Wimbledon time again. Two weeks of grunting and groaning by men and women bashing a ball from A to B and back again. Granted that critics of football say much the same thing – 22 men kicking a bag of air etc., but tennis often seems such a pointless sport, one with comparatively few variations, and in which the primary purpose is to identify while player can psych out the other and win.
Like many ball sports, you don’t need to be that much better than your opponent to hammer them off the court, though this year we have something unusual: players withdrawing from injury and top seeds (the ones who are normally automatic picks for the semis and finals) being defeated very early. You know this is unusual since, injury notwithstanding, it tends to happen once in a blue moon.
Most sports are in my view becoming more rather than less predictable, other than when the governing bodies deliberately throw a spanner in the works to introduce a greater degree of randomness, though tennis has been longer at it than most. It’s the same game it ever was, only faster. That certainly hasn’t stemmed the tide of its popularity, nor of the money rolling in at breakneck speed.
No doubt the primary reason Brits enjoy tennis is the perpetual hope that one of our men might finally win Wimbledon after a gap of 76 years since Fred Perry managed it. You will recall Virginia Wade pulled off the feat for the women in 1977, but only because most of the leading American competitors had pulled out. After Henman failed, our great white hope is a surly Scotsman, Andy Murray, and since 90% of worthwhile competitors have withdrawn or lost early on, then Murray may actually do the impossible and win the men’s title – and if he doesn’t he certainly won’t have a better chance.
Maybe I’m unusual but I like competitors because I like them and the game they play, not automatically because they happen to be British, so I can’t get enthused at all by Mr Murray. No doubt some would think that makes me unpatriotic, but there you go. I don’t find tennis interesting or engaging, and if I did then maybe I would form an interest in one player or other. Tennis players seem to me every bit as dull as their game, though victories by black women like the Williams sisters introduced a novelty – but even now, their winning tournaments is barely a news story.
So why does tennis bore me? Here are a few reasons that make good sense to me!
1) Game playing
On grass, tennis, particularly the men’s game, is often very dull indeed. Serve, point, serve, point. Yes, there are rallies occasionally, but they are not that common. On clay you do get rallies, but they are dull – bish, bosh, bish, bosh. More fun to play than to watch.
Yes, periodically you do get something of mild interest happening on the court, but whenever I see tennis on TV I find my attention wandering in no time. Ironic, given that I usually find cricket riveting! Where cricket will end in a victory, a tie or a draw, a tennis match could theoretically go on for ever, and doubtless someday a match will never end.
That said, how many other sports are there where the bulk of points are won, or rather lost, by errors? This reminds me. When I was a lad I was watching some tennis with my dad. I asked him: “Why does he keep hitting the ball into the net?” Dad laughed and replied, “I bet he wishes he knew that!”
This has baffled many more erudite heads than mine. As Michael Flanders once said, in the guise of a tennis umpire, why 15-love, 30-love, 40-love, game – not forgetting deuces and advantages? Why not 1-nil, 2-nil, 3-nil, game? Arguably the scoring system could result in the player who has won fewer points winning the match (picture a scorecard reading 0-6, 0-6, 7-6, 7-6, 8-6.) There may well be reasons why it’s a game scored in games and sets, but for me the system does not add value, only eccentricity.
One valid point to consider here: this scoring system makes it easier for players to give up on a game or set that they won’t win and place all their efforts in the next one rather than fighting back. Not saying it happens all the time, but human psychology says it’s inevitable that giving up happens by one or both players in every match.
3) Gender inequality
I believe Wimbledon is now entering the 21st Century by gradually eliminating the financial gap between the men’s and women’s game so winners of both are paid an equally ludicrous sum. That it’s taken this long to get there in the face of gender equality legislation is daft enough, but the oft-quoted reason for doing so is that men play best of 5 sets where women play best of 3. There is no physical reason why this should be the case – women are every bit as capable of playing a game of endurance, though the whole tournament would presumably have to be extended if women played best of 5 or shortened if men played best of 3. It’s an anachronistic residue from the days when women were considered “the weaker sex” and it has no bearing.
4) Wealth/Class gap
The millions ploughed into the grassroots to encourage British kids to take up tennis has not produced the desired results, and has resulted in criticism of the LTA and threats to withdraw the funding. Surely this can be no surprise though? Unless you are in a private school, not much tennis seems to be played at schools, and private clubs cost a fortune and the equipment is far from cheap. Furthermore, any talented youngster requires parents with the wherewithal to back them to the hilt and transport them to tournaments up and down the country, at the very least. In short, tennis is still the preserve of the well-to-do. If I watch a sport I’d love it to be available to all equally, not to maintain an inherent barrier.
Think I’m wrong? Granted that a certain number of tickets go into a ballot and by the laws of chance a number will go to the hoi polloi, but it’s very noticeable that there are always high-priced tickets available for the rich and famous. Democratic sport it certainly ain’t!
5) Cliff Richard
So in short, I’m quite sure tennis is excellent exercise, and fun to play – so we should all go off and play some! It is however arcane in much of its governance and approach to sport – even if it is now ahead of football in its use of technology. Even that is not the point though, since I still find it dull as ditchwater to watch. Better to write blogs instead!
PS. Congratulations to Mr Murray on his victory. Scuse me while I nip off for a nap!