Sometime after Christmas of my last Utah season, in 2002, [Andrei Kirilenko] instant-messaged an invitation to his New Year’s Eve party. Then he wrote something that brought tears to my eyes: “Please come, John. You are welcome to bring your partner, if you have one, someone special to you. Who it is makes no difference to me.”
…It showed that in my own paranoia and overwhelming desire for privacy, I’d failed to give some of my teammates the benefit of the doubt. It was the boorish idiots who gave the rest of us athletes a bad name.
This Atlantic article contains some pretty interesting data. Some of it is not surprising. Republicans like Fox News, Democrats like MSNBC. But why do Republicans adore Michaelob Ultra and men’s golf? Why do Democrats go crazy for 60 Minutes and women’s basketball?
1. Tennis celebrates individualism, not group effort
Yes, there are doubles in tennis, but for the most part, it’s one player against the other. Mano-a-mano. Other popular sports feature star players, but ultimately success depends on the team. In tennis, you are watching two people glaring into each other’s eyes as they sacrifice their bodies for victory. It is almost an existential endeavor, which could be why it served as the central metaphor in Woody Allen’s death-angst masterpiece Match Point.
2. It is a truly international sport
Unlike football, basketball, baseball, and others, tennis is genuinely a sport of the world, not just America. The best players from all corners of the globe compete against each other. So when someone asserts that Federer is the best player in the world, this could literally be the case, since he’s competed against people from dozens of countries.
3. It is the most cerebral of all sports
Obviously a certain amount of improvisation is required from most athletes, but generally they are instructed on what to do and how to do it. The strategy generally comes from the coaches, not the players. While tennis players do have coaches who help the players develop strategies for a match, it is of course impossible to predict how every match will turn out. Thus, the strategy is mostly determined by the player. Not only must a tennis player physically execute the strategy, but he or she must be able to alter their strategy at a moment’s notice.
4. It supports gender equality
Who is your favorite female football, basketball, baseball, or hockey player? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Women either can’t make a decent living playing those sports or they toil away in obscurity their whole lives. But most people can name a popular and successful female tennis player almost immediately. Maria Sharapova, for instance, was the highest paid female athlete in the world in 2008.
5. It is a sophisticated sport, but not too sophisticated
Tennis occupies a nice middle ground between the grunting Neanderthalism of football and the stiff-collared conservatism of golf. Admittedly, tennis does sometimes resemble golf a bit too much, but thankfully there are people like John McEnroe around to rattle the cage and raise some hell.