&#91FOUNTAIN&#93In tennis, power overcomes art

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[FOUNTAIN]In tennis, power overcomes art

The Wimbledon tennis championship that ended last weekend suggests that there is a crisis in tennis. A sport is a battle of power and technique, but this time it was clear that in modern tennis power dominates technique. Many sports fans regret that tennis has lost its artistic value.
Tennis has become a power-dominated game because of the change in racket. The traditional wooden racket was 27 inches long and 9 inches wide. But in 1977, Head, a ski goods supplier, introduced a larger racket named “Prince.” The larger the racket is, the bigger the “sweet spot,” thus making hitting easier and the ball move faster. In the 1990s, rackets began to be made from titanium and thus became lighter. Finally, the World Tennis Association limited the size of the racket to a 29-inch length and 12.5-inch width.
John McEnroe in 1984 was the last professional player to win a tournament using a 9-inch-wide racket.
Since then, the style of tennis has changed. A strong top spin serve has become the key to success. Traditional technique, serve and volley, does not work. Instead, the “blaster” style, which blasts a missile-like serve from the base line, has come to dominate the game.
Mark Philippoussis, who won Wimbledon semi-final match, is the typical blaster-style player. He attacked Andre Agassi, the master of the return, and set a Wimbledon record with 46 service aces. The time it took a ball he smashed to reach Agassi was only 0.5 second, even after he slowed his speed for better control. When Philippoussis succeeds on his first serve, his winning rate is 86 percent. Most of the top-ranked players command the blaster style.
In the top ranking, those who showed technique rather than power were Tim Henman of Britain and Sebastien Grosjean of France. Featuring the volley, Henman was classified as a rare player, and Grosjean was praised as the artist of the court, with his fast footwork and excellent smash. But they were defenseless against a blaster.
World-class players like McEnroe and Boris Becker petitioned the World Tennis Association at the end of the tournament, seeking to trim the size of the racket and revive the sport of tennis as art.
In golf, Tiger Woods has requested that drivers that send a ball too far be controlled. The wish is the same: That the development of material technology should not lead sports to become just a boasting game of players’ power. At the ultimate stage, sports will become an art.


by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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