The Drive To Greatness
April 20, 2009 · Print This Article
Women’s Tennis. To the general sports fan there are perhaps no two words that conjure up less excitement then these, save for women’s golf. I am a sports fan, but I am a tennis player at heart. I was/am a die hard Andre Agassi fan, but also of Monica Seles. I remember watching Andre in the 80s down at Bollettieri’s Academy in Florida, and modeling my own game, equipment selection, and attire after his. I also have found memories of seeing Seles, also in Florida, walking along the beach with tennis guru Bud Collins. Agassi and Seles are two icons of tennis who are most influential in my life as a tennis fan.
Andre was a kid loaded with talent but who struggled with his focus early on. His tumultuous career, in my mind, was epitomized by Agassi being able to become the only player ever to win a major as an unseeded player (1994 US Open). Sure he had his ups and downs, but you can’t keep a champion down for long.
Monica, on the other hand, was full of focus and talent (won the French Open in 1990 at the early age of 16), but who faced a different kind of struggle when she was stabbed in the back while on court in Germany. Although this signaled the end of her reign on women’s tennis, she was still able to battle back to win another major (1996 Australian Open). Both and Agassi and Seles sacrificed for the game they loved. A young Agassi would boast of a cheeseburger diet, while the reinvented man quietly ran wind-sprints on New Years eve in Las Vegas. Seles needed no change in image; her on-court grunts said it all.
Fast forward to today. Serena and Venus – the two most physically dominant women’s players of all time – at times seem bored with playing despite frequently dominating opponents. Maybe it’s that they know their biological time-clocks are ticking, but wouldn’t that only make them fight harder now, when they can play without the distractions of motherhood? Or what about Henin, retiring at the top of her game? We’ve all heard the official reason why she quit, but to all the great players, tennis was their reason d’être – even a distraction, or release from, their off-court problems. There is an unflattering trend, I am contending, that has emerged in women’s tennis these days. It is one that is evident to the crowds and tv audiences of any WTA event. There are more blowouts in women’s tennis matches than with the men. They seem to give up quicker, and generally fight less for each point. In 2007 I had the pleasure of sitting in a locker room at the Roger’s Cup with John McEnroe and Jim Courier just prior to their legends of tennis exhibition match. The match was scheduled to go on after the first night match; however the women were involved in a three set marathon in front of a capacity crowd. McEnroe, characteristically aggravated (by the change in schedule), turned away from the locker room TV and quipped “the fans are here to see us, turn this s**t off. Do you get the comedy network here?” McEnroe is a great personality and ambassador of tennis, but the guy’s a jerk. Notwithstanding, was he right? Would the stands have been as packed if he and Courier were not slated to play that night? Probably not.
On the men’s circuit we see grit. We see Roger and Rafa fighting harder with each passing point to become the best players ever. To have the world’s two best players display these traits sets the pace for the rest of the ATP players. Go hard or go home. I may watch women’s tennis, but the avid fan will not.