Mark Keohane, writing for IOL Sport
Every so often it happens that a sporting week doesn’t quite go as planned.
For the past 30 years I have been privileged to write about sport as a profession. My mentor and former Cape Times and Cape Argus sports editor Archie Henderson used to tell me that it wasn’t a real job but that it was the greatest gig in the world.
‘Think about it,’ he told me in my first few weeks working at Independent Media in the early 1990s. ‘Your biggest challenge this morning is to tell Manchester United fans how their team lost last night and tell Liverpool fans that their team won … a real job is going down a mine shaft when it is dark and by the time you come up it is dark again.’
Another ‘Archieism’ was that you are a ‘reporter and not a supporter’.
Privately, he would whisper that it didn’t mean you couldn’t be a supporter. Hell, no, you had to be a supporter, you had to have a team, a player or something. Someone had to win, otherwise what was the point of playing?
The supporter must live on in every sports reporter, he said, but the supporter must know when to scream and shout and the reporter must know when to detach from the emotion, observe and accurately report.
This week I found myself more of a supporter than a reporter.
I screamed and shouted for Rafa Nadal to win an epic quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas. I’ve always been from the Roger Federer side of the court, but over the past 20 years I’ve grown to admire and be inspired by Nadal the player and Nadal the person.
Both he and Roger have won 20 Grand Slam titles, but in Roger’s injury-enforced absence I was rooting for Rafa to get to 21 because if ever Roger needed motivation to climb tennis’s Everest again, Rafa having 21 would do it.
Rafa lost in five titanic sets, having been two sets to nil up.
It was so unlike Rafa to blow a two-set lead but it was so like Rafa to applaud the victor, to give credit to the quality of his opponent and to declare that the better player on the night triumphed.
Rafa is a class act and his tennis makes for compelling viewing. The supporter in me wanted the fairytale; the reporter appreciated the magnificence of Tsitsipas’s comeback.
Watching the match and getting to comment on it professionally reminded me of Archie’s disdain for any sports reporter who thought he or she had it tough.
‘It isn’t a real job, but it is the best gig.’
My sporting week, which also means (largely) my working week, meant the supporter was at odds with the reporter when it came to Serena Williams’s semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka. Williams, another of my favourites, turns 40 this year. She became a mother not long ago and here she was in the top four of another Grand Slam for the 40th time of her career in pursuit of a 24th Grand Slam title.
I screamed and shouted but to no avail. There was no fairytale and the reporter in me acknowledged Osaka was simply too good.
Equally, there was no fairytale for Lionel Messi and Barcelona against Paris St Germain. At least not this week.
Pep’s Manchester City rolled on, Mamelodi Sundowns cruised and Chiefs continued to struggle.
Siya Kolisi said hello to Durban and goodbye to Cape Town. Once again, there was conflict within when it came to the reporter and the supporter, as there was when Chris Morris’s T20 pedigree earned him a whopping R30-plus million.
The supporter in me this week felt the pain of my people losing but the reporter in me knows only too well that writing sport for a profession means I never get to lose and, to quote Archie, I get to see the sunshine every day.