No sign of Pat Rafter this year

Watching the ITV4 coverage of the Aegon Masters Tennis Champions Tour 2011, my sister sighed ‘It’s so depressing to see players you once respected behaving like idiots.’ And I couldn’t agree more.

Players like Philippoussis, Henman and Ivanisevic are not geriatrics, after all. They are probably in their mid-30s but the nature of the event demands that they pantomime stiffness and fatigue, as if they struggle to get up from their seats and need to stretch and grimace after each rally. I know club players in their 80s who look livelier than this lot.

Why do they have to playact grandfathers in this unseemly fashion? For the entertainment of the crowd, which is paramount, according to commentator Annabel Croft. They are obviously being instructed to play for laughs. Okay, this may come naturally to players like Henri Leconte, known as a ‘showman’. These days he may as well be a performing seal. Do we blame the likes of Mansour Bahrami, a talented player who is happier being the clown? Or John McEnroe, truly in the Legends category, always ready to act up to his reputation for irascibility?

I watch for the tennis, still sometimes surprisingly good. But I can’t help being disheartened by every lame exchange passed off as banter, eliciting embarrassed giggles from the spectators, who feel duty-bound to greet every hammy manifestation of exhaustion, each poor attempt at humour, as if as hilarious as a good stand-up comedian.

Oh how I cringe each time a player sits down between points or jokingly hands his racquet to someone in the crowd.

Victory on home ground for Tim Henman

At least Pat Rafter isn’t taking part this year. He’s missed but I wouldn’t want to see him constrained to ham around.

Still, it’s good to see Tim Henman win something, defeating Thomas Enqvist 6-3 7-6 (2), in London at last, great result for him and truly deserved.

Is there something wrong with me? Everyone else seems to relish the lighthearted atosphere, the absence of tension, the pure goodnaturedness of the participants. To me this smacks of the unserious and devalues the competition. I want people to take it seriously. I like players to care whether they win or lose, to be engaged in a gladiatorial contest. And if I wanted to see a pantomime …

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