10 Things I Don’t Understand About Tennis

As yet another Australian summer of tennis comes to an end, I find myself utterly bemused with regards to 10 things I still don’t understand about the sport.

1) How do Australian television hosts and commentators not know how to pronounce the names of players correctly?

At times this summer, while the umpire and Jim Courier in the commentator’s box would pronounce a player’s name correctly, whichever random Aussie commentator was next to Courier was likely to use an entirely different pronunciation.

Making things worse, a number of the players who commentators were having trouble with have been around forever. Anyone who’s been watching tennis for a while now knows it’s “Kay” Nishikori rather than “Kai”, and “EE-vo” Karlovic rather than “EYE-vo”.

What this appears to prove is that Aussie commentators don’t do the most basic research on players – not even visiting player profiles on the ATP website. There, the ATP has a brilliant innovation: a recording of each player saying their own name. Not sure if it’s JOCK-a-vitch or JOKE-a-vitch? Click the button under Novak’s name and he’ll tell you. And while you’re at it, brush up on Raonic, Tsitsipas, Pouille, Shapovalov, and de Minaur, all of whom Aussie commentators struggled with at various moments this summer.

2) Why isn’t tournament news shared with fans on-site?

One of the most entertaining aspects of attending a tennis tournament is the choice you have as to which court you’d like to watch at any given moment. Incredibly, though, while scoreboards around the grounds will update you on what is happening at the tournament, once you’re on a court, hardly any news from outside that court is passed on to you.

For example, let’s say you’re watching a match on centre court, but your favourite player is due to play on court 3 later in the day. If the match-up your favourite player is in changes – perhaps there is a court change so that the match will begin earlier – this news is not relayed to those who are on centre court.

It’s not hard, tournament organisers: how about each court’s scoreboard show news updates from the tournament at every changeover?

This year, I felt most sorry for the two Chilean fans I saw in Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney. They had sat through a 5 hour rain delay and then a match on KRA while they waited for their man Nicolas Jarry to play on Court 1. Turns out that when they then went to the court, they learnt that Jarry had pulled out of the tournament. I have no clue when Jarry had made this decision, but for argument’s sake, let’s say it was many hours before his match eventually started. Any chance these fans could have been told and changed their plans for the day accordingly? Similarly, no announcement was made that Guido Andreozzi was the player who had replaced Jarry in the tournament, so any Argentinians or other fans of Andreozzi had no way of knowing that he was going to be playing unless they were checking the live scores online themselves, and even then it’s unlikely they would have reached the match before it began.

3) How are single-use plastic water bottles still a thing?

Andrea Petkovic Instagrammed a blatant advertisement for Adidas recently, in which she asked “being quite aware of the fact that we tennis players do not have the best ecological footprint in the world with our constant plane rides and traveling, i‘ve been trying to cut down on my meat eating habits and use of plastic bags, catching trains and walking instead of taking the car whenever possible….what have you been doing?”

The best response came from Lara Arruabarrena: “I’ve been losing all my matches lately so i don’t have to drink from plastic bottles again.”

When you consider how long other sports have been using re-usable water bottles for, it’s absolutely inexcusable that in 2019, a sport in which players consume copious amounts of water chooses to ignore sustainability and instead chases the corporate dollar – including importing bottled water from China for the Australian Open. Surely a tournament that can hand out $62.5 million Australian in prizemoney isn’t in desperate need of the sponsorship of a bottled water company?

4) How are towel boxes not yet a thing?

Of all of the “innovations” being proposed in tennis at the moment, the most obvious one to introduce is the idea that instead of handing a gross, sweaty towel to a ballkid, players should instead put their towels in a box at the back of the court. This seems to be even more of a no-brainer when players like Reilly Opelka and Jaume Munar have a habit of putting their towel in their mouth while carrying it to a ballkid. It’s utterly bizarre watching grown men take something out of their mouth and hand it to a child.

At Milan’s “Next Gen Finals” last year, towel boxes were used. Players had to take an extra second or two to collect them en route to their chair, but never were the audience wondering about the physical grossness of the players and their towels.

5) Why are players allowed to catch poor ball-tosses?

Here’s Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, with one of his wishes as to how to improve tennis in 2019: “Eliminate players’ right to catch a service toss without penalty. If a player chooses not to hit the ball once tossed, it should count as a missed serve. This will also speed play and, in making the ideal toss more elusive, take away a smidgen of a server’s advantage.”

It’s always been strange that a player can have a mulligan on a ball toss, but not on any other part of the serve. The ball toss is part of the serve, right?

This rule is even more bizarre now that the serve clock has been introduced. The serve clock requires a player to be in their service motion before the clock reaches zero. If a player throws up a ball toss, they are considered to be in their service motion and the clock is turned off. But players could, if they wanted to, throw up a pretend ball toss, catch it, spend some more time setting themselves, and then actually start the next point.

6) Why is the ATP determined to undermine the sport’s meritocracy by awarding ranking points to team events?

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the structure of world tennis is its design as a meritocracy. Every player must start by playing the smallest events. If you earn enough ranking points, your ranking will climb, and you’ll then gain access to larger events. Earn even more points and reach the top 100, and you will gain access to the four slams.

It’s truly beautiful. You’re a kid from Mallorca with your uncle for a coach? Sure, earn enough points and you’ll be in our tournament. You’re a naturalised Australian from the Gold Coast who’s generally reviled even by fans of the sport in your own country? No worries, earn enough points and you’ll be in our tournament. Class? Sexuality? Race? Who cares. If you’re good enough to earn the points, our door is open to you.

Other than wild card provisions, the one time this meritocracy is challenged is when points are awarded for team events. For example, points used to be awarded for the Davis Cup. And next year, the ATP’s new ATP Cup is due to award “up to 750 ATP rankings points” to the winners of the tournament. This will go against the usual paradigm of tennis’ meritocracy in two ways in particular.

(1) A player such as Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece will not be able to play in the tournament, as despite him being ranked 12th in the world, there are no other players on tour from Greece. The same goes for 22nd ranked Nikoloz Basilashvili from Georgia.

(2) Players might earn or miss out on ranking points depending on how many good players are from their country. Take Feliciano Lopez, who is ranked 63rd but is only the fifth best player from Spain. Lopez is ranked one spot ahead of Cameron Norrie, but is less likely than Norrie to be able to play in the ATP Team Cup because Norrie is the second best player from Great Britain and thus more likely to earn a place on his country’s team.

 7) How can players who pull out of qualifying still make the main draw of an event?

Sometimes, a player will pull out of a tournament just prior to it beginning, leaving the draw with an open spot. This is filled by a “lucky loser”, a random player selected from those who lost in the last round of the event’s qualifying tournament. While this system seems completely fair and in step with tennis’ great meritocracy, the rule currently has one bizarre and unfair potential outcome.

A player can retire while playing in the last round of qualifying, presumably because of injury, and yet they can still be selected as a lucky loser and entered into the main draw of the tournament. Surely players who haven’t completed their final qualifying match shouldn’t receive the same right to a lucky loser spot as those players who have?

8) What’s with the Australian Open Wild Card Playoff?

Every December, Tennis Australia host a Wild Card Playoff – a knockout event on both the mens and womens sides, in which 16 players compete for one wild card into the Australian Open. While this makes perfect sense, Tennis Australia then provide four Aussie men and three women with bonus wild cards, and for some reason the results of the Wild Card Playoff appear irrelevant in these selections.

This year, Luke Saville annihilated Alex Bolt 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 in the semi-finals of the Wild Card Playoff, yet Bolt received a wild card while Saville – who went on to lose the Playoff final – did not. The same thing happened in the women’s tournament, when Astra Sharma defeated Zoe Hives in the semi-finals, yet Hives received a wild card and Sharma did not. Even stranger was Destanee Aiava losing in straight sets in the first round of the Wild Card Playoff and still receiving a wild card.

The most egregious of these decisions was made in 2016, when Ben Mitchell reached the final of the Wild Card Playoff tournament, but chose not to play as his partner was giving birth to their first child. Tennis Australia congratulated him by giving wild cards to Jordan Thompson and Omar Jasika, two guys who had lost during the Wild Card Playoff to players who Mitchell then defeated.

This year, if Tennis Australia knew that they would give Alex Bolt and Destanee Aiava wild cards into the Australian Open regardless of how they performed in the Wild Card Playoff, why not make those announcements before the playoff? This will allow their spots in the playoff to be open to other players and make every match in the playoff genuinely important.

9) Why do they start matches so late at night that they can start after midnight?

 I get that fans purchase a ticket to a night session that is due to include two matches. But I don’t get how there isn’t a provision that says something along the lines of “If the second match hasn’t started by, say, 10:30pm, it will be moved to one of the 15 courts that are otherwise not being used. Ticket holders can suck it up, viewers at home can at least catch a glimpse of their favourite player before falling asleep on the couch, and players won’t be in the ludicrous situation of finishing matches at stupid o’clock in the morning.”

That’s not too harsh on those who have tickets, is it? Particularly considering how few of them hang around to the end of these extremely late matches?

10) How can people possibly think they’re “bigger” or “better” fans than others?

Dear Tennis Twitter,

I am a reader of your work, rather than a contributor. I appreciate your thoughtful banter throughout tournaments, as it makes me feel wonderfully connected to a world of others who are in love with this beautiful, silly little game.

But please, when you have a difference of opinion with someone, could you ditch the “you’re not as big a tennis fan as I am” claim?

This is at its most common when the “should men play best-of-five or best-of-three in Grand Slams” question is raised by a fan or a journalist. It’s always incredibly disheartening to read the comments of so many that are filled with arrogance and hubris. If you like best-of-five, that doesn’t mean that you are “a bigger tennis fan” than those who argue for best-of-three. The best-of-three crowd have a number of arguments – including, but not limited to, (1) they want the best players to be able to compete more regularly as injuries should be less frequent, (2) they want to see a wider variety of players while watching the same number of hours of tennis, and (3) they want top players to play more tournaments between majors. You can feel free to disagree with all of these arguments, but arguing against them certainly doesn’t make you a “bigger tennis fan” than those who hold this opinion. Similarly, the best-of-five crowd have a number of arguments – including, but not limited to, (1) watching two players slug it out for five sets in the early rounds of a slam is a fascinating spectacle, (2) Grand Slam tournaments are marathons rather than sprints and players who win early matches more easily should reap the benefits of this, and (3) today’s major winners have to go through exactly the same experiences as those who have come before them. You can feel free to disagree with all of these arguments, or prefer the arguments on the other side, but this doesn’t make you a “bigger” or “more compassionate” tennis fan.

It’s sport, folks.

It’s not for you more than anyone else.

Let’s all enjoy it together.

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1 Response to 10 Things I Don’t Understand About Tennis

  1. Hey Ed, I’m changing my email address. Can you please change me on the list? New one is v.bedingfield9@gmail.com And I could’ve written one on hundreds of things I don’t get about tennis ;P but once again I still read the whole thing and found it interesting even though sport is not my thing.

    Sent from my iPhone


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