There is something very unnerving happening in the world of professional tennis right now: the very serious uptick in the amount of players who, mainly out of frustration, are breaking their rackets. It’s not like an avant garde musician who, for purely artistic reasons, smashes their guitar to smithereens during a live performance. At least in this case, the audience can smile and swoon at their favourite performer because the instrument smashing was done without malice or anger at their poor performance – it was done with a certain amount of artistic license.
When tennis players break their rackets, there is nary an artistic license to be found. It is done in anger, frustration and emotional bloodletting. For them, it may feel good at the time to get this pent up frustration out, but ultimately it really shows a lack of focus and mental fortitude. It’s the racket’s fault or the opponent’s fault that the player is not focused and playing badly. It’s always someone else or something that is to blame, so the racket must be punished.
Beyond the obvious highlight reel moment of the night, a broken racket will cost a player. It may be a warning, a point, a game or even a match if they progress through the stages of penalties that will ultimately lead to them being defaulted from the match. It may also cost them a substantial amount of money. What players don’t even think about when they smash their rackets, rendering them unrecognizable pieces of trash, is the consequence of a piece of it (or the whole thing if they toss it) hitting someone. That is an instant infraction and an immediate default.
Breaking tennis rackets is akin to also having a serious mental meltdown (i.e. hissy fit) on the court. A player, by doing either of these things, is in effect, showing their opponent all their cards. “You’re getting to me” or “I’m not playing well” or “I’m not mentally strong enough” so they tell this to their opponent by demonstrating how to annihilate a racket. This is obviously good news to the opponent, who must revel in their opponent’s misery – satisfied that the person on the other side of the net is in a state of disarray, so it’s time to move in for the kill or go for the jugular. Or even better, rub salt in the wound by playing steady tennis to cause even more misery and jangled nerves.
My favourite players have been those who have kept their emotions in check and let the tennis do the talking. I’m referring to Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer. Why would you want to show your opponent that you are in a state of turmoil? I’m sure all of these players have felt that way, but why broadcast it? Part of their immense appeal is that they have kept their dignity, class and self-respect intact, although Federer has broken rackets and I was surprised to hear that he did. That it happened in the latter stages of his career was not surprising. It must be quite difficult to be eclipsed by players he would have easily beaten in his heyday.
Even the normally stoic and mannered Canadians have recently gotten into the racket breaking racket. Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil and Eugenie Bouchard have all recently smashed their rackets. It’s a curious thing this racket breaking phenomenon. I think it all comes down to the fight-to-the-death-til-the-last-point philosophy that has been ingrained (read: brainwashed) into all the players of today’s slash and burn tennis. The stakes of today’s professional tennis are so much higher than they were even 10 to 15 years ago. There is a heightened sense of urgency and pressure that was never there many years ago. You can feel and taste it. The enormous pressure on these athletes is obviously crushing and that is why you are seeing the anger and frustration come out in the form of racket breaking.
To be blunt, I don’t like it. I find it a very crude, animalistic way of expressing oneself. The players lose their self-respect and class. It’s embarrassing. Is this how we show young people how to deal with pressure and tough times in life – through violence? Isn’t there a more human way to face adversity – through thought, mental strength and belief in yourself?
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