x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Also-rans are never among the who's who

Chuck Culpepper asks if you can imagine the time and toil it takes just to reach a big-time final? Can you imagine the amount of fun and frivolity one must sacrifice in favour of the thankless, heartless, mirthless gruel?

Fans never let the Minnesota Vikings forget their four Super Bowl losses in four appearances, ignoring the franchise's overall winning record and what it took to reach four Super Bowls.
Fans never let the Minnesota Vikings forget their four Super Bowl losses in four appearances, ignoring the franchise's overall winning record and what it took to reach four Super Bowls.

"It's a tough world, tough all over."

My grandfather

And you find its toughness sometimes in the margins, in areas that seem trivial, in areas such as in the world's treatment of beaten finalists.

That treatment often lies somewhere between indifference and disdain, as if the beaten finalist has accomplished nothing.

People are strange, Part Infinity.

The thinking goes on Sunday that if - and let's repeat, "if" - Spain beat Italy for the Euro 2012 championship, it will become the greatest team ever in those kinds of cross-era discussions that keep us all from dying of boredom.

Actually, you can make a sturdy case that Spain already settled that discussion by reaching another final, but anyone making that case should prepare for a shouting-down, maybe even with capital letters in comment sections. Inherent in that shouting-down is the world's bizarre disregard of the painstaking difficulty of reaching finals.

There's even a nation out there that has won a World Cup yet which still has not reached a World Cup final in 46 years or a Euro final ever. I'll omit the name here so as not to pile upon that nation, and because the path to any final teems with predators.

Really, can you imagine the time and toil it takes just to reach a big-time final?

Can you imagine the amount of fun and frivolity one must sacrifice in favour of the thankless, heartless, mirthless gruel?

Every so often, it's time to sing the ballad of Cedric Pioline and Miloslav Mecir.

Pioline turned up - with racquets! - at two grand slam finals, but only sick people know this by heart. (I didn't have to look it up.) At both the US Open 1993 and Wimbledon 1997, witnesses got to see Pete Sampras and Some Other Guy. The aggregate set total proved to be six. (I did have to look up that, just in case.)

Mecir brought his lovely game to two grand slam finals, the US Open 1986 and the Australian Open 1989. He played Ivan Lendl. He lost. He played Ivan Lendl. He lost.

These hugely talented guys went into the dustbin of finalist-hood, a global shrug at what they had to do to get there.

In his two trips to the last Sunday, Pioline knocked off the world No 1 Jim Courier on Courier's home soil, a soon-to-be US Open finalist Greg Rusedski at Wimbledon, and a Wimbledon champion (Michael Stich) in a five-set semi-final.

Mecir had to beat the No 2 Mats Wilander, the No 3 Boris Becker and the No 7 Joakim Nystrom the first time, and well, OK, the second time, the draw proved less starry.

David Nalbandian once reached a slam final - Wimbledon 2002 - but to get really famous he had to kick a signboard on to a line judge.

Tennis has almost forgotten the beaten finalist in this grand phase of Federer-Nadal-Djokovic finals, but we all should note now and then that Tomas Berdych reached the 2010 Wimbledon final by beating both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, and that Robin Soderling reached consecutive French Open finals in part by beating both Rafael Nadal and Federer, and that these things are not easy, and that beating Nadal in Paris was believed to be humanly impossible.

Instead, beaten finalists fade in a species either incapable of remembering - or unwilling to remember - them.

To stay in public memory, they need to be graphic somehow.

The Minnesota Vikings, who have never won a Super Bowl, lost four Super Bowls in eight years until people branded them losers and wished them out of Super Bowls.

How many losers win more than 75 per cent of the time across eight seasons? The Buffalo Bills, who have never won a Super Bowl, lost four Super Bowls in a row, beginning in 1991, those losses magnified until they became bigger "losers" than had they lost shy of any of the four.

The Utah Jazz, who have never won an NBA title, lost two straight finals as a graphic and formidable backdrop to the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan, who beat them in 1998 with a shot after which he committed an offensive foul, which went un-called on the American ethic that stars don't get enough coddling and deserve more. And, unforgettably, Federer technically lost a 2008 Wimbledon final that nobody lost.

Spain has reached three straight finals of the world's two biggest tournaments and won twice already.

France almost did the same (1996-2000), but won a World Cup at home. West Germany did do the same (1972-76), but won a World Cup at home.

It's hard to win a World Cup at home. It's harder to win a Euro and a World Cup and then reach another Euro final, all somewhere else, largely because it's bloody hard to reach a final.

ccuplepper@thenational.ae

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