Victory in Defeat

Picture 15Tennis fans may know that Venus Williams lost in the U.S. Open yesterday. What I found interesting during a weekend report from her post-match interview, was a turn of phrase that I’ve heard many times in sports — in fact, in an interview from the same day, when he advanced but only after a surprisingly close match, Roger Federer said pretty much the same thing in his post-match interview.

As phrased by Williams (read the whole interview here), it goes as follows:

I really just have to emphasize that I think she [i.e., her opponent, Sara Erranis] played really well. I think she just played one of the best matches of her life. You know, that’s pretty much what I can say.

Or, as Federer put it (read the whole interview here):

I don’t necessarily agree that it’s always an advantage being the favorite or former world No. 1 or Grand Slam champion, because I really do believe a lot of guys come out swinging against us, and they usually play above what they usually can.

It’s a great technique to ensure that the listener identifies the speaker in just the right way — for the reason I lost, or the reason it was such a close match, is because my opponent played better than ever, hitting the zenith of his or her career, inspired by (you guessed it), me.

Coz, you know, normally, they’re not so good.

It’s a nifty rhetorical trick: humility and hubris all rolled into one. For although it didn’t go as planned, I still came out on top. Which means that when I win, I win because I’m just that good, and when I lose, I lose because, well…, I’m just that good.

It’s a compliment that shines the light only on the speaker — damning others by way of self-praise.

Yet we probably don’t usually hear it that way, and that’s the curious thing, demonstrating the way that we are implicated in perpetuating their celebrity.

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