I’ve always enjoyed playing tennis. There’s a purity to it unlike basketball or football where if something goes wrong you have no teammates to blame. But perhaps it is this lack of variables in the most individual of sports that makes it a bore to watch. There is no conflict between opponents. The only arguments exist between the player and the umpires or occasionally between the player and his racquet when he smashes his tool to smithereens. I appreciate the little league/judo philosophy that one should respect their opponent because without them there would be no competition, but this lack of animosity makes for not so riveting theater.
Still I kept an open mind when handed a press pass by the organizers of The Sony Ericsson Open. But there were other problems when watching this sport. Whereas in basketball or football the participants will routinely make a play that a spectator can instantly recognize as inhuman, with tennis being a game on a horizontal plane rather than a vertical one it is hard to spot the top tier athleticism of tennis players. A 115 mile per hour serve seems less remarkable than a slam dunk. A cross court winning forehand less highlightable than a hail mary touchdown.
So even in a classic David vs. Goliath match like that between the fifth ranked Scottish giant Andy Murray and the unranked qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr. I found myself fighting the urge to take an afternoon nap in the pleasant shade of the press box. Fans were cheering on the American Bogomolov and I noticed a reporter concentrating furiously on putting his pencil to paper. I was curious to see what he could have been writing as all I could see occurring on the court was that Murray was having an off day. His serves were rarely going in and his groundstrokes did not have enough lift to soar over the net. Perhaps this reporter’s passion would be contagious, but as I snuck a peek at his notes I saw no insights, only detailed drawings of dancing human skeletons.
But as the match drew to its conclusion and Bogomolov Jr. finished his unlikely upset over Murray the partisan crowd went crazy. Bogomolov fed their frenzy spiking his wristband to the surface, throwing off his shirt, and then proceeding to thrusting his arm back and forth. The crowd loved his enthusiasm, but not as much as the press in the box. They were mocking his overzealous celebration and a quick search of Bogomolov Jr.’s name revealed why. He was busted for a positive doping test several years ago. His celebration was a textbook example of roid rage if I ever saw one. A little knowledge into the personalities involved can go a long way into the enjoyment of watching this sport.