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Likeability a mystery

By Seamus Boyer

[email protected]

Tennis often comes down to a matter of angles, with the winner best exploiting them to pick up the points.

Of course, power and fitness are also important, but at the top level there’s little difference in service speeds and the players’ stickability over five sets.

So geometry is important.

Watching the Australian Open, it’s clear some of the players are freakishly good at manipulating angles to produce winners out of nowhere.

No angle is too acute.

This has been written about before, most notably in David Foster Wallace’s 2006 article ‘Roger Federer as Religious Experience’, where the author attempts to discover what made the Swiss master so good.

He presents a basic list of things players must “consider” in each stroke, starting with creating the right angles across both the vertical and horizontal planes, and timing the shot to the millisecond.

All must be done unthinkingly, instinctively, and while some of it is measurable mathematically, Wallace concluded that much of what Federer did was inexplicable or mysteriously “impossible”.

What makes a player likeable is also very difficult to define.

Over the past week some of the game’s biggest names have been cast aside in the early rounds to near nobodies.

Ever heard of Uzbekestan’s Denis Istomin or the German Mischa Zverev?

Both overcome exceptional players (Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray respectively), not by luck or because of injury but because they were much better on the day.

In both matches the crowd backed the underdog, which is no real surprise.

But the same crowds also backed Federer and Rafael Nadal in their early matches, which was surprising given the latter was pushed to the brink by another underdog in Mischa Zverev’s brother, Alexander.

Maybe likeability is measurable.

Smash your racket once, people will think you’re passionate and support you.

Smash it a few more times and you’re just a brat.

Keep on smashing (a la McEnroe) and you become comic and supportable again.

In the end it may just come to whether the crowd like you and think you deserve to win.

It will be interesting to see who the crown backs if two deserving and likeable players make the final.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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