Monday, June 27, 2005

You cannot be serious?!

In the spirit of sporting generosity and Scottish bonhomie, I'd like to offer Andy Murray my tennis coach, given that he's a bit short of one at the moment. I think my deliciously tattooed tennis pirate would do well with the young superstar as he's gained plenty of experience in the "emotional expression" school of tennis, what with me hurling my racket at him and all... And it's "emotional expression" that's been high on the Wimbledon news agenda in the last week.

First there's Tiger Tim. (Top tip to Andy: keep listening to the Black Eyed Peas and scowling then no-one will touch you with a dumb alliterative nickname that spells "Loser" with a big L.) It's not the balls or the grass that have done for Henman; more that he's just not with it linguistically. The genteel Oxfordshire squire's son doesn't say the F word with any conviction whatsoever, and in the modern game that has to be a major handicap. (And Tim, your whining in earlier tournaments that it's not fair because other players can swear undetected in their native tongue only makes it worse!) Nonetheless, you have to give him some credit for trying, and though his Wimbledon hopes may once again be dashed, he can at least console himself that his linguistic crimes against the All England Lawn Tennis Club are being investigated.

Henman serves up a volley of abuse

Tim faces fine for outburst

Also on the language and tennis radar this week is discussion in the Guardian of the standard of tennis commentary. This caught my attention because on a long drive during a big match the other day, I had to tune in to Radio 5 Live. And what a revelation! I had no idea that I would enjoy it so much! Without the pictures, the commentators have to work much harder, using words to describe vividly and immediately what is happening. You might think that the pressure this places the commentator under would make their work less detailed or less coherent, but you'd think wrongly. They have to draw more frequently on precise tennis jargon - "Federer plays a sliced backhand... Ferrero a heavy topspin forehand right onto the base line" - but as Radio 5 Live is for sports fans, that's a help not a hindrance.

But it also made me realise how much drivel many of the TV tennis commentators talk. Not McEnroe - he's as much a legend in the commentary box as he was in his time on court. But many of the others talk rubbish, especially when commenting on women's matches. You wanna investigate language and gender to see if sexist language use is dead? Try tennis commentary! And an entertaining piece in today's Guardian picks up on the worst offender of them all, the former British player, Andrew Castle. The writer picks out several linguistic issues, but the one that has me pointing a broom at my telly while making firing squad sounds is his use of the most crashing cliches to describe moments of sublime athletic performance. Read it and start thinking about applying to Brighton University for their Sports Journalism degree: one of you guys can DEFINITELY do better!

Never mind the Sex Pistols, here's Sue Barker

Radio Five Live

BA Sport Journalism at Brighton University


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