Anyone for tennis?
This corny phrase, and others like it, was used fairly often in light hearted British plays in the West End of London and on Broadway in the middle years of the 20th century.
A character would come bouncing onto the stage with a tennis racket under his arm, and ask “Anyone for tennis?” or “Tennis, anyone?”
Another character, who was no longer needed on stage, would accept the invitation and leave, allowing those remaining to further develop the main plot line.
As a child in England in the 1970s, adults would often use this phrase when they felt awkward and wanted to get out of witnessing a full and frank family discussion (for example) or just to break the tension.
Many people attribute the origin of this phrase to George Bernard Shaw’s 1914 play “Misalliance,” and it is believed that Humphrey Bogart popularized this in America after the Second World War. Bogart, got his start in acting on Broadway playing small parts in comedies and musicals.
Back when we lived in England, we would enjoy what the British call “the season” from April to mid-summer. This is the time of year that a number of very British events take place, including the Chelsea Flower Show, the Henley Royal Regatta boat races, Royal Ascot horse racing and of course, my personal favorite, the Wimbledon Tennis Championship.
So why am I writing about tennis in December, a full month after this year’s professional tennis season has drawn to a close? Because the sports world was recently surprised and delighted to see a new era dawn in tennis at the close of the 2018 season.
My husband was there to witness it in person last month, and if you are a tennis fan, it was very big news indeed.
Men’s professional tennis has been dominated by four names for the past 15 years. For instance, there have been only four men to win Wimbledon since 2003 – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
While a few other players in recent years have bounced briefly into one of the top four spots, it really is these four that have become the face of men’s tennis over the past couple of decades.
There are some great players out there that we simply don’t hear much about, and I have often felt a bit sorry for them – what a competitive time to be peaking in this sport, when you have to deal with not only one of these tennis giants, but all four.
The last major tennis championship of the season is the Association of Tennis Professionals’ weeklong ATP Finals in London every November. This represents the year-end climax to the ATP World Tour season, and features only the top eight players in the world.
My husband always enjoys the ATP Finals and gets tickets when he can. It has a friendly atmosphere, a fast-paced “two set winner” format, it is indoors at the O2 “Millennium Dome” and thereby insulated from the dire British November weather, and overall combines great tennis with the feel of a rock concert.
So what was the earthquake? A lanky, 6-foot, 6-inch-tall, 21-year-old German player that many people had never heard of, complete with a big mop of blond hair and boyish good looks, beat Roger Federer in the semi-final. Then the next day, he beat Novak Djokovic in the final in just over an hour in two straight sets.
This newcomer had 10 aces while his opponent, the World No. 1, had just one. An amazing 88 percent of his first serves were “in” during the first set – almost 80 percent throughout the match.
And what serves they were. My husband saw the speed display read a whopping 144 mph during one of these monster serves, although it was “out” so failed to make the record books.
So who is this new rock star of the tennis world, the charming young man leading a complete generational change in the sport?
His name is Alexander Zverev. He was born in 1997, the year before Roger Federer went pro. The times, they are a-changing.
God bless America! And anyone for tennis?