Why Tennis is "The" Original Beautiful Game
While I sit here today reminiscing about all the pleasant memories from my childhood, I can't help but think back to the time when I first fell in love with sports.
In a cricket-crazy country like mine, it would not be illogical to assume this moment to be Javed Miandad's legendary last ball six against India in Sharjah. But that is not only the wrong train of thought, it is also the wrong platform to begin with.
In a country shorn of any sporting legacy barring cricket and field hockey, it surprises me that my 'love at first sight' moment turned out to be watching Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg battling it out on the lush green grass of the Centre Court at SW19 for the most prestigious tennis prize.
Please don't get me wrong. My infatuation does not begin and end with tennis. It transcends across many a manner of displaying sporting prowess.
Where would one be without a weekly dose of football; a serving of test cricket spiced up with ODIs along with T20 for dessert; gravity-defying antics of the NBA; and even the mesmerizing combination of power and grace in the NHL?
Sporting parlance suggests that football be considered the "beautiful" game. But then what of the fact that the essence of beauty lies in the eye of beholder? Don't get me wrong, there is probably very little in the sporting world that is more beautiful than the skill of a footballer when in full pomp.
But that "very little" which takes precedence for this beholder is defined by sound of a tennis ball making music with the strings of two tennis racquets, as two modern-day gladiators try not only to overpower, but out-think and out-pace each other in a small rectangular area halved by a piece of cloth.
The ability to wield a "weapon" so skillfully as a tennis racquet is so much more pleasing to these eyes when compared to a perfectly threaded through ball, or even a Henry-like ability to go past six defenders and still put the ball in the goal (sorry Liverpool fans for that little memory).
Be it Roger's mighty Wilson, or Marat's blistering Head, the sheer variety of feats that can be accomplished with a simple "stringed club" and a tennis ball has to be classified as nothing less than poetry in motion.
The power and placement of a tennis serve down the T just catching the line; the ability to make the tennis ball walk a tight rope with a whipping cross-court topspin forehand; the grace and poise of the backhand down the line, flirting with thoughts of kissing the highest part of the net; and of course the shock-element and finesse of the perfect drop shot, or even the perfect lob.
After all, it isn't plain old wrestling which makes one admire a sportsman's skill, but the grace of a fencer with a sword as he tries to play chess on his own two feet.
A variety of styles is on display for the tennis connoisseur: from the elegance and poise of the serve-and-volleyer, to the endurance of the hard-core baseliner; from the unflappable all-over-the-court-chaser, to the intimidation of seeing the tennis ball returned faster than one's own serve.
Then there are the special moments which make the true fan laugh and cry at their brilliance and tragedy at the same time. There always exists the potential of a turnaround, even if a player is down match-point.
It doesn't matter whether he lost the first two sets 6-0, 6-0. Can a football team ever come back to win from 3-0 down in the last minute of a match? The twists, turns, storylines, and thickening of plots are so much a part and parcel of tennis that every match between players in form could be its very own short novel.
The absence of any time-related boundaries in tennis is probably the perfect beauty mark for the face of this sport.
Now tell me, can a game really be called "beautiful" when one is able to cheat the referee into awarding free kicks, penalties, and even disallowing goals?
It's like putting on some expensive make-up to cover up the blemishes, or like promising your girl that you'll take her sight-seeing and then taking her to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the theater instead (very scenic, might I add, but not what she was thinking for sure).
And to think such play-acting and horrible refereeing can actually decide the outcome of who holds the tag of world champions of football.
Now, tennis. You can't cheat your way into a win here. It may be a horrendous umpiring error or a bad line call (now reduced to being negligible thanks to Hawk-Eye), but there is no way to force the umpire or linesman to make the decision you want them to make.
A true triumph for the sports purist, as there is nothing but ability and skill with the racquet and ball which decides the outcome in tennis.
Agreed that endurance and stamina are now important facets as well, but there's no "diving for fouls", or "writhing on the ground clutching your face when you've barely been brushed by your opponent", or even the audacity to "try and claim a throw-in or corner kick when you know you've touched the ball last."
Then I recall the memories of the truly classic battles: Becker vs. Edberg at Wimbledon, Agassi vs. Ivanisevic at Wimbledon, Ivanisevic vs. Rafter at Wimbledon, Safin vs. Federer at the Australian, Nalbandian vs. Federer at the Masters Cup, Federer vs. Nadal at Wimbledon and the Australian, Sampras vs. Federer at Wimbledon, Safin vs. Agassi at the Australian, Rafter vs. Agassi at Wimbledon...the list goes on and on and on.
A sprinkling of memories to be cherished for a lifetime, if not more.
Is there a game more beautiful than my beloved tennis, I ask myself. I fail to come up with any answer other than a resounding "No."
Then I think to myself that it makes sense for them to say that a person's first love is probably the most cherished one of all, and that those feelings don't die even over a lifetime.
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