Not only balls, rackets and rules differ tennis from skating

Novak Djokovic at the US Open 2012

By Vladislav Luchianov

These days New York holds one of the major sporting events of the year – the U.S. Open tennis championship, which is attended by a lot of players from different countries. Looking at the filled stadiums in New York, I involuntarily draw parallels with our sport.

Why in tennis, as well as in many other sports, everything is very good with popularity? Why in other sports athletes, but not members of the various federations, are the protagonists? Why tennis officials can’t influence so much to the lives and careers of athletes? If I start to make a complete list of questions, it would take several pages.

Perhaps the answers to these questions lie in the fact that tennis players are much more independent. Perhaps this is why in this sport we practically can’t see the empty stands. In tennis everything is done to comply with one main principle – all for the athletes! While in figure skating in many countries the development of a skater depends on loyalty of some local federation or on the wealth of parents, etc.

Figure skating has many excellent high-class athletes too. But unlike tennis, figure skating also has a huge army of bureaucrats, who in recent years has turned this sport into a kind of a private club. Constantly changing rules, which most can’t understand; the presence of privileged people who are in advance in a better position with respect to other athletes; government funding of many national federations, which leads to a total dependence of skaters on the mood of a particular official – these are just few actual issues of the state of modern skating.

Let me describe in a few words what the real professional sport is. Professional sports, as opposed to amateur sports, are sports in which athletes receive payment for their performance. Professional athleticism has come to the fore through a combination of developments. Mass media and increased leisure have brought larger audiences, so that sports organizations or teams can command large incomes.

Professional sport is perhaps the only activity that defies the commercial norm whereby the media expect to be paid for carrying publicity for non-media organizations; in professional sport they are expected to pay for the privilege of doing so.

As a result, more sportspeople can afford to make athleticism their primary career, devoting the training time necessary to increase skills, physical condition, and experience to modern levels of achievement. This proficiency has also helped boost the popularity of sports.

See the difference? That’s why tennis players have great incomes, which are absolutely deserved. That’s why tennis players are not dependent on bureaucrats. And that’s why this sport attracts such great sponsors as J. P. Morgan.

Ana Ivanovic at the US Open 2012

On photo: One of the best tennis players Ana Ivanovic at the US Open 2012

One more important thing. The rules of tennis have not changed much since the 1890s (!). Two exceptions are that from 1908 to 1961 the server had to keep one foot on the ground at all times, and the adoption of the tiebreak in the 1970s. A recent addition to professional tennis has been the adoption of electronic review technology coupled with a point challenge system, which allows a player to challenge the line (or chair) umpire’s call of a point.

There is another difference of true professional sports. It’s the high level of almost all calendar events of the competitive year. That is why winning or participation at the Olympics is not so essential for professionals. Yes, it’s important of course but not essential just because he or she has many other events, which don’t concede and often surpass the level of the Olympic Games. Unsuccessful performance at the Olympics can’t destroy the career or reputation of professionals.

Unfortunately the presence of great athletes does not guarantee the popularity of this or that kind of sport. The most important factor is a comprehensive approach to the sport, where the most important person is the athlete.

And a few of humor for the end of this article. I just imagined how some sporting official comes to Novak Djokovic saying: “You know Novak, Olympics (or Worlds) is coming and our tennis federation counts on you very much. You must to perform well there!” The possible answer of Djokovic could be like this: “Actually you have just one minute to go away. I can buy all your federation together with you and your secretary:-)”

Photo: Matthew Stockman, Manuela Davies

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