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IS TRADITIONALISM PUSHING AWAY A NEW AUDIENCE?



For a while now, tennis has found itself at a crossroads between traditionalism and catering for the new generation of fans drawn to the sport.


Whether it be Patrick Mouratoglou’s Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) experiment or Nick Kyrgios putting on an entertaining show - times have already changed to satisfy a new audience.


Social media seems to reach new heights in a blink of an eye, attention spans are shorter, and the entertainment factor has never been more important to sell and promote essentially anything nowadays - including sport.


Little over a week ago at the Monte-Carlo Masters, world No.12 Holger Rune not only had to deal with an in-form Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals, but also a rowdy and hostile crowd who were left unimpressed by the Dane’s argument with the umpire about receiving a time violation after waiting for spectators to be silent.


In response, Rune turned to the crowd and snapped both his thumb and fingers together repeatedly in a common gesture used to signify too much talking - an action that is unsurprising given his fiery and rather arrogant personality at times.


As a result, the umpire handed out a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct, causing farcical scenes when Rune asked for the tournament supervisor and refused to play until the 20-year-old star could get his point across.


When decisions like these are interpreted, questions need to be asked. Is the act hurting anyone? Is it abusive? The answer to both is neither.


Although the sport is notoriously known for its strict traditional values, we have been accustomed to rule changes and new systems over the years such as the dismissal of line umpires and the ability for players to communicate with their coaches box.


Yet when it comes to expressing emotion on the court - tennis continues to run the risk of turning away the younger generation without potentially realising it.


Former world No.1 and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams shared an interesting take when she spoke to Meghan Markle 18 months ago about the “black and white” nature of tennis after the fallout from her controversial US Open final defeat against Naomi Osaka.


“I got a game taken away from me and I didn’t use a bad word…Let’s just say because tennis is very black and white, not literally, but it’s like hit, hit, hit. There’s so many rules of things that they try to tell you not to do,” Williams told the Archetypes podcast.


But if you look at soccer, basketball, all these other sports, you have people screaming and you have people, the fans, really a part of it," Williams continued. “Tennis players are grown up and taught to just be monotone and people are not monotone, which is why you see these attitudes. So if they want to have these attitudes, I'm all for it.”


There is no place for smashing racquets or abusive offences, but is tennis becoming too vanilla?


In the same tournament, Daniil Medvedev exploded in two seperate outbursts against Gaël Monfils and Karen Khachanov in multiple incorrect line calls that went against the former US Open champion.


Medvedev received a point penalty for turfing his racquet into the advertisement board, an action that deserved to be penalised. However, it was the altercation at the change of ends between the 28-year-old and the chair umpire which tennis needs to see more of in the future - an honest discussion as Medvedev vented his anger and frustration in a moment in which he had every right to feel hard done by.


Phrases used like “open your freaking eyes” and screaming “it’s OUT!” is the honesty that fans want to see.


Even more frustrating is the inconsistency. If Rune’s innocent hand signal to the crowd was enough to warrant a warning, then why wasn’t Novak Djokovic offered identical treatment for swearing at spectators?


It’s this constant notion of ‘traditionalism’ that is attached to tennis whereby we expect players to go above and beyond to show, as weird as it sounds, too much respect. Yes, players should carry themselves with class and dignity whilst being a role model to young kids, but the message also shouldn’t be to shy away from standing up for speaking their mind.


Not every player has the calm demeanour of Jannik Sinner who wouldn’t hurt a fly - but its competitors such as Medvedev and Rune that tennis needs to embrace more often without restricting their ability to voice their opinions.


Over the years, Nick Kyrgios has drawn a fine line between expressing his views and questionable behaviour on court - but it attracts fans, sells tickets, increases TV audiences, and puts bums on seats.


There is a distinct difference between inexcusable bad behaviour and adding colour to the court with fan and umpire interactions.

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