Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
Connors. MacEnroe. Lendl. Borg. Agassi. Becker. Sampras. Federer. Nadal. Djokovic. The list of tennis superstars goes back much further and will continue for the foreseeable future. The rivalries that develop between players – even during the transition from one generation of stars to the next – are intense and extremely personal. Tennis heroes (or villains, depending on your allegiance) have come in an astounding range of styles, techniques, and personalities. The overpowering serve of Sampras meets the efficient return of Agassi. The white-hot anger of Connors confronts the incalculable rage of MacEnroe. The seemingly indefatigable Nadal faces the deceptively calm Federer. The Becker shuffle faces down Lendl’s evil stare. The iconic moments in tennis are seemingly endless.
The crowning glory of tennis lies in the simplicity of a competition between two players. There is no team to fall back on, no coach waiting with an inspirational pep talk in the locker room at halftime, and no reliever to come in for the final set. While there is no ‘I’ in team, there is also no ‘team’ in individual achievement. The debate comparing Connors and MacEnroe, while unanswerable, does not have nearly the obstacles of Brady versus Manning. No teammates impact the play of Connors and MacEnroe, while the play of Brady and Manning is immediately dependent on the play of both teams on the field. The superiority of the individual performance is confirmed within tennis itself. Singles matches are intense and popular, while doubles play is simply a sideshow event, not to be taken seriously.
This is not to say tennis is a simple game. There are many different aspects required to own a complete game: baseline play, net play, back and forehand, the serve, etc. Additionally, tournaments have differing surfaces with differing speeds of play.
The old criticism that tennis is a sport for wimps or for the elite has been made ridiculous by the sheer athleticism of today’s players. Rafael Nadal looks like he could add a few pounds and play receiver in the NFL, while Djokovic could seemingly be a small forward in the NBA next week. Yet despite the level of talent, strength, and endurance needed to play professional tennis, it is still possible to retire with years of active life left in your body, unlike retirement from MMA or the NFL.
The individuality and direct competition of tennis tend to appeal to those with a bent toward libertarianism, as they embody principles libertarians think should be applied to the market to further prosperity and freedom. In addition, nationality is rarely considered in the game of tennis. It is not a tragedy when a Spaniard wins the French Open or an American wins Wimbledon. While there is the silly Davis Cup, it tends to be just another venue to see the great players face off. However, tennis matches do not take time out for the ‘Support the Troops’ rallies common to football and baseball.
When the harshest criticism of tennis is that the national anthems are played before a match, it is easy to accept tennis as one of the best, if not, the very best of sports.