Day 4 (Thursday, July 17, 2014): Is it over yet?
Hundreds of people's lives were lost in an instant on Thursday, July 17 as Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was destroyed near the Russia/Ukraine border by a missile for reasons yet to be conclusively determined. That same day, Israeli forces began a military invasion of Gaza with a death toll so far matching the air disaster's and certain to rise higher. High profile stars died as did millions who were famous only to their loved ones. Conflict rules our world and always has and death is and always will be an inevitability. Poverty, bigotry, disease, and violence seem endemic.
And in Bogota, Rajeev Ram and Jonathan Erlich lost to Vasek Pospisil and Radek Stepanek. And Nick Monroe and Michael Venus lost to Carlos Salamanca and Eduardo Struvay. In Granby, Eric Quigley lost to James McGee. And Adam El Mihdawy lost to eventual champion Hiroki Moriya in three. And Jason Jung lost to Vincent Millot. In Binghamton, Austin Krajicek was done in by Thanasi Kokkinakis and Daniel Nguyen was beaten by Sergiy Stakhovsky and Rhyne Williams lost to Takanyi Garanganga (yes in three) and Denis Kudla withdrew from the tournament and honestly I am not trying to make light of the tragedies I mentioned.
It's all a little surreal to contemplate why we get even a tiny bit emotionally involved in the athletic performances of people we don't know. This guy scoffs at the whole thing:
Marx was wrong: The opiate of the masses isn't religion, but spectator sports. What else explains the astounding fact that millions of seemingly intelligent human beings feel that the athletic exertions of total strangers are somehow consequential for themselves? The real question we should be asking during the madness surrounding this month's collegiate basketball championship season is not who will win, but why anyone cares.
but clearly there's an element of human nature in all this. (Here's another cynical look at the "mass psychosis" involved in team sports enthusiasm.) To me an interesting parallel is our interest in reality television, talk shows, documentaries, even at some level the news. We thrill in the naked displays of emotionalism inherent in these cultural products. Not only are we not embarrassed when someone has a breakdown on video, a "real" breakdown - a real good breakdown - will guarantee you multiple millions of YouTube views. We want unvarnished FEELING - we are practically addicted to it - and I have long speculated it's because letting others experience FEELINGS for us in this still-ironic world is a lot easier than having to experience them ourselves. And sports, with its ecstatic celebrations in victory and the strain of nervousness visible on their faces in tight moments and the towel-over-the-head awful agony in defeat, and particularly in its realness, gives us some of that sweet, sweet FEELINGS.
I know this is all over the top but last week was over the top. I had another Twitter account before @jokelley_tennis (still have it) where I partook in many discussions about politics and LGBT rights and debated issues of justice and also talked tennis but that felt like too much and nearly all my focus this year has been with tennis. Is it an escape? I still bring my ability to feel and particularly to feel bad when a loss happens to a player I like or a player representing the country I identify with. And I know I'm not alone in this because I follow a lot of other tennis fans who legitimately feel sad when their player loses. So it's clearly not a total escape.
Yet it's ephemeral.
But yeah, American men won one match on Thursday, July 17, 2014 on the ATP Challenger circuit, and that was Ernesto Escobedo over Kudla via a walkover, which doesn't actually count as a "win." And zero on the ATP World Tour. So total wins: zero.
Day 5 (Friday, July 18, 2014): Doomsday
Turns out, Kudla had mono, which is why he withdrew from Binghamton and the following tournament in Lexington, Kentucky. No clue when he'll be back at 100%.
Then we got news that Bradley Klahn withdrew on Friday from Binghamton and Atlanta. A fantastic chance for him to reach this final and rescue a dodgy several months just ... evaporated.
Escobedo won his first set against Takanyi Garanganga! But Garanganga won the next two. Out with the 18-year-old with some real promise ... we think. He's tough to keep up with to be honest.
And finally Chase Buchanan, he upon whom my last real hopes for the week relied, crashed out to #500-ranked Fabrice Martin in Granby. I felt bad.
What if our sports bad-feelingness somehow stands in for the real sadness in the world? What if it can be a way of dealing with grief that's at times too awful to deal with? I suppose there would need to be a flipside to that. That sports happiness (whether ours or via identification with others) gives us a feeling of elation that we need to keep going in that grief-filled world. (Of course, it's a little insane that someone MUST LOSE in order for any elation to be felt.)
One image from The Worst. Week. Ever.™ that will stick with me was eventual singles champion Sergiy Stakhovsky's wry smile after a particularly entertaining point in a doubles match versus Rhyne Williams and Jarmere Jenkins. He's suffered quite publicly this year via social media as his beloved Ukraine has continued its descent into war. But he found some emotional solace in the performance of his job, as an entertainer and athlete, and he found real happiness, no matter how fleeting, within this reimagined world in which we play out conflicts virtually, with stakes that are not nearly so high. In this reimagined world we can admire and even applaud a foe's particularly devastating shot as being "too good" and if the last point doesn't go our way we can shake his or her hand afterword and if we're lucky even give a nice runner-up speech and perhaps one day look back and wonder what the hell the big deal was. That's much tougher to do in actual real-real life.
Imagine if we could, though.