Tennis: Can This Majestic Sport Ever Be Considered an Art

Dimitri KayCorrespondent INovember 16, 2010

NEW YORK - AUGUST 30:  Roger Federer of Switzerland returns a backhand against Brian Dabul of Argentina during the Men's Singles first round match on day one of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 30, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

I was speaking to a sociologist/artist the other day that was adamant in explaining to me that sport and tennis in general cannot be considered an art.

Her explanation was that art, whether it would be music, film or paint, shows emotions and feelings. With art you can share your emotions and feelings with your friends or your partner, hence creating a connection with the artwork.

However, is it true that tennis cannot be considered an art form? Does not tennis give us emotions and feelings just like a Monet painting?

We, as tennis fans, go through a stream of feelings when watching a tennis match. We may feel admiration, anger, passion, nerves, happinessyou name it. We also go through tense emotions, especially if we are backing our favorite tennis player to win.

Francis Bacon, a famous painter, once stated that there is no beauty that has no strangeness in its proportions. Tennis can be strange in the way we consider it to be beautiful or ugly.

Some people feel Federer plays attractive tennis that is easy on the eyes, while other people feel that Nadal plays unattractive, brutal tennis. Former tennis player Robbie, now turned punter, often talks about Federer’s shots looking “like an oil painting.”  He also talks about how Nadal’s shots are “full of energy.”

All this is certainly subjective. But even so, how many times have you seen a painting that may include these characteristics, negative or positive, but still keeps you intrigued? This is what tennis is all about. Not only is it art, it also takes you to another place.

Rafael Nadal is a player that lets all his emotions out on the court. He wears his heart on his sleeve. When he wins a point and performs his famous jump and fist pump, you feed off his energy. You feel like you have won the point with him and sometimes you may mimic his fist pump maneuvers. You smile with his every victory and feel sad with his losses, or vice versa, if you are not a fan.

Dinara Safina broke down in tears when loosing in her second French Open final. You could see her eyes full of sentiment while the tears ran down her cheeks. When she was playing, her face looked troubled, and we as tennis fans felt insecure. There are times in tennis when the emotions are so intense that we prefer not to watch.

This sociologist/artist was also saying that tennis cannot be art because the athletes that play the sport and practice every day do so for the sole purpose of winning, not for creating art. Nevertheless, is it not possible that these players are creating art inadvertently?

When a tennis player creates a certain movement in order to hit the ball, in many cases it looks majestic. And as each artist has his/her own style, so do tennis players.

As we all know, the two high-profile styles are that of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. As an artist enthusiast would recognize the difference between a Picasso and a Michelangelo painting, so will tennis fans recognize a backhand or volley from their favorite players.

However the basic difference is in the art itself. An artist cannot create the same masterpiece twice. A tennis player can create his/her masterpiece 100 times in a single match.

Many art scholars will oppose these views. Their main argument would be that for something to be art it can have no purpose or any other function further than itself. Nevertheless, beauty or furthermore, art, is in the eye of the beholder, and each person will have a different view of what art is.

We should always remember that all humans are full of emotions. And everything we do in life is a way to enhance and feel these emotions. Tennis, a sport full of passion and sensation, helps us elevate and release these emotions and it is up to us whether we would like to be part of this alternate tennis world or not.


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