In high school, I became a big fan of local high school sports as my baseball career came to an anticlimactic end, so I now write high school sports for the local newspaper. I am currently a student at Azusa Pacific University, where I work in the Sports Information Department, writing about any of the 17 varsity sports offered by the school. I also grew up playing in baseball, basketball, soccer, and flag football leagues, while playing just about every other sport at the park on the other side of the block, in the driveway in my front yard, or on the grass in my backyard.
Every sport except tennis. I would use my parents' old wooden rackets like baseball bats, when I wanted to hit the wiffle balls or small rocks farther than normal. It wasn't until I wasn't good enough to play any other sport that I finally gave tennis a try, both as a fan and a player. And it didn't take me long to start to think "Why didn't someone tell me this sport is so amazing sooner?" Here's what makes the sport so amazing:
In America, it doesn't matter if you watch any college basketball. You still look forward to March. Why? Because that's when March Madness happens. Where 68 teams are put into a bracket and after a month, only one team stands. During this time, millions of Americans fill out a bracket predicting the results of every game. Imagine if college basketball were as exciting every month as it is in March... or check out tennis. Tennis has brackets every week. Every week is one loss and you're out, creating the possibility for shocking upsets and big runs and all the other things that puts the madness in March Madness.
If you are a fan of college football, Mondays are sometimes just as exciting as Saturdays, because even though nobody plays on Monday, that's the day the rankings come out. That's when you get to find out the significance of the results from Saturday. The anticipation of the new rankings on Monday can be just as exciting as the game itself. Tennis also has a ranking system, which posts results every Monday morning that tennis fans love to poor over and analyze as much as a college football fan. However, there are two distinct advantages to tennis rankings. First, the rankings don't stop after 25. In fact, they keep going all the way to a few thousand, so even if your favorite player is nowhere near the top 25, every win and loss's significance is reflected in the rankings. Second, tennis has a transparent ranking system. It's not a bunch of people taking secret ballots or in a room having secret discussions. The ranking explanation is posted online for each individual player, and it follows a consistent formula, so nobody is shocked when their player drops 10 spots despite winning multiple matches that week.
3. Challenges (Instant Replay):
The MLB finally came around on challenges and everybody loves it. Nobody likes when Jim Joyce takes away a perfect game from Armando Galarage. But like football, baseball still has one problem with challenges: they take forever! Not the case with tennis. Everyone in the stadium gets to see the replay and a computer is responsible for overturning a call, so the results are immediate. Except this one time...
Hockey has fights and tennis simply cannot beat that. However, one thing tennis does have that hockey doesn't is microphones on the court. That means that unlike any other sport, when Juan Martin del Potro tells Andy Murray a 'Yo mama' joke and Murray whines about it, you get to hear it! Watch:
5. Cinderella Stories:
When I say Cinderella story, I don't mean that fake stuff where a big network does a special on a team that you have never heard of and then you start cheering for that team like you know everyone on the roster personally. I mean stories where truly likeable teenagers like Vicky Duval, CiCi Bellis, and Tayler Townsend take on the legends of their sport on huge stages. Or stories of guys like Brian Baker or Ricardas Berankis. Or great underdog stories like Nicolas Mahut, Marinka Matosevic, or Marin Cilic. Every sport has great stories and that's why we love sports, but the individuality of tennis makes its stories so much more compelling.
Tennis never ends. The offseason whomps in every other sport. It is way too long and is almost unbearable. In tennis, the official offseason is around five weeks, but even during those five weeks, tennis is still happening. You never have to wait for tennis to come back.
7. All-Star Week:
This is what tennis is missing, right? I mean, baseball has an incredible all-star weekend and tennis has none, right? Dead wrong. In tennis, not only is there an all-star weekend, there is an entire all-star week. When is it? Almost every week. The all-star game is just having the best players from your sport gather in one place to play half as hard as they normally do on the same field at once. Because tennis is a tour, the best players in the world are on the same court all the time. You rarely have Roger Federer in New York, while Novak Djokovic is in Los Angeles. Usually, all the best players are at the same places at the same time.
Once in my life, has the all-star game been within driving distance of my house, and it was a can't-miss weekend. It was amazing to spend half a day at the ballpark to watch the players take batting practice. But what is even better than that is that every year all the top players in the world come to Indian Wells for two weeks, and I can pick a couple days during that time where I can spend the entire day watching all the best players in the world in one place. There are so many matches going on at once to choose from loaded with talent and I can even walk right up to the practice courts to watch my favorite player from 10 feet away at most. While I'm at Indian Wells, it's not unlikely that I will rub shoulders with someone ranked in the top 100 in the world. And just to give you an idea how good being top 100 in the world in your sport is, Ryan Howard isn't even in the top 100 position players in the MLB according to fantasy rankings, yet there is no chance you could get close to him without knowing someone important.
8. The Best Win:
In the title matches, there is going to be the names and faces of two players that you know regardless of how big of a tennis fan you are. Upsets do happen, but you don't hear people say "who is that?" when they look at the names of the players in the final. In the biggest tournaments, the ones competing in the final will be two of the greatest players of all time. In other sports, the championship is often between teams that didn't even win their own conference or division, but the ball bounced their way in the postseason.
Everyone loves boxing, because it is a 1-on-1 battle. However, even in boxing, you have men in your corner, who are essentially teammates or coaches. Not the case in tennis. With a few exceptions in special types of events, there are no teammates, no coaches, nothing. The players have to make adjustments on their own and figure things out on their own. Tennis is the closest thing to a true 1-on-1 sport.
10. Female Sport:
I was at a women's college basketball game this weekend, and it was just a scrimmage and nobody kept score, so there was nothing competitive about the game. It was simply a pure display of talent. During the game, a female friend of mine turned to me and said "I wish this were at least a men's game so it would actually be worth watching." The gender gap in basketball is massive. It is only bigger with football and basketball. Even NASCAR, hockey, and boxing have a significant problem in this area. Not the case for tennis. At the grand slams, tennis players of both genders are paid equally based on their results and the women get a far more significant amount of TV time and media coverage than any other female sport.
In baseball, every field is unique and baseball fans love that. Each MLB field ever built has its own characteristic that makes it different than any other. However, the impact those characteristics have on the game is noticeable and occasionally game-changing, but normally it isn't a major factor. Tennis, on the other hand, has three different types of surfaces and can be played indoors and outdoors, meaning there are six different basic types of conditions in which a match can be held. And these changes in conditions significantly change the way the game is played. That's why Rafael Nadal completely dominates the outdoor clay in Paris, while struggling in recent years on the lawns of Wimbledon.
12. Minor Leagues:
The ATP has three levels of tours and the lower two are sometimes called the minor leagues. However, the level of talent in the minor leagues of tennis is so much better than any team sport. In tennis, there will be several players ranked inside the top 150 in the world (which is equivalent to being the fifth best player on an MLB team) playing in the minor leagues. That's the kind of talent you get to watch when you go to a minor league tournament.
I'm personally not a big fan of the Olympics, but I know some people love it. My issue with the Olympics is that I don't care about swimming, track & field, synchronized diving, curling, or ice skating the other three years. Why should I become a fan of something for just two weeks every four years? And with basketball and other team sports that are actually in the Olympics, it is just boring. The players are more worried about getting injured before the "real season" instead of winning gold. If they don't care, I don't care. Tennis is one of the few sports that doesn't peak or tank at the Olympics. The players want to win at the Olympics just as much as normal. The only difference is that for this one event, they represent their country more than just themselves, which is what the Olympics is all about. That way I know about the players who are competing, and I'm actually watching players that care about winning. Is there a better sport at the Olympics than tennis? Yet, it is at the Olympics where you realize just how underappreciated the sport is, because it is finally compared side-by-side with other sports.
14. World Wide:
After soccer, tennis is one of the most international sports. Tennis has grand slams in Australia, North America, and Europe, while it is rapidly growing in South America and Asia. Many countries are represented by the players in tennis as well. In the top 150 of the ATP alone, there are usually over 40 different countries represented at any time of year. If the top 150 players in the world of any sport were selected, would that many different countries really be represented in even soccer?