Analysis of a reporter’s commentary
With regard to football, I have already told you a few things that strike me about the commentaries. The reporting is generally negative. The reasons for this: 1) Football is such a gigantic sport that in principle you can’t break it. It will continue to live, even if people talk badly about it. 2) A commentator must be careful with praise. With so many (often self-proclaimed) experts, praise could indicate “amateur status”. The true expert reveals himself by always knowing how one could/should/must do it better, if not right.
In the case of tennis, I have so far been of the same opinion that the comments are not good in principle. But that was rather unremarkable. Many of the commentators were recognisably distinguished by their expertise, even for me. So compared to football, it was a relief to listen to tennis reporting. Even if the tennis reporting was still very poor.
The reporters, however, have obviously adopted a jargon that one has to make use of on all occasions and in all sports. Basic rule number one: “Since I know the score, I can say anything that doesn’t contradict the score.” So it is thereby ruled out that a loser, football or tennis, “played well”. Why? It’s simple, I know it myself from playing football in the dressing room. When I said that we had played well today despite the defeat, I immediately heard: “If we had played well, we would have won.
As nonsensical as that is (there are different levels of performance, aren’t there? Not everyone who loses a golf match against Tiger Woods also played badly, right?), it is a standard phrase that is simply drilled into us. Playing well and losing are mutually exclusive. But above all, the reporter knows what causes someone to lose. That’s rule number 2, and they usually go overboard with ridiculous analyses, all of which are untrue but fluently delivered. If by chance there should be a correct sentence, I can only attribute that to chance. Important, rule number 3: You know a series of error types that you can string together at will.
So, in football terms, it sounds like this: “Too many ball losses in the build-up play”, “Too many passing errors”, “Too little aggressiveness in the duels”, “Catastrophic positional errors”, “Individual errors”, “The poor use of chances was the main problem” or also “No penetrating power in the attack” or “The final pass was missing” or “The sparkling ideas”. You can add as many as you like. The true expert is characterised by the fact that he knows the winner and can pronounce all these sentences in a row without mistakes and as quickly as possible.
Well, that was football. I thought that tennis and other sports were in principle “better protected” because they are less widespread, so that a reporter would have to fear that if he “ripped” a game, match, completely, the spectators would stay away from him (or would you watch a water polo match where you would constantly be made aware of the terrible mistakes?) However, these concerns on the part of the reporters have basically evaporated and become subordinate to the principle of “I just know everything and I’m the greatest”. So the virus has now spread there too and even tennis matches are no longer bearable.
So a few days ago I watched another tennis match. Out of interest and enthusiasm for this sport. Today is 27 June 2009, Wimbledon is being played. On 24 June, Gisela Dulko from Argentina played against Maria Sharapova from Russia on Centre Court. So the match was broadcast live on DSF. Nothing more sensational. You watch or you don’t watch. I watched. And was “bothered” by the commentary.
But I would like to pick out just one comment and examine its message. Just a little preliminary consideration: Maria Sharapova was once number 1 in the world (albeit very briefly). She dropped in the world rankings but was still allowed to compete as a 24 seed. Her opponent was unseeded. The favourite on the betting market was Sharapova. The pre-match rate was a 1.31. That roughly equates to a 75% probability of winning. Where the reality lay, i.e. what the chances of victory actually were, is anyone’s guess. But the betting market will certainly not have been that far from reality. Did the reporter know who was favourite? At least you are not told about it during the match.
However, I would say it is reporter’s duty. Not only to know, but also to tell the viewer. Our smarties just wait to see who wins and then tell you they knew all along. All right, I guess that’s called polemics on my part. The saying “true prophets wait for events to unfold” is nevertheless confirmed every day. On the part of the reporters. So I hope for the commentator’s sake that he knew who was the favourite. And 75% is already a pretty clear favourite.
So now to the match and the unspeakable commentary. The first set went pretty smoothly to Dulko. Not a huge surprise, but a small one. In the second set, Dulko’s superiority continued. She won the first three games, so with a 1-0 lead in the set and 3-0 in the second, she was clearly on the winning track. Had the betting market got it so wrong? Did Sharapova have nothing at all to counter? At least that’s what I would have raised as a question as a reporter. And she had. Who could be surprised but our reporter? She improved her game noticeably. All of a sudden, she went ahead early, her stroke precision increased, several well-placed, hard baseline strokes that put her opponent, Ms. Dulko, under tremendous pressure. In addition, there was the traditional “Sharapova groan” with every shot. An exciting match. As a reporter, I would be happy to be presented with such a situation. Compare it to Dulko also winning the second set 6:1?
So it was now 3-3 in the second. Sharapova has indicated that she really could be the clear favourite. But could she turn the match around? Still a long way to go. She also scored the first point in the fourth game. This could be it, the break. Powerful, aggressive attacking balls, she seemed to have found security in the game. Dulko remained a spectator for a while. Against this attacking momentum, even Martina Navratilova or Steffi Graf would probably have fallen behind. The betting market reacted too. There was now a live price on Sharapova to win. This price was now 1.70. That is still a favourite price. But only a slight favourite. Something like 55% – 56%. But still. She still had a rate to make up, mind!
But our commentator had long since worked out “what the problem was.” And now comes the comment to which I dedicated this text here: “Dulko has to become more aggressive again.”
I knew right away what was going on inside him, of course. I remembered his Argentinian grandmother, he had certainly been in favour of Dulko from the beginning. Why else would he say something like that? That’s clearly biased, isn’t it? I completed the sentence for myself. I was immediately like, “She needs to be more aggressive again to win the match.” So he wanted her to win. Still, I thought of a few other additions: “She has to get more aggressive again so that I can finally pick on Sharapova again, like I did all the time before.” Also a version. After all, what would have happened if she had actually scored the next points? The comment I hear, even without it happening, “Sharapova only had a brief flare-up where she hinted…. Now she’s back in her old rut. It’s not going to work out.” Or even a simple “Far too many mistakes.” if not “She’s exaggerating the risk.”
Forget the grandmother thing. I briefly tried to put myself in Dulko’s coach’s shoes. He, of course, also saw that there was a great danger that she, Dulko, would give the match “out of hand”, that the favourite might prevail after all. And he must have gone through a few scenarios with her before the match. I thought to myself, there is one thing he will definitely not have told her. And that is, “When Sharapova gets rolling and hits the balls perfectly, puts you under pressure, then you have to be more aggressive.”
So what’s left in that comment? It’s wrong anyway. Nonsense, bullshit. It’s also tension robbing. So if someone is watching for the tension, they’re more likely to switch off when they hear that. You just don’t want to be constantly “told” who has to do what and when, and who has done what wrong and when. A sporting event also thrives on suspense. This is not created with error analyses or stupid “game improvement tips”. A post-match analysis could reveal that. In addition, it is simply not neutral. If a German athlete is competing and a German is commentating, then one may very well expect a biased touch, or at least let it pass. But not when an Argentinean plays against a Russian? There, too, it would be tolerable, as long as one clearly takes a stand even before the match. Of course, this can only be an exceptional case.
If he gives Dulko such a stupid tip on this, which one would he have had for Sharapova? And if he had advised Sharapova shortly beforehand to play more “aggressively” on her part and she had won three games in a row, then he should have said “At last she is playing aggressively. That’s her strength, Dulko is not up to it.” Because surely something must have made her the favourite?
In summary, nothing but nonsense comes out of it. No matter from which side you look at it. What’s more, the most important criterion is violated: creating suspense. Or does that no longer apply? Captivating the viewer to an exciting match with a successful report? No patronising, no wise advice (“Long line was open!”), just what it is: a great tennis match. “Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for letting me speak. Thank you for listening. A great match, which could have ended differently.”. “Thank you for the exciting broadcast.”
By the way, Sharapova won the second one easily. One had to assume she would win the third one easily as well. The betting market corrected the odds back towards 1.30 after the second, just like before the match. But Dulko won the match.
The coach, by the way, is suspected of having listened to the German live broadcast during the match with earplugs (with translation into Spanish!) and of having given her a sign before the third set that she “had to play more aggressively.”
The protest is on…