As the 130th U.S. Open tennis championships gets under way today in post-hurricane New York, I can’t help but wonder aloud why Hollywood has consistently failed to make a
great good decent mediocre film about the sport so many of its members play. Like Hollywood’s favorite go-to sport, boxing, tennis is a game that pits two competitors in a clash of wills, both physical and mental. They are alone on the court for hours at a time, with no one to hate but their opponent and no one to blame but themselves (okay, and the occasional line judge). Moreover, tennis is a four-quadrant sport that millions of Americans play and can relate to, yet check out any list of the greatest sports movies of all time and tennis is completely — and justifiably — absent. Dig deeper into some pathetic tennis-only movie lists, and you’ll make yourself depressed trying to pretend that Wimbledon was a half-decent movie or that Match Point qualifies as a tennis flick. In 100 years or so of film, only Pat & Mike, with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy stands out as an acceptable and legitimate tennis movie.
Why is that? Over the years, tennis players have been some of the most charismatic, outspoken, and fashionable athletes we have. Billie Jean King? Arthur Ashe? Andre Agassi? The Williams sisters? You only had to look at HBO’s recent documentary about the tense rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe to be reminded how compelling the tennis court can be as a stage for grand theater. (And the headbands! Oh, those headbands.)
I always thought Jennifer Capriati’s career, which began in spectacular fashion, crashed through a tragic Lohan-ville phase, before championship redemption represented the tailor-made Cinderella sports story that gets told and retold over and over to popular acclaim every three years or so in other sport films (see: Cinderella Man, Ali, Rocky III, The Natural).
Or, at the very least, put some spin on the sport with a comedy. Where’s tennis’ Caddyshack or Happy Gilmore? If most actors can’t believable portray the on-court skills of a pro, a comedy is a tempting alternative since no one will critique Andy Samberg’s backhand if he’s hilariously hyperventilating at the net over a foot-fault call.
Why do you think Hollywood has failed to serve up a decent tennis movie? Would you like to see one? Suggest some tennis-inspired movie pitches in the comments below.