Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tennis Chatter: Weekend Thoughts

I had a busy first week at my new job with Seena Hamilton & Associates, but I'm learning a ton while helping plan a great event - The Easter Bowl. This tournament is a stronghold in junior tennis - some (including Seena), call it the 'blockbuster of junior tennis' - and attracts players from all over the country to the Indian Wells area for an incredible week of springtime tennis. Needless to say, it's a storied event.

One of the many things that my eyes were opened to this weekend is an individual known as Gene Scott. Among other things, Gene was the founder and editor at Tennis Week for many years, and was a pioneer in a variety of ways. When you start learning about an individual like Gene, it makes you look at tennis from a different angle. Such an angle might be that this is a 'lifetime game' or that tennis can teach us things we can't learn anywhere else.

My point is that Gene wasn't just a good tennis player, he was a stand-out human being. When he passed away unexpectedly in 2006, there was a great sense of loss in the tennis community. Who would come up with a "Vantage Point" similar to Gene's? Who would continue to criticize a game that he or she loved so much?

It makes me appreciate and respect players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who take their celebrity status and positions in the game to do good - to improve tennis and the world around it. Players like these guys and others - Andre Agassi comes to mind - make this game so great. We must continue to self-criticize (as a sport) and not shy away from challenging who we are and what we are as an institution in order to move forward.

No, I don't think tennis is the platform to change the world, but it can be a platform. Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo did so when they came out, Agassi, Andy Roddick and others do so with their charities and non-profits, and Andrea Jaeger proved that the tennis afterlife could be more than just coaching clinics and commentating gigs.

That's a funny thing to think of - The Tennis Afterlife - isn't it? I look at players like Irina Spirlea or Richard Krajicek and can't really muster up any thoughts or feelings other than how oversized tennis clothes were in the mid-90s. No, not every player can be an Agassi on and off the court, but tennis is just a game - a game encompassed in a life that asks us to work together and for each other, not alone and against each other.

So maybe that's why so many tennis players are so socially awkward (myself included). We are taught to be tenacious, to go for it, to "Off with their heads!" on the court and then asked to be buddy buddy with our over-the-net foe when we're off. It's not an easy switch to turn on and off.

That's one reason why I love working for The Easter Bowl so far: this isn't a pro tennis tournament. This is a junior tournament, where American kids are bred to be champions but few - and fewer these days, right? - actually play competitive tennis past college. This is a junior tennis tournament where a future outside of tennis is likely for all, and a chance to do good in the world is only just beginning to form.

I think that's an idea Gene Scott would've liked.

1 comment:

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