One of my biggest problems with the indoor season is how ugly it looks. And it’s not just the poor broadcast quality – I’ve gone to tournaments at the Staples Center and it feels and smells about as good as Tennis Channel looks. Compared to the Rothko color fields of the European clay courts, the crisp, green grass and tennis whites of Wimbledon, and even the sweaty, fan-waving crowds at the U.S. Open, the indoor venues are indistinguishable from one another. This part of the season is as bright and inviting as a county hospital ward. It’s no wonder Madrid tries to prettify the tournament with model ball girls – but even they look wan and droopy under fluorescent lights.
It’s enough to make me question my love of the game. Indoor tennis is pure, after all, despite its aesthetic shortcomings. There’s no sun, no wind, and few bad bounces – but it’s not enough for me. So do I really love the intricacies of the game or am I just a sucker for pretty scenery?
But then I watched Roger Federer play Radek Stepanek today, and I realized that beauty can exist on an indoor court. Even in funny soccer shoes and with the tiniest swell of an off-season belly, Roger was gorgeous to watch. Heck, Radek Stepanek wasn’t bad, either, with his old school ice pick volleys and cheeky drop shots.