Loving the Individual
It’s usually Peter Bodo that riles up my Twitter feed, not his colleague, Steve Tignor. I’ve long been a admirer of Steve and his articles, so I was surprised to wake up and find that so many fans were upset over his comments that a serious tennis fan is either in the Nadal, Federer, or Djokovic camp. I had a read of the article and I too agreed that Steve was wrong; I’ve interviewed many fans recently for On The Go, and only two of them fit Steve’s criteria. I don’t think anyone would argue these people are not massive tennis fans. However, I admit that most fans have a preference towards a member of the top three. But that’s natural, considering they’re the players we see all the time and read about all the time. To remain ambivalent is a bit special.
What really got me shaking my head were Ed McGrogan’s comments that tennis players are harder to support than teams. Perhaps it is the non-patriot in me, but I certainly find it easier to get emotional about a person than a jersey. I do watch team sports – amongst others I support the South African rugby team, the German soccer team and the Indian cricket team – but I always find it harder to truly invest myself in them. Every year there are more names to learn, more personalities to discover. If my favourite player has switched club, how can I cheer against that club?
McGrogan also believes that whilst hating a rival club is natural, tennis players don’t inspire the same kind of animosity in fans. From my experience, tennis fans don’t have any problem disliking players at all. I think it’s when a fan becomes media, when they meet the players and realise they’re just human, is when it becomes much harder to dislike them. Of course Tignor and McGrogan are both media, and therefore have a different kind of fandom.
McGrogan used one of his own examples to illustrate his point; he was once a fan of Richard Gasquet but struggled to continue to support Gasquet because, among other reasons, McGrogan isn’t French and doesn’t have a one-handed backhand. It could be because I’m from a far flung corner of the world, but nationality plays no part in who I support. As for my tennis game, I’d be disturbed if I recognised any of that in a professional player.
Tennis resonates with me because I like the human side of sport. I enjoy seeing one person overcome the odds, I like watching the raw emotion that doesn’t always come with a team, and I even take pleasure in seeing people choke. That’s why I don’t find it hard to get into golf on the final day – watching people battle themselves is half the fun. I admire tennis players because of who they are, not where they’re from or what colour they wear. And as for Tignor saying that players don’t have a long career and therefore the history, that’s what makes it more special. I don’t know when Sharapova will retire and that’s why every Grand Slam loss hurts so much. But of course when she does hang up her racket I’ll focus on my other favourites. After all, a true tennis fan likes a bunch of people, not just one.