At the end of the match, which Bianca won, the two players approached the net. Angelique told Bianca “You’re the biggest drama queen ever.” That was it for me and Angelique. I’d always want her to lose.
Fast forward to yesterday. “What’s happening, Bruce?” Leylah’s match against Maria Sakkari from Greece was about to begin. But my head was spinning. I looked at Leylah on the screen, and yes, I wanted her to win … but it was no big deal. I was loving Leylah, but not in the sense that if she does what I want her to do (win), I’ll be happy. My love was vaster. I simply wanted her to be happy. And wonder of wonders, I wanted Maria to be happy. I wanted both of them to make great shots. I wanted long rallies. I wanted the back-and-forth adventure of three sets, ending in a tiebreak. I wanted to hear “Match Point” for one player and then the other. I didn’t care who won. And I felt immense sadness when Leylah played poorly, and Maria dominated the match.
I’m sitting here a day later … stunned. Where did my partisanship go? I still love it when Canadians excel on the world stage but there isn’t a need there. How did this shift happen? I certainly didn’t grit my teeth and start willing a new attitude. I didn’t do anything. But here I sit, enamoured of tennis, of each player giving her all, of each one pushing the other past supposed limits, of each one being happy. It feels good.
Tonight Angelique Kerber plays Maria Sakkari. I’ll be there with a smile. May the match be epic.