Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lovely Tennis Writing

I really am committed to presenting original prose on my blog, but there must be room to share pieces that fit into the overall theme of this space. I just found this missive by Michael Kimmelmann from the NY Times during the 2006 US Open (Sept 8th 2006, to be exact), and it helps expand on some of the themes I wrote about in my previous posting about tennis (though he's quite an exceptional writer and I'm basically working with crayons here). Activate your imagination and read on, but slowly, and allow yourself to be enthralled...
"So what is the art of tennis?
I bumped into the New York artist Holly Hughes at the Open. Many artists are obsessed with tennis. Holly, a painter, is one of them. She spent the day scouring the grounds, dashing between matches. She had that glazed look fans get here in the early rounds, the look of a glutton mid-banquet.
Tennis points, she said, are problem-solving equations for line drawings in space.
Translation: the beauty of the game is seeing, then trying to remember, the way a ball travels around the court during a point. Its path makes lines that arch, zig, move diagonally, straight, back and forth. The court is like a sheet of paper, with its own lines already drawn on it. Strategy entails mapping out and resolving combinations of lines — patterns — just as an artist maps a drawing.
Picture Federer. He hits a sliced serve to the deuce court. The ball makes a curving line down the middle that jogs at impact from left to right. His opponent’s return arches toward Federer’s backhand (the line now goes back, from right to left, but differently). Federer, charging the net, volleys cross court (left to right, again differently). Point Federer.
The fan’s pleasure comes in redrawing the lines as a memory. Every point, like every mark drawn on a page, is a little different. Topspin makes a line different from a slice. A smart, strategic, virtuosic player (Federer) conceives more varied and elegant points, whose resolution, like the resolution of a particularly complex drawing, can be profoundly satisfying.
This is why sitting at a certain height behind either baseline is better than sitting in the middle of the court or courtside. From the side, the game is a jumble of movements. From higher up and behind the baseline (where the television cameras like to be), the court is easier to read as a page, and the lines are clear to follow. Patterns present themselves.
Within sameness there can be endless variety. Artists have proved this over centuries. It’s the art of tennis, too — or part of the art, because there is beauty to the sound of the game and to its passage through time. Call it the music of the sport. Which is to say nothing of its drama, offcourt and on, or of the ballet of Federer’s footwork ..."
The complete article can be found by clicking here.

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