Friday, 5 October 2012

The Sultan's ATP Charisma List

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:

Novak Djokovic

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.

Gael Monfils

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.

Janko Tipsarevic

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!

Andy Roddick

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!

Marcos Baghdatis

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?

Grigor Dimitrov

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.

Ernests Gulbis

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!

Radek Stepanek

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.

Flavia Pennetta:


  1. Excellent post Sultan.

    One of the names on my list would be Mikhail Youzhny. Especially earlier in his career he would often engage the crowd and try ridiculous low percentage/high visual value shots. He also has at times worn his heart on his sleeve and let his emotions get the better of him too. He seems to be best/only known for going mental against Almagro and for asking Aggasi for help against Federer at Wimbledon this year but he is usually good for atleast one comedy moment a tournament. He often reminds me (and I'm sure my memories confuse the two occasionally) of Marat Safin; A player whose racket destroying prowess was second to none. As well as the uncontrollable rage he was also very engaging and incredibly charismatic.

  2. Cheers Simon, I did have Youzhny in mind for the list but he just missed out. Probably deserves to be on there, maybe I'll add him!

  3. Hi Sultan

    An interesting post and you've put up a decent argument for a few players here. I'd reluctantly have to agree with you about the rose-tinted specs, and one or two large characters can help to "pad-out" the memory, making us look back across all the old tennis players and assume they were all charismatic. Of course that's not the case.

    You do, however, appear to accept that in general players are less entertaining, stating "things have become far more serious". I don't know why that should be. The money is all relative. What players earned back then was still huge compared to what ordinary mortals could command, so I don't think that's a decent argument. If things have indeed become more serious, then a more pertinent question is exactly why have things become more serious? I don't think there's a valid argument for it.

    As for the challenge about coming up with a list to match yours, well I'll have a go. Some of yours I would dispute however. You've made a list of tennis players, no denying that. But have you made a list of players with charisma? Hmm, not sure. It's all subjective I suppose.

    Anyway, you've layed down the gauntlet so I'll pick it up. Now, my good fellow, what about these big guns?

    Borg (he was the original automaton, thus making him charismatic!)
    Stan Smith

    Now come on. Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that you list compares with mine?

    Anyway, it's an interesting debate and, as usual, a top post from you.


    1. Hi Eddie

      I realise that the amounts earned are relative but you can't deny that the earning potential (especially after you've included sponsorship, advertsing, image rights etc) is in a different stratosphere. The money the women earn in particular, is on a vastly different scale to what it was. Even in relative terms, the gap is far wider than it ever was.

      When I say more serious, I also mean more professional, meaning the players are fitter and take care of themselves more re: diet, lifestyle, training, equipment. Any ex-player will tell you that this is probably the biggest difference between the eras. Coupled with the money, I think this does make players act in a more serious/professional manner. The physicality and focus required is on a different level that I believe makes it much harder for players to suddenly start playing to the cameras mid-game, as many old stars used to do. I guess I don't have any real proof of this but I only go on what I hear from players - past and present. It's debatable though, I'll admit.

      As for the list, I was careful to say that I don't think you could come up with one from any one single era. Your list spans at least 2 eras. I never even saw the last 2 players, well before my time. Also never saw Gerulaitis. The others as I said, are the standard names that are always trotted out. My point was that most people wouldn't add any other names because I doubt there were any other names. And I'm not having Borg! If he's a character, I'm having every other current player in the top 100 ;) I would take Djokovic and Monfils over Becker and Cash any day!

      So I do think my list comes close, though I never actually said today's players are more charismatic - it's just not as big a difference as people like to make out!

  4. Putting Borg in was a bit cheeky, wasn't it :-)

    I take your point about the earnings and fitness levels. I suppose in the end, the players must be more serious because of these considerations.


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