Tennis has become boring…

Posted: June 25, 2013 in Sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My former student Samarth Goyal inspired me to write this! A fan of Rafael Nadal, Samarth is distraught about the fact that Nadal lost. I, for one, think Nadal is a bore. And not just Nadal, most players, with the exception of Federer, play the game like they are programmed.

Sometime in the late 1980s when STAR TV made its entry into India, it created quite a stir – at least in my home. All of a sudden I was watching stuff that Doordarshan would never dream of carrying, for reasons best known to them. A few years earlier they had started showing the iconic Yes Prime Minister, but after a few episodes it was abruptly yanked off, probably because they thought it demeaned the office of the prime minister and showed the bureaucracy to be conniving little devils! It also showed the PM to be a complete dullard and Rajiv Gandhi in those days was floundering with the Bofors scandal having erupted. By the time STAR TV came into India (at least into Pune) Rajiv Gandhi had lost the election and VP Singh was the prime minister.

There was the kind of entertainment on STAR which I would often only read about. M*A*S*H* was one such serial about American doctors in Korea. It was and still the best sitcom I have seen. STAR also showed us sports, but initially, except for tennis there wasn’t too much of interest, unless you liked baseball, American football and basketball – which I did not. So I concentrated on watching tennis.

I remember the first time I watched the entire US Open it was on STAR and I was completely in awe. There was the legendary Jimmy Connors, all of 40, still playing, still clowning around and still swearing. He wagged his finger and screamed at a linesman for what he believed was a bad call. He was wrong, but it did not matter because just the fun of Jimbo blowing his top was entertaining enough! The thing is STAR brought it all into our living rooms. Every word he said to the linesman could be heard through the courtside microphones and, trust me, Connors wasn’t enquiring about the man’s health!

But even before STAR beamed tennis live there were the characters – Borg, Vijay Amrithraj, McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis, Guilermo Vilas, Ilie Nastase, and Roscoe Tanner who made tennis so exciting to watch. They played hard and enjoyed the game as much as they gave viewers a chance to enjoy the game. I remember during that particular US Open beamed live by STAR TV for the first time. In the midst of the drama involving a screaming Connors, a lone female voice cried out “I love you Jimmy!” The whole stadium erupted in laughter. And Connors turned around, anger forgotten, and blew a kiss! It was all an act but that is what made tennis so much fun to watch then.

Today, unfortunately, such characters have left the game. Today, except for the occasional Djokovic caper on the court, it is just another day at the office. Everything is about winning, winning and more winnings. Enjoyment is secondary. The game has become boring. Actually it became boring from the time players like Lendl, Courier and Sampras entered the scene – great tennis players, but lousy entertainers. Jim Courier was one of the most boring players I have ever watched. So what if he won a few grand slams? The only exceptions then were Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanesevic and a few others, who had fun while they played. Not too many of them around. Roger Federer comes closest. The rest, including Rafael Nadal, I wouldn’t go to watch – not even on TV.

And the same goes for the women. I don’t see even one player who comes close to Steffi Graf, Chris Evert, Martina Hingis, Gabriela Sabatini, Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, Martina Navratilova, to name just four. The standard of women’s tennis is pathetic and boring. And they actually want equal pay? So thank God, at least one bore has been knocked out in the first round of Wimbledon this year.

It is time tennis brought back its characters.

  1. says:

    I agree with you, Sir, when you say that the game has far fewer characters today than it deserves. And yes, I also agree with you when you say that perhaps Federer is the only one amongst this current lot who could compete with the likes of McEnroe and Borg.

    Having said that, I sense that your dislike for Nadal is a wee bit unjustified. There is a reason for his serious demeanour on the court. It is because every second of his life on the court, he is battling against a potentially debilitating knee and foot problem that will make him not only unable to play tennis, but will probably also cripple him for life. In his late teens, Nadal was told that he cannot, at absolutely any cost, become an athlete. He had a weak knee that he was born with. He wasn’t even supposed to run. But all the little Spaniard wanted to do was play tennis. So he decided that doctors can’t tell him what he can and cannot do.

    He got special shoes made that took all the pressure off his knees and concentrated it onto his feet. He was told that if he played using those shoes, he wouldn’t have more than a couple of years of a professional tennis career; after all, now he also had an insanely stressed foot to worry about. He went ahead with it any way; he reasoned, I’m guessing, that two years of tennis is better than no tennis at all. The fact that he has gone on to win as many Grand Slams as he has is testament to the fact that passion can truly accomplish miracles. Nadal’s achievements are miracles, whether we like him or not. Add to that, he is a thorough gentleman while playing.

    Sir, if you’ve never watched him play an entire game before, then I’d request you, if only for the spirit of the game, to spare some time and watch an entire Nadal match, end to end, to see what makes him a special sportsperson. Nothing illustrates this better than how he handles defeat, which is perhaps the greatest hallmark of true sporting spirit.

    Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone

  2. gsamarth says:

    what he said sir, precisely, what he said . . I can imagine your perception of being entertained- but hey ! there have been some jaw dropping moments- those long matches with rain coming in – Nadal gave you that.
    Again yesterday’s match – if it had been another day at the office he would have retired after the second set- he should have in-fact, he didn’t. And that’s what the spirit is all about. Maybe the entertainment angle has changed from shouting at the umpires and the ball boys to actually playing it all out ? .

  3. Pradeep,
    It is not like I haven’t watched the current crop including Nadal. I have and that is why I have made the comment I did. I am not doubting his calibre or class. He is a reat player. I was talking of those who played the game and entertained. That is missing today. .

  4. kausikray says:

    Lendl learnt to laugh after leaving tennis. His smile-less face can be compared with that of recently demised RAW chief. I liked Mats Wilander too. Handsome guy from Sweden became No. 1 for couple of months, too ! Pete Sampras – another gloomy one. He used to laugh only once – with the trophy. But there is a sentimental guy too in the circuit. The British player wept like a baby in Olympics. Let more humans come to play, not robots.

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