There is a soothing solace in the pointlessness of Tennis. About a year and a half ago, I began taking a deeper liking to the sport, as a spectator that is. Myself, I play Badminton and I run. But the latter is not really shown on TV in Switzerland or is hidden from TV; it escapes the Swiss TV cameras. The latter is not interesting to watch. So I perform these two for myself, Badminton with others.
But Tennis I really enjoy watching. Everything is very clear: the ball must land on the other side of the net, within bounds, it is only allowed to bounce once. What more? You must win two or three sets. And the other rules also are very clear, as clear as the white lines on the blue rubber of Melbourne or on the red clay of Paris or [not quite as clear] on the lawn of Wimbledon or, again, on the blue rubber of Flushing Meadows. Or is it green? Tennis, performed by top-flight ATP players on days of good shape is absolutely beautiful to watch. The drama of trying to make the ball go across the net and land on the other side within bounds is staged at different levels: the dramatic rally, the gripping, strangely lopsided unit called “game”, the more involved melodrama of a “set” and the ultimate, histrionic performance called a “match”. And then, of course, there is the black hole of tennis, the “match point”, which is the event horizon of a match, from which no point or phointon can escape. The match point is the microcosm of the competition in which each single action can attain the absolute value of all-or-nothing. Can. Because unlike a black hole, a match point can be fended off, there is always the possibility of infinity, as intimated by Isner&Mahut.
In a rally, a player on the defensive can rally back to win the point. After loosing a game, an optimistic player can cheer herself up by subauditing “Oh well, it’s just a game”. The set sets the general plot of the drama. I can’t see where or how the “match” matches this semantic scheme other than deciding if the players were a good match for a dramatic match.
And there is another point: Tennis is not actually pointless. Tennis’ radically condensed point is to win each point. Simply: to be BETTER than one’s competitor. And there is a just as radical, banal point for the spectator: to see who is better, to find out who will win, to have once again confirmed that the future is an open project. Violence and complex messiness are replaced by clear-cut spectacle, more-or-less predictable drama and professional kinetics – life in the form of Tennis is reduced to the purity of points.