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Sorry Doctor, In Melbourne I’m backing the Antelope…


Locker Room

January 16, 2014

Focus at the Australian Open has turned once more to the searing heat, which remains in the blistering early forties during the fiercest part of the Melbourne day.  Croatia’s Ivan Dodig complained he could have died before retiring from his match, Jamie Murray suffered heatstroke while battling through the doubles, and play had to be suspended for more than four hours on Thursday.  Many of the players have expressed unease about the danger attached to performing in these sweltering conditions.

In the midst of all this, Dr Tim Wood, chief medical officer at the tournament, seemed to wonder what all the fuss was about.

‘We evolved on the high plains of Africa chasing antelope for eight hours under these conditions,’ he said by way of reassuring explanation.

According to Dr Wood, we chased our prey until it collapsed and fed gleefully before doing it all again a few days later. So we should be able to handle a spot of tennis in Australia.

Well that’s OK then. Except for one or two flaws in this argument. First of all, can Dr Wood guarantee that some of us didn’t collapse and die before the antelope did, all those years ago, in that long-distance race under the burning African sun? Surely he wasn’t actually there? I think we should be told. And if he wasn’t, how can his results service be so definitive?  Also, does Dr Wood realise that many of us have moved away from the high plains of Africa since then? Does he know that our bodies and skins  have changed in many cases, and sadly we have lost a little tolerance to extreme heat over the last hundred thousand years or so.

Incidentally, were the females of our primitive species expected to do that hunting too, back in the day? Does his analogy apply to them too?

It is also tempting to conclude that there was a little more fresh air about on the high plains of Africa, because there wasn’t a stadium full of fanatical fans watching the “sport” back then and sucking up precious oxygen in the cauldron.  But let’s take Dr Wood’s explanation at face value and indulge him. Let’s transport our tennis players back thousands of years and throw them straight into that scorching sun. Tell them to go chase antelope. Are you there in your mind’s eye?

Maria Sharapova, judging by her marathon three-setter the other night, leaves many of the women and men behind her, and stays with the leading hunters for the first few hours.

Many are still going strong after five hours, but in the fifth and sixth they nearly all fall away exhausted and near the point of death.

In the seventh hour, even Andy Murray has to give up – his back is giving him too much grief again and all that warm-weather training in Miami is to no avail when it matters. He really should have stayed on the high African plains if he wanted to be truly fit.

Finally, it is all down to the two strongest hunters – Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The antelope are almost worried by the resilience of these stubborn pursuers. So they quicken their pace, jump a little to show they are still sprightly, and stay marginally ahead. It is all in the balance for a while – at least the antelope teasingly allow the tennis players to think so.  But even Rafa and Novak can’t live through the eighth hour, and they too eventually surrender to the cruel sun.

The antelope? Bored with the one-sided nature of the pursuit, they turn back on themselves, find racquets in the bags of the deceased Nadal and Djokovic, and invent “antelope tennis” – a sport which survives on the high African plains to this very day.  You don’t get to see the Antelope Open, of course, because no one has ever got close enough to see them play.  Perfect nonsense, admittedly. But then again Dr Tim Wood doesn’t seem entirely averse to an amusing piece of nonsense when it takes his fancy, does he?

So what are we to conclude from all this? Sorry Dr Wood, but if it is a straight race between the modern-day tennis player and the African antelope, I’m backing the antelope…

…And by the way, if you want to buy tickets for Grand Slam tennis played out under a slightly less oppressive sun, do please feel free to go to the following link http://www.wimbledondebentureholders.com/ and find superb seats for Wimbledon 2014.   There is grass at the All England Club. But not a sign of antelope grazing anywhere.

Mark Ryan

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