Elegance vs Power; Angles vs Hard Stroke Play; Serve & Volleys vs Baseline Strokes. Tennis has had my heart for as long as I can remember!
So much has changed in tennis over the years. But here, I particularly want to talk about Women’s Tennis.
Tennis & its impact on the 90’s kid (that’s me!)
While growing up, I loved watching tennis (I still do!). For a kid inclined towards sports and growing up in India, the pseudo national sport of the country, “Cricket”, obviously garnered huge interest. But for some reason, I took to tennis like a fish to water!
Image Source: Simon Bruty/Getty Images [Steffi Graf hitting one of her famous, formidable forehands]
From a young age, I was extremely fascinated by the game, its rules, the players and all the tours. It was amazing! Soon, I began to follow the four Grand Slams (Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, US Open) religiously and they quickly became the tournaments to look forward to; like a child would wait for a favourite festival that comes once a year.
The early 1980s and 1990s were some of the best years for tennis viewership on television – especially for US Open.
5.8% of all US households viewed the 1980 and 1981 US Open telecasts.
1999 saw 3.5 million viewers per telecast in the US for the US Open.
But by 2007, the average US Open ratings in the US had decreased to 1.7%.
The Osaka vs. Azarenka women’s final at the US Open 2020 saw a rating of 1.3 with 2.15 million viewers.
The skill, the nuance & the Grand Slams
As a kid I enjoyed watching all Grand Slams as each came with a different flavour to it - the differences in courts, colours, different stroke plays according to the surfaces, and of course all those amazing players. Obviously, as a child, they became my role models. I wanted to be like them. No, I wanted to be them! I wanted to play tennis. I wanted to win Grand Slams. I wanted to travel the world playing.
Image Source: Bob Martin/Getty Images (from theguardian.com)
What I loved about Women’s Tennis then was that it was a game of angles and delicate stroke plays. Delicate not in the sense of strength but a high-quality game. A pure treat for tennis lovers. It was about getting the serves on the Ts even if with half of the speed of aces from players today.
And it would be about catching the baseline with angles, not to forget the slices and drop shots to add to that thrilling net-play! Serve & volley, art was almost forgotten today. I see only a handful of players using it in the matches. There were long rallies and elegant shots to win these rallies. Ah, so many moments to go crazy about.
The era of legends
I miss those times and miss those players. I wonder if any other tennis lover feels the same. I am talking about someone who grew up watching and literally worshipping Steffi Graf. Someone who loved Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and wondered how aggressive she was! Someone who started understanding rivalries watching Graf and Seles plays. Someone who watched Gabriela Sabatini and Mary Pierce with the same interest as watching earlier ones. Watching Martina Hingis rise was like watching a fairy-tale. Then came Lindsay Davenport! Though she was No. 1 for the longest time, I just could not believe how unpretentious a world number 1 of any sport can be! And especially when that sport is tennis. A glamorous game as they call it!
Image Source: www.wimbledon.com
Between Steffi Graf, Navratilova, Seles, Hingis, and Sabatini, they won a total of 55 Grand Slams.
But to be honest, I like that little drama on court, the expression of aggression and then strokes of bravery more than power! Besides the ones above, I cannot forget Conchita Martínez, Martina Navratilova, and Jana Novotná who taught us resilience. They were followed by Justine Henin and the likes of Kim Clijsters. Name any player, the class and the sport were just something else then.
A game of power versus skill – the unending debate
Today it has become more of a power play. It is not about outwitting the opponent through elegant stroke-play but through hard-hitting shots. It is a baseline game today.
The 10 fastest serves recorded in women’s tennis have all taken place in the past two decades, with 7 out of these 10 taking place in the last 10 years, indicating the shift of the game towards reliance on speed rather than pure skill alone.
The shocking and awe-inspiring shots are seen lesser and lesser today. Today the game has evolved to make a player last longer on the hectic circuits. But on the contrary, I see more injuries today because of the incessant use of strength and power.
The record for the most aces in women’s tennis match is held by Serena Williams with 102 aces during Wimbledon 2012.
I cannot claim if the game has advanced or gone south but it has very evidently changed. The thrill and joy I used to witness, is much lesser for me today. Today I see it is more about the increasing decibels and bigger racquets, stronger and faster shots, and shorter points. For me, it has become a show of strength more than a show of skill.
Image Source: usopen.org
Having said that, I still love tennis. I love the game that is. I love the friendships off-court and their rivalries on the court. I will always be a follower of the game no matter what! Tennis it is and tennis it will be!
Now let me go and check when the next slam begins!
* All views and opinions mentioned in the above article are solely of the author.