Some of my sports favorites are completely irrational. Random, capricious, accidents or byproducts of other choices or preferences. When I started watching football, I picked the Green Bay Packers as my favorite team (this was early in the Holmgren/Favre years). There was no football in my adopted home town, but we’ve since gotten a team (again). Yet I remain a Pack fan.
On the other hand, I am a baseball fan based entirely on geography — my team is the local team, even though it has stunk up the American League for years, even though a National League team with a better record is within reasonable driving distance. I learned to love baseball while walking down to the ball park and watching practice/warm up, and I can’t disconnect the team from that nostalgia and experience, so I’m stuck with a cellar-dwelling team as a favorite, even though I have other options.
The second week of the Australian Open, known as the happy slam, is upon us. Today the first of the quarterfinal matches are being played. Azarenka is through, with her weird howling grunt, and Clijsters will be taking the court soon against Caroline Wozniacki. Then it’ll be Federer-Del Potro and Nadal-Berdych. I’ve been a little bit of a zombie this past week, falling asleep on the couch while watching tennis until the wee hours of the morning, listening to AO Radio on the way to work when the night matches have run long.
Watching Bernard Tomic play Fernando Verdasco in the first round, I wondered about what it is that makes a fan pick a particular player in this arena — while nationalism might play in, tennis is very much an international sport and the American players are aging out rather ungracefully without great alternatives among the up and coming players. My own preference for the Spanish Armada is easily explained, given my Iberophilia generally. But aside from that, why do I like (or dislike) any particular player on the ATP or WTA tour? Why or how does any fan “pick” the player they’ll root for?
I can admit that Federer is easily the most graceful player on tour, a player who makes tennis look effortless and beautiful. And yet I don’t ever feel excited to watch him play, not the way I anticipate watching Ferrer’s tenacity or Djokovic’s Gumby-like extension or Stosur’s serve.
Eh, I don’t know. I don’t guess it really matters.