Thursday, January 4, 2007


"Tennis is more than just a sport. It's an art, like the ballet." Bill Tilden

...but it is still tennis.......

One of the most frequently utilized devices for a commentator during a tennis match - or for that matter almost any sport - is the use of sports analogies to reinforce a point. While such analogies can occasionally illuminate, I believe the over-use of this practice is a lazy alternative to incisive analysis and, more importantly, insults tennis. Let me explain.

Without question, boxing is the sport that announcers connect to tennis the most. Often times during the past year, I heard John McEnroe or Dick Enberg or any number of esteemed broadcasters state that "Federer and Nadal are like two heavyweights out there, battling it out until the final bell." OK, these are two combatants who are slugging it out but why the need to invoke boxing? Why not say it's just like the great battles that Borg/Connors or Edberg/Becker waged? There are numerous intense rivalries in the recent history of tennis that fans can and will relate to. And furthermore, has one ever heard a boxing commentator say that these boxers remind them of Sampras and Agassi battling it out?

The other sport which is "analogized" often with tennis is baseball. A couple of the most commonly heard utterances - "he's mixing up the speed and placement of his serves just like Greg Maddux with his pitches," or " he picked up that half-volley like Derek Jeter rushing in on a short-hop" - why not just say "his serve is like Sampras' in that it is difficult to read", or "his half-volleys bring to mind John McEnroe's wonderful touch." Again, I can't recall a time when a baseball announcer compared the on field happenings of the national pastime to a tennis match.

This practice of "analogizing" reduces tennis, puts it usually in the role of the subservient , ancillary sport. Why not talk up tennis' great and varied history by referring to the sport's past when wanting to compare players and events?

I happen to agree with Tilden's quote above, that sport, at its finest, does rise to the level of art. And I think it's great to bolster the atmosphere of an event by bringing in historical references, quotes and allusions from outside of sports to add color and excitement to the proceedings That's about as far as I want to go with comparisons though - when it comes to describing the actions on the square court of competition, tennis can stand on its own.