Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Racquet Racket

Open by Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography (2009)

There are two references to Canada to be catalogued, one comic, the other tragic. We’ll begin with the Aristophanic, then proceed to the Sophoclean.

The court at the Canadian Open feels impossibly small, which makes the opponent look bigger. Wheaton is a big guy, but here in Canada he looks ten feet tall. (p. 192)

We can dispatch this one briskly, as the tropes present in the passage are common: Canada is small, provincial, and second-rate; anyone who comes here from the United States will naturally seem huge in comparison to the stunted surroundings.

Moving on….

I hack my way through the tournament, seemingly on a collision course with Pete [Sampras], but I falter in the semis against Greg Rusedski, from Canada. My mind hurries back to Vegas, hours ahead of my body. (p. 242)

Agassi is referring to a tournament in early 1997 in San Jose. It seems anodyne on the surface, but what Canadian tennis fan’s heart doesn’t freeze at the words “Greg Rusedski, from Canada”?

Born in Montreal, raised in Canada and nurtured by the Canadian tennis system (such as it was), Rusedski was probably the best men’s tennis player this country has so far produced. But, as any Canadian who watched his early career with so much passionate hope will know, in 1995 he chose to exercise the right he had by virtue of his mother being British, and switched his allegiance to play for Britain.

That was in 1995; the match Agassi refers to was in 1997; so why does he say Rusedski is “from Canada”? He is still originally “from Canada,” I suppose, but shouldn’t he be called “formerly from Canada”? Or “the ex-Canadian”? Or “the Canadian by birth but Briton by choice”? Or “the Briton of convenience”? Or ….

Does Agassi simply mean he was born in Canada? Or perhaps he doesn’t really care Rusedski has changed his tennis citizenship? Is it possible that such things don’t loom as large for non-Canadians as they do for us? Or is this some sort of subtle put-down, like a refusal to refer to a newly created baron by his just-acquired title?

1997 was also the year Rusedski made it to his only Grand Slam final, at the U.S. Open. Had he remained Canadian, he would have been the only Canadian ever to make it to a men’s singles final at a Grand Slam.  I remember rooting for his opponent, the Australian Pat Rafter, with all the ferocious ardour I would have poured into cheering for Rusedski had he still been a Canadian.

And I suspect I wasn’t alone. Confronted with Rusedski, Canadian tennis fans felt the sort of exquisite agony of rejection that only the self-haters can know: rage at Rusedski for rejecting us, but at the same time an impossible-to-deny feeling, somewhere deep down, that he was probably right to choose Great Britain over us.

Perhaps the tennis gods, if they exist, pitied our despair and rendered their judgment. Rusedski lost in four sets.

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