Tennis players are amazing athletes, and amazing people. Just look at Rod Laver. Who is Rod Laver? I have no idea, but he had a Wilson tennis racket named after him, or possibly a pair of shoes, so he must have been double amazing. Or was it Stan Smith?
Let’s not enter the boring world of me convincing you how difficult it is to be a good tennis player. But on second thought let’s enter it a little bit – I’ll hit you with some fun, granted anecdotal, facts, with no site sourcing, making them almost hearsay, but facts none-the-less:
- The two best tennis players I knew in high school always came in first during any form of fitness test we (entire P.E. class, including football players) participated in (I typically crossed the finish line in the bottom 1/3rd).
- Tennis is massively aerobic and anaerobic; like running a marathon with frequent, intermittent wind-sprinting (very similar to basketball, when I play tennis now it serves as the perfect litmus test of how out of shape I am).
- Tennis is massively mental, purely based on the lack of teammates to lean on (max: One, if you play doubles). It’s the psychological equivalent of being a kicker in the NFL – it’s all good until there’s two seconds left and you’re on the 35-yard line and there’s no statistical reason you should miss and there you are 7-yards from the holder who’s about to call for the snap but wait was that just a slight gust of wind…?
- Writer David Foster Wallace accurately describes (obviously way better than I ever could) the inherent, mind-numbing-when-you-think-about-it trigonometry and physics involved with the sport, second only to golf, with the following description:
“…shot’s depth is determined by the height at which the ball passes over the net combined with some integrated function of pace and spin, with the ball’s height over the net itself determined by the player’s body position, grip on the racket, degree of backswing, angle of racket face, and that interval in which the ball is actually on the strings.”
Whew. Okay we’re done with that part. You can wake up now.
I played tennis in high school. I don’t intend to create a historiography of my storied accomplishments on the court here, mostly because they speak for themselves and are codified in bronze on the northeast corner of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, where the U.S. Open Tennis Championships transpire.
Correction. It is now called Flushing Meadows – Corona Park. As of 1967. I’m not sure how I missed this. At first I was terrified Corona Extra, as in the Mexican beer, bought the rights to Flushing Meadows and we were going to have to watch the tournament succumb to six-foot tall beer bottle inflatables set up across the grounds, and in the stands. But it turns out “Flushing,” and “Corona” are simply adjacent communities.
I have a right to be paranoid about this stuff – somehow corporations are the only entities with enough cash to buy stadium signs from which to increase brand awareness. CenturyLink field here in Seattle now goes by “Lumen Field,” which is just the new name for CenturyLink, a telecommunications monopoly/robber baron. And Safeco Park is now T-mobile Park (yawn), and T-mobile is a telecommunications company that hires a lot of people around here although my understanding is it’s quite boring to work there. And the old Key Arena was recently rechristened “Climate Pledge Arena,” and the website says it’s “the most progressive, responsible and sustainable arena in the world.”
Yes, “Climate Pledge Arena, named after a pledge, not a corporation,” which is nice, although a somewhat ham-fisted attempt at a name if I do say so. Maybe they were in a hurry. They do have an impressive goal-set when it comes to helping fight climate change. It focuses on operating a gigantic building for people to drive to and watch sports, as evidenced by Climate Pledge Arena’s intention to not use fossil fuels for daily use. No gas-powered rotating pretzel merchandizers here, no thank you. And even though it’s not a “corporate building,” Amazon and Alaska Airlines are heavily involved, but that’s ok too since they don’t use lots of fossil fuels on a daily basis either.
Okay fine it’s the right thing, even if it’s 50% marketing, 30% political and 20% the important part. It’s better than 0% the important part.
I will say there is a distinct absence of tennis stadiums in the Pacific Northwest – the only one I can think of is at the University of Washington, and it’s more a set of indoor courts with bleacher seating, the kind with little grooves on them that are distinctly uncomfortable to sit on and leave lines on the backs of your thighs, but I haven’t been there in 20 years so maybe it got better.
Having actually played tennis for quite a while, my favorite thing about the sport is playing with someone who’s a great athlete but maybe never took a lesson and thinks they can just smash the ball around and win because they think tennis is easy and any difficulty they encounter would be easily overcome by their inherent strength and athleticism. Of course, it doesn’t work like that, just like I can’t actually golf even though I have decent hand-eye coordination. And I’m sure it applies to other sports as well, and let’s face it, comes down to whether you received training as a child. Anyone who spends legitimate time playing golf, tennis, basketball, and baseball between the ages of 6-12 is automatically a candidate for at least making the high school varsity team, or otherwise seeming “really good.”
I purposefully exclude football from this list because, other than quarterback, I’ve witnessed several big strong kids with no playing experience become great football players in high school and even at the University of Washington. You can actually smash your way ahead in that sport, because, after all, it’s all about smashing. And collisions.
Which brings up an interesting point regarding playing tennis in high school. Despite the talent and athletic ability required, absolutely no one cares. My time was in the early 90’s so it probably didn’t help we wore teeny little shorts that barely covered our groins and buttocks (ala Rod Laver). I wouldn’t want to watch that either. Although we did have some awesome Adidas velure full-length sweatsuits that were back in style thanks to Run-D.M.C. – well, it was like ’89-92’ so maybe they were just recently out of style. Anyway, being on the tennis team made you famous with the 12 other guys on the tennis team. And the coach. And the two team manager girls who were not interested in you but rather interested in getting the class credit promised for managing the team.
I realize this is well documented, but in the sports hierarchy/ of high school it basically goes: #1, Football. End. That’s it.
Think about it. Football = popularity and cheerleaders and an entire Friday night devoted to it. Basketball? Eh, a somewhat close second but there’s just too many games. Baseball, distant third, it’s just a non-starter; it’s like the season begins once school is out. Then there’s soccer – which is fourth only due to the fact that soccer players get European haircuts and are genetically drawn to high fashion, so that resonates with the crowd to a degree.
Then there’s number five: All girls sports. Sorry, it’s true, it’s not right, and perhaps ala Climate Pledge Arena the right steps are being taken now so in 30 years we change things.
Finally, in a distant, wayyyyyyyyyyy distant sixth place comes cross country, track and field, and tennis, all at once.
No fans. No cheerleaders. No credibility for participation.
Two of the guys on my team were really talented. Both went on to play Division I tennis. I don’t know what kind of props they got for playing Division I tennis, and just like any sport (including women’s sports!), to make it there you have to be really, really good. But basically during high school they were just seen as some cool dudes. Which is good I guess, it’s just interesting how their excellence didn’t make an impact beyond the immediacy of the other guys on the team.
About five years prior to my arrival, our school produced a guy by the name of Pat Galbraith. Maybe not produced, more like “was blessed by the arrival of.” I think he won the State Singles Championship all four years. It’s hard to find that info because Pat became a professional tennis player specializing in doubles, and his stats are dominated by small things like reaching the World No. 1 doubles ranking in 1993. He won the U.S. Open mixed doubles championship in 1994, and was the men’s doubles runner-up at Wimbledon in 1993 and 1994. Plus he did a bunch of other stuff, and I think he’s actually the chairperson of the U.S. Open tennis tournament these days.
And I’m pretty sure he wore the same (literally the same) Adidas full-length velure Run-D.M.C. sweatsuits we did (I don’t think the tennis team budget was given much priority – I guess it makes sense for the football players to have updated pads and helmets since the risk of physical harm is so much greater in that sport).
Maybe Pat and the team got some attention when he played, not sure. He’s far and away the best player I’ve ever seen in real-life. It’s unreal how he moved, anticipated, generated velocity…it’s like the one time I had super-close-to-courtside seats at an NBA game – my feet have literally never moved as fast as those dudes’.
Anyway, the takeaway for you is to maybe go out and hit tennis balls on some court this summer, regardless of how terrible you are. It’s pretty fun, you get a tan and a great workout, and if somebody really good happens to be playing next to you, you’ll have a better idea of what I’m talking about. Feel free to wear full-length or at least normal-length shorts thought – those teeny tiny ones are hard to move around in.