Pros: Bring finesse back to the game

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 16, 2000

I could hear the televised tennis match from our kitchen. Our 5-year-old daughter became a tennis fan during Wimbledon and now favors watching tennis over Cartoon Network. A real milestone, when you consider the apparent spell of &uot;Johnny Bravo&uot; and &uot;The Power Puff Girls.&uot; But that’s another story.

Anyway, as groans of a player’s straining for a forehand echoed around the corner, I thought they sounded familiar, but it wasn’t until I heard one of the players arguing with the line judge that I placed their source. It was John McEnroe.

I first became interested in tennis watching Jimmy Connors. But it was the long Sunday morning Wimbledon duels of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe that made me a true fan and an aspiring player. The Connors, Borg, McEnroe game was a different game than today’s hard serving, titanium racket free-for-all. The old game was a finesse game. And as I headed into the living room to watch the match with my daughter, I was reminded of the difference between the two.

Email newsletter signup

McEnroe faced Andreas Gomez in the USTA Senior’s Quality Challenge and trailed 30-40, down 2-3 in the first set. McEnroe’s first serve was wide and the second, in baseball terms, a meat pitch. Gomez drove the return deep, near the baseline, and quickly put McEnroe on the defensive. Then, McEnroe pulled out a shot I haven’t seen in years, a flat out, running full speed, back hand defensive lob.

When the back-spinning ball finally landed deep in Gomez’s backcourt, McEnroe had recovered and was set to finish the point.

And finish the point he did.

Two volleys later, after McEnroe had driven Gomez back behind the baseline with a series of hard backhands, he set for what looked like another, then dropped the ball softly over the net, so slow it barely bounced.

Score a point for finesse.

Brad Gilbert, a former pro player, who was calling the match reminded us McEnroe learned to play, and won several major tournaments, with a wooden racket. &uot;The velocity of the ball of a wooden racket is much slower,&uot; he said. &uot;A player like McEnroe had to be a master of speed, spin and ball placement to win consistently.&uot;

Gilbert must have used the words &uot;great finesse&uot; a half-dozen times during the first set. I can’t recall hearing the phrase once during last week’s Wimbledon coverage.

Later in the set, as McEnroe argued with the line judge a second time about a missed call, I was reminded about another facet of his game, his temper. &uot;How can you even see the line with those sunglasses,&uot; he shouted at the official. &uot;That ball was out by a mile. If it was easier to see the ball with sunglasses we (the players) would be wearing them too. Geeezz …&uot; McEnroe groaned as he walked away.

CBS replayed the point. McEnroe was right. The ball wasn’t out by a mile, but it was out by about an inch and a half. I became weary of his arguing before the end of the first set, but noticed that the madder he became, the better he played. On at least two occasions, he left an argument with an official and served an ace.

I must be getting old. This column has the undertones of a fellow who remembers the proverbial &uot;good ol’ days.&uot;

But as I watched the match I was reminded of a Major League Baseball rule; wooden bats only, no aluminum. And I could help but wonder if professional tennis would benefit from a change.

With ratings rivaling the WNBA and Pro Bowlers Tour, I can’t imagine there is much at risk.

So maybe they will take my suggestion: Leave the titanium rackets to the weekend warrior (we need them desperately) and pick up the wooden rackets again and bring the finesse back to the game.

Todd Carpenter is publisher of The Democrat. You can reach him by calling 446-5172 or by e-mail at