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2 pinches of combat (personal)
(Relax, relax. When I talk of adding risk I'm not proposing that the court be sown with land mines. There are other ways. Stage effects. Illusions. The way we do it in table tennis.)
To cases now. The first thing tennis needs is a new stage design for its matches. The stage I propose, radically different but easily accomplished, would add a new atmosphere of drama to a tennis match. And for TV, where raw tennis now fails, this is vital.
At present, as I see it, the contestants are moving on a playing area much too large and much too vaguely defined. By playing area I do not mean the court. I'm talking about the area around the court. Look at Forest Hills. There the stadium's center court has a runback of some 30 feet behind the baselines and open ground of some 50 feet on either sideline. The stadium's inner wall intercepts the space behind the court; on the sides box seats form the boundaries. The boundaries thus are background boundaries.
This is poor staging. The effect of this vast vacant space surrounding the players—space that is never used and, worse, space that looks as though it never will be used—is that most of the dynamic energy emitted by the contest is dissipated in air. The shock and thrust is simply not contained. The players are fighting, yet they do not seem to be. There is an illusion that the players can drift freely in space, that they are not locked in head to head. Indeed, it seems possible that, should one of the players quail, he could scurry away without hindrance to the safety of the clubhouse. What's to stop him?
So I say, "Shut the gate."
This is the first idea that tennis must borrow from table tennis. Barriers must be placed around the court. They should be about two feet high, slightly higher than the knees for most players, and they must be opaque (why I'll show later) even though this will mean that 4% of the fans will miss 2% of the footwork.
To create the illusion I want, the exact placing of these barriers is critical. The players should have as much space at sides and rear as they normally need but not more. Moreover, on rare occasions the barriers should almost prevent—and on rarer occasions actually prevent—the player from making his shot.
(Did you say "crazy"? Patience.)
With barriers the drama is immediately heightened. The players are now inescapably locked in with each other, by turns fighting with their backs to the wall, threatening at times to burst right through it. Their space has been carefully allotted; the barriers become the ring ropes.