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Davis, California

Monday, May 20, 2024

Sports evolution

Over the past couple weeks, my life has been consumed by my human anatomy class and the Australian Open. It’s a good thing I don’t have a social life, or that would have really suffered.

I’m writing this before the men’s final begins, but by the time it publishes on Monday, the final will be over.

I’m old-fashioned. I like the classic players, the ones I grew up with. The class acts, the ones that carry themselves, the ones that behave and don’t rebel. This means Roger Federer.

Enter Novak Djokovic. The Djokester, master imitator and fan favorite. Normally I don’t like players like him, but this man has transcended the game of tennis.

The current world number-one is in better shape than anyone else. He plays better defense and he is more dangerous than anyone, possibly ever, from anywhere on the court.

You can see the progression, tracking from Federer, that has led to the transcending of the sport.

Players can’t just have one weapon. They have to have everything. Even Federer himself, who won over 10 majors with one of the best forehands in the game, found his backhand was too much of a liability in the evolving game of tennis. As such, he has adapted and has one of the better one-handers in the sport.

Federer has moved tennis forward. This year, there were proposed changes to college tennis that would have done the opposite.

Tennis matches are possibly the collegiate event that take the longest time to sit through. I will not argue that they are long. The NCAA is saying the changes would be to benefit the audience and make it more entertaining — and more bearable — for the viewers.

I like watching college tennis more than I like watching the pros. If it were up to me, I’d say the format is perfect. Eight game pro-sets are good for doubles, as a competitive warm-up for the singles.

The main proposed changes were to eliminate the third set entirely and play a ten-point tiebreaker instead, shortening the already-abbreviated eight game sets down to six in doubles.

Now we know why it failed. The NCAA is separate from the ITA, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, which is the main governing body of college tennis. Still, the NCAA tried to reach down and intervene into a market they didn’t understand.

The bigger issue, though, is the fact that they thought pleasing the fans by cutting into the game of tennis is more important than the competition itself.

Specifically with tennis, when players choose the sport, they know they aren’t going to be getting as much glory, as big of an audience, as much press as other sports like basketball and football.

Still, the bigger issue here is that the NCAA thinks it is more important to please the fans than the players. Yes, on a broad spectacle, professional sports are for the audience’s entertainment. People pay, often thousands of dollars, for tickets to see a game.

Not in college. It is rare for sporting events outside of basketball and football to cost money. Once you make attendance at athletic events cost money and tailor the rules to reflect what you think the fans want, there is little stopping schools from paying their players as incentives.

While it was, I’m hoping, a good-natured attempt to make tennis a more popular sport, administration must look at why they are proposing changes.

You cannot change the rules of a college sport in the hopes that more fans will come out to attend. If anything, these changes are deviating further and further from the true game of tennis. The U.S. Open is the only major in tennis that plays a tiebreaker at six-all in the fifth set.

I think it’s awesome that the U.S. Open has this sort of feature that makes it unique, but a change as radical as the one proposed by the NCAA would do nothing but decrease the popularity of tennis with players. The idea of college tennis would look much less prestigious and the system would not attract the top players. A lower playing-level would definitely not increase the fanbase.

Some changes are good for sports, others not so much. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic good, NCAA ideas bad. Four legs good, two legs bad.

MATTHEW YUEN just wrote his first column without a movie reference. If you know what the book reference is, email him at sports@theaggie.org.


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