Veturi Srivatsa on how social media makes light of serious sport
These days one need not wait for an event like the Olympics to end to take an overall view, reactions are instant and tweeted in a torrent within seconds of a contest ending. Surprisingly, even those who have played sport at the highest level seem to forget their own dismal showing in their time and castigate the athletes for not coming up to their expectations in Rio.
These same experts, who have aroused irrational expectations about the potential of these athletes in the run-up to the Games, are now taking a 180-degree turn to attack them. The positive reports ahead of the Games were just to pep them up, nothing more, it appears.
The classic example is the reaction to the defeat of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna in the first round of the tennis competition on the opening day of the Rio Olympics. Within minutes of their losing, social media was abuzz with some colourful expressions.
Some sympathised with the two “unlikely partners” but most berated them for their indifferent showing.
Paes’s legendary partner Mahesh Bhupathi just said “so frustrating” and it was indeed so watching the two lose.
One twitterati saw the pairing as not an arranged marriage, but a forced one coming apart with disastrous consequences. Another said the two Indians were not playing against Polish partners Maricin Matkowski and Lukasz Kubot — they were actually fighting each other! That’s what happens when a pair which is not ready to share a room is forced to share a court, quipped yet another. The two are seen as two individuals on court, not a pair.
The cheekiest one was that the two were in the wrong sport, they should have entered boxing or wrestling competition, and the more sensible felt disappointed or saw it as a mere setback.
The fact remains that the two top-ranked Indians were paired and considering their experience it was perhaps the right choice. What is the guarantee that Bopanna and his preferred choice Saketh Myneni would have got a medal except that the youngster would have had the benefit of big stage experience just as Vishnu Vardhan had in London playing alongside Paes.
The reactions seem like Matkowsi and Kubot have come to make sure the Indians won the match and the Poles actually did not deserve to win. What if Paes and Bopanna had clinched the set point in the second and taken the fight into the third set.
Waiting for someone to say that one of them deliberately sabotaged the other’s chance of winning a medal or both committed hara-kiri just as there were murmurs about Paes and Bhupathi allegedly conspiring against each other to lose an epic bronze medal match at the 2004 Athens Games.
Conspiracy theories will always be there when two self-respecting athletes do not see eye to eye on certain issues. After the Athens match, Leander thought that God willed it and Bhupathi said they had played many great matches but they had never fought like they did against Croats Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic for close to four hours.
It is difficult to believe petty considerations like sharing a room or not practising together can be major factors for the defeat. Come to think of it, only a couple of weeks ago the two played in the Davis Cup tie against Korea and the same critics said chemistry or no chemistry the two looked good on court — of course, on their favourite grass.
No one gave Paes and Bopanna a chance of winning a medal and in doubles every player knows about the other. Both the Polish players were Paes’ partners on the circuit, Matkowski his 97th in 2014 and Kubot the 105th last year.
On their day any pair can beat any other.
There was a time when the Woodies — Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge — could not be touched and in the last decade or so the US twins — Robert Charles “Bob” Bryan and Michael Carl “Mike” Bryan — had a stranglehold.
However, in the last couple of years, the men’s doubles has been thrown wide open.
That’s why sport is full of imponderables, making it exciting.