by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but if I am born in Canada, and I am raised in Canada, I’m Canadian, right?

That’s what I thought. It’s only logical. Of course, real logic and British logic are different things, especially when the Brits catch a whiff of a sports championship, which, unless you count cricket, happens here about once a century. All of which explains why the Brits are going bonkers, as they say, over the sudden success of “their men” — or their lads, or blokes, or chaps — here in the 1997 Wimbledon tournament. The Union Jack is flying high. The Queen is smiling. The strawberries are plumping under the clotted cream. Oh, happy day!

“For the first time in 36 years, England has two men in the quarterfinals!” they boast. And this is very nice. But it’s not very true. The truth is, it’s not really two men, it’s one. The other is a big server named Greg Rusedski, who, if he weren’t trying to win a tennis tournament, would be as British as a hockey puck.

Rusedski is a nice guy, who smiles and says popular things, but he was born in Canada, raised in Canada, schooled in Canada and learned to play tennis in Canada. Two years ago, he decided to become a Brit, claiming residence at his girlfriend’s place in London.

Of course, this just happened to coincide with a surge in his tennis ranking, and a suggestion by the British press that the lanky kid had a perfect game for grass, which means a perfect game for you-know-where.

“It’s one thing to win Wimbledon,” they cooed. “It’s another to do it as a native son. Think of how big you could be! And in Britain you get money for being the No. 1 player!”

After careful deliberation, which lasted long enough to buy a calculator, Rusedski said, “Sign me up.”

Ta-da. Insta-Brit.

Raised on Cherry, not strawberries

Now it’s true, Rusedski’s mother was born in England. Her Ukranian family was en route to North America. While they stopped in Great Britain, trying to gather funds, she came into the world, and lived in Yorkshire for five years.

The rest of her life was spent in Canada. She met her husband in Canada. She gave birth to her son in Canada. She raised him in Montreal, with the Montreal Canadiens, with the Montreal Expos, with Don Cherry on “Hockey Night In Canada.”

And now he’s British? With a name like Rusedski? Come on. He doesn’t look like a Brit. He doesn’t talk like a Brit. Oh, yes, every now and then, during an interview, he’ll throw in a word like “mate” or “telly” — as in “I was watching the telly last night” — but this seems awfully forced. So did the time he posed with a cricket bat (holding it wrong, I’m told) or the times he wears a British flag bandanna, or when he tried to explain his defection by saying, “I feel British in my heart.”

Hey. I like French food. That doesn’t make me Gerard Depardieu.

So while we’re all very happy that English men actually have a chance to win their own tournament — for the first time in 61 years — they ought to be a little more honest about it. Besides, what about Canada? You think it’s been a long time for the Brits at Wimbledon? There has never been a Canadian champion. Rusedski was the best hope ever for The Great White North. And now
— for what many felt was financial reasons — the guy jumps from Labatt’s to fish ‘n’ chips.

Poor Canada. First it loses the Nordiques, now this.

“I live here, my girlfriend lives here, and if I keep winning, I may bring my parents over here,” Rusedski said Tuesday, defending his choice of flag. “It was a lifestyle decision.”

So is a water bed. But nobody cheers you for that.

Even press treats him well

They cheer Rusedski here. They help make him rich. But then, this is a nation so starved for a sports champion, they’ll overlook almost anything. And if you think the roar for Grinning Greg is big, you should hear the way they explode for Tim Henman, who actually grew up in England, and has the teeth to prove it.

“GREAT BRIT-HEN!” the headline screamed, after Henman knocked out defending champion Richard Krajicek Wednesday to make the quarterfinals. The BBC announcer waved a British flag on camera. The normally brutal tabloid press calls him “Our Tim.”

Our Tim?

“Until the last few years, we haven’t had the players we’d like,” Henman said of the British success. “But now we’ve got the chance to put things straight.”

Well. It’s a chance. If you ask me, neither the real Brit nor the faux-Brit will end up winning this thing. But seeing as the last Englishman to take the singles title was Fred Perry — and his statue is already more than a decade old — well, you can understand the hysteria.

Still, it all seems a bit silly. Tennis players rarely stay in one place long enough to do their dry cleaning. And all this switching passports only waters down the whole country-versus-country thing. It’s true, Monica Seles and Martina Navratilova both ditched their original nationalities to become Americans, but it’s not like we wave the flag when they play. Tennis players, to us, are just athletes. You like them or you don’t.

It’s more than that here. So they’ll be waving the flag big-time today — for Henman, who sounds like he comes from Oxford, and Rusedski, who sounds like he comes from Hamtramck.

And what the heck. The logical fan knows how silly this is. But after careful consideration, I look at it this way.

They had to give back Hong Kong. Let ’em have a tennis player.


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