Nothing like a bump in the road to make you complain about the whole road ... for days. When Maria Sharapova's tennis ball hit a dead spot on the court at the Australian Open, it was the bounce (or non-bounce) felt 'round the world. YouTube and Yahoo were all over it. Pictures were everywhere, particularly that shot of the lineswoman throwing the ball down and having it stick to the spot as though the court were magnetized. It made news, that's for sure. The question is, was it news?
Not really. The Australian Open has cushioned courts, which means the synthetic surface, which has some give to it, sits on top of a pavement. Dead spots can have several causes, but two are common: a dip in the pavement under the cushioned coating, or heat that causes a bubble of air that migrates up through an area of the pavement and makes the cushion lift a bit, moving it away from the surface and creating an air pocket that absorbs the impact of the ball. At the Open, it was the latter. The solution was low-tech but quick: Workers used a cordless drill to poke small holes in the affected area, released the air, restored the planarity of the surface, and the world as we know it went back into balance. Sharapova certainly didn't seem to lose any of her bounce; she won the match and advanced to the next round. But for days, the debate continued: Why did it happen? Was the surface to blame? Was it a catastrophic failure? Nope. Just an air bubble that made its presence known during a rather high-profile match. In that respect, it's no different from other technical difficulties that, for whatever reason, happen at inopportune moments: a microphone that fails in the middle of a dignitary's speech, or a tire that goes flat when the driver is in a hurry. It's maddening. It's inconvenient. But it passes. Chill, people. Once the crowds have gone home, it's likely the court will be examined to ascertain the dead spot wasn't caused by any underlying problem. And that will be the end of it. Or it should be, provided commentators, bloggers and others can bear to talk about (gasp!) the sport, rather than a problem that took a quick fix. Of course, that means they'll also have to give up talking about what Venus Williams chooses to wear.