Chris Fowler Once/Chris Fowler Twice…
Wow. Didn’t realize it had been so long since two elements informed and enlightened each other on the same day in just the right way! And, since it happened during Wimbledon, it pretty much had to be related to tennis.
I usually think I’m jaded enough to not be surprised by much, especially when it comes to sports “journalism” and most especially when it comes to commentary on tennis, the one major sport where men and women compete for public attention on a more or less equal basis and, therefore, the one major sport where even the sport’s nominal sponsors (who might have something to gain by promoting it unabashedly), are dedicated to the relentless protection of male privilege.
Heck, they’ll stick with it even if it costs money–which, in this case, it does and which they know it does.
I know how this works. We all know how this works–right down to the routine denials by all parties involved of there ever having been even a thought of doing any such thing!
And–sad but true–I’m no longer young.
So I’m used to letting it roll off my back. Life’s too short.
If, say, Tony Kornhiser, co-host of a show called Pardon the Interruption (and life-long card carrying member of the Dead Brain Cell Count Brigade, Sports Division), spends a week mocking his partner Michael Wilbon’s tickets to the Ladies’ Semifinal at Wimbledon as being “worthless” because Serena Williams was knocked out of the draw on Monday, I hardly bat an eye. That Wilbon, if indeed he decided to use those tickets, would end up seeing the match of the tournament to that point (contested–on a knife edge throughout–between Sabine Lisicki, the enormously gifted young woman who beat Serena by outplaying her at her own game and very well might be a breakout star, and Agnieska Radwanska, the tennis player’s tennis player) was as predictable as sticking your hand in a bucket of water and having it come out wet.
As I say, I’m used to all that.
But there was a kind of twist on the theme during the 4th of July Wimbledon coverage.
The Lisicki/Radwandska match was covered by Chris Fowler doing play-by-play. (Chris Evert provided color commentary but really isn’t germane to this.)
I noticed throughout that Fowler–high-level DBCCB material himself–was remarkably subdued, almost as if he had started working for the BBC or something. (With them, understatement is a style. It’s a style no one has ever heard of at ESPN.)
Not only was the match filled with the highest tension imaginable (three-set matches generate such from the get-go, whereas even the closest high-stakes five-setters contested by the men usually don’t start raising anxiety levels unless and until there’s a fourth set between the small handful of actual contenders), it featured a bundle of the very sort of indelible, athletic shot-making under pressure that normally tends to make Fowler’s voice rise two octaves.
For Thursday’s match, he sounded like he was in church, wondering if he should nudge the deacon sleeping next to him in the pew, or just let him go ahead and sleep through the sermon.
“Gee, what happened to Fowler?” I wondered as the match came to an end (Lisicki winning 9-7 in the final set–that’s several extra innings of a World Series game, with everything on the line and no teammates to help you, for those of you who don’t follow tennis.)
I mean, I thought maybe MI6 had got to him. Possibly even turned him against us? Maybe promised him British citizenship if he proved he could keep his heart rate level throughout?
I started thinking, yeah that must be it.
We’re finally gonna get rid of Chris Fowler! This time next year, he’ll be doing soccer matches for Man U! Tennis and College Football will be free at last!
Then, just as I was breaking out the wine and cheese and preparing to celebrate, ESPN started running a partial replay of the men’s match from the day before between Brit Andy Murray (one of the men’s “Big Four” who have been dividing up the tennis slams between them for about three hundred Klingon years**) and persistent underachiever Fernando Verdasco.
And there was my man Fowler, in all his glory, calling Murray’s comeback from two sets down–an event that was surprising in the way that Russian Roulette ending badly when it is played without an empty chamber is surprising–and the comforting signs of hero-worship, heart-throbbery and man-crushery and all those other, more or less unmentionable, things that keep America strong were fully present and accounted for. The hyperbole! The two-octave rise! The persistent encomiums to how magnificent and “amazing” it all was!
So I had to put the wine and cheese back in the cupboard and accept that, alas, he is still one of us and that his palpable lack of enthusiasm for the genuinely exciting match that happened to be played by women a day later was just the same tired old double-your-standard-double-your-fun narrative being served up in a new bottle.
Almost got me there Chris. Well done!
And please do hold your breath waiting for it to happen again…
NOTE: Below is the best highlight package I could find on the net from the Lisicki/Radwanska match. Not ideal, perhaps (it leaves out many of the best points) but gives at least some feel for the match. The announcer who appears in audio snippets throughout seems to know a bit about building drama and calling a tennis match. In any case he has a great voice. There’s an ESPN logo in the corner, but, rest assured, this is not Chris Fowler.
And since, in one of those unlucky coincidences, those highlights begin directly after the point of the match, well, here’s the point of the match:
(**If there is no such thing as “Klingon years” please refrain from enlightening me. My present state of uncertainty is all the bliss I either deserve or require.)