Sunday 25 February 2018

The Couch: Game, Sepp and match - let Serena administer justice

'Across the two hours she’d shown her champion’s heart, and her diva’s flair for melodrama. As ever, she was compelling to watch, the power, charisma and frailty irresistible'
'Across the two hours she’d shown her champion’s heart, and her diva’s flair for melodrama. As ever, she was compelling to watch, the power, charisma and frailty irresistible'

Tommy Conlon

Watching Serena Williams at the French Open last week, a somewhat evil thought sprung unbidden to mind.

Serena vs Sepp. By many accounts Blatter has always had an eye for the ladies. And at 79 the FIFA president apparently remains a lecherous little runt.

But instead of hauling him through some laborious judicial process for crimes as yet unspecified, we thought a game of tennis with the world female number one might be a more fitting punishment.

Ideally, it would take place in blazing sunshine. Sepp would have to play in one of his thousand-dollar suits. And Serena, with queenly disdain, would run him ragged all over the court until he was begging for mercy.

His only chance of a reprieve would be to confess all he knows about corruption in FIFA. This would be shown on live television, with lawyers, stenographers and court reporters on hand to record his petrified confession. If he started stalling or prevaricating, she would simply pummel him with another 100mph serve, like a baddie in one of those cowboy films firing bullets at the feet of a man to make him dance.

Alternatively, because he professes to love soccer, we could place him in the middle of the magic triangle that is Barcelona's Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Sepp would have to try and get the ball off them while they pinged it around him, through his legs and over his head to a chorus of Olés from a packed Camp Nou.

It would be a damning judgement of his works, delivered not through the desiccated procedures of a court of law, but through the absolute moral authority of sporting greatness. It would make a vivid contrast between the best and worst of human nature. It would confront him with the inherent dignity of the game he has debased. It would remind him of the damage he has done to the sport he purports to lead. It would show him that these are the kings of the game, not he.

Seeking a more indigenous environment for Blatter's comeuppance, we settled upon the coursing at Clonmel. Instead of releasing a hare up the hill in Powerstown Park, we could release Sepp, togged out perhaps in the purple and white kit of the Qatar national team. He would have a 32-ounce T-bone steak stapled to his back, to give the chasing greyhounds added incentive. Regrettably, in this day and age they would probably have to be muzzled.

These and other exercises in necessary humiliation could be repeated with the likes of Jack Warner too, and every other FIFA creep found with his face in the trough. Indeed it could be extended to the many charlatans in blazers who have used a wide variety of sports as a greasy pole for their own ambition and greed.

It is hard to think of another realm of human endeavour so blessed with talent and integrity on one hand, and so cursed with ineptitude and dishonesty on the other. It remains a sorrowful mystery that this vehicle for so much that is good about the human spirit can be polluted by so much that is loathsome.

It has been a horrible week for sport. The long-running trickle of sewage from FIFA became a torrent. The BBC's Panorama programme revealed more depressing evidence of the doping pandemic. The FAI became embroiled in another grubby controversy over money. And on Friday news came through that the great New Zealand rugby player Jerry Collins, aged 34, and his wife had been killed in a car crash.

By then we had taken refuge in the French Open, seeking sanctuary from the whole toxic, dispiriting mess. And, sure enough, there was Roger Federer, still exemplifying the ideal of athletic beauty despite his evident decline. Novak Djokovic too, among others, and of course Serena.

For what it's worth, I happen to see her also as an ideal of modern feminine beauty, not despite the formidable power of her tennis but because of it. She seems at times like a one-woman force against the omnipresent worship of the passive, objectified contemporary female image. Williams manages to be both fierce and feminine.

On Thursday in her semi-final with Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, she flourished both those parallel qualities.

At times she looked a walking wreck. Williams had been feverish with 'flu all week. During her pre-match practise she was doubled over, holding her head, leaning on her racket.

Between games she would sit in her seat coughing and spluttering, an ice towel round her neck. Then she would trudge back at a funereal pace to the baseline. She lost the first set. Trailing 2-3 in the second and sensing serious danger, she sprung into life.

Williams reeled off ten games in a row to sweep to victory. In the last game she pulled off a fantastic cross-court shot from the baseline, sliding into the splits and pumping her fist as the ball flashed past her opponent. Match over, she practically staggered off the court, looking at any moment as if she were about to swoon to the floor.

Across the two hours she'd shown her champion's heart, and her diva's flair for melodrama. As ever, she was compelling to watch, the power, charisma and frailty irresistible.

And every time she boomed a shot down the court, the sight of Blatter chasing after it, in his best suit, remained a delicious figment of the imagination.

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