Today is the first day of play in the U.S. Open. Tennis fans from New York and across the country will crowd into Arthur Ashe stadium to watch the great tennis players of our time take the court for the opening rounds of America’s greatest tennis tournament. It will prove to be an interesting and exciting two weeks. Andy Murray, who just won Wimbledon, returns to the U.S. Open as the 3rd seed to defend his 2012 title. Novak Djokovic comes in as the top seeded player and one of the finest hard court players of all time. Rafael Nadal is seeded 2nd with his knees finally healthy and a good streak going on hard courts. Then of course there is Roger Federer, seeded 7th, his lowest seeding since 2002 but always a fan favorite. On the women’s side, defending champion and current no. 1 ranked Serena Williams received the top seed, followed by her rival Victoria Azaranka. Azaranka has proved herself to be a formidable opponent for Williams, winning 2 of their 3 meeting this year. It will be a battle should they meet in the final. Maria Sharapova snagged the 3rd seeding.
With two weeks of great players and excellent tennis ahead, I’m reminded of why I love the sport so much. Tennis is competitive, classy, has a rich history full of incredible people, and it is so much fun to play. As the 2013 U.S. Open begins, I can’t help but think about all the things that make tennis such an incredible sport. Here are some of them, in no particular order:
1. The players.
On the whole, tennis players are among the most respected athletes in the world. They’re an incomparable mixture of class and a competitive spirit. I think of players like Juan Del Potro, regarded as the most polite athlete in any sport. Then there are players like Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova who both demonstrate an intense work ethic but also demonstrate a high level of class.
2. The rivalries.
Tennis boasts some of the most historic and competitive rivalries in sports history, from Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. These rivalries are the perfect embodiment of the nature of both the sport and its athletes, as rival players are intensely competitive with one another but carry a great deal of respect towards each other. It also makes for some awesome tennis, which we should see if Williams plays Azaranka in the women’s final.
3. The Athleticism
Because it’s regarded as a gentlemen’s sport, tennis is often dismissed as a ‘hobby’ or a less athletic sport. This could not be further from the case. Tennis players are some of the fittest athletes in the world. Matches can last up to four hours of play—that’s four hours, not including breaks, of sprinting, lunging, and diving. The game requires strength, agility, and endurance. This isn’t golf, people. You actually sweat playing tennis.
4. Earning it.
Tennis is one of the few major sports that does not operate under athlete/organization contracts. Unlike baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey athletes, tennis players earn money by winning tournaments. Contracts can hitch an athlete to one organization anywhere from one to ten years, even if athlete injures himself, his talent diminishes due to aging, or he is suspended. Tennis players, on the other hand, earn their salary based on their performance.
5. The Women.
I’ve mentioned mostly male tennis players, but I would be remiss to ignore the women of tennis. Not only are there great female tennis players—Maria Sharapova, Chris Evert, and Billie Jean King come to mind—but tennis is one of the few sports where women receive the same recognition as their male counterparts as well as the same pay grade. It was not always like this. As in every sport, women struggled to be taken seriously as athletes and earn the same rights as men. The ESPN film Venus VS. highlights Venus Williams’ role in bringing equality in tournament winnings for women. Billie Jean King also played an important role in equalizing tennis, particularly in her exhibition match against Bobby Riggs where she beat him in three straight sets.
There are many more reasons to love tennis, but I can’t go into them now. It is a sport with a rich history and respected players. It is fun to watch and to play. These next two weeks will showcase to the world an incredible level of athleticism, sportsmanship, and excitement. And on September 7th and 8th, new champions will be crowned.