An interesting post on A Football Trader's Path recently, one that got me really thinking about today's players. Are there any characters left in tennis? I had to have a long hard think about who would get on a charisma list. Here's who I came up with, starting with the men:
This guy exudes charisma like no one else. They don't call him 'Djoker' for no reason. He just has that x-factor which none of the other big 4 has. Absolutely thrives on being in front of the camera and will always add in a touch of humour, often completely off the cuff and without prompting. He's a prime example though, of why you just cannot afford to Djoke around on-court too much in today's game. He used to do so but stopped when he realised that a) Other players don't like it and an angry opponent is a dangerous opponent and b) It ruins your focus. When you are involved in 5 hour battles with some of the greatest players of all time, keeping focus is paramount. Since he's toned it down, he's become far more successful.
The consumate entertainer. Monfils would have fit into any era because he lives for the crowd. If he wasn't playing tennis, he'd be performing somewhere. You just never know what he'll come up with next and if we had more Gaels in tennis, it would be a laugh a minute - unless you have a bet on him! Because Monfils is a great example of why you can't be Le Clown in today's game. He loses focus too easily because he can't stick to the basics which win matches. Instead, he'll cock things up by going for outrageous shots when there is no need and he'll relax and look to please the crowd instead of staying solid. It's shame but the professionalisation of tennis is at the detriment of players like Monfils and it's something we just have to accept.
Jo Wilfried Tsonga
I once heard him described as similar to Monfils but with one crucial difference: Monfils plays to entertain the crowd, Tsonga entertains the crowd through playing well. He has a great personality and a fun side which he brings out but only when it's the right time. He knows how to embellish a shot and to celebrate lavishly and to show his athletic prowess to wow the fans. As his English improves, he's also becoming an interesting listen, post-match.
Yes, he's a match fixer (allegedly), yes he thinks he's deep and intellectual with all his Tolstoy tattoos, yes, he's a sexist knob but undeniably, he's an interesting character. He speaks very lucidly and always has something interesting to say, even if it does make you roll your eyes. The fact he has possibly the most beautiful woman I've ever seen as his girlfriend, is another reason I'm drawn to his matches. Watch out for him on Twitter!
Another guy I don't personally warm to but at least he has something to say. At least he gives you a smart-ass comment or a wry joke. I don't really like all this 'I tell it like it is' crap, as those sort of people always think they speak on behalf of everyone but are the only one brave enough to actually say what they think. Which is often bollocks. But it's good to have different personalities who won't just trot out cliches. He's retired now though, so one less character on tour!
It's not so much what he says, as what he does. He's just a thoroughly likeable bloke is Marcos and his enjoyment for tennis and for life just oozes through every pore. One of the few players who will guarantee you a smile during a match and like Tsonga, knows the right times to be a showman. I remember him smashing 4 racquets in a row during a changeover at the Australian Open this year - 3 of them were still in their plastic wrapping! But although angry, he still managed a smile at the end of it - now who else would do that?
The young Bulgarian has plenty to say, both on and off the court. I hope he continues to fulfill his promise because we are in for a treat if he gets to the very top. From chatting to ball girls, to spats with opponents, to entertaining post match interviews, this guy has charisma in spades and an on-court game which emulates Federer - which is always a good thing.
Very much like Dimitrov only even more wacky! The Latvian son of a millionaire lacks the drive to go with his amazing talent. You can see from the way he sits with his legs crossed at the changeover, to the way his interviews are laced with sarcastic jokes (often aimed at himself!) that he perhaps will never reach the top 10 where he really should be. But if he did, the whole world be lapping him up. He had an amazing clay season run a couple of years ago and during that time, TV channels were falling over themselves for quotes from Ernests' off the wall interviews. Unfortunately, he's just TOO laid back for his own good!
A true old-school performer, Stepanek is one of the few players left who loves a spiky contest. Never afraid to get in an opponent's face, the Czech also likes to play to the crowd with little celebrations, spectacular jumps, theatrical dives and a pleasing-on-the-eye all-court game which would have slotted in perfectly in any previous era. Also has a great sense of humour and a rather amusing line in loud shirts!
Obviously, players from
yester-year (particularly the pre 90s era) tended to provide a little
more in the way of on-court entertainment for the fans. But things have
become far more serious now. With the amount of money knocking around,
the increased depth of competition and physical demands, it's not really
as viable for players to suddenly start messing around during games.
I think people often look back at past eras with rose-tinted specs; were there really that many more great characters? People remember McEnroe, Nastasie, Conors and Leconte but I bet most would struggle to come up with a list as big as the one above, from a single era. I think it's just a handful that were truly entertaining and they stick in the mind because they were one-offs. If you haven't got it, you haven't got it and you shouldn't be
rail-roaded into giving what you don't have (Andy Murray). It just would
be nice if there were a few more light-hearted moments or bits of
banter to spice up a match.
In my next post, it's the ladies turn.