Jeez, what’s so bad about tennis?
At a tournament in Australia on Monday, Serena Williams didn’t exactly provide a ringing endorsement for the sport that has won her nearly $35 million in prize money, and made her of the most recognized faces in the world. She said:
“I mean, I don’t love tennis today, but I’m here, and I can’t live without it. So I’m here and don’t want to go anywhere anytime soon … It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love; I’ve actually never liked sports, and I never understood how I became an athlete … I don’t like working out, I don’t like anything that has to do with working physically … Anything that involves sitting down or shopping I am excellent at that.”
Imagine if Williams, who has won 13 Grand Slam titles in her spectacular career, actually liked physical activity. She might have 30 titles by now.
Williams’ words are platitudes for the sport compared to what Andre Agassi said about tennis in his 2009 autobiography, Open. “I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion, and always have,” Agassi wrote.
Well, this seems a bit unfair. So many people love tennis, but are stuck with a mere smidgen of Serena’s, and Andre’s, talent. And what’s not to love about tennis? It’s a great workout, requires sharp tactical skills, and can give you a pretty sweet tan. And if you get really good at it, you become filthy rich.
But when you consider the amount of work it takes to become a top-flight tennis professional, Serena and Andre start to make more sense. Both Agassi and Williams have personal reasons for looking at the sport unfavorably. Agassi’s overbearing father drove him into tennis; he always resented his dad for doing that. Stories of teenage tennis burnout, in fact, are quite common.
Williams also has active tennis parents, but she’s always had other interests, like acting and fashion. These comments from Australia just confirm what Serena-watchers have always suspected: to Williams, tennis is almost an inconvenient job, which she tolerates because it lets her pursue what she really loves.
But beyond these personal gripes, tennis can be brutal. “Tennis players sometimes feel like objects,” says John Murray, a Palm Beach, Fla.-based sports psychologist who has worked with professional and amateur athletes across a variety of sports, including tennis. “Their individual childhoods get taken away from them. And from an early age, there’s regimentation.” Though athletes in team sports like basketball and football must work endlessly on their individual skills, they can also celebrate victories, and deal with the pain of losing, together. Tennis does not offer such camaraderie. You have to perfect that forehand, alone, on the sun-drenched court — over, and over, and over again.
Suddenly, that tennis tan sounds less appealing. Though the millions would still be nice.
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