Rally support for tennis in the shadow of Rio

LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
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There are some incredible baseline rallies on the telly right now.

Bok. Bok. Bok. Bok. Bok. Bok. Bok. Bok. For anything up to a week – or so it seems to the dispassionate observer – until one of the players misses their bok, when there is a polite round of applause.

A fairly hard sell to the casual sports gawper at best of times, but having switched over straight from highlights of Brazil vs Cameroon, equivalent to a mate returning from the bar with a round of Horlicks late on a wild Saturday night up town (once downtown where all the lights were bright but then we got Americanised so downtown is now where ‘cops’ take miscreants).

How the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) must hate the World Cup and, to lesser extent due purely to scale, the European Championships.

Popping up regular as clockwork to sit directly opposite Wimbledon in the schedules, any sport would suffer in direct comparison.

After all, love, loathe or – as in my own case – merely enjoy football, it is daft to deny that here is clearly the most dynamic, complex, fluid game yet wrought by humanity. One that, when played by the most gifted and able, before biblically vast swaying, baying crowds, offers unequalled sporting spectacle.

Little wonder events at SW19 are soporific by instant channel-hop contrast. Which is no comment, it must be stressed, on the stars of tennis, all unquestionably skilled, dedicated, sportsmen and women.

But spectacle? Barring the odd – very odd – match between players who shun force for guile, is right up there with watching paint dry.

Tennis is further hampered by the fact that for most citizens it is and will remain an entirely abstract idea. Swingball aside I’d wager less than 10 per cent of the population have ever swung a racquet in anger.

On the other hand, when Van Persie leaps face first full length to head home a 30 yard pass from the edge of the area the vast majority of men (and more women every year) alive today knows precisely how superlative that is. Because they’ve tried it. And, barring perhaps one mystical moment many years ago, failed abysmally every time.

For simple logistical reasons most people have a relationship with football based on firsthand experience. Put simply, to play you need a ball – any ball – mates, bit of space and four spare garments. Off you go. Play until your legs drop off or it becomes too dark to see.

Tennis? Balls ain’t the half of it...