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Steiner: Watching tennis from Down Under (Jan. 22)

By Peter Steiner | Tuesday, January 22, 2013

With the college football season over and an extra week standing between us and the Superbowl, this coming weekend will be the first since Sept. 9 without any football (Let’s be real, the Pro Bowl is not actually football.)Thankfully for sports fans everywhere, there is something to fill that void, but only if you give it a chance.

The Australian Open Men’s Singles Final will be shown Sunday night at 7 p.m. with quarter and semifinals leading up to the finale all week on ESPN2. And before you dismiss the idea of watching tennis, read the case for the most underrated sport to watch on television.

Storylines abound in this year’s Australian Open, especially on the men’s side.
Will the newest member of tennis elite Andy Murray build off his first major victory at the U.S. Open to take the Australian Open? Can Roger Federer continue to add to his record 17 majors? Novak Djokovic has won the last two Aussies, but can he hold off Murray, Federer and the field for a third-consecutive title?

In fact, this current era of men’s tennis stands as possibly the best ever because of the competition between Federer, Djokovic, Murray and the injury-plagued Rafael Nadal. Outside of the U.S. Open in 2009, one of these four players has won every one of the four Grand Slam tournaments since 2005. When healthy, each of the four has a legitimate shot at winning, which makes each Grand Slam intriguing and the quest for the No. 1 world ranking never ending.

Rooting for one of the “Big Four” or even someone more obscure is part of what makes watching tennis great. Without a legitimate contender from the U.S., American fans instead cheer for an athlete based on style of play or personality.

Want to see an athlete shake his underdog label once and for all? Take Murray. What about a calm, collected veteran or a flashy, young star? Choose Federer or Djokovic, respectively. How about someone always hustling, hoping to break past the Big Four? Root for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from France.

But the argument for tennis has not even extended past the incredible athletes in the game. There are many aspects of tennis itself that make it entertaining to watch.

On the surface level, tennis is action-packed and fast-moving. Sure, some matches last a long time, but the match then becomes a true test of endurance and mental stamina. And from a fan’s perspective, even watching the last set or two of a marathon match is worthwhile.

Players also rarely take points off because they can’t allow their opponents to get an edge. And besides the admittedly strange scoring system, tennis is fairly easy to understand.

But while it seems simple, there is also more to tennis than meets the eye, especially when it comes to strategy and tactics. Every shot a player hits is designed to set up his or her next shot. The characteristics of every serve – speed, spin and location – are aimed at gaining an advantage or catching an opponent off guard. The tools at players’ disposal include skills like baseline positioning, shot type and their net game.

After an hour or two of watching tennis and with the help of the TV analysts, you can pick up on the underlying facets of the game, which only make it more entertaining.

In addition, tennis remains one of the purest sports of the modern era. Many of the frustrating aspects of other sports, like controversial refereeing or steroids, aren’t found in tennis. Line judges and the chair umpire don’t affect the game like in the NBA or NFL and difficult calls or plays are handled easily with the replay system “Hawkeye.” Performance-enhancing drugs have not tainted the game as they have with baseball.Finally, tennis has some of the best events in all of sports. The four major tournaments are all unique, well run and always bring out the highest level of play. The three different surfaces – hard court, clay and grass – played at the different major tournaments make each event distinct and prevent one player from dominating all four majors. In addition, Wimbledon remains one of the greatest events in all sports.

So although the men’s final match won’t be coming live from “Down Under,” (you’d have to get up at 3:30 a.m.), tune in Sunday night or even earlier in this week to watch the Australian Open. You might just be surprised how much you enjoy it.

Contact Peter Steiner at [email protected]

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.