why i love tennis

28 05 2009

late may/june is traditionally one of my favorite times of the year, particularly in regard to one of my favorite activities—-tennis.  the summer heat isn’t yet in full swing, the spring cold is a distant memory, and just in case you needed a little inspiration to slough off your cold weather rust, you’ve got two of tennis’ four grand slams over a six-week period.

the french open began this week, and i’m already emotionally drained from it.  i love this tournament.  i love watching tennis on clay.  i’ve only ever had occasion to play on artificial clay,  which i loved, but hope i can step onto a real red clay court one day.  i love it because the surface is a little slow, even though you’d think that with the granules of clay making shoe traction difficult, the balls too would skip and speed along their ways more than they do.  but they don’t.  they grab the court and slow down, though they don’t bounce very high off of the soft flooring.  it’s utterly different, and it makes for such an interesting game of defense and angles.  and you can check whether a close shot was in or out by checking the mark left in the clay!

if i were pressed to decide on my favorite sport, i realized as i pressed myself, it’s tennis.  there’s nothing like it.  the game is so beautifully designed, and a thinker’s got just as much an advantage as a huge hitter.  every shot affords you the opportunity to take your opponent’s best offense and push back (or just keep the point alive, waiting for a better opportunity).  you can pepper the ball into the same corner ad infinitum, or carve a little drop shot to shift your opponent’s position.  you can try to run your opponent silly, or be run silly yourself.  every shot is a new opportunity—-but every one of your opponent’s shots is an opportunity for you as well, as your anticipation of their next move will have quite an impact on your choices on your next shot.

you can play long points, or go for winners earlier, depending upon your stroke and your opponent’s.  but the great thing about tennis is the pace.  there are breaks between every point, but they are very short.  just enough time to compose your thoughts on how things are going, and if you should try to change something up, and how you’ll take the next ball.  in this way, a constantly shifting power struggle is being waged on the court for the entire match.  both players are feeling the other player out; the weaknesses, the strengths, how to avoid the strengths and exploit the weaknesses, and how to cover your weaknesses and exploit your strengths.  and you can revise your plan every single point.  there’s time for that.

and there aren’t time-outs.  there aren’t coaches.  you’re on your own, working within the confines of the court against someone intent on doing the same thing to you that you would do to them.  there isn’t time for debate, or throwing a tantrum (though there have been cases), or having others to shoulder any of the blame or frustration.  your engagement is complete and unshared.

it’s a chess game, a game of physical prowess and highly refined skills, and an endurance contest.  all happening at the same time.  your mental toughness and focus are always in play, as, obviously, your body is.  it’s an all-encompassing experience; you play with your mind, with your spirit, and with your body, and nothing is left out to wilt in the exchange.  and watching the best people in the world do it is unbelievable:  these people are so completely engaged and are constantly working their games over in response to their own performance and the performance of their opponents.  and when one of them sets themselves apart and does things so amazing, so out of the realm of normal ability, that even the professionals against whom they’re playing have to stand in awe like children, it’s quite a beautiful thing.

well, i quit writing on this yesterday, and don’t feel like re-reading it and editing at all, or bothering coming up with a close… so here you go.

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