How would you like to play tennis at the Albert Hall this week? I’ll make it even more exciting – let’s throw in John McEnroe, Pat Cash and Henri Leconte. They’re always game for a laugh aren’t they, now the competitive pressures are largely off?
And just to really spice things up, Billie Jean King and Elton John (yes, really) can be team captains.
Even if you only show an interest in tennis when it comes to SW19 each summer, that sounds like a fun way to wile away a few hours doesn’t it?
At least you’d think so.
But when Rob Bonnet interviewed tennis star and British number one Heather Watson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today about her participation in this, the Statoil Masters Tennis event (she’s on Team Elton), she sounded as enthusiastic as someone who’s been told she’s the ball girl, not a star player.
For whatever reason – maybe a late night and then an early start, or a lack of preparation – she sounded as flat as a clay court.
And the trouble with radio is that it can peg a voice down even further, to the point where you sound as flat as a clay court in the Bonneville Salt Flats.
If you think this is not important, because it’s what you say that matters, I’m afraid that’s just not true. With radio, listeners judge you purely on your voice – so not just what you say, but how you say it. There are no expressions or gestures to reinforce your messages and because it’s nonetheless a very visual medium – albeit with the pictures created in our heads – listeners want plenty of “colour” in the form of “word pictures”. So speak with passion, inflection and interesting examples – bring the thing to life.
Heather’s opening response to a question about the event was, “It’s going to be a lot of good fun”, but the weary tone was that of a person saying, “I’ve just trodden in a piece of chewing gum for the tenth time today.”
It was a short reply and the first of many missed opportunities to bridge to something that would please the event organisers, its sponsors and perhaps even her own sponsors. When she added, “It’s a great event,” it was uttered with all the expression of someone reading a paint colour chart: “Apple blossom green [yawn], Everest white [sigh], boredom blue [ZZzz]”.
Rob Bonnet tried to help by saying, “They [the spectators] are looking for fun aren’t they?”, undoubtedly hoping she might reveal she’ll be playing in Elton’s old Donald Duck suit, or do a trick shot whereby the ball bounces off each of those acoustic discs suspended from the Albert Hall’s ceiling. But no, she just said any tricks would stay a surprise. In other words, buy a ticket and you’ll see.
So Mr Bonnet quickly moved on to talk about her career and what lies ahead for the world-ranked number 49. Given she’s had a pretty grim time of late, crawling back up the rankings after glandular fever, this was another chance to sound excited and “sell herself”, but again her reply had all the energy and verve of a net cord.
Yet this was not a tough, aggressive interview of the sort Chancellor George Osborne has endured after his Autumn Statement; no, this one fell into the “Tell me about…” category. A gift in other words.
But I was left wondering how, if this was Heather talking about good news, what does Heather sound like when she loses?
In this season of goodwill, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and accept we all have off days.
But to quote Heather’s event teammate Mr McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!”…well, not all the time please…