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Bosco’s Corner: Tennis fans have little to root for

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I am not a tennis fan, at least not since the retirement of one John McEnroe, the Queens native who tipped the sporting world on its head in the late 1970s and early 1980s with his boorish behavior and blistering backhand. Johnny Mac took tennis to another level, both on the court and off.

And with the recent start of this year’s version of the U.S. Open, played at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the borough is abuzz with talk of tennis.

But me, I could care less. There are a number of reasons I feel this way, which I believe are the same reasons that casual tennis fans of years gone by have taken up golf.

When McEnroe played tennis, it was a true sport, in every sense. A top-flight player had to be well-rounded, gifted and, of course, lucky to be able to claim one of the four major tennis tournaments — the U.S. Open, the French Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

The four majors are competed on two hard court surfaces, one clay and one grass. The U.S. Open is the final of the four and probably the second in terms of importance behind only Wimbledon, the grass championship held yearly in England.

The surfaces are supposed to give different players a chance to win and separate the truly special players from the rest of the pack. A player who can win a title on all four would stand tall above the rest. But that seldom happens any more.

The game nowadays is based around power, not finesse. McEnroe, who was reared in Douglaston, has been quoted as saying he was the last great wooden tennis racquet player and he is probably right.

With a wooden racquet, there was only so much pop you could get on a serve. But today, with all different forms of lightweight metal being employed, serves are routinely clocked above 130 miles per hour in the men’s game.

Even the women these day can hit close to 120 mph serves, which is just obscene.

Muscle is what modern-day tennis is all about, allowing mediocre players born with the God-given ability to whack a tennis ball with great ferocity and velocity, to dominate a sport which, up until 15 years ago, was more about the right amount of top spin or a well-placed lob.

Andre Agassi captured the career Grand Slam, winning all four majors, but in different years. Still, it is a tremendous accomplishment for the American, who may well have been the last marquee player in the men’s draw. Unfortunately, both he and his longtime friend and rival, Pete Sampras, the most dominant male player of the past 15 years, are on the downside of their careers, leaving a void in the sport.

But with Agassi and Sampras, who has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other man in history, going the way of the Dodo bird and Giant Sloth, the remaining field of male players is an indistinguishable lot who all hit hard and wear their baseball caps backward.

Long volleys are a thing of the past, while aces and service winners are more common than ever before. If I didn’t look it up I could never tell you who won the past three Grand Slam titles in this calendar year.

And don’t get me wrong. Tennis matches are still competitive and can make for some interesting sports theater. However, with so many players seemingly blending into the crowd, it is hard to get jazzed up about anyone, particularly in the men’s draw. I can’t get excited about Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt or Tommy Haas, all players seeded in the top 10 for the U.S. Open this year.

The women’s side is only a bit more compelling because there are more recognizable names competing at the highest level. Venus and Serena Williams highlight the field and are — simply put— head and shoulders above the rest. Seeing these two play one another would appear to be the most compelling match-up, but as fate would have it, they always play poorly when matched against each other.

Still, the sibling rivalry angle is one for the ages. Decades from now tennis historians will look back and marvel at the fact that two sisters, who have not yet been cloned or genetically altered, dominated a sports such as the Williams sisters have.

I only hope Jennifer Capriati, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis can offer some competition for the title this year. As nice as it may be for the Williams sisters to dominate, variety is the spice of life. Capriati has completely rebuilt her career, while both Davenport and Hingis — and Monica Seles to some extent — are trying to make it back to the top.

And then there is the Anna Kournikova factor. Call me sexist, but I wanted to see this woman go all the way — no pun intended. She has taken more flak for trading in on her good looks than McEnroe did for his fiery temper back in the day.

If Kournikova, who has never won a singles title, but been playing better of late, had made a strong run through the singles draw, she could have silenced a lot of critics. And she also missed her chance to show what a draw she is despite her lack of success by improving television ratings and stirring interest from the casual fan. It’s sad, but true.

Of course, Kournikova lost her first-round match in 44 minutes, leaving the women’s title to most likely be won by someone named Williams while the men’s champion will probably be someone I never heard of.

Such is the state of tennis.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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