My suitemate can never get up in time for 10:30 French. But somehow, with a strange and unnatural enthusiasm, he awoke Sunday morning at 4 a.m. — a time that doesn’t exist to me — to catch the finals match of the Australian Open, the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific, as it’s known. Priorities! When someone asked me earlier Saturday evening whether or not I was going to stay up and watch the matches, I thought it was a joke. No, not me, I said and smiled. When, at 4:00 a.m., I heard the familiar bumble of morning sounds, I only remember asking urgently and irrationally what time it was before rolling back over and into sleep. This is no time for tennis, I thought.
I wouldn’t get up before dawn for tennis. That’s a matter of fact. If there were, perhaps, warm baked goods added to the equation, then we’d have something to talk about. If not, I choose sleep.
Tennis remains somewhat of a mystery in my mind. For me, it’s the background sport that plays throughout the year and without a definite season. In June and July it all suddenly becomes more important. I’ll be the first to say Gariepys are not the tennis-watching types, but every summer you can bet we’ll be watching Wimbledon. We may not know what is going on, but that seems such a paltry thing. By the end of the first or second day we have a catalogue of names and matchups built into our vernacular and conversations swell over them. It doesn’t matter that, come August, we’ve forgotten. Or that our dried-up statistics still say that Pete Sampras is poised for a comeback. We’ll learn again. We always do.
Tennis is a frou frou sport. It just is. I know it takes a brutish strength to succeed in tennis and I’m not suggesting that I could play it well. But let’s just say that I’m not necessarily scared of Maria Sharapova’s blonde Russian ponytail like I am of being crushed by LeBron James should he charge at me at full speed. But at Yale, we’re not above being frou frou. So we just love tennis.
We probably love professional tennis most because of its tendency to devolve into a name game of sorts. Personally, I latch on to a particular player and always center my comment on him or her. Lately, it’s Justine Henin-Hardenne. She’s from Belgium. My roommate thinks she’s a cheater. If anyone mentions anything, I can just say “Oh, boy! Did you see Justine in the French Open that one time?” It keeps it easy. I look informed. Somehow I’m allowed to watch the Australian Open and no one questions my expertise. They should. But everyone does this. Perhaps you just like how Serena Williams wears that sassy green tennis skirt, or, like my suitemate, you believe that Roger Federer will never let you down in life. You’ve still got that special someone on the court. The likelihood that a wider range of folks have something more to say about tennis then they do about hockey or, even baseball, is pretty great in this day and age.
I’m the type that treats tennis, almost exclusively, as a launching point for conversation. I always take advantage of the crowd shots. Using the seconds in between play to look into the crowd and see who’s hobnobbing at the match. Matthew Perry, who, I suppose, used to be something special when “Friends” meant something special, can often be found in the stands. He’s not quite worthy of an entire conversation, but it’s a sure start. I bet Posh Spice watches tennis. I haven’t seen her yet. But it’s only too likely. Donald Trump definitely plays it. So does John Travolta. In fact, I’m asking for a new racket for my birthday. I don’t even play. But with a shiny new racket I certainly could.
Although the history of tennis reaches back to the ancient Greek game of sphairistike, it has only gained prominence in the English-speaking world since the late 19th century. The first U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship, now the U.S. Open, was only held in 1881 in Newport, R.I. The twentieth century has seen incredible growth. What originated in the upper crust of society is now a sport for everyone, really. You’d never be stretching the bounds of normal conversation to ask someone if they play. They probably do, or would be interested to start. They wouldn’t even have to go far to find it. Tennis is one of the few sports that can be practiced or played almost anywhere. Inside, outside, on grass or clay or various other interesting surfaces, you’ll find tennis has lured many to its grasp.
I think I realized it was something I should know about when I watched Julia Ormond and Aidan Quinn play a wooden-racket version of the game on the lawn outside the ranch house in the epic 1994 movie “Legends of the Fall.” It was only then that it gained a historical context for me. But I’d seen it many times before. The neighbors put in a court a few years back. I’m still begging my parents to find room for ours. They’re bigger than you’d think.
Tennis is a life sport. I may not make time to watch the Australian Open if that means I’m getting up earlier and losing valuable sleep, but I can appreciate those who do. It’s a sport to play and one to follow. And although the game never changes, it’s always fast-paced. There are always new faces. I’m still trying to follow the ball. And every weekend that the sun is shining, I’m going to roll out of bed once more and say “Maybe I should play tennis today?”
Charles Gariepy is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College.