After a prolonged sojourn in Europe, live tennis returns to California with tournaments in Stanford and San Diego. While we prepare to visit those consecutive events, we reflect upon a few of the most striking differences between the spectator experience on TV and at the venue. Be aware that these comments are highly subjective, so a different observer might leave a tournament with drastically divergent impressions.
1) More ebbs and flows / less constant drama:
Saturated with tense close-ups and portentous prattle, television broadcasts often attach excessive significance to each moment as it arrives. To paraphrase Orwell, all points are equal, but some are more equal than others; a 1-2, 40-15 situation doesn’t carry the weight of 4-4, 15-30. When one watches the match live, the peaks and valleys of its rhythm become more apparent, allowing the spectator to recognize the drama of those moments that matter the most. Consequently, the suspense of a set’s climax accumulates more powerfully in person than on television, where announcers and cameramen alike attempt to maintain dramatic intrigue as relentlessly as possible.
2) Serves, returns more impressive:
Seated in the comfortable detachment of one’s home, it’s difficult to appreciate just how rapidly the ball travels through the court and what a fast-paced sport tennis actually is. At the stadium, the serve crackles through the court as a near-invisible blur, which in turn underscores the superb reflexes of the game’s finest returners. First-strike tennis sometimes looks all too simple on television, but the live audience better understands the extraordinary degree of focus and timing essential to executing that style effectively. (One caveat: TV replays illustrate a serve’s placement better than anyone in the audience can discern.)
3) Court appears smaller:
Hovering above the baseline, television cameras create the impression of a cavernous, vault-like stadium. Yet even the largest venues in tennis, such as Indian Wells, seem rigidly confined in person and emphasize the proximity between the combatants, thus heightening the intensity of this individual competition. As a consequence of the constricted court, one observes more clearly the contrast between conservative north-south baseliners and more audacious angle-creators, whose gambits seem more ambitious than on television.
4) Time between points seems longer:
Armed with an arsenal of technological tools, broadcasters relish multifaceted diagrams and charts that illuminate every statistical dimension of the sport. Although this information certainly fascinates and dazzles, it also saturates the viewer with a ceaseless flow of data to process. At the venue, by contrast, spectators can choose how they fill the time between points rather than finding themselves forced to follow the specific narrative presented to them. Moreover, the absence of the seemingly obligatory post-rally replay breaks the continuous action loop created by television and encourages audiences to perceive the sport as an alternation between intense action and tranquil contemplation.
Since we will attend the WTA events in California over the coming fortnight, we won’t be posting any articles of our own during that span. Nevertheless, our Spanish friend Alvaro Rama plans to contribute here with a profile on rising German star Andrea Petkovic, which probably will be released around next weekend. Alvaro currently doesn’t operate a blog, but you will agree with us that he should enter the blogging world after you read his insights!