I'm not sure this is a good thing.
Take Roger Federer. He travels with his family. He radiates calm. His rivalry with Rafa Nadal is respectful and collegial. His next made-for-televised-shouting controversy will be his first. Federer's on-court brilliance is matched by off-court ordinariness, driving sportswriters to increasingly dizzy, oxygen-deprived metaphorical heights in order to say something interesting. After all, he's no tortured genius, like McEnroe; no soul-searching seeker, a la Andre Agassi; no stripper-chasing reality TV washout along the lines of Mark Philippoussis. He's basically the guy you want running your neighborhood association, the face of a sport following suit—and when casual sports fans complain that tennis lacks "personalities," I'm afraid that the disappearance of tantrums, smashed rackets, soap opera frothiness, and the psychological dysfunction that once accompanied greatness is what's turning them off.
Am I foot-faulting here?
I'd call it a minor foot-fault—a Serena Williams-at the-U.S. Open foot-fault, if you will (minus the explosive reaction). Tennis is void of aggressive and eccentric personalities at the moment, especially now that Novak Djokovic has calmed down, cut out gluten, and risen to within a hair's breadth of the No. 1 ranking. And Federer and Nadal, the current kings of tennis, have led relatively pedestrian lives for global celebrities of their stature.
But the casual sports fans you mentioned are no doubt domestic, and U.S. fans are down on the game because American tennis is at its lowest point in 50 years, especially on the men's side. If Ryan Harrison becomes a perennial Grand Slam contender or Andy Roddick or Mardy Fish can turn back Father Time to win a couple Slams, the griping about tennis lacking personalities will become a barely audible grumble.
As for the boring nature of tennis stars, I blame Pete Sampras. The GOATBF (Greatest Of All Time Before Federer) has about as much personality as an
octogenarian line judge. Between his vacant on-court stare and his low-grade voice immodulation, Sampras took the fun out of each of his 14 Grand Slam titles and spawned a generation of listless, uber-talented tennis drones.
Hampton, care to weigh in?
Wait. Patrick thinks fans are turned off by dull athletes. Jake thinks the problem isn't dull players per se, just that the bores aren't American. As a wise man once said "You cannot be serious!"
Puh-lease. Every fan of a second-tier sport in this country trots out the old "Americans-only-like-sports-we-win" excuse. It's weak. Let me guess: Tennis just needs, wait for it, a Tiger Woods. With a dynamic American performer TV ratings would surely soar, right? You mean the way swimming took off after Michael Phelps? Both of you are saying, in essence, blame the fan. And you both seem to put the cart before the horse. Or, rather, the volley before the serve. At least you would, if volleys still existed.