Tennis has enjoyed a rich history of entertaining and charismatic players over the years. There are those who have thrived on their extravagant outbursts, intentionally using it to their advantage on occasion; while others would simply implode. It is true there aren’t as many eccentric characters in the modern era, unsurprising as the game became increasingly professional and the players more PR savvy, although there are still a few who know how to put on a show.
The golden era of tennis showmen was in the 1970s and 80s, and it’s probably fair to say it all started with Ilie Nastase. The powers that were didn’t know how to handle the womanising Romanian, as no one before him had flaunted the rules as he did. Nicknamed the Bucharest Buffoon, Nastase would entertain the crowd with his antics and mimicry, and even during a crucial period of play he was prone to doing something bizarre, often to his own detriment. Widely regarded as one of the most talented shot-makers the game has soon, a paltry return of two Grand Slam titles is evidence that his erratic temperament cost him dear.
By contrast Jimmy Connors, a great friend and doubles partner of Nastase during the 1970s, would employ showmanship to great advantage. Crowds had mixed feelings about Connors’ antics, loving his never-say-die attitude whilst often finding his more vulgar antics a little hard to take. He would frequently argue with officials, and would give line judges the finger if he didn’t agree with a call, or indeed strut around with the racket between his legs in a somewhat obscene manner. But when Connors was focussed on the match, and imploring the crowd to get behind him, it would inevitably lift his own level of play and affect that of his opponent. Never was this more apparent than during his improbable run to the semi-finals of the 1991 US Open at the age of 39.
Yannick Noah was another who thrived on being the fans’ favourite on court- although he achieved it in a more charming and subtle way than Connors. Noah would joke and play the fool, without seeming as if he was obviously trying to intimidate his opponent, although that would often be the result. On several occasions however, he would even get his opponent involved, turning the whole match into something of a light-hearted affair. Never was this more apparent than during one of his last ever ATP tour matches- against Magnus Larsson in 1991 .
Interestingly the two players on tour today who like to put on a show, and not just with their tennis, are French also. Gael Monfils, the world number 13, constantly interacts with the crowd during matches, dives around like a world class goalkeeper and screams far more than your average tennis player. The question is, does it benefit his game?
The answer in his case would appear to be no. Monfils was tipped for great things, much like his countryman Richard Gasquet, having won three of the four junior Grand Slams in 2004. He was also named ATP newcomer of the year in 2005, deemed to be at least as good a prospect as our own Andy Murray around this time. However, he has failed to live up to that early promise so far, having reached only one Grand Slam semi-final so far. Many agree that he spends too much time playing to the gallery rather than making the best use of his undoubted talents.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is another player who thrives on having a robust relationship with the crowd. Unlike Monfils, it does seem to benefit him. His run to the final of the Australian Open in 2008 was memorable for his entertaining on-court antics, and he was quickly hailed as tennis’ answer to Mohammed Ali. This year, he once again reached the semi-finals, yet his behaviour was somewhat muted in his lacklustre thrashing by Roger Federer. For Tsonga, it seems his showmanship has a direct correlation to his confidence, and when he is playing to the gallery it helps, rather than hinders him.
Whilst there are a few more showmen besides those two like Baghdatis or Gonzalez, the game does not enjoy the characters of yesteryear. Many people have argued that players have a duty to entertain, although that can be difficult when there is so much at stake as there is the modern era. The game is certainly richer for the presence of the great entertainers, and even if they’re not winning the biggest titles, they put on a show worth watching, and the fans will always be grateful for that.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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