Viewing Tennis in Eurovision: Semifinal #1
For fans of tennis and cheesy music, this has to be the most wonderful time of year. Not only are we a week removed from the French Open, but we are also just hours from the start of the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. In their own right, each is a tremendously strong pursuit; both indulge a fan’s love of superhuman feats and performing theatrics. But here at TTI, we asked the question you’ve all thought to yourselves but were too scared to verbalize: what if the tennis world took over Eurovision? Ahead of the first semifinal, the TTI panel — joined by New York Times contributor and ESC expert, Ben Rothenberg — took on the arduous task of matching your favorite tennis personalities with your favorite whacky Eurovision performances. It seemed like an impossible endeavor, but upon deeper reflection, one thing became clear: the only thing separating tennis from the pyrotechnic extravaganza that is the Eurovision Song Contest is the singing itself.
Draw 03: Belgium
The French-Flemish nation has been surprisingly erratic in the Eurovision Song Contest, strange because of its French connection, and that songs sung in the language of love have been victorious 14 times, second only to English.
Historically, Belgium aims for a middle of the pack finish, though it has ended up last an astonishing eight times, and has only qualified for the Final five times since 2001, when it did not participate at all.
That kind of wild inconsistency made me first think of one of Belgium’s brashest in Yanina Wickmayer. The former US Open semifinalist has had flashes of brilliance — much like her nation’s 21 Top 10 finishes since 1957. Her hard edge would appear to lend itself perfectly to something like 1987’s home-town entrant, Liliane Saint-Pierre’s Soldiers of Love:
Soldiers of Love was a Dutch/English anthem that finished just outside the Top 10 — not far from Wickmayer’s career-high ranking — and shares the Belgian’s driving on-court relentlessness.
Ultimately, however, I decided to look back one more year — on the only ESC Belgium has ever won — to make my decision. 1986’s J’aime la Vie was a jaunty French pop song that swept the competition in Norway, and would be a perfect fit for Belgium’s first-ever Grand Slam champion, Justine Henin. Why? Because Henin has already performed a song perfect for Eurovision.
With a little practice, the former World No. 1 could seamlessly adapt Sandra Kim’s proto-Carlton Dance and put the proverbial hand up in the face of anyone who might stand in her way.
Draw 04: The Netherlands
The Dutch nation has had an even more up-and-down history than Belgium, winning the Contest as many times as it has finished in last place. In back-to-back years, Corry Brokken experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, finishing in first, then last between 1957 and 1958.
After a 1975 victory, the Netherlands suddenly became non-factors for the crown, finishing in the Top 4 just once over the next 30 years, and endured a rough spell in which it failed to qualify for the final eight years in a row from the mid-2000s.
But getting meta paid surprising dividends for the Dutch in last year’s Contest, with The Common Linnets’ Calm After the Storm finishing just behind Austrian powerhouse, Conchita Wurst.
I could see a tennis duet engaging in similar dramatics and sneak away with a calm win after a stormy competition. Kiki Bertens can play a fairly destructive game – regardless of whether her big groundstrokes are clicking – and you would be hard-pressed to find a diehard tennis fan who doesn’t consider life post-Robin Haase/Andy Murray the calm after the storm. Plus, they’re good friends, and isn’t chemistry the key to Eurovision glory?
Draw 06: Greece
Oh Greece, your economy may have collapsed, but you always put on a show — and we always appreciate it. The height of Greek Eurovision history came exactly one decade ago, when Helena Paparizou won in Kiev — much to the joy of the entire country.
Over the course of the last 15 years, Greece has been one of the countries with the secret combination for success in the contest, making the finals and finishing inside the Top 10 most of the time, e.g. coming third in 2001 (Antique), 2003 (Sakis Rouvas), and 2008 with West Hampstead’s very own Kalomira.
And who better to uphold Greece’s reliable results than one of the most reliable people in tennis: Eva Asderaki-Moore. The Gold Badge umpire has officiated Grand Slam finals and more than a few tense matches on the WTA and ATP Tours – if that’s not preparation for the madness that’s Eurovision, I don’t know any other.
Standing in the middle of a smoke-filled stage, Asderaki-Moore would probably be singing a “Stronger”-esque uptempo number called, “I Am The One” with poignant lyrics like:
“Not unattractive inside,
I’m not a hater, that’s right
Never screwed you over at all
Won’t look the other way in the hall
Cause I’m not outta control”
Naturally, the wind machine will be cranked up to full volume during the chorus to set the stage for Asderaki-Moore’s signature ponytail. Any further questions? No? Ready? Play!
Draw 07: Estonia
With all due respect to Jurgen Zopp, he ranks in terms of relevance about where he does alphabetically. So this one is for you, Kaia Kanepi!
Estonia has had pretty stellar Eurovision results for a country of its size (just 1.3 million folks), with four Top 5 finishes and a win in 2001. When Tanel Padar, Dave Benton & 2XL teamed up to win in Copenhagen that year (RIP Wozniacki Invitational), Estonia became the first Eastern Bloc country to triumph. It also solidified a spot as one of the worst winners in contest history, conquering a historically weak field.
It was the least impressive opposition Estonia would face until this:
Speaking of Estonian-Serbian entanglements, did you know that when the show was in Belgrade, Estonia sent a song sung by a former member of parliament in nonsensical Serbian?
It was a low-point, but it was memorable. Much like Kaia Kanepi’s 2010 Wimbledon quarterfinal against Petra Kvitova, where she failed to convert any of five match points.
It was foretold by another inexplicable collapse that year at Eurovision:
Anyhow, if Kanepi and the good folks of the Estonian Eurovision Empire were to join forces, they’d probably be best going with something calm and serene, yet full of lady-power. Kaia and Urban Symphony could make beautiful music together, I’m sure, with that ghostly lighting glowing off of her ethereally blonde head.
Draw 09: Serbia
After several years of pre-selection drama — when Montenegro would block whichever entry the Serbian jury picked — Serbia debuted on its own act in 2007 when the Contest was held in Finland. Right out of the gate, they won the whole event with Balkan-überballad “Molitva”.
In 2008, the Contest was held in Belgrade for the first time, and the Serbs did themselves proud with another Balkan-tinged number courtesy of Jelena Tomasevic’s “Oro.” The number was written by Zeljko Joksimovic, who participated for Serbia in 2012 and came in third.
In-between results have been mixed and history has shown that it’s the dramatic ballads — tuned in a minor key — that have worked best for Serbia.
And who better to delivery something dramatic than the combined forces of Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic?
The two leading Serbian ladies might not have always been on best terms throughout their careers but a heartfelt, rousing tune about forgiveness and maturity would certainly invoke a storm on the ESC stage. Bojana Jovanovski would be scheduled to do backing vocals, but unfortunately she’d arrive in Vienna (Wisconsin) rather than Vienna (Austria), so Fed Cup doubles hero Aleksandra Krunic will fill in and shine in her role of carrying the vocals in the eleventh hour.
We all know somewhere in the back of their minds, Jankovic and Ivanovic are already planning to upstage each other with shouty, croaky ad-libs, which will turn this into a messy affair in the closing minutes.
Just the way we’re used to it on court.
Draw 11: Belarus
One of the newest nations to join Eurovision, Belarus has only been showcasing on the Contest stage since 2004. Things haven’t gone too well, either, as Belarus has only reached the final four times with a highest finish of sixth. Seemingly intent on finding itself, Belarus’ entries have ranged from the patriotic…
to the generally obscure… (Solayoh? Is that even a word?)
The only Belarusian to achieve anything of note in Eurovision didn’t even represent them. Alexander Rybak won the 2009 edition of the Contest, representing Norway with the song “Fairytale,” which received 387 points in the final — the highest in the history of Eurovision. His other country was one of 16 to award him 12 points.
Rybak’s singing isn’t really the highlight of the song, but his incredible violin playing is what really steals the show.
In tennis, Maria Sharapova might’ve been born to Belorussians Yuri and Yelena, but is 100 percent Russian — essentially making her the Rybak of this analogy. Flying the Belarusian flag at the top of tennis is Victoria Azarenka, but her time as a two-time Grand Slam champion and World No. 1 makes her too mainstream to be a match for her country’s Eurovision exploits.
With that said, Olga Govortsova is the ideal pick here. The other, blonder Belorussian is the Beatlemania to Azarenka’s Paul McCartney — not the real thing, but an incredible simulation. Close to her countrywoman in both playing style and tonality, Govortsova’s highest singles ranking was World No. 35 in 2008. With wins over Agnieszka Radwanska, Carla Suarez Navarro and Dominika Cibulkova, Govortsova’s Fed Cup loyalty and love of frozen yogurt makes her a beautiful marriage of many of Belarus’ recent entries.
Draw 12: Russia
Maria Sharapova, the most famous Russian in tennis, would undoubtedly lead Mother Russia to the Final and regain their former Eurovision glory. Russia has been having a tough time these past few years, at least since they brought down the house with a couple of babushkas. The turnt up grandmas stole Europe’s heart during the 2012 contest, but it wasn’t enough for the No. 1 spot as they finished an astounding second place.
For the past two years, Russia has consistently gotten into the Top 10, but it has been struggling to pull themselves into the Top 3. For any other country, the Top 10 would be amazing, but not for Russia.
Eurovision is serious business.
Russia, of course, has been blaming their “poor” performances on the rest of Europe hating them for their politics. With Sharapova at the helm, Russia would have a tennis icon who is universally loved — making it hard for even the (allegedly) invaded Ukraine to vote against Russia.
Knowing Russia, they would try their best to put a very Russian twist into the performance. For example, their winning performance in 2008 included ice skating legend Evgeni Plushenko, skating his heart out to pop star Dima Bilan’s vocals:
But for Sharapova to truly destroy the competition, she would also need a special guest star. Someone with talent as well as the ability to intimidate the rest of the competition into voting for them.
And that person would be President Vladimir Putin, who would join her in a tennis-themed duet that samples her grunting in the music.
Don’t believe he can sing? Watch and be amazed:
Draw 13: Denmark
Denmark has been one of the Contest’s most reliable competitors, missing just four editions since 1978. The Scandinavian nation has also been consistent, finishing in the Top 10 in four of the last five years. In 2012 — the one year they didn’t — Denmark sent Soluna Samay with “Should’ve Known Better,” also known as one of the most underrated songs in Eurovision history.
Just look at how much fun they’re having!
Unfortunately for Denmark, Europe didn’t see it that way. After Samay finished fourth from the bottom, Denmark returned with a bang in 2013, as “Shakira of the Forest” Emmelie de Forest dazzled those assembled in Malmö with “Only Teardrops” — which ticked all of the major Eurovision boxes.
2. Men in tight pants!
3. Oddly attractive and suspicious flute players!
(Needless to say, she won in a landslide.)
Consistent and reliable are two words to describe Denmark’s golden girl, Caroline Wozniacki, and the former World No. 1 is the living embodiment of her nation’s Eurovision efforts. A gritty competitor who reached the pinnacle of her sport, Wozniacki also knows what it’s like to bounce back from adversity on a tennis court. After having a down period — by her standards, anyway — the Dane roared back in 2014 to reach her second career major final at the US Open, recently returning to the world’s Top 5 in the process.
Should Wozniacki decide to take her talents to the Eurovision stage…well, we already know what to expect.
Draw 15: Romania
Obviously, national treasure Simona Halep would be Romania’s representative for Eurovision. Despite being Eurovision crazy, Romania hasn’t cracked the Top 10 in over five years. Despite their unluckiness, Romania has always brought the camp, and I would expect this year to be no different. Halep will have to shed her humble personality to really shine for Romania.
Low-key is definitely not a phrase in Romania’s vocabulary when it comes to Eurovision, and to really stand out from the crowd, Halep would have to create something wild. One way would be to invent a completely new musical genre, like Eurovision 2013’s Romanian contestant, Cezar. This Adam Lambert-esque vampire mashed opera and dubstep together for the most entertaining performance of that year.
Cezar was wrongfully landed in 12th place, but his legacy lives on as one of the most viewed Eurovision videos on YouTube.
Halep’s best bet would be to go the Cezar route and mix two polar opposites together. In my opinion, a rap and opera fusion — hip-hopera, if you will — with a tennis-themed spectacle would be perfect. Of course, as a Eastern European country, that bloc will vote for Romania regardless, but my recommendation will be able to capture the hearts of everyone in Western Europe. She might not win, but she would surely get into the Top 10, and hopefully beat Romania’s best of third place.
In praise of the best nickname in tennis, Halepeño could also do a Mexican-Romanian themed performance dressed as a literal jalepeno.
However, I don’t think Europe is quite prepared for that kind of artistry yet.
Who are your picks to make it out of ESC’s first semifinal? Would any of our tennis picks stand a chance? Sound off in the comments!
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