Ten from 2010: Three and four

3) There’s a passage in Candida Crewe’s 1998 novel The Last To Know, about an Oxford GP who abandons his job, wife and family and disappears for no apparent reason, in which February is described as “the month of few solutions”. May is this year’s February, forcing us to wait for answers.

At one stage, it looks as if Neil Robertson’s match against Graeme Dott will be the first World Snooker Championship final to be played under two different governments. It isn’t, but that will be due more to the indecisiveness of the electorate than any electrifying snooker.

If any place can make snooker come alive, it’s Sheffield during world championship fortnight. the tournament takes over the city. Ten years ago, during a work experience placement at the Sheffield Star, I wandered out into the city centre one lunchtime and almost walked smack into Willie Thorne. My day could only have been made more exciting if Dougie Donnelly had been with him.

(I was young and impressionable at that time. These days, I can encounter Audrey Roberts from Coronation Street in the central Manchester branch of Sainsbury’s almost without batting an eyelid.)

But Sheffield, for me, is a city of few solutions. About 18 months after that work experience placement, towards the end of 2001, I went for a job interview at the Sheffield Star. They wanted a news reporter for the Doncaster office. I don’t think I interviewed that well, but the editor told me he would let me know by the end of the week.

About a month later, I got a letter from the paper. They were still deciding between candidates, it read, but they would definitely let me know one way or another as soon as they had made their choice. Nearly nine years later, I’m still waiting to hear from them. In their defence, I have moved house twice since then.

Snooker needs cheering up as this year’s final gets under way. John Higgins has just been accused of match-fixing after being caught by a News of the World sting, and although an independent tribunal will later find him guilty only of giving the impression that he would breach betting rules and of failing to report the newspaper’s approach to him, none of it does snooker’s reputation any good.

Robertson v Dott is awful. It lasts 31 frames over two days, but seems to go on forever. In frame 20, Robertson takes four-and-a-half minutes to consider one shot. Four-and-a-half minutes! I’ve seen episodes of Location, Location, Location where Kirstie and Phil won’t give you that long to choose a house.

The match finishes so late that even student nightclubbers are willing them to get a move on so they can get to bed. But it won’t break any records for being the longest snooker final, because matches were shortened considerably during the 1970s and 80s to suit the demands of television.

In the early 70s, the World Snooker Championship final was the best of 73 frames, stretched out over a week, like a court case or a family Christmas. Then Alex Higgins came along, and the sport was never quite the same again. When Higgins dies in July, he is mourned far beyond the world of snooker.

In this year’s final, an Australian is smiling as a Scotsman is defeated. Robertson beats Dott 18-13, without making a single century break. Over the coming days, another Scotsman is eventually forced to admit defeat, as Sheffield Hallam’s MP becomes, briefly, the country’s most important politician.

Eventually, 306 Conservative MPs form an alliance with 57 Liberal Democrats. A surprisingly large portion of the population expects it will be the Conservatives who have to compromise. An Australian goes to tea with David Cameron.

4) A never-ending sporting event can be gripping, though, as John Isner of the US and France’s Nicolas Mahut prove at Wimbledon in June. The first-round men’s singles match takes three days to complete and yet, for most of that time, could end at any moment. It has the feel of an eternal penalty shoot-out.

The match breaks just about every tennis record going. At 47-47 in the final set, the scoreboard breaks down. The explanation offered by IBM pretty much boils down to: “What sort of tennis match goes on that long, anyway?”

As the match enters day three, there is talk of it being moved from Court 18 to Centre Court so that it may be completed in front of the Queen, making her first visit to Wimbledon since 1977. Quite why Her Majesty can’t drag herself over to 18 to mix with her subjects isn’t properly explained. Perhaps that’s where all the terrorists are.

Meanwhile, spoilsports suggest Wimbledon’s organisers may wish to consider introducing a fifth-set tie-breaker in future, as if this kind of stuff happens every week.

Mahut, forced to serve to serve to stay in the match 65 times during that final set, blinks first. John McEnroe suggests afterwards that the physical exertions could take six months off both players’ careers. Isner is happy to pose by the functioning electronic scoreboard afterwards, Mahut plainly less so, and exits as soon as he politely can. In the next round, Isner is defeated easily.

Meanwhile, the wait for a British champion continues.


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