Saturday, July 05, 2008

That Hateful Inch

I haven't watched any of Wimbledon this year. Neither has Betty. Yet we both used to be big tennis fans. What happened?

I'll tell you what happened, kids. Are you sitting comfortably?

The inch that changed tennis forever happened, that's what happened. I bang on about this every Wimbledon-time. Though it applies to any of the other just as important as Wimbledon tournaments around the world.

The article I've linked to seems to think it was a good thing. Well they would because they sell the monstrosity that is the modern tennis racquet. Let me take you back to a time much gentler than the current time.

There was a ten year old boy called Geoffrey. His dad's friend played social tennis. No, this was not a euphemism for swinging...

Geoffrey's dad's friend was a very nice man. And he offered to teach the boy how to play tennis. He leant him a racquet, very similar to his own. He showed him the basics.

After a few elementary lessons, Geoffrey was able to hit the ball against a wall. He practised and practised against the wall of the garage bordering the local field. He could hit the ball harder and more accurate. He was ready to play with other people.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey's friend had been taught a few elementary strokes. He had practised, too.

So they joined a club together. They joined the junior section of their local tennis club. There was no tuition there. The kids were left to get on with it.

So Geoffrey and his friend played against each other. Hour after hour, game after game, set after set. They developed well, with their own individual styles. As they got older, they were invited to play with the seniors. They could hold their own as they had the individual techniques to surprise their stronger opponents. They both specialised in a heavy topspin forehand, though they could vary their strokes using drop shots, lobs, slices, etc. They only went to the net when forced to. They hugged the baseline.

Then came the extra inch.

Suddenly, racquets became wider. There was more room for error. What used to be a balls up with the old racquet became a winning shot with the new. Slow, considered skill was out, POWER was in.

Everybody started buying the new bigger racquets. They became more confident, more powerful players overnight. More aces were being hit. Serve and volley was where it was at. POW! POW! Baseline players with old-fashioned smaller wooden racquets were getting blasted off court. Taller players were at an advantage. They could serve, volley and smash. The little guys couldn't use their guile any more. A game of chess became a game of real war.

I miss the days when you could measure the correct height of the net by laying one racquet horizontally on top of a vertical one. When the game was hypnotically beautiful, to play and to watch. The game lost me a long time ago. And it's not having me back.


  1. We find the commentary annoying, especially on the ladies' matches. It's all about the players' clothing ranges and sponsorship deals rather than the game.

    Football's the same, though. It's never been the same since they got rid of the knee-length shorts and the leather lace-up ball.

    Make all those tennis players wear long trousers and full length dresses, the way they used to. That's what I say.

    And the women should do the same, too!

  2. Nadal's shorts are too long and his sleeves are too short. The Frew McMillan look is the epitome. It's important the women show their knickers but they should be decent knickers with plenty of material.

  3. Thanks for explaining why I don't watch tennis any more.
    I thought it was because I'd got myself a life - but you are obviously right.

    Oh and the Tim Henman thing too.

  4. Oh I am so with you there. I meant to watch Wimbledon this year and tried to convince myself that it would be ok because Murray might have a temper explosion a bit like McEnroe used to and he has curly hair - a bit like McEnroe used to but then found myself watching re-runs of McEnroe/Connors matches on Youtube and realised that that was what I really wanted. The last time I watched tennis properly I cried with joy for Ivanosevic as he finally won the championship he had spent most of his career losing. After that I couldn't bear to watch Sampras the lolloping ape with his tongue sticking out in a really retarded way when he did a serve. I used to like Lleyton Hewitt but then he went off the boil - and there I left it. I think tennis players should play a standard white issue uniform - not all this fancy shit wafting around the court. Same for cricket too. And as for rackets - I still play and not with the extra inch. God I love tennis and feel so sad that I hate Wimbledon now but I really really do. I taught myself to serve by studying McEnroe - the back leg kept straight and bent backwards slowly and deep, momentum saved for the low front lunge. Most effective despite looking a bit odd. Oh I must stop my rant now for fear of sounding like some Daily Express reading Home Counties 'stuff and nonsense' bore but thank you for posting this - you are so right. The tennis match in Jacques Tati's Jour De Fete is fantastic - much more entertaining than Wimbledon!

  5. Kaz - I've never liked any British players. Those crappy Lloyd brothers, the odious Buster Mottram, boring Queen Virginia...You've got to go back to the original mod Fred Perry for somebody decent.

    Romo - I had a Slazenger followed by a Dunlop Maxply. My friend eventually bought a Bjorn Borg style Donnay and he stuck with that. When the big racquets made their appearance I bought a big Prince which helped a hell of a lot with doubles but almost all the subtlety went out of my game. The McEnroe style serve was something I tried, too, and it did give you a lot of swerve though it suited a left hander better for some reason. Lleyton Hewitt, being a baseliner, did get me interested for a while. I think if he'd played in the time of smaller racquets he would have been more successful. You can't beat the Borg/Gerulaitis Wimbledon semi-final that seemed to go on all day but you wished it would never stop. The great Nastase wouldn't have a chance nowadays. He'd be blasted off court.

  6. Wasn't Nastase beaten in straight sets by an 11 year old in Paris not so long ago! Oh I miss proper tennis.

  7. Nadal's bum is too big - it's not a pretty sight.

  8. Romo - That's really sad. Nastase is one of the all time sporting greats.

    Ziggi - He's got the special Nike Fatarse range of shorts in the shops soon.

  9. Yes, steady inexorable decline since Tati (M. Hulot's Holiday, surely?). It'll all die a death one day, overdosing on money and knickers. Can't come too soon.

  10. I have no idea what any of you are talking about.

    Is there a football match on I can watch instead?

  11. Oh - yes - of course Monsieur Hulot's Holiday - thank you Christopher C-Howes

  12. Christopher - There's a natty Tati clip on Rockmother's site today. The players today are all strength and power but a little bit of rain and they go running indoors.

    MJ - This will have to do till the new season starts.

    Romo - The haitches are silent, of course.

  13. Gosh, if they're like that in front of a camera, I wonder what they're like in the showers?

  14. I used to like Annabel Croft. Well, I was 16. Sorry.

    And I like that old Iranian bloke who plays doubles with Henri Leconte. It's like the Harlem Globetrotters for the middle classes.

  15. MJ - They sing their little hearts out.

    Tim - The veteran matches are more my pace. Even more so are the wheelchair matches.

  16. This is why I prefer Badminton and shuttlecocks. Preferably on a beach. In the sun.