Slo Mo

I love watching women.  I love watching women tennis players.  This week the best eight players in the world are competing in the WTA Finals.  The matches aren’t available on TV in Canada.  Instead I see them on DAZN, a streaming service.  It’s pretty cool … everything in HD, and no commercials.

The video cameramen and women are brilliant, not just during the run of play but also when the athletes are resting between games.  What’s especially marvelous are the closeups of human beings, and the times when the grace of tennis is revealed in slow motion.  I just stared this morning at the beauty of it all.  Here are some of my favourite moments:

1.  A young girl in the audience, eyes soft, her head resting on her arm

2.  A photographer’s index finger poised on the button of his camera

3.  A player running after the ball … the rippling of the thigh muscles as the foot lands

4.  A closeup of a player’s eyes as she ponders life while resting on her bench

5.   Fingers curled in a fist pump as she celebrates a winner

6.  An Asian spectator, her mouth forming a circle after a great shot

7.  A hand gently squeezing a ball, ready to serve

8.  The flex of the foot on the serve, the muscle above the tennis shoe moving with the tendon

9.  A cut on the leg, the blood dabbed away and then slowly reappearing

10.  Just a ball floating upwards on the serve … oh so slowly

11.  The hands of two champions coming together at the end of the match

***

The slow motion created these dances
I was transfixed by the loveliness, the flow, the rhythms of sport
Thank you, DAZN

Notes from the Davis Cup

For the last two days, I’ve been watching men’s tennis at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto. Canada versus the Netherlands. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The place was only half full. I was sad for the players and for me. I’ve been to many sporting events when the building was packed and the energy sky high. I just love that energy. It makes me bigger. It reminds me of the spiritual realms that human beings can reach.

2. On Friday, Milos Raonic was playing a match when his Dutch opponent blasted a ball right at him. It went through Milos’ legs and struck the linesman standing behind. The man or woman (I couldn’t tell) crumpled, and Milos was there in an instant, offering support. That’s what the world needs. Sure, Milos has the status and the big bucks, but we’re all human beings who hurt every so often.

3. These players are so powerful and serve the ball at over 100 miles an hour, but it’s the delicate shots I love – a sliced backhand that seems to go sideways when it hits the court, a big backswing disguising a slow-motion drop shot falling softly out of the opponent’s reach, a lob that arches way over a player’s head and lands six inches inside the baseline. Give me the artists, please.

4. Then there are the very few fans who make a noise just as a Dutch player is starting his serving motion. No one does this when a Canadian is serving. Spare me from the world’s ethnocentric folks … my group is better than your group and maybe I can do something to have my group win. I love cheering for Canada and I also love applauding a brilliant shot, no matter who makes it.

5. The first day, I had a lovely couple on my right and two lovely women on my left. I had a great time bantering in one direction and then the other. Strangers became friends. Caution gave way to smiles. Yesterday the two women sat several seats further to my left. I don’t know why. I had fun with the couple but within that was a sadness, that a relationship had faded, that close had become distant. I hope the two women come back today but they may not. It seems that so much of life is a letting go.

6. The Coca-Cola Coliseum has been the home of the Toronto Marlies hockey team for a long time. They’re one level down from the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Inside the front entrance is a sign: “Building Maple Leafs since 1927.” Very cool. And all around the arena, on the little wall separating the lower seats from the balcony, are many of the team’s leafy logos, each with a name.

“Armstrong 1949” – the year of my birth. And that must be George Armstrong, whom I idolized in the Stanley Cup years of the 1960’s. George was the Leafs’ captain for 13 years. I looked up at all those names and thought of the history of the place. Tennis below … hockey above. May we always remember the history of those we love.

7. Daniel Nestor. The greatest tennis player in Canadian history. And yesterday was his final match, a doubles loss to the Netherlands. Daniel played poorly and later admitted that he wasn’t good enough anymore. Jean-Julien Rojer, his opponent and friend, said “You can say that eventually Father Time was undefeated because it catches up to you.”

Daniel cried as he spoke to the crowd after the match. “I love you guys [the Canadian team]. I love you fans. I love the city.” Well said.

I read an article last night about Daniel retiring. The writer said that Nestor “lost his composure”. Thank God he did. I don’t want to be a composed human being. I want to feel life, down deep in my bones.

Like you, Daniel

Strings Of The Heart

I’ve rediscovered tennis over the last week, first in person at the men’s Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto, and then on TV as the men and the women (in Montreal) battled for the championship.

I played tennis long ago and, just like golf, would occasionally hit a great shot that kept my spirits high.  But eventually the knees said no to the quick movements needed on the court.  My love went underground.

Sitting in the stands a few days ago, I was enthralled with the brilliant strokes … a zooming serve that just caught the line, a thirty-shot rally that exhausted both players, a sweet drop shot that just ticked over the net, and a high lob over the opponent’s head.  So cool.  It was mano à mano, and womano à womano on TV, each one drawing the best from the other.

Last Monday night, I watched Denis Shapovalov, a 17-year-old Canadian, best Nick Kyrgios, one of the top-20 players in the world.  On match point, the energy in the Aviva Centre was astonishing.  Transformational.

As stirring as the competition was, another factor emerged for me – the personality of the athlete.  Some stoic and strong and tough, almost machine-like.  But one player’s humanity caught my attention.  I watched a match on TV between Canada’s darling Eugenie Bouchard and Kristina Kucova from Slovakia.  Genie was supposed to win but Kristina was tenacious.  And as the last stroke was struck, the winning Kristina went down on her knees, overwhelmed with joy.  She was ranked 121st in the world and wasn’t supposed to be doing what she was doing.

On Saturday, Kristina played Madison Keys, a hard-hitting American, in the semi-finals.  Madison’s serve was so fast, and smacked into corners that Kristina couldn’t touch.  Late in the match, as the players rested in their chairs between points, TV showed us a tear rolling down Kristina’s cheek.  My heart and soul stopped.  I was lost in the beauty of the moment.

In 50 minutes, the contest was over.  Madison completely dominated.  Kristina walked off the court crying.  She later told the press she was sorry that she hadn’t given Madison a better battle, and that she had let down the fans.  Not this fan.  Give me a full human being any day.

Next summer, the women come to Toronto for the Rogers Cup.  I’ll be there … in Kristina’s court.