And now for the final note on Indian Wells 2013, which I thought merited a post by itself.
In the flesh: So what is the point of going to see live tennis? Is it better than watching it on a screen? I have to say that TV coverage is so good these days that a lot of things are better from home, especially if you also get John McEnroe or Darren Cahill on commentary. All the camera angles, replays, closeups and extra statistics that TV offers as a matter of course today are mostly unavailable in the stadium. Besides, going to a stadium is usually more expensive and inconvenient than sitting at home in your pajamas. Lastly, for the top players, every one of their moves and their expressions is covered so thoroughly on TV that there were times when I had to remind myself that the 3-dimensional person on the court was in fact the real deal, that it was his actual physical presence I was seeing this time, not some colours on a screen.
In this sense, sitting really close to the players makes a big difference. Andy Murray was perhaps the player I got to see the most up-close, and a TV sighting simply does not compare to the sheer physicality of that experience. More generally, being on the court offers a sense that everyone is in it together. That sense of connection, both with the players and the audience members around you is completely missing on TV. Of course, it’s true that the players are sweating their butts off and playing through blisters and pain while you are licking an icecream and cracking poor jokes, but there is still a palpable sense of shared experience and shared energy, especially on the tense points. The collective “oohs” and “aahs” that the crowd expresses are not only a very cool sound effect, but are surely something the players feed off. And much as I want to believe it, when I yell “Go Andy” from home he does not hear it, but in the court he just might. The drama of long rallies and points at net is much more intense and immediate on the court, as is the crowd’s rising murmur at critical points of the match.
Tennis is a lonely sport at the best of times — one man pitted against another in a one-on-one mental and physical combat. For all that the players give us by laying down their everything each time they step on to the court, perhaps our presence there gives them just a little something back.