By SHIVAM SUDAME
Sunday, January 29th, 2017. The Australian Open Men’s Final was starting at 12:30 AM PST. I set my alarm to 12, and promptly slept through it until my dad woke me up. I then proceeded to turn on the TV, and watch the most watched tennis match in history. Meeting for a record ninth time in a Grand Slam final, the ninth-ranked Rafael Nadal was playing against legend Roger Federer, ranked seventeenth after a six month hiatus from professional tennis.
Expecting a match between two shells of their former prime glory, I, along with the rest of the world, was shocked to see these two play as if it was 2007, not 2017. I have a lot of respect for Nadal, but as a Federer fan, I hated to see his pesky defense return once again. Federer seemed to come into his own as well, and a hard fought five-set match ended with a challenge from Nadal, and Hawkeye, ever the enemy of Federer, this time called the ball wide, and the celebrations began. Federer had number 18.
You probably weren’t looking for a synopsis of the Australian Open, but there is a point to be made here. Tennis is a sport, and a thrilling one that requires much skill and greater focus. However, while watching tennis, it is often quite easy to bash a player. “He can’t even get the ball above the net,” or “her second serve is so inconsistent,” or my personal favorite, “what the heck was that?” So, I decided to test myself and see how difficult this sport really is. To do this, I, along with my partner-in-crime Albert Li (Jr.), played some pickup tennis against varsity players Leo Krapp (Jr.) and Tiffany Markus (Jr.) and the results, well, they aren’t very surprising.
So Leo thought I should get what he so eloquently phrased the “full tennis experience,” so I will refer back to that throughout. The first part of the “full tennis experience” was warming up. And I don’t mean your regular P.E. warmup where you do some windmills and touch your toes and you’re good to go. This was a full on, stretch every muscle in your body/work on lateral movements/jog around the court warm-up. That lead into some hitting practice: working on groundstrokes, touch around the net, and accuracy of serves. Albert and I were against a warm-up, because although Tiffany and Leo could improve from it, Albert and I didn’t really have much skill to warm-up; we would be at about the same level with or without one. But in order to get the “full tennis experience,” we had to play them after they had worked themselves up a bit. It also lessened their chances of injury, which was the more important aspect of it.
Anyways, after the warm-up, we went into a doubles match. Writers vs. Varsity Tennis players. We lost. To be fair, we played first to three games and Albert and I won two, but we couldn’t break Leo in the fifth game and they took the cake. Albert let me down when he was broken, but he managed to yell some loud noises (which would never actually be done in a game) to distract Tiffany and we broke her serve, thanks to a large part due to her laughing while serving. I held my serve masterfully, hitting some rockets that put some holes in the net. I actually believe Leo and Tiffany were bored and hoping we would rally with them, but our lack of control really hindered that.
Jokes aside, this was actually the most difficult challenge I faced yet. Hand-eye coordination is a must for this sport; without it, you won’t last a minute. I was talking to Tiffany afterwards about how when I hit the ball I felt I couldn’t see my racket hit the ball; I just guessed the trajectory and hoped for the best. Tennis players seem to have otherworldly vision. The ball moves incredibly fast at the high school level alone; if a pro hit a, say, 147 MPH serve, I would duck and cover, not simply jab out my hand to the backhand side, block it back, and let Sam Groth drive the next forehand long, like this one guy named Roger Federer did in a tournament called the US Open. Or how about the tall Scot Andy Murray returning a 147 MPH Milos Raonic body serve back into play and promptly hitting a cross-court passing shot by the approaching Raonic with the next swing of his racket at Wimbledon? These plays happen every once in awhile, and it’s a true testament to the skill of these players.
Another thing I’ve heard before is that tennis is not a very athletic sport. I looked into this, and it seems to me like tennis players need to be great athletes, proven by the fact that tennis players run three to five miles a game, compared to the two and a half miles that NBA players run and the mile that NFL players run. Considering that they play up to seven games in about two weeks, that’s a lot of mileage for a short amount of time. Tennis players need great endurance, and they also need great mobility in all directions, as much of tennis is lateral movement.
So my final verdict? As always, the sport isn’t quite easy as it seems. Don’t write off tennis as an old-person sport; that is just part of its beauty. It can be played at all levels, at all ages, by all people. It isn’t dominated by a certain country. It definitely is not dominated by a certain gender, and is, in my opinion, the most gender-neutral sport in the world. In the recent 2017 Australian Open, the winners, Federer and Serena Williams, both received the same purse of $3.7 million USD. Tennis is as difficult, and universal, as a sport comes. It’s time we treat it that way.