Caroline Wozniacki, Marinko Matosevic and Andy Murray show off their humane side at 2014 French Open
We see stars on television, the men and women around whom we sculpt our dreams of sporting excellence. We believe, which they reaffirm ever so often, that they are capable of feats we can’t even dare design in the maze of our minds. And before long, we experience through them superlative feats of speed, agility and endurance. Our mind tricks us into believing that the species of top class athletes is infallible. Week after week we return from work and turn on the television to experience their excellence.
It is a routine that helps us alleviate our tedium and elevate our souls. Watching our favourite athletes perform at the highest levels allows us the luxury of learning to believe that perhaps nothing really is impossible.
But then, we sometimes tend to ignore or even forget the fact that these are simple men and women, human beings like you and me, dealing with their own life issues on a day to day basis. It is this side of the players that we come in touch with while living around a tournament like the French Open.
Yesterday, Court 2 was packed to the brim. Maybe that was out of warm affection for the lady playing there, a feeling of empathy with her difficulties. But perhaps there was a dose of voyeurism too. One could not help but feel the tension in the air as Caroline Wozniacki made her way to the court, seeking to restore a semblance of the normal to her broken heart.
She struggled, right in front of our eyes, and of her father Piotr Wozniacki too. He has been her support system for as long as she could care to remember. And her eyes darted ever so often in his direction, seeking shelter from the turmoil that was brewing inside her.
Perhaps it was her father alone who could hold out an umbrella for his child and keep her from getting wet and cold from the storm that was engulfing her. There was warm support from the crowd too, as she engaged in a two hour-plus battle with Yanina Wickmayer.
Unlike Rory McIlroy, who found refuge and success at the BMW PGA Championship, Wozniacki struggled to find the consistency off the ground that is the cornerstone of her game. But to her credit, the 23-year-old presented a stoic face. Perhaps she may have fought a better battle if not for a suspect knee.
In the end she lost in three sets, but seemed to retain her perspective. She had already sent word to the ATP liaison officer about the fact that she did not have the desire to indulge in the details of her personal life.
As soon as she entered the presser, she offered a brief statement acknowledging her situation and explaining that she wished to keep the matter within her closest circle of people. She reiterated that she had to move on and asserted that she wasn’t going to speak any more about it.
She did admit a little later that the break-up had come as a shock and that she was dealing with it one hour at a time. Her agent and a few people around her had advised Wozniacki to take a break, but she made the decision to come to Paris and find sanity in her vocation. It was an impressive performance from a young lady under the circumstances.
Then there was Marinko Matosevic. The Aussie rolled on the court in joy as if he were a delirious child on his first outing to the Bondi beach. In dirtying himself, he was expressing his joy at finally winning a Grand Slam match, his first in 13 tries.
But later on, speaking to the media, you could also sense there was a deep sense of relief. As if the one victory was sufficient for him, a fully grown 28-year-old, to answer the many questions that layered his mind. Matosevic is nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’; he is known to be a livewire around the locker room despite being eaten up by his steady stream of Grand Slam losses.
“Yeah, we have a lot of fun in the locker room with all the boys,” he said. “But losing is never fun. I mean it’s tough when you’re on 13. I got to 39 in the world, so I thought, I’ve got to do it, I’m better than this.” Now he has proof of that, at least little shards of it.
Andy Murray, Matosevic’s next opponent, thinks kindly of Matosevic. The Scot spoke about him fondly in the presser, even as he refused to divulge the details of the sordid things Matosevic does to regale his fellow professionals.
Murray is coming back from a surgery and since ending his relationship with Ivan Lendl is traveling without a coach. Fabrice Santoro, who wields the megaphone for post-match quotations, used the opportunity to slip his card to Murray after the first round match.
Murray was all smiles, even kissing the card before sliding it into his pocket. He assured Santoro that the card would be used at an appropriate time. The young man has a middling voice and a dry sense of humour.
He was asked what he thought about the chances of Dominic Thiem against Rafael Nadal. Murray thought for a brief moment, indicating how highly he thinks of Thiem’s ball-striking ability. He paused a little, before concluding by saying that he would bet on Nadal. The manner of his delivery had the room in splits. Only a hint of it crossed the pursed lips of Murray.