Sunday, January 31, 2010

Robert - On Tennis - Today

To the extent that Wild Posting is about anything yet, it's about what moves me. Tennis has always moved me, excited me, brought out my own instincts towards the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat -- mostly as a watcher, occasionally as a player (too much agony of defeat there). When I was in fifth grade, and for the next few years, I got to be a ballboy for the Virginia Slims tournament in Akron, Ohio. At the time, Billie Jean, Chris, Martina, Virginia Wade, Rosie Casals, and Evonne Goolagong (the sweetest woman in the world) were the big names. I believe Margaret Court may have showed up once or twice. But she turned out to be not so nice personally/politically, so it doesn't bother me that I can't remember.

I do remember who we rooted for as a family in the '70s: Evonne because she flowed, Stan Smith because he was an American jock and a gentleman, Arthur Ashe because he was an American and a boundary-breaker (and often an underdog), John Newcombe because he was an Australian jock and dashing, and Chris. (Everyone rooted for Chris back then. In retrospect, I think that most of them were rooting for her blonde hair and the freckles on her nose, but I was rooting for those vicious eyes.)

In the '80s and '90s, off on my own now, it was all Steffi and Pete. I loved how hard Steffi hit, loved her stoicism on court (and the dismissive thing she would do with her hand when she hit a bad shot), loved her legs. I loved Pete's hangdog expression before he fired yet another ace, and even more his running forehand. I loved that they were champions who were human and sometimes failed, and loved that more often they didn't.

For the past ten years, the list of players I am truly enthusiastic about has narrowed to one. Roger Federer will be remembered for the records, and for being the most gentlemanly of modern players, and everyone will be sure to mention his "genius." He does have genius, but the amazing thing about this isn't his raw talent, but rather the way it has transformed tennis matches. It's remarkable to watch him at his best -- not because he dominates, but because the matches look and feel different when he plays. You get to see all of these new possibilities in a very old game.

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