Eurovision really is a lot like tennis: one night is never enough. TTI returns with New York Times contributor and ESC expert, Ben Rothenberg to match your favorite tennis personalities with your favorite whacky Eurovision performances for the second semifinal. 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 07: Portugal
Oh Portugal, you’ve had it rough in Eurovision. No Top 5 finish; a career-best 6th place in 1996 was the best they have achieved in over 40 appearances — only to follow it up with ZERO Points in 1997.
One of the few country to stick to their native tongue — come hell or high water — Portugal has often picked songs rooted in folk or fado genres, along with the occasional samba-inspired uptempo number.
For Portugal it’d be crucial to make some noise in Eurovision — and who better to provide some agony, drama and fierce, shouty vocals than Michelle Larcher De Brito? Much like her home-country’s Eurovision results, Larcher De Brito’s have been mixed in recent years but in at least one of the biggest stages in tennis, the 22-year-old has been causing upsets, reaching the third round at the last two Wimbledon Championships.
Personally I’m envisioning something that will take the best from Portugal’s entries from the end of the 00s. The drama of “Senhora Du Mar”, the tears at the end of Flor-de-Lis’ performance and the sheer volume and over-singing of Filipa Azvedo. Combining all those elements should create something that would suit Larcher De Brito brilliantly. And maybe give Portugal another result inside the Top20 in the finals.
Draw 08: Czech Republic
After skipping the last five contests, the Czech Republic is back, back, back in 2015! They probably won’t make it to the final, but odds are that they’ll at least have their best result to date. That really wouldn’t take much, considering that, in their three prior appearances, they came in dead last in 2007, second-to-last in 2008, and dead last (with ZERO points! the most recent zero-pointer) in 2009 with this salute to gypsy superheroes.
The Czech tennis players, who have been nearly unstoppable in Davis and Fed Cup in the time since their country last took the Eurovision stage, can hardly relate to these losers.
But let’s focus on the positives, that one time the Czechs beat Hungary and only Hungary in their 2008 semifinal.
Tereza Kerndlova sang an anthem which might as well have been written by Petra Kvitova. The lyrics might as well be torn from David Kotyza’s playbook: “If you want to have some fun, don’t run!”
Translation: “Petra. Gurrl. Don’t think you’re ever going to win with defense. Just stand there and hit the damn crap out of the ball.”
Choreography and street cred provided by the one and only Barbora “Beezus” Strycova, naturally.
Draw 09: Israel
Australia has basically stolen Israel’s thunder this year. Israel was the first Eurovision competitor that was not actually in Europe. It doesn’t even have the excuse of bordering a European country like the Black Sea countries.
Now here comes Australia, waltzing in like they did it first.
To add insult to injury, the country has failed to qualify for the finals the last four years, and hasn’t placed in the Top 10 since 2005. But what Australia and many other countries don’t have is Israel’s rich Eurovision history. It first competed in 1973, and they have won the competition three times before. Despite their recent shortcomings, this could be the year Israel turns this ship around and restores its former glory.
In my opinion, the best way to get a chance at the Eurovision title again would be for Israel to go back to its roots.
For Israel, that means bringing back the DIVA. The last time Israel won Eurovision was 1998, when Dana International smashed the competition with “Diva,” an ode to strong women everywhere.
Dana International didn’t just win the competition, but she became the first and only transgender contestant to win.
International’s performance should be the blueprint for all future competitors, regardless of country. Bring in the fun, the camp, the female empowerment, and you’ll be set for Eurovision fame.
Moreover, Israel has a storied tennis history much like its Eurovision history. For a competitor, I recommend Anna Smashnova, one of Israel’s best ever tennis players and currently the frontrunner for most amazing last name.
I’m sure she’ll come out of retirement for a chance like this.
Draw 10: Latvia
While we await the slow, steady comeback of Anastasia Sevastova to achieve full ascendancy, let us remember the good times we had with Ernests Gulbis, who needs to start winning matches in a meaningful way to remain a professional tennis player.
Gulbis, the ultimate free thinker and independent soul on the ATP World Tour, has a spirit largely matched by the Latvian Eurovision Lordship. From the very first time Latvia took the stage in 2000 with “Brainstorm,” there was an irreverent freedom about them, complete with white Saturday Night Fever pants.
The Letts got third that year and won — in an incredibly weak year — in 2002. Recently, they’ve fallen on a patch of rough seas, failing to make it out of the semifinal rounds since 2008. So let’s go back to that year, when “Wolves of the Sea” by Pirates of the Sea brought Latvia a bounty of booty.
As a professed submarine owner himself, Gulbis would feel right at home with a pack of rascal buccaneers — who occasionally get thrown in the brig on foreign shores — breaking rackets and hearts everywhere they went.
Draw 14: Switzerland
There are many options for the Swiss. A country with tennis superstars over the course of 20 years, their results at Eurovision have been more lacking, to say the least. In the past 11 years, the country has failed to qualify for the finals seven times — and it’s one of the only countries to walk out of a Eurovision semifinal with ZERO Points.
Though it’s kind of easy to understand why Piero and the MusicStars failed to make a positive impression.
In order to right the wrongs of the the past decade, Switzerland should be sending none other than one of the most famous sportsmen in the world, 17-time Slam Champion, Roger Federer. Their last victory came at the hands of another icon, namely Céline Dion, all the way back in 1988 – and with a recognizable name, Federer may trigger a large number of votes heading their way again.
The Swiss No. 1 would finger-clicking his way through a Sinatra-esque number called “Humble,” with projections of a large big-band and a slide-show of Federer lifting every trophy he has won over the course of the past 15 years:
“I’m earning more in one month than you will in your life
I’ve got two sets of twins and a protective wife *crybaby ad-lib*
But I stay humble
I’m flying private jets and streets, they bear my name
To me it’s normalcy, to you it might be fame
But I stay humble
Endorsed by Rolex, Moet, Gillette — but you can bet
That I’ll stay humble
*horn section coinciding with Federer sipping champagne and toasting to his victory*
Draw 15: Cyprus
As in tennis, Cyprus hasn’t exactly lit up the Eurovision scoreboards since its 1981 debut. Though the nation is rarely the worst — finishing in last place just once — it has difficulty standing out against the more politically protected powerhouses.
It’s been even worse for the Cypriots in recent years, failing to qualify in six of the last eight Contests, but the plucky nation is attempting a comeback after watching from the sidelines in 2014.
Such perennial under-performing would make one think that Cyprus can’t carry a tune, yet the Mediterranean island is home to one of the most underrated ESC songs of the last few years.
Ivi Adamou’s “La La Love” earned many a Eurovision fan’s love in Baku, but finished a disappointing 16th place in the final competition, overshadowed by Sweden’s “Euphoria.”
Marcos Baghdatis is most certainly the embodiment of this tennis to Eurovision analogy. The Cypriot has reached one final, but rarely meets the expectations set by his great talent. Baghdatis made good on his junior promise early in his career, riding the wave of Down Under Greek/Cypriot support into the 2006 Australian Open final before falling to Roger Federer — after taking a one-set lead.
The former Wimbledon semifinalist is an entertainer at his core, going viral when he broke four racquets in rapid succession to the delight of the Australian Open crowd. It’s safe to say Baghdatis’ Eurovision number would be decidedly less violent, and likely a jaunty dance number that brought Adamou acclaim.
The wins might not flow as frequently as they used to, but the former No. 8 still knows how to have a good time.
Draw: 16: Slovenia
Since Slovenia’s 1993 debut, Eurovision has been a rocky road full of ups and downs.
Since the semi-finals format was introduced in 2005, Slovenia has only qualified for the finals three times. The country’s highest ever position was a paltry seventh place in 1995 and 2001. Even back when the country competed as part of Yugoslavia, it was only picked four out of 27 times to represent the nation.
Cursed with Cyprus’ Small Nation Syndrome, Slovenia has been trying to slither its way into the Eurovision Cool Kids Club, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own alliances. Slovenia gets by with a little help from Croatia, another former Yugoslav republic.
Croatia routinely gives Slovenia great scores, and vice versa.
After years of mediocrity, Slovenia showed a glimmer of hope last year with Tinkara Kovač’s “Round and Round.” The country pushed into the finals after two years of languishing in the semis. Kovač’s flute was the real showstopper, and after years of seeing contestants rock out on violins and guitars, it was nice to see the flute finally get the love it deserved.
In Tennisvision, Slovenia would be represented by none other than their golden child, Katarina Srebotnik. The doubles specialist won has won every single Grand Slam at least once, and her affinity for teamwork makes it necessary that her performance would have to be a duet.
How about with famous Slovene celebrity philosopher, Slavoj Žižek? They could get the audience really thinking about their performance.
Draw 17: Poland
Poland has found it hard to replicate its initial accolades; since finishing in second during its 1994 debut, the Eastern European nation has finished in the Top 10 just once since then, last employing not one, not two, but three languages when Iche Troje reached 7th place over a decade ago.
If not for Germany and Denmark, Poland might have been able to field a super team of tennis players to send to this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. But without Sabine Lisicki, Angelique Kerber, and Caroline Wozniacki, Poland would still have a solid duo in Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska who could still give rivals a run for their money.
The Radwanskas wouldn’t be the first sister act to hit the ESC stage; the Tolmachevy sisters represented Russia just last year, matching Poland’s last best finish with long blonde ponytails and symmetrical choreography.
“Aga” and “Ula” have already proven an ability to stay in synch, if their impromptu “Poker Face” number during the 2009 Year-End Championships is any indication:
Given the sisters’ results of late, a Eurovision collaboration might not yield the same upbeat dynamic they displayed in Doha, but this year’s ESC set list has made it clear that angst-heavy ballads are most definitely in. Even if the former No. 2 hasn’t made a major final since 2012, I would put my money on the Radwanskas to stealth their way through the semifinals of any Eurovision competition.
Which countries are you pulling for in the second semifinal? Sound off in the comments!