When I checked in the morning, I found that Badosa had won. Ba. Do. Sa. The names provided one reason to stay tuned to this minor match in the French Open. This girl from Italy, the other from Romania. Bogdan. Bog. Dan.
They belie the clunkiness of their names. Both are lean, athletic, high-cheekboned. Muscular, even, with toned biceps that put to shame my own amorphous arms. Why did I watch the match almost all the way through? Perhaps because, as I near the end of my first career, I empathise ever more with the honest trier. Neither has the game to win a Grand Slam. They will earn some money on the journeyman’s circuit, grinding it out, occasionally hitting a great shot or playing a great point, doing 15 min sets of shuttle runs every morning until their knees ache and their lungs burn. They will never see greatness. After a few years, they will retire from the circuit and look for other lives. The most obvious option would be tennis coaching, or at least something to do with sports and fitness. They could even try modelling. But who knows? Bogdan might be learning to play the cello. Badosa may have a degree in films and communication. Their lives are not limited to the red clay arena. Or perhaps they are. Who knows?
The match went against form for a while. Badosa is ranked 34 to Bogdan’s 102 (best – 59), she has reached the 4th round at Roland Garros where Bogdan’s best is the second round, she has earned twice as much money this year. And she is 5 years younger than her opponent, who is 30. She also has one more singles title than Bogdan. Who has none. Badosa obviously has the better game. More power, accuracy. Better shot selection, too.
But all that forsook her in the first set, where Bogdan played percentage tennis, with a more solid backhand. In fact her backhand is her stronger side. Not one of her forehands had explosive power or line-searing accuracy. A couple of Badosa’s shots showed class, but she made too many unforced errors. She went down 6-2.
The second set see-sawed, went to a tie-break. The cameras zoomed in on the women. Bogdan, all cheekbones and eyelashes, was impassive. Only her bright grey eyes showed some emotion, and once she shouted at herself. Badosa provided more drama. Chic black wrap-around skirt occasionally flapping in the wind, the slim steel danglers in her ears shimmering when she tilted her head, eyes determinedly averted from her opponent when they sat court-side between games. She muttered, grimaced, raised her arms skywards. And clawed back into the match, taking the tie-break 7-4. One set all.
The third set was off-piste. They held serve, then broke each other again and again. Each time Bogdan took advantage of Badosa’s erraticism and ground her way to a game point on her own serve, the Italian (born in the USA, she was born in the USA) produced a good point, sometimes a great shot, and muscled back into the set. But again, Bogdan ground close enough to seal some of the break points. Somewhere inside, I was rooting for Bogdan because she is older, she has less time left, she is the lower-ranked underdog. But I could see the writing on the wall. Bogdan was tiring. She didn’t run around her backhand to finish off loose returns. Was she unsure of her forehand? She did not go for the kill even when a flank was wide open. Still playing the percentages, but they were no longer in her favour. Because Badosa was back in her zone. Hitting deep, hard, wide. A couple of times she left Bogdan standing.
It showed in the way she walked back to her chair. Lithe, confident, almost feral. Like a cheetah on the stalk, knowing that it will take just a last burst of speed to take the prey. And it happened. Bogdan, subtly tired and just a little unsure after the break-backs, tried too many drop-shots. Too slow. Too high. All in the backhand net corner. Badosa ran them down, killed them. Then Bogdan put a couple into the net herself. After 4 all, after 2 breaks apiece, after 4 deuces, Badosa held serve. And stalked to her deuce court to receive.
I knew what was coming. I switched off the TV. The match vanished. The players faded.
I could not bear to see either of them lose. I am too invested in the pain of the journeyman.