Our Serve: What does tennis need?
Has anyone noticed that tennis is fun to watch … again? Well, fun for me at least, because I like rallies and lots of running. And these are back!
And this, desspite all the talk about the fate of tennis being dictated by gargantuan physical specimens pounding the ball at each other with high-speed rocket launchers that only slow-mo instant replay can capture! But in the end, we didn’t even need to change the game - — it changed itself. How? Why?
In an ace-or-be-aced world, the acer is the winner, and the acee is the loser who has to figure out some other way to compete. Maybe he learns a better return, or a different strategy, or develops a better serve himself. Then someone turns volleying into a science, and then topspin, and then drop shots, and then retrieving, and then tactics. And everyone becomes equal at a new level, and the evolution keeps on churning. Tennis has come full circle back to the baseline. But it is different than the baseline game of old. Now it is composed of impossible retrievals of impossibility accelerated, spun, and angled shots. This is not your grandmother’s baseline game.
One impossibility leads to another. But every now and then, it seems that the whole species of tennis-playing multicellular organisms reaches parity. So even though they are performing seemingly impossible feats of physical prowess, it becomes so boooring. But then a mutant player emerges from somewhere deep within the evolutionary primal goo. Players will always figure out another strategy or technique to win. Sometimes that will make the points shorter, sometimes longer. Sometimes it will cause excitement, sometimes somnolence. Sometimes the cycle takes a couple of years, or even a generation. As soon as some 6 year old kid starts winning with a three-handed backhand, the next generation will all be three-handers.
At its essence, tennis is a strange animal. For beginners, it is frustratingly difficult to learn and have fun because rallies can be as rare as flying elephants. But for those players who prevail, the goal then becomes hitting away from the other player to prevent rallies. So when you want rallies, you can’t have them, and when you can have them, you don’t want them. And if both players don’t want them badly enough, the rallies become interminable, because their skills become supremely matched, dictated by the laws of competition which state that for every offense there is a defense and vice versa. It’s weird, but it all works itself out.
So, what does tennis as a game need? More of the same, which is never the same!
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