Wednesday, August 12, 2015

AN OPEN LETTER TO JAMIE HAMPTON

Dear Ms. Hampton:

You don't know us because we've never met and you probably wouldn't remember if we did, but we are fans of yours.  Now, we're certain that somewhere in your heart you felt the butterfly wings of trepidation upon reading that, such is the world we live in, but we can assure you that our admiration is strictly professional.  That is to say, it is based in our love of the game you play professionally and more specifically, the way you play it.  We don't think you're the best player in the world, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the games of Henri Leconte, or Ilie Nastase.  And while the likelihood of usurping the still fire-breathing "babe-o-crats" of tennis is low, it is our opinion that your game, or some derivation thereof, is the best candidate to do just that.  Not because of what you do, but because of what you don't do...but allow us to explain.

We have always shared the opinion that if one seeks to be great, the worst thing to do is exactly what everyone else does, even the great ones who precede you.  If it were feasible to do so, while they still inhabited their place at the top of the pyramid, it would have been done long ago - after all, the world hates nothing more than an empty throne or an unworn crown.  But the path of least resistance is rarely the most effective for achieving something beyond being "one of the bottle" as Jose Mourinho once famously said - better to strive to be, "...a special one."

Well, Jamie Hampton, your game is a special one, and it is missed.

Though it is a marvelous sport, the game of tennis cannot simply be a utilitarian pursuit - if it were, the French wouldn't love it so much.  In fact, one of the reasons why the rest of the world finds French tennis fans, particularly those that attend Roland Garros every year, so capricious, is precisely what makes the game of tennis so special.  To play the game correctly, is to play the game beautifully, and doing so simply must be the most effective method - otherwise, as Jesus said of a God who would compel his (or her) worship, there is no point to it.  

That is because no other sport begs to be played beautifully like tennis - sure teams and individuals in other sports play beautifully - sometimes they win, sometimes they lose - but tennis isn't supposed to be like that.  The worst thing that can happen to the game of tennis, is for its greatest exponents to play the game in a way that is less than aesthetically appealing.  Granted:  aesthetics are a matter of opinion, but like those who inhabit the upper gallery at La Scala in Milan (poetically placed above the rich and privileged), only those who value form and function as co-equal branches of the same governing principle, are in a position to judge.  And for those principled few, the gavel falls hard on those who would sully the game with efficiency at the expense of inspiration, with brute force at the expense of violently beautiful music, with victory at the expense of exaltation.

That's what is missed about your game.

Your are not endowed with all the gifts of the game's greatest exponents and greatest athletes, but you are endowed with those that we value most.  If you study the history of tennis you'll note that the name of the game comes from the Old French expression, "Tenez", which itself is derived from the earliest versions of the game, also coined by the french, "Jeu de paume" or "Game of the palm [of the hand]".  And, as you have certainly surmised, since the predecessor of tennis was a game of the hands, good hands remain today, the hallmark of what true amateurs (in the Latin sense of the word) admire in tennis.  Good hands that can as readily slice a backhand as come over it, flatly drive a forehand up the line, as roll it at an acute angle cross court, as cut a judo chop that it teasingly drops the ball inches from your opponents side of the net.  It is the hands of Riggs, Laver, McEnroe, Federer, Tomic and yes you, Jamie Hampton, that can make game look as it should - like it's still played with the palm of the hand.  

And that's also what is missed about your game.

But lest you think we are only interested in your tennis for its looks, we would point you to your own words, when asked to introduce/describe yourself as a tennis player.  Taken prima facie, perhaps attached to someone else's name, it might be interpreted as the height of arrogance - to us it was merely a statement of fact:

"I think I can do a little bit of everything. I can play offense; I can play defense; I can take time away; I can serve well. I can return well; I have a backup plan if plan A is not working".

Ah, the back up plan - as rare as an albino whale, which, we the tennis world's passengers on the Pequod, have been looking for ever since Justine Henin retired, and in you we seem to have found two or three.  And as far as backup plans go, it is only as good as it can be executed.  And once again, your execution had the hallmarks of the Jacqueline of all Trades we know you to be.  The game sorely lacks your variety, but more importantly lacks the hope that even if faced with an immovable object, you and your hands might find the force that it cannot resist.  Time and again tennis is, today, played like an evening of Japanese pantomime, where the intrigue is so lacking (because the beginning and the end is already known to the audience) that only the scenery and execution can entertain.  

But you disrupt the script, and we implore you, whereever you are, whatever you're doing, to disrupt it once more.  Please come back to the game that so richly deserves your talent, and is so sorely missing your brand.  Let the plebeians have their Empresses and the subjects thereof, so long as you return and give to us, once again, the palm of your hand where we would, so happily, reside...we promise to neither boo nor hiss.



Sincerely,


The Virtual Loggionisti of Tennis


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