After coming fully awake part of my morning routine is going on Twitter to see what’s been going on while I was asleep. Lately it’s been a nerve-wracking exercise but I’m glad to say that today’s posts by some on Tennis Twitter were comic relief. The sad part is that one of the posts that made me literally laugh out loud and shake my head was by a tennis journalist who for the most part deserves to be called a journalist. I understand the constraints a paid professional faces in covering a particular beat but sometimes you have to wonder if these folks can look at themselves in the mirror.
Anyone who watches both tours knows that there are myths that have been created not only by fandoms (by their very nature fandoms deal in mythologizing their idol) but by professionals, men and women who are supposed to cast an unbiased eye on what is going on between the lines during a tennis match. A good commentator should be able to find a way to make not only the dyed in the wool fan interested in a match between two players they could care less about as well as pique the interest of a casual fan, someone who may remember the name of a player or see an interesting point and stick around for awhile. It’s not the job of a commentator to do what is now called “stanning”, to put all objectivity aside and root for a particular player. Using an American football analogy there can be all types of hype around a quarterback, a running back, or a wide receiver but in the end the GAME is what’s important so even with all the hype for a particular player or team the commentators do everything they can to make the fans interested in the how and why of what is going on on the field. If US football (or baseball) comms didn’t know everything about both teams on the field they’d be out of a job. Sadly those rules don’t apply in tennis.
Part of the pleasure of watching tennis is the sound of the sport. The ball hitting the racquet. The sound it makes when it hits the court (tennis played on the three major outdoor surfaces sounds different on each one), and the sound or lack of sound the player makes. It’s hard to watch with no sound because you miss so much nuance. But that is what I do 85% of the time when watching a broadcast especially if that broadcast originates in the States. We all know tennis is an individual sport but there can never be a match without two players. Unfortunately for many US or British comms there is often only one man or woman playing especially if that player has been hyped beyond all reason. Keep in mind it’s not a problem if a fandom does this. It’s a problem when the professionals do it.
So yes it was a surprise that Roger Federer is out for the year. It doesn’t mean men’s tennis is no longer watchable. It means that the ATP had best get to stepping and try and promote itself better than it’s had to recently. Men’s tennis has been blessed with two dominant players for over a decade and it’s faltering a bit because no matter how it tries the fandom for the now top ranked player is much, much smaller than the one for the Duopoly. You can say big three all you want. The Duopoly has sustained men’s tennis and made the people in charge of publicizing the sport very lazy. Yes you do need promotable players but as I’ve said many times over the years tennis fans are like cats. We can’t be herded in the direction someone in an office being paid by a player wants us to go in. The Duopoly developed on it’s own. Fans were drawn to one of the other. Some were drawn to both. But it remains true that where fans of either player will go is up in the air. Right now where they won’t go is clear.
You think I’m making this up? Let’s look at the criteria used by most sports organizations at the management level to determine who is the most popular. The following chart shows tennis players Twitter footprint.
Weird isn’t it? Yet the word is supposedly crashing down because one man has called it a year. Not a career, a year. Then the drug cheat was added into the “woe is me” dirge making it clear that this weeping and gnashing of teeth was agent driven. Attendance is going to plummet because these two players are out. To see professionals acting as if what the agents say is gospel and not reporting it in the more neutral “some are saying” is disheartening. There are stans who will say they can’t watch tennis ever again because their fave is out but were they ever really tennis fans? No true fan of the sport can ever say that. Tennis is an addiction, an itch that has to be scratched by watching it being played at the highest level possible. Will there be a transition? Of course there will be. It’s just not the end of the world as we know it.
There are reasons I haven’t gone the “celebrity blogger” route. By not doing that I’m able to write about and comment on things the way I want. As I’ve said before I understand the pressures commentators and journalists are under. All I ask is that everyone stop running in circles screaming “the sky is falling” like so many chicken little’s. The ATP has a lot of good young players coming up the rankings. Let’s honor what we’ve been so lucky to have while at the same time pointing out that there is so much good coming down the pipe.
NOTE: The chart comes via a fan posting as “Eric Wang” on a fan site.
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