Internet, Tennis and Tennis Fans

Tennis has this reputation of being a very genteel sport. There are so many rules attached to this game that sometimes one wonders how the game got a chance to evolve in the way it did because there were so many restrictions placed on players. As a matter of fact there are still restrictions placed on players especially at the majors, and in particular Wimbledon. The all white dress code, the curtsey (think that is no longer required by the women) and the standard of referencing each gender of the draw as Ladies and Gentlemen. I love Wimbledon. It is my favourite tournament of all tournaments and it is my dream to visit there one day and perhaps visit Centre Court, but for now I will just continue to enjoy the tournament from the comfort of my living room.

You may be wondering we are hardly even out of the Spring hard court season, have yet to touch clay, and you are already thinking of Wimbledon, but this post is not about Wimbledon. This post is about the Internet and tennis fans and the rules that govern the behaviour of fans of this sport.
Have you ever heard of a FeDal war? No. Well, a FeDal war is an Internet phenomenon that can be found on many message boards around the Internet. They are discussions that border on the insane between fans of Roger Federer, the current No.1 on the men’s side and Rafael Nadal, the current No. 3 on the men’s side. Roger and Rafa are good friends. They have practiced together, played together and both have said in press conferences how much respect they have for each other and what each has done to grow the sport of tennis. It is clear that in the beginning there was some animosity between both the Federer and Nadal camps as a result of the behaviour or alleged behaviour of the Nadal camp during matches (on court coaching) and comments attributed to Federer after yet another loss to Nadal (one dimensional springs to mind).
However, as the years have progressed and with each player carving their own little niche in tennis and making their own history and have made up, it would seem as if the fans have not yet made up. The viciousness of the posts of many bloggers and those who post comments on them would make you marvel at the fact that both sides describe themselves as fans of Federer or Nadal. Both sides will state how much they respect their player’s humility, his sportsmanship and all the other attributes of their faves, yet they will then go on a message board and threaten, perhaps not in so many words, to decapitate someone that they have never met, will perhaps never meet just because that person may have posted something that they consider to be in bad form against their favourite player.
Recently, the FeDal wars have taken a turn for the worse and we now have the women getting in on the act. There are the fans who are for the pushers (you know those defensive players who frustrate the dickens out of you on a tennis court until you give up in frustration) and the fans of the ball bashers (those who hit the ball hard and when that does not work they hit it even harder). The ball bashers are also known to either shriek or grunt as they hit the ball which has made them a tennis phenom. There are varying sides on message boards these days who take arguing these points to a level that I have never before seen in all my days of following tennis.
I write this blog about tennis because I am a fan. I have to say within the past year I have been visiting many blogs and have been giving my opinions on various topics. I try not to get involved in virtual wars with people, but last night during a match between 2 players (WTA) that I do not particularly care for I had occassion to say that I felt that one player was exhibiting poor sportsmanship in terms of her use of the challenge system. A poster took offence to that and proceeded to state that “I could post things but I wont”. Now I did not know how to take that comment, so I decided that for my peace of mind it may be a good thing to just take my leave of that particular message board for a short while.
It could have been that the poster meant that they could post some examples of unsportsmanlike behaviour that one of my faves has exhibited in the past, but I was genuinely astonished and afraid that the poster was about to go personal on a subject that was being discussed freely on the board.
It just made me realise that while the sport that we support has genteel roots, the fans these days are less so.
It is clear that we have not learnt from the damage that was done to Monica Seles by a rabid Steffi Graf fan all those years ago. Fans are wondering now why they cannot get too close to their favourite player to get autographs or go down and perhaps touch the arm that can do so much damage on a tennis court, but in these times when fans have taken fandom to a level that is downright scary, one has to wonder how long before some idiot decides that he is tired of seeing his favourite player lose to a Serena or Federer or Nadal and decides to harm either one of these players.
Without fans the sport will die. It is essential however that we as fans try and curb our enthusiasm and vitriol.
I am trying to figure out what has made us all become so invested in our favourite players. Is it because all the information on Roger and Rafael and Serena and Caroline is but a click away? Do we believe that we know them because we can go on their websites or join them on twitter or facebook and write little notes to them and they respond we feel like they are our best friends? I think we need to give ourselves a reality check. These people do not know us. Some of them really do not even care to know us. I am a fan of Serena, Venus, Federer, Wozniacki, Radwanska etc., Apart from Serena and Venus I do not think that I have visited a player’s website to get updates or left a message. I believe the only message I have left for either Serena and Venus is to ask them to reconsider the whole Indian Wells situation. I am yet to get a response.
I have no interest in heading to a tournament to see a Roger Federer “Genius at Work” banner, neither am I inclined to sign it. If I was a Rafa fan, I would not scour the Internet and spend hours of quality time discussing the clothes that he wears. Matter of fact I do not even do that with my faves. Does that make me a bad fan? No, it makes me a reasonable thinking person. I wish that all fans were like that. Reasonable, thinking people.
On that note, I will be taking a break from posting for a couple of weeks. Will perhaps be back after Miami.
Take care all and remember, please behave reasonably on message boards.

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