FAILURE TO CONTAIN the highly contagious and pernicious new strain of a debilitating verbal virus has led to its global spread throughout the sports and media world.
I’m saddened to report that many of the top tennis players have now (obviously) been afflicted with the strange virus first detected at the French Open in 2015, causing sufferers to repeat the word ‘obviously’ multiple times in every spoken statement. The condition has since spread like wildfire among the tennis and media community.
Symptoms and source
Last year’s Queens finalist South African Kevin Anderson exhibited classic early symptoms of the disease in post-match interviews. Prognosis is not good. Those affected also seem to become less and less coherent over time.
Patient Zero has been identified as commentator Mark Petchey. It is not known where he contracted it but the TV personality may obviously have been incubating it for some time before becoming infectious.
It is thought that he transmitted it to Andy Murray some time during their coaching association; and the tennis number one’s condition in this regard has deteriorated progressively, even while his game has improved.
‘In terms of’ strain
A particularly virulent strain has now attacked those sufferers already susceptible, with the unfortunate Petchey still the worst affected. His immune system appears to have collapsed and, as well as the ubiquitous ‘obviously’, ‘in terms of’ has completely taken over his speech. I believe that those of, shall we say, decidedly average, intelligence mistakenly assume slotting in ‘in terms of’ makes them sound cleverer. Poor Mark is almost unable to speak a sentence without using this expression in the most excruciatingly inappropriate way, such as ‘in terms of running around your backhand to hit your forehand’ and ‘in terms of getting your first serve in’. In terms of favourites, one of mine is ‘in terms of both women playing well at the same time’.
In terms of the original virus, obviously, close proximity and prolonged exposure to an infected person are believed to be high risk factors. Patient Zero is thought to have communicated the virus to his colleague Sam Smith during the Grand Slam in Paris as early as 2015, where conditions were particularly conducive to its spread. And it now appears to be reaching epidemic proportions. Wimbledon champion Murray remains among the worst hit, with ‘obviously’ now creeping into virtually every other sentence; and Jo Konta has regrettably also now begun to develop symptoms.
The virus is also sometimes accompanied by the compulsion to insert other unnecessary words and phrases into speech at frequent intervals, such as ‘basically’, ‘actually’, ‘to be honest’, ‘at the end of the day’ and ‘for me’ (Marion Bartoli was severely afflicted by this strain, another that could be traced back to Petchey, who should by all rights be in isolation).
Individuals who already make little sense seem to be the most at risk. John Inverdale, long stricken by a chronic case of foot-in-mouth disease, prone to use ‘actually’ three times in every sentence, has proved this to be the case by succumbing to the virus in record time.
The completely clueless bozo unhappily couples this with a compulsive garrulousness that only serves to further reveal the depth of his ignorance. This inability to shut up has one upside, however, in that he makes his fellow commentator John Lloyd seem like a tennis Einstein in contrast.
Amazingly, the BBC is still allowing the veteran broadcaster to work despite the advanced stage of his infection and his evident deterioration in terms of commentary, obviously. But perhaps that’s because he has made a living out of talking arrant nonsense, such as ‘That was a tame error from Venus there’ (should really have been, ‘in terms of errors, that was a tame one, obviously’) and wrongly identifying matches as ‘games’ and the BBC is no longer capable of distinguishing sense from rubbish.
Inverdale the everyman
Inverdale’s classic approach seems to be to rehash old debates at length, often preambled with ‘Obviously, we always bang on about this … [whatever tired old subject] but I don’t have the imagination to think of an original question so I’m going to go on flogging a dead horse in my attempt to be entirely predictable at all times.’
He will always be more concerned with the amount of prize money up for grabs and the number of racquets that get smashed than anything relating to the match and is prepared to go on about such subjects at tedious and repetitive length, often drawing pointless and inappropriate analogies with other sports.
Inverdale also patronisingly assumes that everyone watching is as stupid as he is. That, because he hasn’t heard of a player, no one watching on TV will have either.
He will address a co-commentator thus, ‘For people watching at home, John/Mark/Fabrice, obviously a lot of them didn’t know much about Adrian Mannarino until today …’. So, remember, for his ‘Now you may not have come across So-and-so before’; ‘Probably a lot of people watching won’t recognise this name’; and ‘Those of you watching at home may be unfamiliar with’, read ‘I have no idea who this person is and so I’m fairly confident you won’t know him either.’
Hearing him commentate is depressingly akin to overhearing some average bloke down your local club who’s had a few, with extremely limited knowledge of a subject, holding forth at length to someone who’s just that fraction drunker and dimmer.
I wonder if they operate a short-straw system to decide who will be paired with him for a match?
It can be amusing listening to other commentators interacting with the Inverdale version of banter. He will voice some asinine inquiry, ostensibly seeking enlightenment from his colleague. No matter how idiotic or irrelevant this may be, John Lloyd will still gamely attempt to answer it. It could go:
Inverdale: ‘So, John, do you think it’s harder to defeat a player wearing a baseball cap the right way round or is it more difficult to beat someone wearing one backwards?’
Lloyd: ‘Well, I haven’t really considered that before and I suppose it might depend on where the sun is at the time.’
Or he will quote some pointless statistic he’s dredged up and request their opinion:
Inverdale: ‘Do you happen to know how many players with more than four vowels in terms of their name have reached this stage of the tournament in the last 25 years?’
Lloyd: ‘No I don’t know how many, John. It’s interesting that you should bring that up.’
Often, the fascinating fact is something he’s read in the ATP Media Guide or, as he calls it, the ‘player guidebook’.
If he’s with Peter Fleming, the American just bluntly tells him to ask something more sensible. And has been known to tell Mark Petchey to shut up when at the absolute end of his tether. Or he ignores the question altogether, refusing to dignify it with a response, particularly if the irrelevant waffle is going on during the point.
Petchey is also a fan of statistics but is rendered absurdly sycophantic alongside ex-players like Fabrice Santoro. In terms of his approach, obviously, he tends to research some obscure facts about said player and then serve them up as trivia questions to his long-suffering co-host.
Petchey: ‘Do you happen to know who hit a double-handed backhand lob over Pete Sampras’s head at 3.30 pm on Centre Court the first Wednesday of Wimbledon in 2001?’
Santoro: ‘No, Mark. Surprise me.’
Petchey: ‘It was you, Fabrice.’
His match tactics also perhaps reveal why he won so few matches, as he’s been heard to say, ‘Sometimes it’s a good idea to lose the first set, just to get the crowd on your side.’ Mark must have been very popular with the spectators, that’s all I can say.
Spread and treatment
The failure to quarantine victims of the virus has contributed to its dissemination. Away from tennis, broadcaster Victoria Derbyshire has completely succumbed to the ‘in terms of’ strain (‘in terms of did you start imagining it your way?’; ‘in terms of the way you help women’; ‘in terms of Jamie’); and is believed to have communicated this to her alternative host Joanna Gosling, who is bravely struggling with the condition. It is rife within the national broadcasting corporation. A news reporter called Carletta came up with ‘In terms of what’s happening on the ground …’.
Medical experts have been working on a cure for some time but are hindered by the fact that those affected can no longer distinguish sense from waffle and thus refuse to believe they have the condition.
There is no known cure although certain figures have remained immune, including Peter Fleming, Jim Courier and Fabrice Santoro. It is not clear whether they benefit from natural resistance or have been inoculated against verbal flannel in general at some point in the past.
I am indebted to my sister for the following examples taken down during a single match commentated by Patient Zero.
- In terms of Zverev (always pronounced ‘Zerev’ by the Petchster)
- In terms of tennis
- In terms of his serve
- In terms of which match they got to see first
- In terms of fashion
- In terms of winning grand slams
- In terms of the weather
- In terms of the feel
- In terms of shot selection
- In terms of physicality
- In terms of putting what he has …
- In terms of fluctuations
- In terms of his backhand
- In terms of where he’s hitting the ball
- In terms of the way that they play
And at that point she gave up. I think she may have run out of paper.
But we continued to note down a few choice examples, such as ‘that counts, in terms of you haven’t struck the ball yet’, ‘a decision in terms of closing the roof’; ‘in terms of points won against the first serves’; ‘in terms of break points on offer’.
I have to say that Sam Smith’s commentary, on the other hand, is imaginative and informative. She will often have spoken to players and their families/coaches and gleaned some insight to share with the viewer. I loved her describing one player’s game as ‘a box of faulty fireworks’; and Carla Suarez Navarro as ‘feeding on the scraps’ from opponent Simona Halep. She has a nice turn of phrase.