Yes, tennis is the gentleman’s game: hushed clubs, pristine whites, polite applause, and the rest. And yet it’s filled with rampant streaks of bad behavior. From gamesmanship to private tantrums to racket wreckage, the simple game is so difficult that it has reduced many to Richie Tenenbaum-esque meltdowns through the years. But, it endures. Not just for the remarkable talents of today’s players—who seem to generate more and more pace and manage to invent new angles—but because the game is inherently great.
When you watch a historic match, you first notice that the shorts are a little shorter and that the rackets are made from a more earthbound material. Then you remember how terrific the game is on any surface, played in any country. This all takes about a minute, because you quickly become absorbed in the chamber drama that is any professional match. And that never grows old.
The finesse, the tactics, the skill, but, above all, the personalities, draw you into every match. In tennis, there’s nowhere to hide. Every play requires the participation of both competitors. And not just participation—expression. To play tennis is, to an extent, an expression of a world view. If you don’t think so, walk through the Luxembourg Gardens and watch Parisians play tennis in their jeans and then go to the café.
At a higher level, there’s even more to appreciate. And if you don’t think older players have the skills then you still have a lot to learn, my lad. Pick up a wooden racquet and you’ll appreciate the genius of Bjorn Borg before your first serve falls weakly into the net. But it’s about more than one man. It’s about triumph and struggle and double faults. It’s a noble pursuit, that’s only mastered by a few. And even the greats have suffered heartache—you’ve probably seen Roger Federer cry more than any other public figure not on trial. That’s to say it’s a human game, and it still demands our attention, through the years, because it deserves to.
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