The unpredictable nature of sport makes for a richer experience, even if you end up losing your bet.
The biggest certainty in the world of sport in recent times was the fact that Tiger Woods and his wife were going to divorce. What other option did Elin Nordegren really have? So the second part of the career of Tiger Woods will begin as of now. Will he prove to be a better player than the one who accumulated 14 majors, or will he fade into a relative wilderness where he knows he is now vulnerable? Woods’ aura of invincibility has been cracked wide open. He has bared his soul to the voyeuristic world in which we all live and, to an extent in sport, participate. The uncertainty with which the world number one now plays makes him an even bigger subject for our scrutinising.
It is the glorious uncertainty of sport which gives us all a voyeuristic edge, even though it can sometimes hurt and we feel it can be too personal. Look at what is happening in the world of men’s professional tennis. Roger Federer has lost his aura of invincibility to the point that where once we grimaced at his pain and anguish on court, we now accept that he is not the immortal tennis player he was built up to be in so many pundits’ eyes.
Even though Federer won the Australian Open in January to bag his record 16th Grand Slam, the great Swiss master has endured one of his worst seasons. He lost three ATP Finals and was due to lose another until he beat the America’s Mardy Fish in Cincinnati, which was the perfect warm-up for the US Open in New York.
But would you bet on Federer to win? Or would you give Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, two players who enjoy beating the Swiss swooner, better odds of toppling him again in New York? You simply wouldn’t back Federer to make it a sixth New York crown because the mist of uncertainty pervades his game at virtually every tournament.
In men’s golf, Phil Mickelson won the 2010 Masters in April when all the crowds wanted to see the re-emergence of Woods from the shadows of his personal life. Since then, we have had three first-time winners of golf’s majors — Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell at the US Open, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen at The British Open and Germany’s Martin Kaymer at US PGA Championship — making it six first-time winners in the past seven majors. In years gone by, you would have nominated the likes of Woods, Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Greg Norman as those who were most likely to win the season’s majors. Before that it was Faldo, Ballesteros, Langer, Olazabal, Woosnam, and of course, Nicklaus, Watson, Palmer and Player.
Times are changing. There would seem to be so fewer certainties in so many sports and it makes for better viewing, even though it hurts when it is your team that has lost, or your favourite batsman who has failed again. The Indian cricket team became the world’s number one Test team in the world rankings and then immediately lost its next Test match against Sri Lanka. Pakistan, a shadow of their former self, pull of a tremendous victory against England, a team that has been talking up its chances of beating Australia in the Ashes in December There was a time when you could comfortably say that Australia would win a Test series, Shane Warne would take wickets, Sachin Tendulkar would score a hundred or when Muttiah Muralitharan would torment the best players in the world, but that vote of certainty we could so easily make on players or teams has been reduced to nothing more than a whim.
Seeing the big boys take a tumble and witnessing their pain in defeat makes sport all the better for us as spectators. It is that glorious uncertainty which makes for a richer experience, even if you did lose your bet.
Alan Wilkins is a TV broadcaster for ESPN Star Sports. Inside Edge appears every alternate week