Six ways to deal with the off-season
“People ask me what I do in the winter when there is no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I sit at the window and wait for spring to come”.
As Novak Djokovic’s majestic backhand flew past Roger Federer in the finals of the World Tour Finals, it was a mix of emotions. There was the overwhelming joy of having watched a hard-fought, brilliant game of tennis between two true champions, but there was also the slow sinking realization, that you couldn’t come back home after a hard day’s work to the soothing sound of a bouncing tennis ball anymore. Not for a couple of months at least.
This is easily the most dreaded part of the year for a tennis fan. The time of the year when we aimlessly flip through sports channels for hours hoping to catch the highlights of a Grand Slam final or a Masters final or a tennis game or heck, even an advertisement for the Australian Open, and yet on most occasions have to settle for the displeasure of watching two heavily built guys, clearly on steroids, doing a miserable job of convincing us that they want to kill each other. As the players enjoy their well-deserved break from the circuit, all we are left with is intense frustration. While minor bouts of depression, anger and a sudden but keen ability to observe the pointlessness of most other sports are common symptoms of an off-season for a tennis fan, we could be quite annoying to our otherwise friendly neighbors. So here are the six ways to deal with the off season and keep that neighbor from calling the cops.
1. Go out and play: Ever had the goose bumps watching Nadal’s forehand with its vicious topspin fly past a stunned opponent, or the warmth in the heart that accompanies a perfectly executed Djokovic down-the-line backhand? Well, you can play them too. Agreed it takes a little more than a decade and a little less than a miracle to get the quality of your shot to their level, but there are few pleasures like watching that uncle across the street stare at you in ever so slight bewilderment as your cross court forehand flies past his posh racquet. Now that you have a month without any tennis action, you can create some of our own. Go out and learn the game. Get to the 90 mph serve, develop a deadly forehand and work on a reliable backhand. Yes it is a bit expensive and a lot of hard work, but trust me, its worth it.
2. Stay in and play: ‘The further you get into technology, the further you get into gaming. That’s the rule’. Playstation, X-Box, PC, Wii, you name it. There is a brilliant tennis game on every console. We have an opportunity to escape into the virtual world and live out our heroes and beat up our opponents like never before. Gaming can keep you hooked for hours, as you unlock new stadiums, gather more ranking points and try for hours at a stretch to perfect that lob. There is the Top Spin franchise if you want a realistic gameplay, Mario tennis for a fun arcade gameplay and Virtua Tennis which fills the void in between. It’s a whole world out there waiting to be discovered. I would personally recommend the Wii or the X-Box Kinect for consoles as you also get to put in some physical activity. And of course, for those boring afternoons in office on a basic PC there is always the flash version. (Go ahead and win the tournament with ‘Anna’, I dare you).
3. Read: Tennis perhaps is the most intellectual of modern sports. There is a constant endeavor to look at the larger picture, study into the complexities of human effort and a sense of respect for the long and cherished traditions of the game. It certainly reflects in the literature. While most books by current sportsmen border between trash and restroom reading, the ones by the tennis players are often reviewed alongside serious literature by accomplished authors. Pete Sampras’ ‘A Champions Mind’, Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’, John McEnroe’s ‘Serious’, and Rafael Nadal’s ‘Rafa’ are some highly rated books that are sure to give you a new perspective to the game and into the life of a professional tennis player.
4. Watch: “I don’t read books. I mean, I go on the Internet a lot and read stuff online, but I don’t read books. I haven’t read a book since I was about 14, 15. I got halfway through the third Harry Potter book. It was the first one that was really, really big. It was like 600 pages. I stopped around 200. I haven’t read a book since then.” — Andy Murray. (I believe he was mentioning the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book which was the first of the ‘really really big’ books). I don’t blame you if you are not the reading type. It takes a lot of patience in the era of the Internet to sit through a book. But, because it’s the era of internet, you don’t have to. YouTube is a treasure house of ways to kill time (no, I am not asking for a Nobel Prize for discovering that), and you can get everything from beautifully made documentaries, brilliantly edited highlights, incredible compilations, amazing interviews and a ton of funny videos (half of them featuring Novak Djokovic) right at your fingertips. Just click on a video, one thing leads to another and it will be hours before you notice the ticking clock.
5. Get the numbers: Ever got stuck in a Facebook argument where the other guys is rattling out numbers irrelevant to the topic and refuses to acknowledge the point? It can be quite a pain, and the only way to stop these guys is to rattle off some numbers of your own. This might be a good time to look up career statistics of your favorite players and more importantly your favorite opponents. Wikipedia is a natural resource, though a Google search will throw up many more websites with better presentation. Next time someone tries to remind you how many Grand Slams Boris Becker won (which by the way is 6) you can show him who’s the boss.
6. Try something new: While it is great to be the guy who explains the rules of a tie-breaker while watching the Wimbledon final with a group of muggles, it doesn’t exactly hurt to learn about the ‘line of scrimmage’ or to form an opinion on whether the Notre Dame football team is the greatest ever (they are not) and find out why they are called the ‘Fighting Irish.’ So try a new sport, preferably one that isn’t followed very much in your circles, and see if you like it. It’s only a month or two before tennis returns, and at the end of it, even if you don’t end up becoming a fan, you will at least know one more sport that is not as good as tennis (and therefore one more group of people to piss off).