Every sport, I believe, has its own optimal medium. For baseball, I like the intimacy of radio, and the timing and traditions of the medium lend themselves well to a sport driven by discrete, well-defined actions. Pro and college football actually work better on television than in person — unless you’re intoxicated, when all bets are off. Soccer, as this year’s World Cup proves, lends itself to Twitter’s ability to celebrate goals, talk trash, and complain about calls (or diving for calls) in truncated bursts. Basketball, hockey, and (usually) tennis have a combination of speed, intimacy, and crowd effect that make the stadium experience hardest to beat or replicate.
But what about a tennis match, like that between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon, that because of endless tiebreaks and evening suspensions, spills over into more than ten hours and a third day? In such a case, stadium attendance and television alike become gruesome; you’re watching something that resembles a tennis match, but feels more like an all-night dance-a-thon. It’s horrible and fascinating at the same time. You can’t bear to watch, but you need periodic updates, because at any moment, something — anything — may happen.
Here, then, is the perfect sports experience for the liveblog. And here, too, The Guardian’s Xan Brooks is the master, riveting to read even in retrospect. Consider :
4.05pm: The Isner-Mahut battle is a bizarre mix of the gripping and the deadly dull. It’s tennis’s equivalent of Waiting For Godot, in which two lowly journeymen comedians are forced to remain on an outside court until hell freezes over and the sun falls from the sky. Isner and Mahut are dying a thousand deaths out there on Court 18 and yet nobody cares, because they’re watching the football. So the players stand out on their baseline and belt aces past each-other in a fifth set that has already crawled past two hours. They are now tied at 18-games apiece.
On and on they go. Soon they will sprout beards and their hair will grow down their backs, and their tennis whites will yellow and then rot off their bodies. And still they will stand out there on Court 18, belting aces and listening as the umpire calls the score. Finally, I suppose, one of them will die.
Ooh, I can see the football out of the corner of my eye. England still 1–0 up!
And, four and a half hours later:
8.40pm: It’s 56 games all and darkness is falling. This, needless to say, is not a good development, because everybody knows that zombies like the dark. So far in this match they’ve been comparatively puny and manageable, only eating a few of the spectators in between bashing their serves.
But come night-fall the world is their oyster. They will play on, play on, right through until dawn. Perhaps they will even leave the court during the change-overs to munch on other people. Has Roger Federer left the grounds? Perhaps they will munch on him, hounding him down as he runs for his car, disembowelling him in the parking lot and leaving Wimbledon without its reigning champion. Maybe they will even eat the trophy too.
Growing darker, darker all the while.
They are still tied at 59 all in the fifth and final set. This set alone is longer than any other match in tennis history. Play will resume tomorrow.