Love Matches

Examining the hard bodies who made the headlines on and off the field.
Thursday 7 February 2019
Former Wimbledon campion Steffi Graf and her husband and parter ANdre Agassi got together 17 years ago. Photo: Getty Images

It doesn’t keep me up at night, but I’ve often wondered why when Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf got together 17 years ago, they were not afforded a catchy portmanteau to commemorate their union.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got theirs: ‘Brangelina’ – a bit one-sided to my mind (it has her whole name and only 75% of his) while Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez became the power couple known as ‘Bennifer’.

Interestingly, so enamoured was Affleck of the sobriquet, that his next, high-profile partner was also a Jennifer (Garner) so he didn’t have to make a change, although there may have been a ‘2’ added. Hollywood loves its sequels.

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‘Bennifer 2’ (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner) during happier times. They have since finalised their divorce in late 2018. Photo: AFP

You could be forgiven for thinking that portmanteaus are a relatively new thing, but this is not the case. When Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks hooked up in 1920, the Tinseltown big hitters were referred to as ‘Pickfair’, and even the legendary Cary Grant’s 1942 marriage to heiress Barbara Woolworth had a natty if disparaging cognomen – to wit, ‘Cash and Cary’. Mean spirited? Perhaps. Grant later confirmed that he married for several wrong reasons, but none of them were related to money.

So why didn’t Steffi and Andre get a morpheme fusion of their own? Perhaps because ‘Steffassi’ sounds like an eastern European secret service, and ‘Agaf’ just sounds like a mistake, or a desert. They certainly deserved one though, having courted each other back in 1999 (creating quite a racket) and served notice of their liaison before tying the net and maybe even asking for ‘new balls’. Agassi, incidentally, had had a slew of previous, well-known, stellar inamorata that included Brooke Shields and, believe it or not, Barbra Streisand, whose dating he described as “like wearing hot lava.” Anyone?

Agassi met his match with Stefanie Maria, however, who had just retired from competitive tennis, stating that she felt she had “nothing left to accomplish.” At the time, Agassi was at his peak, and went on to win a further three Grand Slam titles. Graf had already arranged 22 major trophies in her cabinet and decided to settle down, and Agassi was the single gentleman of choice – despite the legendary coiffure.

You would have thought that with some pretty good sporting genes being exchanged in the procreation process, ‘Stefandre’ or ‘Agassraf’s progeny (it’s still not working, is it) would have had a decent chance of stamping their mark on the professional tennis circuit – heredity being nine-tenths of the awe.

Not a bit of it, I’m afraid. Elder son, Jaden, plays baseball, and even at 16 years of age is a pretty hot prospect, having inherited the kind of hand-eye coordination made in genetic heaven. Daughter Jaz prefers hip-hop dancing to tennis, allegedly. Neither Agassi, who always had an ambivalent relationship with the game that brought him much fame and fortune, nor Graf ever encouraged their kids to follow in their parents’ baseline footsteps. Could this be one of the keys to their longevity as a couple?

Related: This is How We Play Ball: the State of Football in Malaysia

Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy

There have been other sporting romances that, for various reasons, didn’t stand the test of the time trial. Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy, or ‘Wozilroy’ if you prefer, were together between 2011 and 2014 and it was media gold – not just for the tabloids; even the broadsheets couldn’t get enough of the sporting power couple who, at inception, were at the top of their respective games, the belle and beau of their balls.

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Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy were very much in love but didn’t make it to the altar. Photo: AFP

They appeared to be living idyllic lives – young, athletic, fabulously wealthy, they did everything they could to spend time together despite punishing sporting schedules. It was this, perhaps, that took its toll and led to McIlroy ending the relationship only days after wedding invitations had been sent out. Love was certainly in the air in the early stages, as were both protagonists – jetting from one competition venue to another to swap sporting anecdotes and have a cuddle. It was glamorous, but not very practical.

Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert

Love matches started many years ago, when American tennis legends (although not at the time) Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert played their own brand of mixed doubles and titillated the tabloids. They were due to be married in 1974, a year in which they had both won Wimbledon and were crowned as the ultimate sporting power couple, but he withdrew shortly before the planned nuptials. ‘Scratched’, if you prefer.

After Connors’ revelations in his autobiography, we now know the reason for Evert being left at the alter ego, but let’s not go into it. Evert went on to look for other sporting conquests, marrying British tennis player, John Lloyd in 1979 – they could have been known as ‘Everloyd’, but weren’t – “a match made in heaven,” according to tennis writer Peter Bodo (what a silly name), “not on Earth, which is probably why it didn’t last.”

Evert instantly became the darling of British tennis fans, which must have been a bittersweet experience for them. Previously they had disliked her for being so damn good and beating so many British women, not to mention the fact that she was blonde, pretty and ostentatiously American. When, however, she married ‘one of their own’, the British public took her to their bosom, affording her princess-like status.

The marriage lasted eight years – it almost certainly would have been less in the modern age of social media and ubiquitous scrutiny – during which time she had an affair with a British pop singer (Adam Faith) and his shorts were always too tight.

It was downhill for Evert thereafter, as she took up with a skier, Andy Mill, had three kids, divorced him, and 18 months later married golfer Greg Norman – a close friend and business partner of Andy’s, by the way.

After so many marriages and so many sportsmen, Evert decided that this was going to be it for her, but barely 15 months later the couple separated (they could have been known as ‘Nevert’) and the seemingly serial sportsman spouse hung up her garter and bouquet.

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Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn were together for almost 3 years before calling it quits in May 2015. Photo: AFP

Other honourable mentions in the department of sporting liaisons have to go to Tiger Woods (golf) and Lindsey Vonn (alpine skier) who were together for a couple of years and never received the portmanteau-bearing approval, and some people might not know this but when Roger Federer met his wife of nine years now, Miroslava Vavrincová (better known to friends and hacks as ‘Mirka’), they were both tennis players who were representing their country at the Olympics. Now that’s how to court.

Adam Scott (golf) and Ana Ivanovic (tennis) – two genetically blessed people – were together, on and off, for more than two years. I quite like ‘Adamana’ for them, although it does sound like a resort somewhere in Southeast Asia, while ‘Scottanovic’ doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. They went the way of Wozilroy – constantly in different geographical directions – and it led to their uncoupling.

Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza

For me, however, the best sporting matchup – one that I earnestly hope will endure, along with Agassi and Graf – is that between Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis player Sania Mirza – a marriage made in geopolitical heaven.

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Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis player Sania Mirza met, married and had a child in October 2018 despite dissuasion. Photo: AFP

They briefly met for the first time at a restaurant in Hobart, Tasmania, back in 2004, but subsequent meetings were sporadic, despite the apparently instant attraction and connection. It seemed to take hiatuses in both of their sporting careers to seal the deal – he was temporarily banned from the game; she was injured – and the rest is history.

They were married in 2010, and welcomed their first child in October 2018, despite right wing proponents from both nuclear powers trying to dissuade the couple from the seemingly abhorrent course of action that they had embarked upon. Shoaib and Sania don’t have a portmanteau, and I’m beginning to see a connection, because neither do Andre and Steffi. Perhaps there is something slightly waggish about the exercise of assigning on – almost as though nicknames have an inherent frivolity; a bit of fun; not meant to last.

These sporting couples have lasted, and will last, because their relationships are based on mutual respect and appreciation. Athletes in their prime will always find one another attractive – shagging at the Olympic village in London back in 2012 apparently reached unprecedented levels – but there will never be a substitute for good sports and true love.

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