Dear Sports Fan,
Why do people like tennis?
Tennis is a great sport to play and watch but its charms are not always immediately obvious. To the uninitiated, tennis can seem like watching a game of Pong but with horrible grunting and screaming instead of charming, robotic “bong bong” noises. Tennis is a relatively easy sport to learn and I think it’s worth picking up. Here are some of the reasons why I like tennis.
- Long, stable rivalries: Tennis players these days have long careers and at least in the men’s game, the best players stay at the top of the game for a long time. This leads to wonderful rivalries that last for a decade or more. It’s rare and rewarding to see two or three great players battle each other for years on end.
- Personality shines through: More than any other sport, as a viewer of tennis, you get to know the players you’re watching. You learn their nervous tics, you see them get mad at themselves, you witness their struggles with fatigue and injury, and if you and they are lucky, you get to see them celebrate the pinnacle of their professional lives.
- Psychologically challenging: Tennis is the most psychologically challenging sport. More than any other sport I have seen, tennis players are alone when they compete. In major tournaments they are actually prohibited from having any communication with their coaches. The way the sport is constructed, there are almost always lots of ups and downs in any match and the margin between success and failure is literally inches. You’ll often hear people say that great quarterbacks or baseball hitters need to have “short memories” so they can approach each pass or hit with a blankly optimistic mind. Quarterbacks throw thirty passes in a game. Baseball players get four or five attempts at the plate. Tennis players have to blank their minds this way hundreds of times in every match.
- Matches last as long as they are good: The way tennis works, uneven matches are over pretty quickly — an hour for a three set match or two for a five set match — but great matches stretch out in enjoyable luxury. A close, hard-fought match can last three hours for a three set match or more than five hours for a five set match. It’s like there’s a built-in mechanism in the sport to make the better viewing experiences last longer and the worse ones end quickly. Compare that to timed sports like soccer, basketball, and hockey, where the great games fly by and the bad ones feel like they are going to last forever…
- Has its own vocabulary: Tennis has great words and phrases that only exist in the context of the sport. They’re easy to learn and once you know them, you feel like an insider!
- Stylish players: Dressing to play sports is not usually the time you choose to make a fashion statement. There are so many sports fashion choices that are about function over style: bike shorts, squash goggles, over-sized hockey jerseys — but tennis has always prioritized function and style. Even at Wimbledon, where the players are required to wear only white, tennis players exhibit their own styles. Rafael Nadal and Rodger Federer are known for capris and gold accented clothing as much as they are known for winning titles.
- Varying surfaces make for different styles: Most sports are only played on one surface. Professional basketball is played on wood, baseball on grass and dirt, football on grass and fake grass. Ice hockey is played on ice and swimming is done in water. Only tennis is played on grass and clay and asphalt where each surface is meant to influence how the game is played. On grass, big serves rule the day. Clay is slower, encouraging defensive tactical play. Hard court falls in between. As a viewer, you develop a preference for watching one surface or another (I love clay) or you just appreciate each of them for their peculiarities.
- Wimbledon: Alone among the major sporting events, Wimbledon retains an air of gentility while being a thrilling, top-level competitive event. Let football have it’s Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and hot dogs, tennis fans are happy with Wimbledon and strawberries and cream.
Enjoy the tennis,