The trouble with tennis today

MOST of my life I've had a love match with tennis. I've watched all the top matches ever since they could be seen on television. But no more.

Why? Because as played by a good many of the world-class pros the game has become boring. The boredom comes about because what once was a lively sport has become funereal.

One reason for this situation is that those in the big money have developed a killer attitude that we usually think of as needed mainly by boxers.

Another explanation is that the major players earn too much money; a number have become millionaires even while just teen-agers. And quickly. With all that money you'd think they'd go around smiling. Instead, they are deadly serious.

How often, for instance, have you seen or heard John McEnroe laugh?

I suppose if $100,000 depended on my winning I'd be solemn, too. But this sport is supposed to be a game - or once was and was played for its own sake. In recent years tennis at the competitive professional levels has encouraged greed and ambition for popularity, so as to sell tennis rackets, sneakers, and whole lines of clothing named for some star.

It's a deadly business operation, like two dissimilar industries considering a takeover of each other. How different from one summer when I rolled and lined courts for a prestigious state championship. It drew greats such as Bill Tilden, Helen Wills, B.I.C. Norton, and Bill Johnson, all winners of United States and international titles.

Norton used to amuse the spectators by hitting the ball successfully with his back to the net. Or whack it between his legs. He'd appear to be dropping his racket but would recover it in time to return a volley. He juggled two balls and a racket while waiting at a rest period.

When Ilie Nastase, the Romanian star, was playing not so long ago he was funny and performed tricks, also. But there was a big difference between him and Norton. Nastase was obscene and insolent; the nickname ``Nasty'' was given him with reason.

Bill Tilden was no angel, exactly. But as I stood courtside I never heard him use foul language or be discourteous to opponents or officials, as so many players are today. Off the court, yes; he was arrogant and indecent in his words. But not on.

The pounding game now being played - recently Boris Becker had 22 aces in a single match - has become boring. Strength, not deftness and placement, rules. The players must have silence and stillness. Nothing must be heard when these demigods start to put the ball in play at last. So the players wait at the baselines. The only other athletes so finicky are golfers.

Finally, the serve comes to life. But it's in slow motion. The ball is bounced slowly five or six times before being thrown up to be hit. If a second try is needed, the whole drawn-out process is repeated.

Court changes and rest periods bring more delays, another serious reason for the ennui of the spectator. Then there are the endless numbers of arguments with officials. These shouting matches have become so common that machines have been brought in, not successfully, to help ward off the gripes from the professional crybabies.

Tennis was once called a game for sissies. It certainly is becoming so, thanks to these opera stars who must have the right temperature, the right lights, floor coverings, and decisions, or they will sulk and squawk.

I no longer watch the telecasts because of the gelatinous pace of the game. The sculptured poses and melodramatics are so exasperating that I keep saying to the screen: ``Come on, let's get on with it. What do you think you're playing, chess?,'' and then switch to another station.

Roland E. Wolseley is a free-lance writer living in Syracuse, N.Y.

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