Clichés, Tropes and Narratives Oh My!

Unmuting tennis commentators can be as dangerous as reading trite tennis writers. Their goal is completion, match and deadline, not the museum of thought. Their prose can’t be mistaken for poetry. They traffic in dreaded clichés, tropes and narratives, delivering formaldehyde to our collective sport brain.

We have gone from three channels to digital boxes guaranteeing information overload. From Walter Cronkite to Brian Williams. From Polaroid to Instagram. From CDC 1604 (first super computer) to iPhone. When times were simpler, the writing was more complex. Now that the times are complex, the commentating and writing has become largely insipid, regurgitated clichés so trampled they have lost all meaning. The clichés are predictably boring.

I miss the humor, insight and character of Howard Cosell, Marv Albert and Keith Olbermann. Remember the tennis words of Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Amis, David Foster Wallace, Claudia Rankine? This maybe my nostalgia, but I don’t recall them trading in absolutes. He is the classiest, she is the best athlete, that coach is the most strategic, the team is the shrewdest, the tour is the weakest… In no other sport are tropes more a crutch, used and depended on like olive oil in Italian dishes.

Tennis narratives, contrived or not, are as numbing as a shot of novocaine. These stories have become the pop songs of tennis, seeping into our subconscious. The verses and choruses are dripping with familiarity. We have only to unpack the song’s tale to see that there is more to the story.  The songs are often riddled with half-truths, PR approved language, lack of imagination and potent doses of disenfranchisement.

Tired Tennis Narratives

  1. Coach Patrick Mouratoglou brought Serena Williams to a new level of professionalism. He kept her engaged more consistently; he showed her the place in history she holds. He showed her the light…
  2. Rafa is a confidence player. Now that he has won a couple matches his hopes for another French Open Title has improved significantly…
  3. Roger Federer is loved around the world. He is the most articulate and professional tennis player. His demeanor should be adopted by all…
  4. Madison Keys is the next WTA Star. Her serve, ground strokes and athleticism is second only to Serena. Poor shot selection is keeping her from winning…
  5. The Sophomore Slump has dismantled Eugenie Bouchard’s game. Now that she has the guidance of her old coach she will quickly regain her top ten spot….
  6. Sam Stosur can’t play effectively in Australia…
  7. Venus Williams’ success is totally dependent on her disease…
  8. Alexnder Zverev seems to be getting better by the week. In a year he will be top 10…
  9. Maurismo’s departure from Murray’s camp signals the death of women coaching top ten men…
  10. What tennis narrative are you most tired of hearing or reading?

We rarely hear or read interesting and descriptive turn of phrases to describe this sport anymore. Tennis journalism is dying a slow death. Will I have to mourn for the generation that would have succeeded  Jon Wertheim, Christopher Clarey, Scott Price, Brian Phillips, and Louisa Thompson?

I weep. Tennis is at a critical juncture. It is seeking, no needing to rethink its ideas about itself. If it is to regain a footing it must unshackle its commentators and writers. Let them do more than report and spew stories reminiscent of childhood tales. Let us encourage them to voice their experience, dream aloud, close their eyes at the keyboard and let the words flow.

PS-Is there a difference between tennis narratives and stories?

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