Saturday, January 21, 2006

Australian Open Ramblings.

Tennis is underappreciated, and it pisses me off. My friends and I get into this debate all the time – that is, what is the “hardest” sport? I always argue tennis to the bitter end…until it comes up again a few months later. Many say basketball, many say boxing or martial arts; luckily no one is dumb enough to argue football.

To me, tennis stands alone in its isolation of the player (i.e. no coaching during the game), the incredible level of fitness you must maintain to perform at a high level, and most importantly – the mental fortitude required to get through a match. Maybe I’m crazy (definitely a possibility), but here is a sampler of some of the random things that go through my head while I play a match:

“This guy’s pushing. Is he messing with me, or is this actually his game?”

“I just hit an ace with this ball, so maybe I should use it again because now it’s a “magic” ball. Or maybe the magic is gone, and I need to leave it to the side…” (Note: I tell Monika that she can stay sufficiently entertained watching me play just in speculating why I choose which two balls to use before I start a point)

“You have GOT to be kidding me. He can’t hit a backhand like that. This is bullshit!!!”

“Stop being such a pansy. Hit the freaking ball!”

“Did you see that serve? Man, you are so screwed.”

…Now, even worse, none of those complaints are things that really matter – those are the tip of the “mental block” iceberg, trying to convince myself that I can win in the first place. When the match is underway, the serious challenges start to crop up in pattern recognition, and *real* mind games. Say, for instance, that a player consistently hits cross-cross-cross until he gets a shorter ball to smack down the line, but then all of a sudden starts switching his game plan. Is it based on recognition, or luck, or both? Should you adapt, or consider it an anomaly? One of my friends can tell you that I’m a big fan of ripping my backhand cross-court, so much so that one time when I smacked it down the line during a match, he popped his ACL. Mind you, by the way, that one of my favorite shots is the backhand “down the line surprise,” and he knows that, but again, it’s that mental game that got him guessing.

Furthermore, it has been stated ad nauseam that the hardest thing to do in all sports is to hit a baseball. I won’t necessarily disagree with that, because I played baseball for 9 years, and let’s just say that I got sick of trying to hit a baseball. At the same time, though, if you manage to get a hit about a third of the time, then you’ve had a great freaking year.

Professional tennis players are expected to return serves that typically hover around 130 mph – and they are expected to never miss, unless they’ve been served an ace or service winner. Once they return the serve, they must cover every bit of their side of the court, or they are going to show weakness. If they start to fall victim to an opponent who gets in their head, they can’t take a timeout where their coach tells them how to counter what’s going on. They are on the court alone, with nothing but their training and wit.

…And now, back to watching the Roddick match, which prompted this little rant. He’s playing Marcos Baghdatis right now, and I think that Baghdatis’ first set victory gave him just the right amount of “I can do this” for him, and “this can’t be happening” for Roddick. Hopefully Andy will pull it together, though – a Slam isn’t complete without seeing Federer display his dominance over the #2 man.


Blogger Qatar Cat said...

Lovely post, a pleasure to read :^)

And oh well, we watched Federer win here in Qatar, so hopefully we can watch Marcos beat him in Australia :^)

Yeah I know, high hopes... but he did beat Roddick, so you just never can tell...


2:09 AM  
Blogger Badger said...

Thanks for the comment, qatar cat. It'll be interesting to see If Baghdatis can maintain momentum through the next round...

1:21 PM  

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