The Death of Tennis Is Greatly Exaggerated
Sports fans don’t care about tennis.
At least that’s what you always hear from blogs, television reports, your friends, the drunk guy outside that falafel stand downtown (“Did you hear, man? No one cares about tennis. Also, Jesus is coming tomorrow and he’s purple, man.”)
But is it really true? You know, the tennis thing. Not the Jesus thing.
All of the complaints against tennis are familiar:
- New racquets and technology has players hitting too hard and the game is hard to watch;
- There is too much parity and no one know these players are;
- Tennis players are boring, and there are no good American players.
I don’t understand the complaint about how the game has become too fast and too powerful. For the longest time, the public bleating about why tennis sucks came from the perception that tennis players were delicate, genteel nancies who dinked a fuzzy ball back and forth. But now that the game has evolved to the point where it’s routine to crack a 120-mph serve, and rip 90-mph forehands, it’s a bad thing?
Everyone thinks it’s cool that football now has 250-pound linebackers who can run a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds; people don’t think it’s weird that the NBA has players like LeBron James who are 6-foot-8, 240 pounds and play like a point guard; baseball fans love seeing 475-foot home runs.
So isn’t it cool that there are tennis players who can hit huge serves, crush their groundstrokes and look like this or this? I’m failing to see how the evolution of tennis beyond a white-sweater, country-club sport is a bad thing.
For compelling American players and storylines, people seem to forget that Andy Roddick is still ranked sixth in the world. James Blake broke his neck three years ago and has recovered from partial paraylsis to be ranked No. 8 in the world. American Donald Young is just 18 years old and has risen to No. 73 in the world rankings.
And, from a pure numbers standpoint, it seems that all of the cries about how tennis is declining in America aren’t even true. Last year, the US Open set a record for attendance during the first two days of the tournament, and eventually exceeded their all-time attendance mark for the entire tournament, topping 700,000 for the first time ever. And despite the state of the economy, racquet and tennis ball sales have been steadily increasing each of the past several years.
Maybe you’re not into tennis, but plenty of other people are.
With that said, if you’re a tennis neophyte, here are some players you can keep an eye on and root for.
Gael Monfils: He’s linked above as an example of the new breed of lightning-fast, powerful tennis players. He’s 21 years old and ranked No. 26 in the world. The 6-foot-4 black French dude has hit the fastest forehand ever recorded — 118 miles per hour. He’s truly one of the most fun players in the world to watch.
Novak Djokovic: Also 21 years old and one of the hardest hitters on tour. He has powerful groundstrokes and uses a lot of topspin that pushes opponents way back into the court. He got a lot of attention for his on-court impressions of Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova at the US Open. Check out the Sharapova one on YouTube.
Marcos Baghdatis: Yes, his name sounds like an Iraqi illness, but he’s an outstanding and charismatic tennis player. That’s right. I said “charismatic.” He’s from Cyprus (a Cyprian!) and is ranked No. 25 in the world. He’s exuberant to the point where he pisses off most of his opponents, but he has one of the most effortless games in the world. At least, that’s when he’s not screaming or trying to hit every shot through the back wall.
Rafael Nadal: I know you know who he is, but he’s probably already the best clay-court player who has ever lived, and he works harder than anyone else in the world. He’s getting better and better, and he’s adapted his repertoire so he’s dangerous on all surfaces, not just clay. Go to YouTube and check out some of his highlights; no one pulls off more ridiculous shots. Here, I’ll get you started.
All right, loyal readers. I’ve done my part. Now you do yours — pay some attention to tennis. The Wimbledon semifinals and finals are this weekend. That’s the tournament with the grass courts and the white clothes and the bad British food. But it’s also the tournament with some pretty awesome tennis.
And if you don’t want to pay attention, fine. But at least don’t try to argue that tennis is boring.
Tags: gael monfils, novak djokovic, rafael nadal, tennis, wimbledon