— George Bernard Shaw, “Misalliance”
A couple of weeks ago, I took my tennis-loving son and his friend Sammy to the finals of the Atlanta Tennis Championship. My ever-attentive wife, looking out for the son who puts a smile on her face and gray hairs in her head, landed us tickets. It was the boy’s back-to-school reward for reading the books he had not read, so far.
I used to play tennis before bad knees and old age retired me, so when my son took up the sport, I was, to put it mildly, excited.
As I remembered it, tennis was a game of style and grace, courtesy and class. It is not the game of the riff-raff, the common herd, the proletariat. Naturally, my son’s decision raised my hopes that some of the characteristics I recalled as common to tennis players and fans might rub off on him.
Like the clothes. In tennis, folks are not sloppy. No slacking. Today, things are more colorful when the rule was “no one wears anything but white, dear” — but despite this modern peacockery, tennis people are still defined by stylish outfits with logos from Polo and Lacoste. I wince at the cost but approve of his appearance.
My boy seems to have accepted the fact that tennis players work hard at their game. This is a kid who loves sleep better than pizza, yet this summer he got up at 7:30 in the morning, voluntarily, to play.
Now, if we could just get him to bound out of bed to read Wuthering Heights.
We got over there about noon. The Atlanta Athletic Club. You can’t join unless someone on the inside will vouch for you and you have money. How much? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. But like Groucho Marx said, “I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member.”
The “stadium” where the match was held had about as many seats as the end zones at Jacksonville State’s football stadium, though they could have squeezed in a few more it they had not turned one section into “Champagne Seating” and charged extra for more chairs around a table and cold drinks served by appropriately clad lackeys. Tennis is a spectator sport without many spectators. But everyone who got in had a seat close to the court, so we could see everything, which was nice because the ball was flying with speeds of 130 mph serves. Dang.
John Isner vs. Mardy Fish.
Isner, who played the longest match in history at Wimbledon last month, went to the University of Georgia, so he had a following, including a nice-looking lady in a short dress that shouted “expensive,” a big-brimmed hat that shouted “distinctive,” and a tan that shouted “home tanning salon.” She held up a sign that on one side read, “John, I’ll be your doubles partner,” and on the other it read, “I can’t hit as hard as Serena, but I’m more fun.” OK, there are exceptions to the “classy” rule.
And to the courtesy requirement.
Isner and Fish were as polite as two competitors could be, but in the stands some of the fans got a tad rowdy. An Isner supporter shouted just as Fish was throwing up the ball for his second serve. After the point was played, the umpire — the guy sitting on the high chair, under an umbrella, looking down the net, the guy who runs things — reminded the loudmouth and others present that “this is a tennis match. There is no shouting between the first and second serve.”
Chastised, the place quieted.
There were no more incidents.
It was interesting to watch what went on around the court. The umpire ran things. Judges called the lines. Players made their own calls as well, and as you would expect from gentlemen, they responded honestly and to the best of their ability. There were a few challenges and a sorta instant replay that clarified things, but there were no arguments, no tantrums. Though I am told that there was an off-court referee who was available to make a final judgment on rules, it never came to that.
And there were ball boys and girls to retrieve the balls and hold an umbrella over the players when they sat down between sets — it was a zillion degrees there on the court.
Fish won, and folks crowded around to get tennis balls signed. My boys got theirs. Isner drifted off and let the winner enjoy the moment. He signed for those who sought him out, but, being a gentleman, he knew what to do.
Hope some of that rubs off on my boy, as well.
If people acted like they do at a tennis match, the world would be a better place.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is eminent scholar in history at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.