In Woody Allen’s opening shot of Matchpoint, we see a tennis ball suspended directly above the net, having yet to give us any indication of which side of the court it is going to fall down on. During this static shot, the protagonist, off camera, yields the following monologue:
The man who said "I’d rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck it goes forward and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t and you lose.
Woody Allen is borrowing from an ancient perspective here, one which warns us that we are often involved in circumstances beyond our control, that not everything is up to us – that randomness and arbitrariness often rule.
Whether we like to think so or not, this was the upshot of the Canada – USA gold medal game. The tennis ball could have landed on either side, and we were all just waiting for, well, a bit of luck.
Of course this is not how the historical narrative will play out. We were meant to win in our own country. Crosby was destined to score in overtime. Canada deserved the gold after three straight wins.
But for those of us who really saw the fragility of that game, who felt the terrifying vulnerability at every moment, there can be no such historical consolation. We just have to be thankful this time around, and hope that next time we do a little better to avoid that tennis ball moment.