Monday, November 20, 2006

Tennis on Pinoy TV, pre-Federer

Watching the sublime Roger Federer, the very physical Rafael Nadal, the hardworking Nikolay Davydenko, the determined Kim Clijsters--LIVE!--is one of the two ultimate joys (the other one being baseball and the New York Yankees, but that's a very New York story that I will reserve for another post) of my televiewing life today.

All my crime procedural favorites--the CSIs and NCIS--are only a third priority for me (news, current affairs live coverages, and documentaries being second), compared to watching the ATP and WTA competitions at whatever time they may be fed to Manila, and often again and again on replays.

Yet, would you believe, there was a time when tennis hardly figured in the Philippine television calendar?

"Impressions," TV Times, 11-17 December 1977


A welcome relief, wasn't it? After two past seasons of endless basketball and a third now going on, tennis on television was a great emotional equalizer. And well it should. Basketball has become rowdy, contentious, even coarse and vulgar. The adrenalin shoots up too much during the games. And for what? Is basketball itself still a sport? Or has the basketball court now become a gambler's paradise? I know I have become too suspicious of basketball goings-on to enjoy watching the games, except perhaps the championship matches. Besides, a surfeit of anything always disgusts rather than pleases.

It was not always like that. More than a decade ago, basketball seemed the true gentleman's sport. Were not the heroes of a whole generation of Filipinos nurtured mostly by legends of sportsmanship and skill on the hardcourt? And did not radio and television assist in creating such hardcourt legends, even as the two media also created heroes out of the sportscasters who covered the basketball games with just the right combination of love, knowledge, and brilliance?

But that was in the past. Today, there is simply too much basketball on television and in national life. Too much, also, of the same names, the same tactics, the same tricks, the same words, the same everything. There even seems to be no more real love of the game today as there used to be during the days of Caloy Loyzaga, player, and Willie Hernandez, sportscaster. It is only a feeling, but it is there just the same--as if a whole consciousness, a whole sensibility, had indeed died. And I cannot even summon up enough tears for the mourning.

So, tennis was a welcome alternative, even when many of the games were televised much too late for most tennis lovers--students, working people, senior citizens all--to fully enjoy. First, there was the PHILTA-DYSD series. Then, Smash '77. The result: We want more tennis on television!

The game itself, unlike basketball, is a perfect showcase for true excellence and expertise. And since, in tennis, a player has less variables to contend with, he has mostly himself to congratulate for a victory or to blame for a defeat. There are less excuses to give, less people to accuse. Besides, tennis is obviously a disciplined sport and the atmosphere on a tennis court less rowdy and more refined than the perspiration-bathed, unruly action on a basketball court.

Tennis players also appear more concentrated and dedicated to their sport than our local basketball pros. Who can deny the ambition of Navratilova, the power of Goolagong-Cawley when she is not going walkabout, the determination of Newcombe, the confidence of Nastase? The four were a joy to watch as they gave the full measure of their experience--and of themselves-- even to exhibition matches.

True, many would scoff at the playfulness of Nastase and ask how we can call his performance disciplined. But Nastase, unlike many of our basketball pros, draws a clear line between his game and his conning. Watching Nastase play, the audience, both on the court and on TV, knows when he is playing to them and when he is playing the ball. He may be a con artist with a natural instinct for media hype, but when he is serious, he gives his all to his game. Besides, like other real con artists, he always allows the audience in on his jokes. This is more than you can say for basketball pros, who always act as if their playing were a matter of life and death. In reality, who knows?

Contributing to the welcome advent of tennis on television was television itself. In the last two tennis coverages, the stars were the tennis players. Nobody else intruded with high-pitched, excited gibberish nor ecstatic nonsense. Some grammatical mistakes, of course. We still broadcast and cover tennis and basketball in a foreign tongue. Naturally and as expected, there were grammatical mistakes. But those mistakes by the sportscasters were minor, almost unnoticed in the low-key, serious approach of the coverage.

Not that I have become an instant tennis expert. In fact, the finer points of the game still escape me. But for once, television treated its audience to a beautiful opportunity to focus on a sport and the skill of sportsmen, without any bruising antics or damaging tactics. Now, isn't that welcome relief?

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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