Monday, January 30, 2012

Sports and TiVo

Some people complain that sports aren't real-- that people get all worked up about something that has no actual affect on their lives.

Bad actor, but you get the point

But I think that sports are real in one important sense: in terms of entertainment, they are the only real true drama. If you watch a movie or TV show or play, you know that it's scripted. There's a protagonist who you know to root for and if there's not necessarily a happy ending, there's at least some redemption.

With sports, that's not the case. You truly don't know who's going to win, so you don't know whether there will be a happy ending, or redemption, or what. You cheer for someone, but they might not actually be the protagonist. You just don't know what will happen. So it's the only "true" drama we have.

This is why it's so important for people to NOT know the outcome of a game, match, race, or wiggly scrum (or whatever they call them in cricket) before they watch a sporting event. The excitement of the event is in the fact that the result is a mystery.


This point was made clear to me last week when I tried to TiVo the semifinals of the Australian Open. The live matches were aired at 2:30 in the morning local time, and because of stupid sleep and work, I was not able to watch them live. So I recorded them on my TiVo, hoping to watch them 16 hours later after work.
I tried to find an image of TiVo holding a tennis racket, but no luck. Use your imagination

The first semifinal, on Thursday morning, featured a matchup for the ages: Federer vs. Nadal in another chapter in the fierce rivalry between two of the Best Players Ever. I was very excited about this match. I was also worried that somehow I would find out the results of the match before I got home from work, either from the radio, interwebs, or co-workers. Generally, people don't talk about tennis around the water cooler like they do other sports, so I felt relatively safe. On the other hand, this is Federer vs. Nadal, the rivalry of a generation. People might talk about that.

There are LOTS of online images of "Federer vs. Nadal." I could have picked them screaming, looking fierce, playing hard, or posing in front of trophies together. I decided to go with the post-match hug instead.

In my paranoia Thursday morning, I checked my TiVo to make sure it had recorded the match, and to check some settings. (They usually replay the match later in the day, and in the event that TiVo turned off before the live match was over, I wanted to make sure it would record the second showing.) As I did that, I accidentally clicked on live TV. It showed one of the players smiling and signing the camera, something they only do when they win.


Fuckity fuck fuck fuck!!!!

In my worry that I would find out the results too early, I had sabotaged myself. I hadn't even left for work yet, and now I knew who won.

This is a first world problem, I know, but it was supremely frustrating.

I came home later and watched the match, and it was a good match with amazing points, but still, in the back of my mind I was bothered by the fact that I knew how it was going to end. There was no real drama.


Friday morning the exact same scenario would repeat itself. The next semifinal, between Djokovic and Murray, would be played at 2:30 am. I TiVoed it, and this time I didn't sabotage myself. Because of a hectic work and social schedule, Friday night was the only night all week I had off, so I planned to come home, eat dinner, and plant myself on the couch for exciting tennis action.

The plan was going great until late in the afternoon, when I received an email from the USTA (U.S. Tennis Association.) All I read was the subject line, but it was enough to send me into a fury: "Nole vs. Rafa! Exclusive Aussie Open Finals digital preview!"


I googled "Djokovic" and the auto-fill function offered, among others, "shirtless." Why not continue with the homoerotic theme started with the hugging men above?

"Nole" is the nickname for Novak Djokovic, one of the semifinalists. This email was telling me that he had won his semifinal against Andy Murray, and would be playing Rafa Nadal in the finals. I don't even know what the USTA was advertising, and I didn't care. I never signed up for ANY email alerts from them, so I don't know why they sent me this message. I even went to my notification settings on my USTA account, and none of the "email alerts" was checked. So why the hell are they sending me solicitation emails I never asked for that reveal the winner of the match I'd TiVoed and planned to watch later?

I sent a nasty email to member services to complain, and received this quick reply: "I apologize for the inconvenience. Your request has been forwarded on to the appropriate department." Since then I've received no response whatsoever.

So, am I being unreasonable here? In this age of instant information, is it unrealistic to expect to wait 16 hours to watch a sporting event? Or is the USTA justified in sending me some promotional email advertising an event (the Finals) that was to take place in less than two days? In this age of TiVo and DVR, what's a reasonable time to wait and expect that people have already seen the match?

I don't know the answers. It's not that I couldn't enjoy the matches once I knew who would win, it just wasn't as exciting. Maybe I'm fighting a losing battle, and if I really want to enjoy a sporting event, I have to watch it live.


Speaking of tennis, I've been frustrated for a different reason lately. I'm in one of the worst slumps of my tennis career. Since last September, I've gone 2-15 in league play. And most of those 15 losses have been blowouts. I struggle to win 2 or 3 games in a set.

My latest match was a 2-6, 1-6 loss to a friendly rival. We used to have these epic long three-set matches with lots of exciting points, games, and sets. At the end we'd both be exhausted but happy for the workout and competition. I miss those epic matches.

I used to be the guy who, even if I lost, made you work for it. I'd push people to their limit. Now I'm the guy who just loses with little effort or struggle. I lose by scores like 0-6, 2-6 or 3-6, 1-6.

Granted, I've been playing in the highest league, the Gold, where the competition is a lot tougher. But still, I'm playing people I've played before and losing a lot worse. Am I playing worse or are they playing better? I don't know. I don't know how to get out of this slump. I can't explain it, and for me, not knowing what's causing a problem, much less how to solve it, drives me nuts.

I know this is a first world problem. There are a lot of things in my life that are going great. But I miss tennis. I miss being competitive.

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