People play tennis for many different reasons. But essentially the reasons are all the same. Tennis is fun, or tennis is entertainment, or tennis is leisure. That’s why people pick it up. If you try and create a group about tennis on Facebook it tells you to categorize it under leisure. That says it all right there. What’s on Facebook is set in stone, forever and ever, to be judged and frowned upon, and to stop you from getting a job until the day you conk out and expire.
People play tennis because it’s fun. I said that already, didn’t I? They go out to the public courts with some friends and have at it. Or they join a big club because tennis is ‘the fun way’ to get in shape and stay healthy. Or perhaps they think tennis will get them a lover, which, no matter how you feel about tennis, will eventually contribute to your entertainment... or that sick feeling in your gut. Then there are the social butterflies who just get a kick out of talking and eating assorted fruits and vegetables with high calorie dips on Monday mornings, while their husbands make money for them to B.M.F. [translation: blow money fast] with. However you look at it, these people are having fun.
On the complete other end of the spectrum are the professionals, the men and women you see up on TSN. For them, tennis has long ago ceased to be ‘fun’, per se. It’s become a job. I mean, sure, it’s fun traveling around and meeting new people and eating sushi in different parts of the world, but that is not what Henry VIII had in mind when he took to the courts in the year 1520. He was fascinated by the game, not the metropolitan lifestyle attached to it. So, to make up for this little snag, pro players of the highest echelon get a little wacky and transform themselves into characters. They become larger than life action figure dolls - think Rafa Nadal on a lunch box - and for what? Surely not for their own entertainment; There’s nothing fun about a day-long photo shoot for a lunch box. Nope, they do it for us. They sacrifice their pride, in a way, for the sake of our entertainment. They become jackasses like Johnny Mac or noble gentlemen like Roger Federer. Even at the highest level athletes must find an excuse for the TV stations to air their matches. The game alone doesn’t guarantee this. They need to spice things up, smash some rackets, show some skin, whatever. If tennis is no longer the same kind of ‘fun’ for them, they have to at least make it entertaining for the spectator, so someone’s having a ball. Or perhaps we should all just subscribe to the World Strong Man channel and leave it at that.
But again, those are the extremes, the two poles. What about the in-the-middle demographic, the players who want to take their game to the next level and become provincial, national, and international athletes, the ones who dream of playing pro? What kind of kicks can they get? Well, from my experience I say it’s a rather unfortunate bunch. At a certain level, beyond the recreational courts, tennis becomes more like an obsession, a phony means to an end really. Juniors either half-ass it on the court while breezing through high school to end up on a scholarship, or are that rare breed who will devote their whole existence to the game and forgo the pleasures of high school for a one and a million shot. The latter is not common where we come from. Canadians are comfortable. People move here to be comfortable. Canadians have homes and cars and food and jobs, and hell, if you don’t have any of those we’ll take care of you anyway. There’s no do or die all or nothing attitude that you need to become a world class athlete. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Except if you choose option one, the half-ass option, you need to understand that you are not pursuing a professional career. If you’re not willing to kill in order to become a pro tennis player you’re only half-assing it. Therefore, you better make sure something in your life is more important than tennis. After all, you need to have a plan in order to make money and support yourself. The myth of going away on a scholarship and coming home and getting work and moving out is played. It only comes true half the time, and second chances are a dime a dozen. But now I’m getting carried away. All I meant to point out is there’s a troublesome in-the-middle group that plays tennis. They get stuck in a rut. The game’s not always fun for them. They think of it as a means to an end, a means to ‘something’. But without passion, without insanity, or at the very least a good plan, tennis is only ever going to be a means to the Intercounty Doubles League. And despite all I’ve said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
Peter Marrack is a freelance writer & journalist. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he played Div. I NCAA tennis for the Badgers, before completing his degree in Film Studies at York University. He also has collected various provincial, national, and international accolades over the course of his remarkable tennis career