This you have GOT to watch

I know, I know, I know. I’ve tweeted about this video, twice. I’ve posted it on my Facebook wall. But I still feel the need to share it here.

It doesn’t matter if you hate Cristiano Ronaldo (according to him, it’s because he’s “rich, handsome and good”). It doesn’t matter if you’re not a football fan and think it’s a boring sport (you’d be wrong of course). As long as you appreciate sports and athletic ability, even in the slightest, you will be amazed by this. I dare you not to be.

It’s a long video (45 minutes!), but it’s well worth the time. In it, Cristiano Ronaldo goes through a series of scientific physical and mental tests to discover what makes him such a phenomenal football player. Some of these tests include going up against a professional sprinter and scoring goals in the dark.

If that still doesn’t convince you to watch the whole thing maybe a few factoids will? Cristiano is wearing very, very short shorts and a very, very tight, muscle-hugging shirt in a lot of it.

I think it’s time to let go

Note: If you’re not a sports fan, or think that my previous posts about Real Madrid CF, the Spain football team or Andy Roddick are silly, then you might want to skip this post.

One of the saddest things in life is realizing that one of your dreams is never going to come true. We’re talking “realizable” dreams, here, nothing related to marrying Prince Harry or Andrea Casiraghi. And it’s all the more painful when that dream was literally inches away, yet it still slipped through your grasp.

In the early morning of July 6, 2009, that is exactly what happened. Serving at 14-15 down, Andy Roddick hit his second straight forehand error to hand the 2009 Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles title to his long-time foil, Roger Federer. Andy was playing the best tennis of his life (no exaggeration here, I promise) and came within a single point to take a commanding two sets to love lead and a vital break up in the fifth, yet he still went home with the Wimbledon runner’s up plate.

I cried the hardest I’ve ever cried in recent memory after that final forehand error. I was actually sobbing in earnest and was doing that hiccup-y/gasping-for-breath thing you do when you are crying so hard. I was heartbroken. Gutted. Depressed. Inconsolable. I actually had trouble sleeping a couple of nights afterwards. It was THAT. BAD.

I thought, along with a lot of tennis (not just Andy Roddick) fans, that if there was any justice in the world, a sense of fairness, a God, then Andy would win the 2010 Wimbledon title. I know it was naïve to think that way, but he was so close and played SO, SO well, against THE Federer in 2009, it was only right that he won the next one… Which of course didn’t happen.

Andy lost in the quarterfinals from then unheard-of (and never heard from again) Lu Yen Hsun. I should’ve known then that the dream was fading. But the thing with tennis (and most sports) is that, in most cases, you are entitled to think “there’s always next year.” But alas, Andy has crashed out of Wimbledon 2011, losing to the lefty Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the third (third!!) round.

With Andy not getting any younger, his game not getting any better (Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim actually said his game was regressing) and his opponents getting tougher, it’s time to face the inevitable, but nevertheless painful, truth. Andy Roddick will probably never win Wimbledon.

Andy pretty much admitted it himself, but it’s still hard to swallow for me. I know it seems overdramatic to be so affected by this, it is, after all his career, his life, his dream. But years of supporting an athlete/sports team will do that to you. Their successes become yours, and their failures even more so. As stalker-ish as it may sound, I know how important it is for Andy to win that second slam, and Wimbledon (along with the US Open) always represented his best chance of doing that.  To have come so unbearably close two years ago and never to get past the quarters since must be maddeningly frustrating and disappointing. I know it is for me, and I’m not the one holding the racket.

And so, with a heavy heart, I have concluded that it’s time to let the Wimbledon dream go. I’m not entirely sure it’s possible, but I will force myself not to get my hopes up every time Andy heads to SW19. I will no longer wait for the draws with anticipation and not analyze Andy’s chances based on the said draw. I will stop obsessing over the online scoreboard when I can’t watch a match live and I will not keep myself up until 2 in the morning on weekday even if I can. To save myself the disappointment, I will no longer hope, I will no longer expect.

Yeah right.

This makes it all worth it

I know, I know. Every time I talk about being a sports fan on this blog, usually, I’m complaining. I’m complaining about the emotional strain, the turmoil, the disappointment. But every so often (or at least once a year if you’re a Manchester United/Rafael Nadal/FC Barcelona fan), all the sleepless nights, the nail-biting and the tears pay off. There are moments that make all that self-imposed torture worth it. And the 103rd minute of a match in Mestalla in Valencia was one such moment.

Real Madrid CF beat FC Barcelona to win the Copa Del Rey, 1-0 in extra time.

Under normal circumstances, any trophy is worth celebrating. This trophy, though, is extra special (despite what Sergio Ramos’ treatment of it may imply) because the circumstances of this title and this match are anything BUT normal. Actually, they may never be duplicated. EVER. This title is all the more important to every Real Madrid player, staff member and fan because (1) we beat Barcelona in the final; (2) we beat Barcelona after six unsuccessful tries over three years; (3) we beat Barcelona after drawing with them 1-1 three days prior to this match and virtually handing them the La Liga on a silver platter and (4) we beat Barcelona first in the 18 days that make up the historical El Clásico series .

Finally. Silverware after three empty-handed seasons.

I guess it could all be summarized into simply saying “this is about Madrid beating Barcelona.” It is. But, actually, it isn’t. It’s way more than that. Winning last weekend’s La Liga match would’ve been nice, but the La Liga title, barring an unlikely and spectacular collapse from them, would’ve still been Barcelona’s. For the Copa del Rey final, something really was at stake, it can’t end in a tie, there’s no sharing the spoils. And the team delivered, proving to the fans that they could do it. But more importantly, proving it to themselves.

And even if it took seven tries in three years, the timing of the win could not have been better. We’re now going into the Champions League semifinal, not with the HOPE that we can beat Barcelona. We’ll be facing them believing… no, scratch that. We’ll be facing arguably the best club in the world at the moment KNOWING we can beat them. Because we just did.

What a difference a moment makes.

Hala Madrid!

Photo from Reuters

On being a Real fan

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Being a fan of an athlete or a sports team is self-imposed torture. There really is no one else to blame for the heartache, the tears and the crushing disappointment you feel when your favorite team loses but yourself. You could have chosen not to care about a bunch of strangers whose sole purpose in life is to hit a football into the back of the net/drive in circles the fastest/shoot a ball into a hoop. But against your better judgment, against all logic, you do. I do.

When I get asked why I am a Real Madrid fan, I jokingly say that it’s because the men are so hot. But that’s really not the reason (I think I hear some “yeah rights”). Don’t get me wrong. THEY ARE HOT. But it takes more than Xabi Alonso’s gorgeous face to keep me as emotionally invested in RMCF as I am. I give the whole “because they are so hot” reason because, actually, I don’t know why I’m such a Real Madrid fan.

It’s not like they were the best team in the world when I started watching them. My interest was first piqued by the big deal that was made of David Beckham’s move from MUFC to RMCF in the 2003-2004 season. That was the height of the “galacticos” era, and also the start of a trophy-less drought, coaching replacements as frequent as Cristiano’s hairstyle changes, and a period of overall suckiness for the club. They went THREE seasons straight without winning ANYTHING, which is I think a record for the club.  They were disappointing and even downright crap at some points over those three seasons. Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka weren’t even in Madrid then (see, I’m not all about the abs and the hotness!), but I stuck with them. I really can’t explain why.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. There was that unlikeliest of La Liga wins, the 2006-2007 league championship we shouldn’t have won, the season that was turned around in 60 seconds, won in 18 but almost lost to Barcelona in the final match of the season against Mallorca. Doubt was creeping in as Madrid were trailing a goal behind. But another of Fabio Capello’s match-changing substitutions turned the game on its head. José Antonio Reyes came in for a limping David Beckham, and spearheaded the nth Madrid 2nd-half comeback of the season. I remember how I felt when all three goals were scored. The tentative hope when Reyes scored the equalizer (Madrid needed a win to take the championship), the explosion of joy and tears at the own goal off Mahamadou Diarra’s header to make it 2-1, and the relief when Reyes scored again to make it a practically unassailable 3-1. I was laughing and crying into my pillow at 5am. And, again I really don’t know why.

From doubt, to hope, to pure joy

Fast-forward to almost 4 years later, and, again, I am up at the wee hours of the morning, watching an online scoreboard change numbers (boooo to poor football coverage in the Philippines, boooooo). It was the first day out of the 18 days that were to define the Real Madrid season, that were to determine if we go a third season without winning anything, again. Eighteen days, four matches, two teams and arguably the bitterest rivalry in the world of sports (think the Yankees versus the Red Sox with ugly national politics thrown in). Real Madrid vs. Barcelona with La Liga, the Copa del Rey and a place in the Champions League final all up for grabs. It’s been argued that these 18 days are the biggest in the football history of Spain, the country that just won the friggin’ World Cup 10 months ago. It’s THAT big.

And for a Madrid fan, the prospect is not only exciting, it’s terrifying. We have zero wins in the last six El Clásicos, the last one last Saturday ending in a 1-1 draw with Madrid down to 10 men, effectively sealing the La Liga championship for Barcelona. The one before that was November’s 5-0 drubbing at the Camp Nou that I still refuse to think, talk or read about. And as much as it pains me to admit it (and NOTHING can be more painful for a Madrid fan), Barcelona, led by the not-of-this world Leo Messi, are the favorites to win the remaining matches (consequently, the Champions League finals spot and the Copa del Rey) as well.

When will this happen again? Barcelona forms the Pasillo for new La Liga 2007-08 champions Real Madrid, before the El Clásico at the Bernabéu

At times like these I realize that my life would be much, much easier; the circles under my eyes would be much lighter and this post much happier if I was a culé and not a Madridista. The same could be said if I were a Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal (who’s a Madridista, by the way), instead of a fan of this man. But it’s not easy, nay, it’s impossible to just switch loyalties like that. If it were, then I wasn’t a real fan to begin with.

So, against all my better judgment and good sense, I will be glued to my TV/laptop screen for the remaining three matches of this series. Even if all the pundits are saying the Madrid are fighting an uphill battle. Even if matches start at 3am and I have to leave the house for work at 5am. I will stubbornly cling to the hope and belief that Madrid can win a trophy this season, even against the team they haven’t beaten in 6 tries, the best team in Europe at the moment. Because I am a fan. Because I am a REAL fan.

Even if I don’t know why.

Photo credits: BRU GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images (first photo); Google images (no original credit info for second photo).

Wanted: Competent Football Journalist

I knew the Azkals (the Philippine National Football Team) won their group match against Bangladesh, 3-0, on Friday. I didn’t really find out more than score, though. So yesterday morning, I picked up The Philippine Star and read the article about the win (online version here).

And here’s what I found out about the game:

  • That the Azkals sang “Ole! Ole! Ole!” in the dressing room after the win.
  • That the music was so loud in the dugout, you couldn’t hear the person beside you.
  • When the final whistle blew, Coach Michael Weiss “lifted his arms, with clenched fists and faced the sun.”
  • That each time the Azkals scored, they “whooped it up like they never did before.” (what does that even mean?!?!?!)
  • That the Philippines made the semis of the AFF Suzuki Cup last year, beating Vietnam 2-0 along the way (… hey, wait a minute…)
  • That newcomer Angel Guirado, who, “once inside the PENALTY” launched a shot to score is “the angel from heaven.”

Because that’s what I was dying to know about the match. Thank you, Abac Cordero and The Philippine Star.

Is this what I should expect from the football articles of one of the country’s biggest dailies? More paragraphs about how the team celebrated than on the actual match itself? What they sang and not the formation they played in? Information on Guirado’s angelic origins and but not his earthly footballing credentials (he plays in the Spanish Tercera División for CD Ronda and used to be in the reserves for Atletico Madrid)?

I know that football is just starting to gain popularity in the country and that, in all probability, Sky Sports-level analyses won’t really find a mainstream audience just yet. But I’m not asking for Jonathan Wilson to cover Philippine football. All I am asking for is that the coverage be informative, relevant and that the bulk of it to be about the actual game. While I suppose the Younghusband fan girls will be thankful for the image of James “bouncing up and down, arms linked” with his teammates, articles like these are a disservice to the rest of the Philippine population (not dreaming to be Younghusband wife) who are just discovering football.

Football has had a hard enough time gaining ground in the country and articles like this do nothing to help the sport. How are we going to make people who are new to football appreciate the skill that goes into a scoring a goal, the grace it takes to dodge defenders, the reflexes required for a save if an article on an outstanding 3-0 win focused more on the locker room than on the pitch? How are we supposed to sustain interest in the sport (especially when matches like this were not aired live in the country) when more words were written about the coach’s victory pose than on the first goal scored (I counted. It was 10 versus 6)?

It’s understandable that our local sports journalists aren’t used to writing about football. Let’s face it, the Philippine National Team has never really given them much to write about up until a few months ago. But is it really that hard to stick to the facts of the game? I’m sure any sports writer would have at least a basic knowledge of the sport. Even if they’ve never watched a La Liga match before the Azkal win over Vietnam, they’ve now had four months since to get a crash course on the offside rule and what merits a red card versus a yellow (Ronnie Nathanielsz desperately needs those lessons).  They could’ve read up on thousands of articles to get an idea on what a match report should look like. Actually, they didn’t even have to go through that many. All they needed was to go through, like, TWO, to know that no one really needs to know what song they sang in celebration, at least not by the second paragraph of the article.

So please, for the sake of the sport and basic journalistic standards, could The Philippine Star please get a competent football journalist? If a dedicated football writer is too much to ask, could you please get Abac Cordero never to write on football again some basic news writing lessons alone time with the Guardian football site?

The Year (and a half) that was

Yes, I know that, technically, I should only be covering the last calendar year. But the last half of last year was too amazing to leave out, and I didn’t have a blog to recap last year, so I’m including those six months here.

I think I could, without a doubt in my heart, say that the last eighteen months have been the most amazing and exciting in my life. I’ve never had so many wonderful experiences cramped into such a small timeframe (relative to the rest of my life, that is) that it needs to be commemorated somewhere. If and when I fall into a “my life sucks!” rut (which, let’s face it, happens to everyone, except maybe if you’re Gisele Bunchen or Kate Middleton), this will be a reminder that, no, not really. My wildest dreams came true last year and a half, so I pretty much have no right to complain about anything in the following year and a half (not that that would ever stop me).

So anyway, here goes. A recap of my wonderful 2010 (and July-December 2009):

1: Getting to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup live in South Africa: All football fans dream of getting to watch the World Cup, and I am no exception. But never, ever, in a bajillion years did I think that this dream would come true. It was just one of those things that was never goning to happen, unless of course I had another dream come true and ended up marrying Prince Harry (‘cause we would get VIP tickets, of course). But it did happen without Camilla being my stepmother-in-law.

I got to watch, not one World Cup match, but FOUR. Actually, sitting here and writing this, I still can’t believe that it happened. Thank goodness I have tons of pictures, because when I’m old and gray, I could prove to myself that, yes, I was there when Messi and co. beat Korea Republic 4-1, when David Villa scored that goal from fifty yards out,

"El Guaje" warming up, Chile vs Spain group match

that I was sitting right alongside the goal when Asamoah Gyan missed that crucial penalty for Ghana and was in the fifth row, alongside the goal during that tortuous match between Spain and Paraguay.

The moment that almost gave me a heart attack, Spain vs. Paraguay QF at Ellis Park

And as if getting to watch wasn’t enough, I got to watch Spain. TWICE. Which brings me to…

2: Spain WINNING the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa: It was a two-fold dream come true. Not only did I get to watch the World Cup, but my beloved Spanish National Team deservedly won their first ever World Championship. And, really, like #1, I still can’t believe they did it, even when I watched every single second of every match, whether on the telly or in the stadium.

Viva España!

It’s amazing how something totally unrelated to me can make me this happy, but it did. And it still does.

3: My destined meeting with Andy Roddick: I guess it’s a theme, huh? As with #1, never in a million years did I think that I would actually get to meet Andy Roddick, much less get his picture and an autograph. But with what I can only and reluctantly describe as fate’s intervention, I did. And it’s a good thing I got a picture and the autograph for proof because I think I’ll be needing physical evidence of it actually happening, since it was so heartbreakingly unlikely to begin with.

4: Versailles: I guess among all my dreams that came true over this 18-month period, this was one of the more achievable ones, but that doesn’t make it any less special. I swore to myself I would visit the legendary chateau in my lifetime after watching Sofia Coppola’s screen adaptation of the Antonia Fraser biography of Marie Antoinette. I got my chance last, last August (in the summer too, when the seasonal features are open) and it was as grand and as beautiful as I imagined it to be. And while its beauty is surely reason enough to go, for the wannabe French history buff like me, Versailles’s historical significance is even a greater draw. The number of times my jaw dropped and the hairs on my arms stood on end at the sight paintings I only saw in books and of rooms I only saw in pictures were too many to count. And, yes, I must blog about the visit soon.

5: John Mayer in Manila: It had all the makings of a disastrous night, really (less than ideal location, less than engaging artist, RAIN) but it still turned out to be quite awesome. While a couple (or five) more songs would’ve made it a perfect night, hearing Edge of Desire, Heartbreak Warfare and Slow Dancing Room (aka the most heartbreaking song ever written) live made the long wait and the cold, wet rain well worth it.

So how can my 2011 top 2010 (and half of 2009)? If I get to go to Spain, watch the El Classico in the Bernabeu and Madrid beat Barcelona 7-0,  then get tickets to the Gentlemen’s Final at Wimbledon where Andy finally beats Federer then get tickets to the Backstreet Boys concert in Manila with ALL FIVE members performing, 2011 will for sure be better than 2010. But, barring that, 2010 has enough memories to keep me happy and grateful the next year… or decade.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Spanish team photo from FIFA.com

Andy Roddick and the F-word

A year ago today, I had one of my most improbable dreams come true. I finally saw Andy Roddick in person (“met” is a bit of stretch, as that would technically require a mutual introduction, so I won’t use that word). I am loathe to use this word with all its corny, romantic-comedy-movie implications, but I really do believe it was fate (yes, THAT f-word). And before you even start rolling your eyes and dismiss this as the musings of a pathetic, cheesy fan-girl, I urge you to hear me out. I shall lay down the facts and you be the judge if it was indeed fate/God’s will or not.

At around October of last year, I found out that I was to be sent to London for a week for work in November. Being the Andy Roddick stalker tennis fan that I am, I knew that the year-end tour championships were going to be held there that month. Which brings me to proof number one: the championships were going to be held the exact same week I was going to be in London. And, mind you, trips to London are few and far in between for our entire department at work, that I was the part of the 3-person team to be part of this trip is another point for my argument.

London (and Federer, Nadal, Andy, Novak), here I come!

I waited until Andy qualified for the Championships before purchasing my tickets. He was among the last two players to qualify, so I was on tenterhooks for a couple of weeks before the final confirmation that he will be playing in London. Upon hearing the news, I immediately purchased my tickets.

When my tickets finally arrived via FedEx, I actually screamed with delight. So imagine my heartbreak when Andy pulled out of the championships with a knee injury. I spent a considerable amount of money on the best tickets to four sessions (you’ll see why four below) just to get a chance of finally watching my favorite athlete play. I was, understandably, crushed.

And from utter heartbreak, there was a glimmer of hope. Proof number two: I saw this on Andy Roddick’s twitter account:

My glimmer of hope

Don’t get me wrong, I still knew that I had a snowball’s chance in hell of randomly bumping into Andy in, say, Oxford Street, or wherever. But having him in the same city as I was definitely increased my chances versus having him across the Atlantic, no?

So, anyway, I went ahead and watched the matches because (1) I wasn’t able to sell my tickets and (2) I did want to see Djokovic, Andy Murray, Federer and Nadal in the flesh (especially Nadal! Yumm! Haha.). I still harbored the teeniest glimmer of hope that Andy would have some promotional duties at the O2 Arena while I was there to watch the matches, but, like I said: snowball’s chance in hell.

I thought this was going to be my only sighting of Andy

But then it happened. I ashamedly admit that I dozed off more than once in my second row seat during the Djokovic vs. Davydenko match. But then, proof number three: I woke up to this on the big screen:

I swear, I stopped breathing for a second when I saw this

ANDY RODDICK. AT THE O2 ARENA. EXACTLY WHERE I WAS.

I felt like someone sucked all the air from the room. In a good way, of course. I was paralyzed in disbelief for about 10 seconds then got to work finding exactly where Andy was seated in an arena that held tens of thousands of people. I finally pinpointed where he was seated, thanks to the people pointing and that long-haired girl seated behind him. I actually had second thoughts on what I would do next but thank goodness I realized in time that I was being handed the opportunity of a lifetime. At the next changeover, I made a beeline for where he was seated.

I was shaking and my hands were getting clammy as I walked down to where Andy was seated. My breath was shallow as I took these pictures, and completely forgot that I had my flash on. After I took the second picture, Andy (and the unfortunate Italian man who had his face below my camera) gave me a rather annoyed look. But I was oblivious to it all. I still couldn’t believe that I was within 6 feet of a man whose career I’ve been following for almost seven years. ANDY RODDICK. Andy friggin’ Roddick!

I managed to snap out of my fan-girl daze long enough to try and get Andy’s autograph. I would post a picture of it here, but I have it on the ticket cover which has my name and address on it and that would be stupid (in a credit card fraud sense). And I got it not a moment too soon, because within seconds of getting it, Andy was whisked away by security to, I assume, a VIP box where he wouldn’t be accosted by flash-wielding fans like me.

He gave me an annoyed look after this... But a look is a look!

So I actually saw Andy, against all odds. He pulled out of the tournament, but still came to London. He was at the venue, the same night that I was there, watching the same match out of 15 possible matches (and those are just the singles matches) he could have picked.

Still not convinced that the F-word is applicable in this situation?

Then, how’s this for further proof: I purchased my tickets to maximize the number of players I get to watch. Since the orders of play are not published until the day before, there is no way to choose who you get to watch, unless you buy your tickets the night before. The way I set it up, I was, for sure, going to get to watch seven out of the eight players (just take my word for it). And I got to watch Federer, Nadal, Murray, Davydenko, Del Potro, Djokovic and Verdasco. The only player I didn’t get to watch (a.k.a. proof number four) was Robin Soderling, the man who replaced Andy Roddick when he pulled out. Meaning if Andy didn’t pull out of the tournament, I would not have watched him play.

So, is “fate” the right word for this or not?

Andy

It all began one January afternoon. More than seven years has passed since and I still cannot explain what possessed me to watch that 2003 Australian Open quarterfinal between Andy Roddick and Younes El Aynaoui. I was never particularly interested in tennis before this and I’ve never even watched an entire SET of tennis in my entire life. But on that random afternoon, not only did I get treated to what would be the men’s match of the year (and one of the best EVER of the Australian Open) but, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was also to begin a rollercoaster journey of ultimate fandom.

I still cannot exactly say what it was about Andy Roddick that day that has triggered my embarrassing, sometimes pathetic fandom (some might say obsession). He wasn’t particularly good-looking, which, I embarrassingly admit, is usually my first criteria for watching any sort of sport. I mean, he could be cute, but to this day, I still say that he’s at his cutest when he’s wearing a cap, and that’s not really promising, is it? It wasn’t his tennis either. He wasn’t a top player at the time of the AO. Sure, he broke the top 10 the first time the previous year but he hasn’t really had a breakthrough run yet (that was still to come in a few months).

"It was just pure fighting. This was more about heart"

But there was something about that epic match, which ended 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 to Andy (this was obviously seven and a half years before Isner and Mahut redefined the word “epic”), and the way it was played that made me root for Andy even after the four hours and fifty-nine minutes of the match.

Andy was too exhausted to win his semifinal match which he lost in straight sets, but it hardly mattered. I was hooked. I began following Roddick’s progress through the tour. I sat through his first (of many) Wimbledon loss to Roger Federer in the 2003 semifinal. And I shed a few tears while Andy bawled like a baby and hugged and kissed then-girlfriend Mandy Moore after his first and only Grand Slam at the 2003 US Open.

Yes, I will admit, I have thought about photosopping my face into that picture

But, unfortunately for me and, obviously, for Andy too, not all the years were like pre-Federer-dominance 2003. Sure, he’s been in the top 10 for seven straight years (except for a brief spell this year), and second fiddle to the Federer-Nadal behemoth for the better part of that period. But there have been too many missed opportunities and too many bad losses. There were shocking first or second round eliminations in Grand Slams, and more frustrating losses to Federer in finals (3 in Wimbledon, 1 in the USO). Personally, I am still not over last year’s devastatingly heartbreaking loss to Federer in the Wimbledon final (which involved me calling a friend at 2am crying like I’ve never cried before).

And then there was last week’s disappointing and frustrating 2nd round loss to Tipseravic in the US Open, Andy’s home Slam, the one he’s always expected to do well in. And Wimbledon before that. And the AO before that. And many others before that.

Logic and reason tells me to just give up on Andy and save myself from the resulting heartbreak each Grand Slam will almost inevitably bring. The sensible thing to do is heed the warnings of the the-end-is-near-for-Roddick articles resulting from his US Open loss. As I have previously documented here, this is all self-imposed so nothing is preventing me to just simply stop being a fan.

Except for that fact that I am a true fan, and real ones don’t just quit on their teams and athletes when the going gets tough. Real fans are in it for the long haul, despite the numerous disappointments, the sleepless nights and the buckets of tears. So, even if it sounds unbelievable, even to me, it looks like I’ll be an Andy Roddick fan until he retires. Even if I know there will probably be more disappointments, more sleepless nights and more tears to come.  But, what the heck, I’ve been through the Wimbledon 2009 loss and if I got through that ONE (surely, a loss can’t get any more heartbreaking?), I could handle 20 more Grand Slam eliminations.

If somebody told me  that that 4 hour, 59 minute match would result in this emotional, irrational devotion to a man I don’t know and have only met once (and that requires a post of its own), I would’ve asked that person what he/she was smoking. But as it is, I can’t imagine not checking his Twitter updates or watching Wimbledon or the US Open in the wee hours of the morning. This is madness, I admit, but madness I can’t imagine my life without.

And it all began one January afternoon.

photos from Sebastian Costanzo for theage.com.au and sportydesktops.com

The longest 109 minutes of my life

It’s self imposed torture, supporting any sort of sporting entity, whether it be a school basketball team, a Formula One driver or a football team. When you’re crying the hardest you have in years after Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final, really, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. No one forced you to invest so much time and emotion into every match or race. No one was holding you at gun point when you bought the tickets or the team jersey for ridiculous prices. There is no logical explanation for the enduring, tortuous love fans feel despite the frustrations and disappointments their beloved team has dealt them. And it’s not even reciprocated, even if they always say “we love our fans”, it’s unlikely that it’s in the same rabid, gut-wrenching way. So, that love, that inexplicable, sometimes pathetic love that reduces even grown men to tears (have you ever seen a football match where a team gets promoted/relegated to the lower/higher division?), could arguably be the one of the purest forms of love in the world.

So, with that love in my heart, I made my way to Ellis Park in Johannesburg, to watch the FIFA 2010 World Cup quarterfinal between Paraguay and Spain. I wasn’t as wired and stressed out as I was before the Spain v Portugal and Chile v Spain matches, because, to be completely honest, it’s Paraguay. I wouldn’t be way out of line if I said Spain were the overwhelming favorites here. But, don’t get me wrong, I was still plenty nervous.

And I was right to be.

My view from my seat

Throughout the first half, Spain wasn’t creating any real chances at a goal. Actually, there was only one, Xavi’s shot that when sailing above the crossbar. Either Paraguay was closing down the attacks, or the passes were either too heavy or Fernando Torres was just crap (but was still gorgeous, of course). I’ve described the feeling this way to friends: Imagine a hand, hovering over your heart. As the match goes on, the hand is closing in to grip your heart. When Paraguay hit the back of the net, that hand just squeezed my heart in its grip. When the offside flag was raised, it loosened its grip again. THAT’S HOW IT FEELS.

So  you can now imagine how I felt during that spell between the 58th and 62nd minutes. First, Paraguay was awarded a penalty. I felt like someone sucked the wind out of the stadium when the referee pointed to the penalty spot (or maybe it was just the anghit of the guy seated in front of me. I swear, every time he raised his arms to cheer, or wave his flag or take a picture, I got scent-ually assaulted. Gross). I could barely see what was going on, because I was seated at the other end of the stadium, and the taller people and waving flags were blocking my view. I’m not sure I wanted to see anyway. But the kick was taken. Then cheering. BUT WAIT. The people cheering were wearing yellow and red. THE PENALTY KICK WAS SAVED by Iker Casillas. The hand with the iron grip on my heart let go, and with that, a burst of joy and relief and “COME ON IKEEEEEEEEEEEEER!”. And I breathed a little easier.

But not for long.

Within 2 minutes, Spain was on the attack, and David Villa is taken down in the area, and again, the referee points to the spot again. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! This is Spain’s chance, so soon after that Paraguay scare. The hand is gripping my heart again, but not as tightly as when the penalty was on the other end. So Xabi Alonso (why not David Villa? Because he missed his last PK?) lines up to take it,

The penalty shot Alonso makes, but is disallowed

kicks and scores! The hand’s let go of my heart again! Fans cheer and wave flags and high five each other! BUT WAIT. The goal is disallowed. He has to take the kick again. And there’s that tight grip on my heart again. Xabi lines it up again

The second penalty

THEN MISSES. The imaginary hand punches me in the gut with my heart in its unwielding grip. Someone, I couldn’t really tell, gets another shot, and it’s either off the crossbar or off a defender. Point is, it doesn’t hit the back of the net.

And so we’re back to square one, 0-0, with about 20 minutes to go, and I could barely watch. The grip on my heart is constant, except when Iker Casillas flubbed a save (damn you, Jabulani!) and the hand tightened just that tiny bit more. There’s a funny thing that happens, when you’re watching these things live, it’s like time speeds up and slows down at the same time.  The balls bounces into an attacker’s path in slow motion, but at the same time, the oncoming defender seems to be approaching in a fast-forwarded blur.

And in a dizzying slow-mo/fast-forward combo in the 83rd minute, I feel my heart being squeezed to breaking (crushing?) point. Spain is on the attack. Iniesta brings the ball forward, passes to Pedro on his right, Pedro shoots, and HITS THE CROSSBAR. The ball rebounds to David Villa, and I think, could this be it? He shoots, BUT HITS THE CROSSBAR AGAIN. Just as I was steeling myself for one of the punches-in-the-gut-by-the-hand-holding-my-heart, the ball agonizingly inches its way through the air to the opposite crossbar, hits it, and (as if someone suddenly presses the >> button) the next thing I see is the back of the net moving. SCOOOOORE! I double check the pitch, in case it’s been disallowed again, but no flags were raised, no whistles were blown. GOOOOOOAL!

Now all Spain has to do is hold it together for the next seven minutes plus the added time. Ten minutes total. Ten excruciating minutes.

And then it’s over. Spain win. The hand gripping my heart disappears entirely and I finally breathe easily after what feels like 109 minutes of holding my breath (90 minutes plus half time plus extra time).

And it's over. They celebrate. For now.

But the hand will be back. On Wednesday. Most likely in a metal-spiked glove with slits at the fingertips to let extra-long nails with Deutschland-themed nail art through.Like I said. Self-imposed torture.