By Phillip Ericksen
Along with VCRs, fanny packs and Rosie O’Donnell, the great sport of tennis has been an American afterthought for years. This is a sad fact, because the excitement of the game goes far beyond a recorded episode of “The View.”
Basketball, baseball and football are the three major American sports. I could never argue against that because I love watching each of them. Not since we were in grade school has there been such high quality of truly dominating tennis players showcasing their unique styles in all four Grand Slam tournaments. While Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe owned the early 80s, Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander dominated the late 80s and Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras ruled the 90s, the top players of today, known as the Big Four, are just as fun to watch. Over the last decade, Roger Federer of Switzerland has won an astounding 17 majors, the most all-time, securing his place as the greatest to ever play. Not far behind is Spain’s Rafael Nadal with 11. He is most dominant on the clay courts, but his 2008 Wimbledon victory over Federer is easily one of the most exciting and shocking events in sports history.
The third of the group is Novak Djokovic of Serbia, currently ranked No. 1 in the world. He has six majors to his name, including the last three Australian Opens. His game has matured along with his personality, as he was originally known for his hilarious impersonations of top-ranked men and women players.
Andy Murray of the United Kingdom has arguably faced the most pressure of them all. He faces high expectations from his own country every summer during Wimbledon, the prestigious tournament played on grass and held in London. He won his first major last year at the U.S. Open, becoming the first Briton to win a major since 1936. After losing to Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, he gave an emotional speech addressing a nation to which he has given so much hope. Though all four players remain examples of humility and sportsmanship, the ever-increasing rivalries among them grow tenser with each tournament. Edge-of-your-seat tiebreakers and five-set matches have become the norm for these semifinal and final matches.
Not only is the product on the court incredible to watch, but the storylines are as riveting as any in basketball or football. Federer plays the 31-year-old veteran, and despite his overwhelming career success and deadly forehand, has struggled recently. Nadal, the master of clay, has unseeded Federer before, but injuries have deterred Nadal slightly. “The Djoker” is the current king of tennis. His speed and agility around the court is second to none, and his entertaining play has made him a fan favorite. Murray is still destined for greatness, and the only way to break through is with a Wimbledon title. No other athlete has an entire kingdom so desperate for a victory.
Though tennis is a more worldly sport and doesn’t get as much coverage in America, the excitement level is equal or even greater to our generic SportsCenter highlights.
It may take a marketable, American player along the ranks of these four to truly get this country excited about the game once again. But the next time you’re flipping channels and see tennis on ESPN2, giving it a try might be worth it.