To attend Wednesday’s United States Open was to feel fortunate: the sky was bright blue, insolently cloudless over the sprawling acreage of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and the swampland humidity had lifted. There was a fresh bounce in the steps of the players on the outer courts where I moved from match to match.
A confession: I wasn’t just watching. I was on a mission — to test a hypothesis. The hypothesis isn’t my own. It comes from a pro I happened to spend some hours with last weekend. He is not in the draw at this year’s Open and perhaps never will be. He competes instead on the Futures circuit, an entry point for aspiring professionals.
In the course of a long discussion about the current state of pro tennis, my friend described a curious distinction between the men’s game and the women’s, curious because it is counterintuitive, to borrow my friend’s adjective. The distinction is this: For all of its fabled physicality and intimidating speed and power, the men’s game is actually built on variety and finesse, with the pace of shots changing constantly, and each player deploying different spins and splices.