Neanderthals and Tennis

May 13, 2009

Recently I sat in a lecture on the origins of humans, religiously scribing all of the morphological characteristics of a Neanderthal. Homo neanderthalensis certainly wasn’t a pretty sight; big flat nose and brow-ridges that would only seem useful if you needed to see something in a strong downpour. But as we were going through the way in which the arm was built, my lecturer made an interesting comparison: ‘the Neanderthal shoulder is strong, showing signs of heavy stress. It looks very similar to the shoulder of a professional tennis player.’

It was a comparison that certainly got me thinking. Which sport would I associate all the connotations of ‘Neanderthals’ with? For starters I’d consider a ‘Neanderthal-like sport’ to be brutish, rough around the edges, requiring strength and stockiness and not a lot of complicated rules. So what sport would that be?

You could possibly draw a comparison to rugby; I swear there’s a few Neanderthals on the England rugby team trying to disguise themselves as modern humans. But rugby is quite a confusing game when you don’t know the rules, and the Neanderthal features seem to be limited to only a few players. There’s football (if anyone knows anything about English football then the name Wayne Rooney might come to mind), but now that every professional footballer is earning mind-boggling  amounts of money the game is quite different than it was a generation or so ago. Cricket is stricken from the list; I need the rules written down on cue cards to watch it and apparently there’s a special bloke to hold everyone’s sweatshirts, so that can’t really be considered Neanderthal-ish at all.

And so we come to tennis…the only comparison I could conjure up – apart from the shoulder thing – was the grunting. As much as I love to watch Rafael Nadal play, the grunting can start to test the nerves after not too long. And it’s alarming to hear those sounds come out of the likes of Maria Sharapova and the Williams’ sisters; stunning women, but they’ve certainly got the grunt of a Neanderthal.

In all other aspects, tennis is an especially stylish and modern sport. This doesn’t make it more superior to any other sport. But tennis blossoms on its style and flair; it’s a stage for player’s to come out and show their passion not only for the game but for the life that surrounds it.

The clothes are the most telling aspect. There’s Roger Federer’s immaculate white blazer, cream trousers and monogrammed cardigan. There’s Maria Sharapova’s bright red pants she flashed for us all to see, that gorgeous white suit last shown at Wimbledon, and her constant wearing of earrings. Even Rafael Nadal holds a stake in the styles competition; he only just changed out of his brazen below-knee shorts and sleeveless tops for a more conventional style (still sticking to acid colours outside of Wimbledon).

And who can forget the past styles of the greats, like the long locks of Bjorn Borg kept back by a headband so classic of the 70s? John McEnroe didn’t just make us aware of his presence by throwing his unsuspecting racket at the tramlines; he sported teeny tiny shorts, and wild curly hair very indicative of his personality.

The style of tennis is so on my mind because summer is on its way and that means one things for us tennis fans: Wimbledon. I can safely assure the rest of the world that we Brits are certainly starting to get excited about it. We have a British player doing well and we’ve now got ourselves one of those new retractable roofs. Postmodern architecture and sublime engineering alongside the history and tradition of the Wimbledon tournament: it’s British perfection.

This blog has swerved from the norm this week: I could have written that a small cheer went up all around Britain when they learnt Andy Murray blasted past Simone Bolelli in the second round of the Madrid Open. I could have bemoaned Serena Williams having to pull out of the Madrid Open due to injury. I could have mentioned that Nadal is doing well as the home favourite in Madrid, and has now joined Novak Djokovic in the third round.

But talking about tennis in relation to pre-human species is much more fun. It has also – in a very roundabout way –  got the excitement pumping for Wimbledon 2009.

 

-          SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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