Dude! Where's My Sponsor?

seann-william-scottimage009seann_william_scott_phixrimage010

Do you think Roddick knows he looks exactly like one of the stupidest actors of all time? Was there a moment, however slight, when he gazed lovingly at the post-Mandy Moore mirror and noticed that he had traversed from classic, all-American good looks into the most depressing kind of parody of the same archetype?

I hope not, just as a desire for basic human dignity leads me to wish that Tim Henman didn’t feel a small frisson of relief at the emergence of Andy Murray. Henman’s increasingly heavy-hearted trudge through the early rounds at Wimbledon, with the weight of a once-proud tennis nation on his shoulders, became almost grotesque by the end. Roddick’s national characteristics won’t allow such maudlin thoughts any visibility, but surely privately he entertains them from time to time?

Not tonight. Tonight he was beaten by a man he accurately called “the greatest ever”, and while he displayed an over-familiar mix of fight and clutch-failure, the extent to which his capitulations were his incandescent opponent’s doing is probably beyond debate. But in the broader scheme Roddick has shouldered the weight of the United States’ expectations since the retirement of Sampras and Agassi; since he won his only (and America’s last) Grand Slam at the US Open in ’03.  Privately, he must pray for the whole sham to end.Perhaps the most humiliating element of the sorry saga is contained in the images above. Quite aside from his resemblance to, uh, Stifler, his sponsor is indescripably lame: Lacoste. Lacoste! The Frenchest of all the deviant, bisexual European brands! The greatest American tennis player of his generation has to stare across at a motorik Suisse star clad in royal blue Nike while he takes his bitter medecine.

Beneath the garden variety humiliations of this particular match-up are a few more troubling facts for tennis, once the undisputed heavyweight champ of the one-on-one disciplines (in that brief window between boxing’s slump and golf’s Tigerish rise). Because as perfect as Federer is, and brutishly powerful Nadal, the paucity of English-speaking stars must be worrying the ATP enormously.

Before you start pointing to the aforementioned plucky Scot, who has played superbly these last few months, just take a look at him:

Australian Open Tennis

That dude might be many things, he might even win Grand Slams (though personally I can’t quite picture it). But he is not the emblematic, sport-transcending Global Superstar that tennis requires.

Instead the rising tide is European, and particularly Eastern European players (most markedly in women’s tennis, though you can’t help but feel it will wash over all). You cannot fault their skill, dedication or the sacrifices they’ve made. But they are not hugely marketable, particularly to the lucrative US, or other English-speaking audiences (you reach further back than Roddick to find another native English-speaking Slam winner). This is not to try and invoke xenophobia in the slightest, merely to point out that as dry and hard-to-love as Sampras was, at least he was an American. And he was a winner.

The ATP might on the face of things love the beautiful internationalisation of the game of tennis, but in its heart it must be aware that in a sporting marketplace being squeezed dry of sponsorship dollars and increasingly crowded by competing codes and events, they want – they need – a new titan to rise, and at least challenge these pretty European craftsmen. A Connors, a MacEnroe, an Agassi… Someone, anyone to staunch this open wound, and save the sport from the resolutely unglamourous spectre of their most marketable American looking like a goofball burger flipper and being covered in the crinkled crocodile of Lacoste.

– Duncan

PS – This piece would never have been written without the inspirational commentary – and headline writing – of Harry Cundy or the (hopefully happy) birthday of David Shamy.

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8 Comments

Filed under Reminiscing, Tennis

8 responses to “Dude! Where's My Sponsor?

  1. tim

    awesome post – i think your being too hard on Murray though. What did Conners, MacEnroe and Agassi all have in common? personality – from what i can tell Murray has some – he might not be a Federer or a Sampras (no personalities) but I still think he could be more marketable than both of them – your right about the internalisation of the game though – soon (very soon) an Asian (probably Chinese) will be number one, and once theres one there will be many more – theres a guy coming up now whose name i forget but he looks good –

    Go federer in the final.

  2. Justin

    Yeah, really great post.
    Federer isn’t showy, but he’s also not afraid to call people out – and to do in press conferences, when the mics are on and the cameras are rolling. Like this comment about Djokovic retiring against Roddick:
    “I’m almost in favor of saying, you know what, if you’re not fit enough, just get out of here. If Novak were up two sets to love I don’t think he would have retired 4-0 down in the fourth set.”
    Not exactly a fist-pump or a fluoro polo shirt (ie. the things hte public get to see on the sports news every night), but infinitely cooler. I guess it depends on your definition of personality – anyone can put on a tiger-print headband and scream like a lunatic after hitting a winner, but has Nadal ever actually uttered a memorable quote? I’m sure he has. Conners and MacEnroe are another story altogether of course…
    Actually, just on Djokovic, everyone loved him for about 5 minutes when he was doing the impersonations of Sharapova and Nadal, but check this – In 2006 he retired from his French Open quarterfinal against Nadal after losing the first two sets. And in 2007 he abandoned his Wimbledon semifinal contest against Nadal, blaming a toe blister. Personality? Yes. Pussy? Unfortunately also yes.

  3. Henry

    Andy Roddick reminds me a lot of Jim Courier. While Agassi was the loud young rebel and Sampras the cold and distant perfectionist, Jim Courier looked every part the American Hero, tennis’ true patriot (until Agassi calmed down, cut his hair and started playing the Davis Cup).

  4. Duncan

    I’d totally forgotten about Jim Courier, which says something about him I guess, a little stolid compared to the theatrics of Agassi and the raw power of Sampras. But Roddick’s so goofy, have you guys seen that ridiculous face he pulled that they used as the photo in today’s Herald? Just insanity. So SWS, as soon as the words were out of Harry’s mouth I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed before.
    @Tim: Oh Murray has a personality, alright, one of the most voluble on the tour. But it’s extremely uncool and fidgety and almost impossible to think of a brand that would want to align with, you know?
    @Justin: Federer is actually a dude, and very smart and subtle, he’s definitely cooler than Schumacher, who he always sat next to in my head. But the athletes I am drawn to tend to have some weird personality defect that has thrust them skywards, rather than cool perfection. As much as I admire Federer I find it difficult to LOVE him, you know? Oh, and Djokovic is a total pussy, I can’t believe that record! Manfully taking a loss is as important as winning with style. A freaking toe blister? Please.

  5. Tom

    Did you see it in last night’s game when Roddick was telling the umpire to “get a sack?” What does that even mean, is it him trying to come up with some new slang and hope it will stick?

    Womens tennis is a mess right now. It’s actually amazing that there is one ‘vic’ or ‘eva’ who can keep it together long enough to win the 7 games necessary to take out a tournament. I have actually found myself backing Serena which makes me wonder about myself, and not in a good way.

  6. Apparently Djokovic withdrew during a match against Federer with a ‘sore throat’. Embarrassing. Hope Federer wins the final, although I’m pleasantly surprised to see Nadal wearing sleeves for the first time in memory, albeit the sweatiest t shirt I’ve ever seen.
    I don’t mind Roddick wearing Lacoste, breaks up the Nike/Addidas duopoly. Still hoping to see someone bringing back some Diadora, and someone sexier than Murray wearing Fred Perry.

  7. Duncan

    I miss Nadal’s guns, I find the sheer pornography of them, manifestly unnecessary for tennis, always appealed for some odd (gay?) reason. In terms of Roddick, I’ve no problem with Lacoste per se, in fact I’m currently wearing a stripey polo with a croc on it (gay?), but the Big American Tennis Player is supposed to be sponsored by the Big American Brand, and the fact he’s not is symptomatic of the hole US tennis is in. On the duopoly though, it’d be nice to see them all going at it, K-Swiss, Reebok, Gola. And some poor bastard lumbering round in LA Gear…

  8. I didn’t see the semi with Nadal, so my favourite match so far has been Clabanova v Dockic. Oh the drama! Also those mens games sure do take a while.

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