Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On Rooting for the Tie

My friend and I have kind of a standing agreement about close games in which we have no personal stake*--we always root for the tie. When the Mets played that extra innings game a few weeks back, we were rooting for the tie. When Syracuse and Connecticut played that six-overtime game in the Big East tournament a couple of years ago, we were rooting for the tie. When a college football game goes into overtime, we root for both teams to score, and then we root for both teams to score and convert the two-point conversion. Golf: Always pull for an extended playoff. Hockey: Three overtimes, at least. At some point, it becomes more fun, rather than pulling for one team to win or lose, simply to pull for inertia, for exhaustion, for the idea that whatever you're watching will go on as long as possible. This is why I never understand the people who complain that sporting events go on too long, that shortening them by 16.3 minutes will somehow enhance our experience. I hold the opposite view (if I may crudely paraphrase the Buddha): Everything in life is going to end. Why not prolong the enjoyable things as long as possible?**

Anyway, I don't have any great affinity for tennis, as much as I've tried, as much as I adore David Foster Wallace's meandering disquisitions on the sport. But this afternoon, it would seem, a tennis match accomplished the impossible: A tennis match, for all essential purposes, ended in a tie.

I'll admit, I tuned in late, largely because I thought it was a joke: I saw something on Twitter about a tennis tiebreaker that stood at 43-42 and I presumed it was a 140-character quip. And then more people started writing about it...and then everyone started talking about it, and I turned on my television and there it was: 56-56. Two men I'd never heard of***, dressed in white, had been roaming a patch of grass for eight hours, chasing after a felt spheroid. They looked like they'd just spent ten hours in a tanning booth, or on a Northwest flight. They were exhausted beyond exhaustion, and every time you thought one might find an edge, the other struck right back. They exchanged serves, exchanged games, and then one began complaining about the encroaching darkness, and the referee stopped the match. It's now 59-59, and they'll pick it up tomorrow, and my guess is someone will win and someone will lose in expedited fashion, because that's the way things go: The magic only lasts so long. It doesn't carry over from day to day. But in this case, it lasted long enough. In this case, in one of those rare historical moments, the tie proved the winner.

*Which, for him, as a well-known sports atheist, is virtually all of them.

**This is soccer's greatest flaw: It accepts ties too readily. I'm not sure why, except that it's become accepted tradition, despite the fact that a shootout is perhaps the most exciting way to end any sport.

***I think that's John Isner in that photo, but I couldn't say for sure. The point is, it doesn't matter who it is.

(Photo: Sang Tan/via NYDN)

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