BEYOND THE SCORE
By Lisa Thomas
It is hard not to fall in love with the game of tennis. It’s a smart, traditional and stylish sport and it offers its admirers plenty to swoon over. And swoon we do. We watch it, we dissect each point, we try our best to emulate the greats and we follow our favorites all year long from Australia to France, through England and then wrap-up our dedication back in the USA.
The swooning is not just between fan and player. It seems there is a lot of love between players too. Chrissie Evert and Jimmy Connors were once engaged, and Kim Clijsters and Lleyton Hewitt dated, and of course the most talked about tennis couple in the U.S., Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf. Sparks flew as they celebrated their respective wins at the French Open in 1999. They have been married since 2001 and it’s an admirable story of family life and good deeds within their local community as well as in the larger tennis community.
Another high profile tennis love match is Roger Federer and his wife Mirka. Both represented Switzerland as tennis players in the 2000 Sydney Olympics when they partnered up on a professional basis but that soon blossomed into a personal relationship and they were married in 2009. They now have two sets of identical twins. They both work tirelessly for all manner of sport, children in need and are quick to respond when disaster hits around the world.
What is striking today in tennis is the demonstration of love and admiration on the court between the players. Sure they are competitive and get on each other’s nerves at times during a match but the show of affection and respect is gratifying to see. No greater love and respect of course is more overt than that displayed between the Williams sisters. It is refreshing to see them compete at such a high level, each vying for a grand slam final win yet at the same time happy for each other’s success.
It is worth leaving the TV on a little longer to watch long-time friends and opponents reach across the net to embrace and congratulate each other after a hard fought match. It is sportsmanship at its finest and it is encouraging to see in the sport we love. Tennis is a tough sport because of the individual nature of it so these moments are important and help us to connect to the human side of the game.
And who doesn’t enjoy hearing the stories of Federer, Murray and Nadal each going out of his way to support and mentor the young Alexander Zverev. Federer encouraging him by inviting him to be a hitting partner during tournaments. Murray is said to have shared his trainer with Alex and Nadal supposedly helped him with introductions for sponsorship.
And the ultimate is the comment by Federer as he spoke to an admiring crowd in Melbourne, “Tennis has no draws but if it did I would have been happy to share this with Rafa tonight,” he said. This from the man who just had the amazing career comeback to win the Australian Open and yet he wanted to genuinely share the success with his long-time friend and rival in his moment of glory. That is real love, for his friend and for his sport.
Tennis is good for many things. But perhaps its lasting legacy is the love it encourages in us, the love of the game, the love of the greats and the love and respect built for our friends and opponents across the net.