Please bring back the excitement to tennis
by Vic Braden
Contributing Tennis Writer
Hatboro, PA (Sports Network) - During a recent trip to my local bookstore, I
found myself counting the number of books for sale on tennis, of which there
were 33. That led me to counting books for sale for golf, baseball and
football. In each category, there were over 150 books. What is it about our
great sport that keeps the popularity lower than others?
Books are one thing, but TV has a problem of its own. It's not uncommon to
hear tennis fans state that they don't watch tennis on TV anymore because it's
simply a baseline-to-baseline game. The variety of the older style game was
exciting, as you could watch the net player sneak in for a clean winner. The
argument that it's simply a new style and has nothing to do with the new
equipment doesn't fly with me.
In our research center in the 1980's, Dr. Gideon Ariel and I experimented with
tournament players to see how hard they could hit the ball with the fifteen
ounce wood racket. The players had to exert an amazing amount of effort to
reach 70 mph. The effort expended was more than they could muster for a normal
rally. Today's players can hit 80 mph with the new rackets, while exerting far
Ball speed off a racket is related to stiffness, and new materials have made
it possible to create a stiff racket that is light and easy to swing.
So what does the new racket have to do with baseline-to-baseline play? There's
a simple answer to this one. In former times, shots averaged four seconds
between hits. With the lighter rackets, the average time between hits from top
players is often closer to two seconds. Thus, a player only has sufficient
time to rush the net after receiving a very short shot.
Croatian Ivo Karlovic has one of the most explosive serves on the ATP Tour.
If players are being forced to respond every two seconds, then why isn't that
exciting in itself? The answer is that 90% of shots hit require a player to
take three steps or less from the center of the baseline. When a player is
required to take a fourth step, that normally puts them into the alley and the
chances for a weaker return increase. Watching a player take three steps or
less to respond to an opponent's shot is pretty boring for many TV fans. With
the long range camera, it's difficult to see just how hard each player is
working to get into position for the next shot.
In our experiments at the research center, we put two tiny cameras at the base
of the center strap to capture a close up, and front view, of the baseline
player. The drama was elevated dramatically. One felt as if they were in the
middle of the point being contested. Tennis aficionados must see both players
at the same time. So, why not play the scenes from the court camera between
points? The practice of putting cameras on the court is not acceptable to
tennis officials, but perhaps we are going to have to bend a little to capture
the artistry of today's players. It's difficult to recall a single match in
the history of tennis where a player interacted with the base of the net's
center strap. It's in the interest of pro players to have TV viewers see an
exciting new look to the game. TV fans can't all be wrong. If nothing else,
why not at least do one experimental match where both players agree to cameras
being placed at the base of the net's center strap. I understand that the long
shot camera lens shows the complete action, but perhaps we may have to give up
some of the tradition for some new excitement.