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Please bring back the excitement to tennis

Vic Braden 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 less effort.

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.

Ivo Karlovic
Croatian Ivo Karlovic has one of the most explosive serves on the ATP Tour.
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.

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.

Comments? Contact Vic Braden at vicbraden@vicbraden.com.

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