Why Tennis Sucks: Too Much Grass In The Game

Why has pro men’s tennis largely fallen out of favor with the American viewing public?

2010 Wimbledon Court Wear Marks


1980 Wimbledon Court Wear Marks

To illustrate, brilliant financial blogger Kevin Kedrosky recently compared the court wear marks from the 1980 Wimbledon Final and the 2010 Wimbledon Final. (The result of weeks of use leading up to the matches.)

As you can see, even without all the distracting graphics I added to the image, in 1980 the players were all over the court. In 2010, they quite clearly hugged the baseline. The pattern of play in ‘10 was vastly more predictable than it was 30 years ago.

But if the players aren’t markedly better athletes today than they were in 1980, why the difference?

Technologically improved rackets (lighter, stronger) mean faster serves and groundstrokes. The points are quicker, leaving out a lot of the athleticism and creativity that used to appeal to so many of us.

I feel for you folks who missed John McEnroe in his prime. He’s probably the closest thing to athlete-as-artist as the world will ever seen in the elite athletic arena. The only guy I can think of today in sports who might be comparable is Ichiro when at the plate.

That’s why “Breakfast at Wimbledon” used to be a huge deal in the ’80s - and isn’t now. Has nothing to do with Americans not being a factor in the draw year after year. If Bjorn Borg, a baseline player, had been American and McEnroe had been Swedish, men’s tennis still would’ve been wildly popular because of McEnroe’s incredible skill and outrageous on-court presentation. (Not like you needed a translation!)

Because the majority of pro tennis is played on hard courts, the above analysis also applies to the men’s game in general. Just as on grass, the nature of play is such that there’s no personality left in the game.

Back in ‘80, I never could’ve fathomed that women’s tennis would be more popular with casual fans than men’s tennis. But because the women don’t overpower each other on the court to the extent the men do, it actually is usually a more intriguing watch.