He couldn’t win a single match.
In the third round of the French Open on Saturday, China’s Wang Xinyu must believe there is at least a chance she can beat Iga Swiatek, the reigning women’s singles champion and the event’s top seed. After all, Wang is no slouch. She is a tough 21-year-old who in April reached a career high ranking of 59 in the world, and she can put up a decent fight against the best.
But he lost, and it was as bad as it gets: 6-0, 6-0 – in tennis parlance, the dreaded double bagel. The game doesn’t last much longer than the warm-up.
I say there is glory in such imperfections.
Live the weak. The weary and weary, the warriors and the stragglers. Athletes who suffer a lot to lose in public.
A life of losers in sports.
We’ve seen a lot of them over the past week or so, and we’ll be seeing more soon.
Of course, this isn’t just the slick clay courts of the French Open.
The NBA and NHL playoffs have finally reached their finals. College softball, which was rapidly growing in popularity, was bundled with the NCAA Division I championship. The Oklahoma Sooners are seeking a third straight title – and adding to their Division I record of 51 straight wins – after beating Stanford on Monday in the semifinals in extra time. Let’s sympathize with the procession of victims of the Sooners.
Most of the narrative will focus on the winner of this championship. That’s only natural. The world’s greatest athletes stretch and bend the limits of human potential. The best of the best even seem to be able to control time. No wonder we watch them perform with awe that feels existential. They have become like gods in our world.
That’s fine and understandable, but give me a tennis player who fights her hardest to win one match in a Grand Slam match. Give me a basketball star who hits a crucial free throw and a hockey goaltender who slips and lets the winning slap go.
Give me a withered nerve when the pressure comes. I’m here for reflexes like never before.
Why? Well, the victors will always get their due. But to err, as we all know, is human – totally and so beautifully. And those who lose in various ways occupy the more enjoyable corners of the big sport.
There is comfort in knowing that a highly conditioned, highly coordinated, battle-tested athlete can tire, cramp, succumb to pressure, struggle to get enough air, and suffer a painful defeat. In failing actions, they become, even if only briefly, more like the rest of us fools.
So we can take comfort in the Boston Bruins, who posted a 65-win regular season record, losing straight out in the first round of the NHL playoffs to the Florida Panthers. Expectations were high for the Stanley Cup weighing heavily. Who can relate? I know I can.
Speaking of Boston, in the NBA playoffs, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics came back from the 3-0 hole to tie the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. Then, in Game 7, with a game-history-making comeback, they collectively put down the stink bomb, putting in a performance that ranks among the worst and weakest of their career.
Ever been on the precipice of something great, only to fail – and fail hard, in public? Yeah, me too, back in the fifth grade play where I forgot my lines, tripped on stage and nearly broke my nose. It wasn’t hard to sympathize with Brown and Tatum as they went hit for shot, and Miami won by 19 points, with millions coming in.
The red clay at Roland Garros — where there are no sure steps, no reliable bounce and every game can turn into a grueling marathon — offers the clearest possible window into the disastrous truths of sport.
Players walked onto the court looking like Parisian runway models, their skin bronzed, their clothes neatly pressed. Then, once the match got underway, reality set in.
In other Grand Slam tennis tournaments, points often end quickly. On clay Roland Garros, the points can be as wide as a John Coltrane solo. They can go on and on, the pressure increasing, building the tempo in crescendos.
In the longest and most competitive of matches, you can often see the suffering – mental as well as physical – that comes to the players. Uncertainty crept in, and with it the gloom. Muscle weakness and trembling. Crisp clothes – shoes, socks, shirts, wristbands, headbands, hats – cakes with sweat and lumps of clay.
Wang was not long enough on the court to suffer like this against Swiatek. But Gaël Monfils is from France. Monfils, the 36-year-old veteran who was playing in what may be his last Grand Slam in front of the home crowd, won his first round match despite a 4-0 fifth set deficit. Along the way, he battled his way through sore lungs and a storm of leg cramps. He added to the match, but was so tired and sick that he was unable to come on the field for the second round match two days later.
Time travel waits for no one.
A few days later, a much younger player, Jannik Sinner of Italy — 21, the No. 1 seed. 8 and moving up quickly—down to Suzanne Lenglen Court against Daniel Altmaier, a No. 1-ranked journeyman. 79.
The sinner should have won without much trouble.
He advanced early, but struggled. An hour passed. Altmaier follows. An hour passed. The match became a stalemate. Three hours turned into four. Sinner holds two match points — and coughs them both up. They are heading for the fifth set. Sinner fell behind and came back: He faced four match points, but won them all.
And then… and then, after 5 hours and 26 minutes, Sinner watched a screaming serve fly over his outstretched racket for an ace. Game. Arrange. Suitable. Final score: 6-7 (0), 7-6 (7), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5. The defeat was the fifth longest match in French Open history.
Sinner walked off the court disheveled and disheveled, his face showing the self-doubt that losers experience. In other words, she is a beautiful human.