Success after 30 years

Tennis is a year-round sport that can be played outdoors or indoors. Anyone can play. And it’s so much fun. But that’s just for starters. Here are 23 more reasons why tennis is great.

Esther Mary Vergeer, wheelchair tennis’ biggest superstar, amassed an astounding 48 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles. Vergeer ended her career in 2013 on an even more amazing 470-match winning streak.   -  AP

Gender equality

After a contentious 30-year campaign waged by the Women’s Tennis Association, both Wimbledon and the French Open awarded equal prize money to men and women in 2007.

All four majors thus offered parity for the first time. Men still play on the show courts more often than women, but the gap is narrowing. Women will make greater progress when they become officers in much larger numbers in the International Tennis Federation and national tennis associations.

Wheelchair tennis

Since Brad Parks created competitive wheelchair tennis in 1976, the sport has steadily increased in popularity. A demonstration event at the Seoul 1988 Summer Paralympics, wheelchair tennis became a full-fledged, medal competition at the 1992 Summer Paralympics in Barcelona. The 2018 UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour consists of more than 160 tournaments in over 40 countries, with $2.5 million total prize money. All four Grand Slam tournaments stage wheelchair events. Dutchwoman Esther Mary Vergeer, wheelchair tennis’ biggest superstar, amassed an astounding 48 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles. Vergeer ended her career in 2013 on an even more amazing 470-match winning streak.

Today women play with a colourful, stylish array of dresses, skirts and shorts — even a black catsuit Serena Williams wore.   -  AFP

 

Tennis Channel

A real game-changer, Tennis Channel is the only 24-hour, television-based multimedia destination dedicated to both the professional sport and tennis lifestyle. TC offers comprehensive coverage from every one of the top 100 tournaments.

Besides match play, groundbreaking original shows such as the documentary-style Signature Series and Tennisography delve into the behind-the-scenes stories that highlight the history of the most influential players, while introducing today’s up-and-coming talents. Tennis Channel also looks beyond the professionals at the net with lifestyle, travel, instructional and news shows like Tour Guide, Tennis Channel Academy, One Minute Clinic, Bag Check and Court Report.

Self-improvement

Whether you’re a recreational or tournament player, you can always get better. With expert coaching and diligent practising, you can make your strokes sounder and shots stronger and more consistent, and you can fine-tune your tactics. Your practice sessions and lessons learned in tournaments also will likely improve your self-discipline, work ethic, problem-solving skills and ability to handle adversity in other areas of your life.

Fashionable attire

Flamboyant Suzanne Lenglen, tennis’ first woman superstar, put on lipstick, wore a bandeau and shocked tennis traditionalists by exposing her calves in the 1920s. Lenglen’s contemporary, Helen Wills, wore a sun visor for the first time.

Ever since, tennis fashion has added a seductive, even erotic, dimension to tennis. Gertrude “Gorgeous Gussie” Moran scandalised Wimbledon in 1949 with sexy lace panties designed by renowned couturier Ted Tinling. Today women play with a colourful, stylish array of dresses, skirts and shorts — even a black catsuit Serena Williams wore. Her sister, Venus, designed her own athletic apparel line, EleVen, featuring bold patterns and prints. The men seem to lack their creativity and courage with the notable exception of Rafael Nadal. He pioneered pirate pants and sleeveless shirts that flaunt his bulging biceps.

Different court surfaces

Tennis may be the only international sport that is played on three very different surfaces — grass, clay, and hard courts — with the playing characteristics varying according to the court composition, climate and weather. That great diversity results in different strokes, grips, footwork and tactics. All of which makes tennis more challenging and rewarding to play and enjoyable to watch.

Gertrude Moran scandalised Wimbledon in 1949 with sexy lace panties.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Sounds, sights and scents

From the thwack of the ball to the squeaking of tennis shoes to the umpire intoning, “Game, set, and match,” tennis abounds with familiar and pleasing sounds, sights and scents. The roar of the crowd, alternating with total silence. Compliments of “Good shot!” to opponents. Shouts of “Come on!” or “Vamos!” by players pumped up after winning a big point. Graceful sliding that leaves long lines on clay courts. The unique smell of tennis balls each time you open a new container.

Double your pleasure

Tennis is often called an individual sport, but it’s also a team sport. High school and college dual matches help young players learn teamwork and develop social skills; and adult leagues and teams have proliferated this century. Also, three of the five events in tennis are doubles: men’s, women’s and mixed. In fact, millions of recreational players worldwide prefer doubles. Don Budge, who won the sport’s first calendar-year Grand Slam in 1938, rightly wrote: “For sheer enjoyment, thrills and satisfaction, you can’t beat a good game of doubles between two evenly matched teams of the first rank. There is more fun in doubles, both for the players and the spectators.”

Camaraderie

Whatever your level of play, tennis is a great way to meet interesting people and make friends. The rollicking Australian men of the 1950s and ’60s exemplified camaraderie. These fair-dinkum blokes played hard and then partied heartier. Intense champions like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Maria Sharapova and Steffi Graf were too competitive to form friendships with their closest rivals. But Roger Federer and Rafael are close friends, often texting each other. And in the 1980s, archrivals Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, though fierce competitors, became good friends, as are Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.

Records and stats

Number nerds and tennis fanatics most appreciate the steadily increasing number of stats that the ATP, the WTA, the ITF and a host of magazines and other websites provide. But even casual fans know that Federer has a men’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, and Serena Williams’ 23 majors are just one short of Margaret Court’s record 24. They likely also know that Nadal captured his record 11th French Open back in June. Some of the most fascinating stats are “Under Pressure Leaders” on the ATP World Tour website.

Whether it’s glamorous players today like Caroline Wozniacki (above) or graceful athletes like Roger Federer, the tennis world is filled with beauty.   -  Getty Images

 

The beauty of tennis

Whether it’s glamorous, sexy players like Anna Kournikova, Bjorn Borg, Marat Safin, Rafael Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and Eugenie Bouchard, or graceful athletes like Roger Federer, John McEnroe, Justine Henin, Hana Mandlikova, Martina Navratilova, Maria Bueno and Suzanne Lenglen, or majestic venues like Wimbledon, the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Shanghai, Foro Italico, Roland Garros and Monte Carlo, the tennis world is filled with beauty.

Diverse playing styles

The virtual extinction of serving and volleying in women’s tennis and its sharp decline in the men’s game have sadly reduced the sport’s diversity. But the three men’s titans — Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic — feature different styles and tactics. The current women also offer appealing contrasts with power hitters Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza vying against counterpunchers Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki.

Idioms and jargon

Love literally means nothing in tennis. Idioms such as “The ball’s in your court” and “He made an unforced error” originated in tennis and are now used in every day discourse. Colourful words and memorable phrases spice up the sport. If you’re a savvy tennis player, you know the jargons: no man’s land, moonball, wild card, inside-out forehand, dirtballer, bagel, qualies, hacker, slam dunk, pusher, not up, wrong-foot, hold serve, groundies, dead rubber and lucky loser. And, you can say “Let’s knock up” without raising eyebrows, if you live in Australia where it means “Let’s warm-up.”

Tennis history

Tennis aficionados love reminiscing about the games and personalities of legendary champions like Suzanne Lenglen and Bill Tilden, the sport’s first superstars, Helen Wills, Pancho Gonzales, Margaret Court, Rod Laver, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Pete Sampras. Inevitably, serious fans compare these giants with today’s champions like Roger, Rafa and Serena, and factor in how racket and string technology enormously changed the game. Sounds like a GOAT debate is brewing.

Money talks

After Billie Jean King in 1971 became the first woman in tennis history to earn more than $100,000 in a year, she said, “Money is what people respect, and when you are a professional athlete, they want to know what you have made. They judge you on that.” In 1968, the first US Open awarded $6,000 to women’s champion Virginia Wade, who upset King in the final. At the 2018 US Open, Naomi Osaka upset Serena Williams to collect a $3.8 million check. The 2018 US Open’s $53 million total prize money was the richest purse in tennis history. Money may not be everything, but it spells R-E-S-P-E-C-T in tennis.

Innovations

Retractable roofs, racket sensors, analytics, the shot clock, yellow balls, serve speed monitors and Hawk-Eye have all improved the game for players and fans.

Althea Gibson broke the colour barrier when she was allowed to enter the 1950 US Championships.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Moral stands

Tennis players, partly because they are independent contractors rather than salaried team players, have often courageously taken principled stands on burning issues. World Tennis publisher Gladys Heldman protested against sex discrimination culminating with her well-conceived, pioneering women’s pro tour, the Virginia Slims Circuit. In a famous 1950 letter to the United States Lawn Tennis Association, Alice Marble denounced the exclusion of African-American Althea Gibson from USLTA tournaments, which led to Gibson’s breaking the colour barrier when she was allowed to enter the US Championships a month later. Natasha Zvereva courageously and successfully protested so that she kept her prize money in 1989, rather than allowing the then USSR to keep nearly all of it. Niki Pilic defiantly stood against being forced by his Yugoslav tennis federation to play the Davis Cup, and ignited a strike by the vast majority of the players who didn’t enter Wimbledon.

Trick shots

Back-to-the-net, between-the-legs flick shots dubbed “tweeners” can produce amazing winners from seemingly untenable positions. So can no-look, running-backward bounce overheads first deployed by Ilie Nastase and coined “The Bucharest Backfire.” Touch magicians like Art Larsen, Manolo Santana and Roger Federer have executed dazzling drop shots and drop volleys with so much backspin that the ball bounces back into the net or even back onto their own side of the court, making it impossible for the opponent to return.

Retractable roofs, racket sensors, analytics, the shot clock, yellow balls, serve speed monitors and Hawk-Eye have all improved the game for players and fans, while the great diversity in surfaces and conditions results in different strokes, grips, footwork and tactics, all of which makes tennis more challenging and rewarding to play and enjoyable to watch.   -  AP

 

Anticipating the draw

Pre-tournament excitement heightens dramatically when the draw comes out. If you’re a player, you eagerly scan the draw to find out whom you play in the first round and who appear in your half of the draw. Then you look at all the other interesting, and often intriguing, matches and potential matches. If you’re a fan, your eyes dart to see where your favourite players are placed. You hope they have a favourable draw and ponder the threats looming ahead for them.

Tennis literature

Tennis is blessed with many compelling autobiographies, most notably by Andre Agassi, Bill Tilden, Arthur Ashe, Helen Wills, Ted Tinling, Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova and Alice Marble. Lovers of biography will relish Arthur Ashe: A Life, Big Bill Tilden, High Strung and Fedegraphica. The most authoritative and engrossing history books include Sporting Gentlemen, We HAVE Come a Long Way, Wimbledon: The Official History, Total Tennis: The Ultimate Tennis Encyclopedia, Fifty Years of Lawn Tennis in the United States, Short Circuit and A Handful of Summers.

Controversy

Everybody loves sports controversy, and tennis has no shortage of controversies to argue about. Did Serena behave disgracefully at the 2018 US Open, or was she victimized by a racist, sexist, misogynist umpire? Should players be self-reliant or be allowed to have on-court coaches help them during matches? Will the Davis Cup be ruined or saved by ditching its traditional format and adopting a one-week final at a neutral site with only two singles and a doubles for each tie with best-of-three-set matches? The ball is in your court!

That wonderful feeling

Nothing feels more exhilarating than hitting a terrific shot. That brief moment of self-satisfaction after you execute a lunging volley winner or a pinpoint passing shot on a dead run is priceless.

In the sport’s first 100 years, men often jumped over the net to celebrate wins. Andre Agassi started a new trend by acknowledging the crowd. He bowed to every side of the stadium and blew kisses.   -  Getty Images

 

Victory gestures

In the sport’s first 100 years, men often jumped over the net to celebrate victories. The stoical Borg Borg let out his emotions by collapsing on the soft grass after winning Wimbledon finals. Andre Agassi started a new trend by acknowledging the crowd. He bowed to every side of the stadium and blew kisses. A beaming Venus Williams pirouettes gracefully. Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga leap and punch the air in ecstasy. Novak Djokovic has a signature arm-lifting gesture to sustain the cheering. Win or lose, many European women favour cheek kissing at the net.

Just one more thing... Tennis is the ultimate family sport. The family that plays together stays together.

This is the second of a two-part series.

Read the first part: Here, the clock doesn’t help you out!