Rarity of Fellow Fans, a Tiny Bright Spot?

Jenna SteereContributor IMay 11, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 02:  A lone tennis fan waits for play during a rain delay at the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on September 2, 2006 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Okay, it’s a given, we who love the sport want to support it whenever possible, and would love to see the fan base grow (at least to levels where broadcasters might feel forced to give it precedence over, let’s say, fly fishing or poker—both of which, I’m sure, quite fun to do, but I’m yet to be convinced on the watching).

But, admit it, it’s a little exciting to be a member of a slightly smaller community than, let’s say, baseball fans, yes? Is that elitism? The prizing of rarity, at least. Sure, followers of any sport are happy to run into a fellow fanatic, to discuss details of personalities, plays, rivalries, scandals, etc.  But the soaring thrill of encountering, in the course of everyday life, another tennis fan?? Indescribable! Someone who knows more about Federer than that he was on that commercial with Tiger Woods? Someone who knows that, even if the NY Times doesn’t mention most of them, exciting tournaments are going on all around the world, almost every week of the year!?

Tell me a Yankees fan, seeing an obvious compatriot across the train station waiting area, wants to run over and hug them? And besides appreciating other fans like rare gemstones, it’s also easier for us to get to see our favorite players close up! Pretty much affordable for me to go to the US Open four or five times each year. Only slightly less so to fly to Cincinnati this August—by myself, see below—to be a part of the action in another city for once.

On the other hand, I would also be quite happy, in a different way, if our mass grew.If tennis were more widely realized to be the greatest sport there is. And not just for TV coverage. You could talk about Roger’s meltdowns, Djokovic's mimicry, Rafa’s short adjustments, etc, with everyone you meet from the bus stop to the elevator; from the lunchroom to cocktail parties.  

Maybe I just run in the wrong circles? Most of my co-workers and friends aren’t quite clear who Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are, my ex-husband and current boyfriend are tolerant at best, my kids still think it’s boring, and my one tennis-buddy left over a year ago.

I am eternally grateful for communities such as B/R to share some of the thrill after matches for the ages that not too many actually saw, but in the search to live (as in, “with me in the flesh,” not to doubt the pulse of any of you) I have taken to wearing US Open clothing whenever possible. It made my day last month to sit next to one nice lady in the airport who seriously missed Agassi, too!

So what do you think? How HUGE would you want tennis to be, if you pulled all the strings up in the sky? Would it weaken the bonds between our small-ish community? Would a higher percentage of fans who don’t immediately know every nuance of the rules and etiquette be worth the lack of purity in the sport? Are we snobs? Is tennis a sport for the masses, or not? Will it ever be? (Since it is, arguably, the greatest sport out there, won’t everyone SEE that, eventually?) Or do I just need a new set of friends?