The Big Difference Between Real Tennis and Lawn Tennis
A couple of days ago, Andy Murray beat the giant two metres six centimetres, John Isner, in the Australian Open in Melbourne. Andy Murray himself is not short being about 1.96 metres. If you do want it in those useless Imperial measures that only cause confusion, that six foot three. Rarely, do you see a male tennis player, who is not tall, with some very much like Isner in the giant category.
Last night, I played a man on the Real Tennis court at Cambridge University and he was probably about two metres tall, compared to my 1.71m. We had a very good game, which ended up as an honourable draw over the hour we played.
When I first took an interest in tennis in the 1950s and 1960s, players reflected society. Ken Rosewall, who is probably one of the top ten players of all time was actually shorter than I am at 1.70m. His compatriot, Rod Laver, was just a bit taller at 1.72m.
So why is there no smaller players at the top in tennis?
In my view, high-tech rackets have taken over from the old wooden ones, that incidentally are still used in real tennis, and a crashing serve is now all important. Height makes that serve even better with the new rackets and the whole playing process has been dumbed down. Mainly in the name of money for the sports goods manufacturers, rather than entertainment for those who watch and play the game.
I still like watching the game on television, but I can understand why others are turned off by a spectacle that has got slower and is much more about power than skill, artistry and athleticism. If it doesn’t watch it, tennis will become just another game for freaks like basketball and American football. Rugby Union had better watch its image as well, as size and power are becoming more important than skill. I used to watch it quite a bit, but now it just bores me.
So to return to tennis. I may play the odd game of lawn tennis on holiday, but give me the old game played for centuries any time. It is a game of intelligence, that all ages, sexes and sizes can enjoy equally. It’s even got a handicapping system, which means that players of quite different abilities can have a very competitive game.