Abdul the motor mechanic, is one of my oldest and closest friends. Heavily bearded and bodily hirsute, he hails from Florina. His original nickname was “freebie” because years ago, in a fit of patriotic exuberance he had the words ῾τιμής ένεκεν῾ tattooed over his left upper arm, thinking that this was ancient Greek for “give honour its due.”
Since then, the words have been obscured by an entire sleeve of the Titanomachy, of such complexity as to put Pheidias to shame, which is why, for a brief period of time, we called him Elgin. Now he is known as Abdul, owing to the fact that, sitting by Coburg Lake one day, we were approached by a friendly group of males with beards of length and volume almost as large as Abdul’s. They proceeded to admonish us about the evils of eating kebab during Ramadan, whereupon Abdul informed them we were not muslims.
As they walked away, one of the young men, crestfallen, remarked to the other: “That’s the problem with these hipster f….s. You can’t tell who is who anymore.” He has laboured under the sobriquet of Abdul ever since.
Generally, Abdul is to be avoided during the month of January for he is tennis mad and not content in immersing himself completely in his passion, deems it fit also to subject it upon others, so that a visit to his house entails: being compelled to watch Abdul, eyes fixed upon the television screen, yelling words of encouragement to his idols, being admonished to shut up whenever attempting to open a topic of conversation unrelated to the match and most heinously, being forbidden to leave.
On this occasion, however, Abdul, meeting me in a non-tennis safe space, was jubilant:
“Re, did you see that Tsitispas re? Αυτός είναι έλληνας βρε! A golden Greek! An Alexander the Great of the tennis court.”
Perceiving my non-committal response, he continued, draping a bear arm upon my cervix: “See this is the kind of thing we need. Someone to show the world who we really are. So they can stop picking on us and pushing as around. Now we have shown them, the κερατάδες.” He proceeded to emit whoops of Hellenic exultation with great gusto and increasing frequency.
“Who do you think is pushing us around?” I asked. “And why do you think this will stop?”
“Έλα ρε with your intellectual bullshit,” he spat. “That’s the problem with you google-eyed freaks. You have to analyse everything. Nothing ever constructive comes out of your mouths. You have to drag all the Greeks down with your constant negativity . It’s simple. When he beat Federer, all the journos were making fun of his name. They couldn’t pronounce it. When he got into the semi-finals though, suddenly they figured out how to say his name. That’s respect. That shows them what Greece is capable of. Greeks rule.”
“So, what you’re saying is that if we were all good at tennis, non-Greeks would like us, whereas now they don’t, because we aren’t good at tennis? Does this apply specifically to tennis, or do we have to be good at other sports as well? If so, how many, and which ones? And what is the critical mass of sports-competent Greeks that needs to be achieved before significant attitude shifts are observed and re-alignments in geo-politics ensue?” I enquired.
“Σταμάτα τις βλακείες. You know as well as I do that they all hate us because they are jealous of the fact WE gave them the lights of our civilisation. Ever since then they have been trying to drag us down, the dogs. Them, I can understand. But [insert word for gender specific genitalia here] like you do it too, with your intellectual drivel. There is no excuse for that.”
“What do you mean, genitalia like me?”
“Well, are you happy that the golden Tsitsipas won? No, you don’t give a sh..t. Τι έλληνας είσαι εσύ? One of the few times we as a people have something to celebrate and you’re sitting there with your μούτρα κρεμασμένα.”
“My uncle died last week.”
“F… your uncle. The πατρίδα comes first. But its people like you who want to πουλήσει it at the first opportunity. Seriously, how can you knock Tsitsipas? He is a god.”
“I’m not,” I replied. “I have enormous regard for him. “When I was young, I always dreamed of being a tennis player just so I could quote from Heidegger and Hegel at Australian Open press conferences. This Tsitsipas is basically living my dream, except that he quotes Homer instead.”
“Smart-arse. I’m telling you, this guy is the peak role model for all Greek men that will follow. And check out that hair, just like Alexander the Great’s! This is like Euro 2004 all over again. Greece is back, baby!”
“Why do you seek validation of your identity by a tennis player, as opposed to, for example, your grandmother?” I asked. “If Greece is to ‘come back,’ surely that requires all of us to get off our posteriors and strive to fashion a Modern Greek discourse that is relevant to and is in dialogue with, the contemporary world?”
“Κουταμάρες again. He is a pure Greek, dominating the world. His achievement is an achievement of the entire Greek race.”
“A pure Greek, you say? You know that his mother is actually Russian.”
“No, she is Russian. And it is she that taught him his tennis skills, according to a strict Russian regime.”
Abdul seized his phone and began to search the internet. His eyes grew wide with astonishment and I decided to press home my point:
“So, if Tsitsipas is only half Greek, does that mean that his achievement is only half-relevant or half an achievement for us? And to what extent do his victories redound to the greater glory of Holy Mother Russia?”
“Bloody Russians,” Abdul mumbled, as for all his anti-western prejudices, he is one of those historically conscious Greeks who are of the opinion that Russia has exercised a malign influence upon the development of Modern Greece and cannot understand why a sizeable proportion of its people, are hot for the land of the Rus. I decided to maliciously press home my advantage:
“So Tsitsipas does us proud, quotes Homer on twitter but τσιμουδιά about the Macedonian Issue. Τι Τσίπρας, τι Τσιτσιπάς.”
Florinian Abdul’s jaw clenched as he absorbed the full effect of my words. “You’re right,” he finally exclaimed. “It would have taken him two seconds to say something about Macedonia and he would have gained my love and respect forever.”
“But he said nothing,” I continued mischievously. “Why do you think that is.”
Abdul frowned for a while. Finally he stood up and to the rhythm of his fist pounding the table, he pronounced: “Because εί-ναι που-λη-μένος.”
“Don’t you see?” Abdul assumed a didactic air. “The Russians were among the first countries to recognise FYROM as “Macedonia.”
They want to create Slav empire that reaches the Aegean. They have wanted to do this ever since Byzantium. Tsitsipas is Russian. So it makes sense that he wouldn’t take the opportunity that any true Greek would, to make a patriotic statement. He is just in it for the money anyway.”
“You are talking about the guy that wrote: “Εις οιωνός άριστος, αμύνεσθαι περί πάτρης” on his Intagram account,” I ventured. “Why are you calling his patriotic credentials into question? And what do you mean he is not a true Greek? All of a sudden he is Russian now?”
“His mother is Russian. So he doesn’t have the Greek παιδεία. If you are not schooled in Hellenism, how can you think like a Greek?”
“Living in the country might help,” I offered.
“Forget it mate, blood is blood. Το αίμα νερό δεν γίνεται, and his blood is tainted. Look at Phillipoussis.”
“What about him?”
“Bombed out. Couldn’t follow through. Tainted. Unschooled. Not a true Greek.”
I considered this for a while. “I’ll tell you who was a true god of the court,” I said finally. “Pete Sampras.”
Abdul jumped from his seat excitedly. “Pistol Pete! Legend, dead set Greek legend,” he exclaimed.
“You know his grandmother was Jewish, don’t you?” I continued. “Are you going to argue that this is the reason why he too did not mention the Macedonian Issue in Centre Court during the nineties?”
Abdul seemed troubled by this.
“How about Marcos Baghdatis, he of the famous Stalactites souvlaki?” I persisted. “Not once, ever did mention Cyprus or Macedonia during his time on the court.”
“A gentleman. I ran into him in the city once and spoke to him. Top bloke. Top Greek. Top Role Model for the Hellenic youth. Λεβέντης.”
“Whose father is Lebanese…kind of like Digenis Akritas,” I concluded.
“Top bloke, top Greek. Played defender for Romania. They made a song about him. Interestingly enough, it was used as a basis of a Russian folk ballad about Anika the Warrior. But my point is that there is a whole Pantheon of Greek tennis gods to adore. And like the Olympian gods, not all of them come specifically from Greece. Never therefore ask what Russia has done for us. She has borne you your idol, which you will now worship, that is, until he loses, or develops a drinking problem in later life.”
A few days later when I chanced again upon Abdul he seemed shattered. “I had placed all my hopes and dreams on Tsitsipas,” he lamented. “I really thought he would win.”
“It is by this sign that you know that you worship the true god of Modern Greece,” I sighed. “For he personifies its paradigm. He makes you hope against hope, dream against dream, to come so far, so close, only to see those aspirations tumble into oblivion, due to the malevolent intervention of foreign protagonists. What do they say: “As private parts we are to the gods. They play with us for their sport.”
“Homer?” Abdul asked.
“No, Blackadder,” I replied.
“Bloody Nadal,” Abdul exclaimed bitterly. “Did you know that Barcelona was Greek?”
“These are the prescribed words for deification as contained in Hesiod, who Tsitsipas is yet to quote,” I intoned: ἰσόθεος = equal to a god, ἀντίθεος = equivalent to a god, ἀτάλαντος = equal in the balance ..to a god, θεοείκελος = in god’s likeness, θεὸν ὥς = as if he were a god. All praise him.”