What makes a fan?

Some of my sports favorites are completely irrational.  Random, capricious, accidents or byproducts of other choices or preferences.  When I started watching football, I picked the Green Bay Packers as my favorite team (this was early in the Holmgren/Favre years). There was no football in my adopted home town, but we’ve since gotten a team (again).  Yet I remain a Pack fan.

On the other hand, I am a baseball fan based entirely on geography — my team is the local team, even though it has stunk up the American League for years, even though a National League team with a better record is within reasonable driving distance.  I learned to love baseball while walking down to the ball park and watching practice/warm up, and I can’t disconnect the team from that nostalgia and experience, so I’m stuck with a cellar-dwelling team as a favorite, even though I have other options.

The second week of the Australian Open, known as the happy slam, is upon us.  Today the first of the quarterfinal matches are being played.  Azarenka is through, with her weird howling grunt, and Clijsters will be taking the court soon against Caroline Wozniacki.  Then it’ll be Federer-Del Potro and Nadal-Berdych.  I’ve been a little bit of a zombie this past week, falling asleep on the couch while watching tennis until the wee hours of the morning, listening to AO Radio on the way to work when the  night matches have run long.

Watching Bernard Tomic play Fernando Verdasco in the first round, I wondered about what it is that makes a fan pick a particular player in this arena — while nationalism might play in, tennis is very much an international sport and the American players are aging out rather ungracefully without great alternatives among the up and coming players.  My own preference for the Spanish Armada is easily explained, given my Iberophilia generally.  But aside from that, why do I like (or dislike) any particular player on the ATP or WTA tour?  Why or how does any fan “pick” the player they’ll root for?

I can admit that Federer is easily the most graceful player on tour, a player who makes tennis look effortless and beautiful.  And yet I don’t ever feel excited to watch him play, not the way I anticipate watching Ferrer’s tenacity or Djokovic’s Gumby-like extension or Stosur’s serve.

Eh, I don’t know.  I don’t guess it really matters.




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2 responses to “What makes a fan?

  1. My tennis attachment make no sense, really. I’ve been a huge Federer fan because he (a) beat Pete Sampras; and (b) I watched that match with my uncle, and it was the last time we watched tennis together. I love the Spaniards because they are awesome on clay and learned to play on every other surface (unlike hard courters who never really learn clay). I have a soft spot for Juan Carlos Ferrero. He could never win the US Open, but he went, every year, and played his best. And they are friendly, and they work hard, and they care about each other.

    I was a Borg over McEnroe person because my father, who was a terrific tennis player, grew up playing gentleman’s tennis (make up missed calls in your favor by netting the next ball, don’t pout, etc.). And he was gorgeous (and still is at 50-something). Also Arthur Ashe. And Stefan Edberg. And at the top of the chart, Rod Laver. Always. If those idiots running tennis hadn’t robbed him, he’d have an untouchable Slam record.

    My husband is an enormous Kim Clijsters fan (as am I). Not sure why, except she’s a great player, doesn’t grunt, is generous about opponents, and looks as if she’s actually enjoying herself.

    I didn’t start out a Rafa fan *hangs head in shame* but I’m definitely one now. How can anyone resist that unaffected sincerity, truthfulness, relentless hard work, and awesome talent? Plus, adorableness.

    Great post, thanks!

    • Thank you 🙂 I had more thoughts on how fans select the objects of their affection, but it all got lost. And I’ve been somewhat discombobulated as I try to watch live tennis on Australia time and still go to work and be coherent.

      I find that as I read more about the modern history of tennis, the more I admire Laver as well. The video clips of him at the AO this year were charming.

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