I’ve always had an obsession with tennis. And I think I finally understand why.
It’s all about music.
When I was much younger, I read a book called The Inner Game Of Music by Barry Green, an attempt to take the author’s experience with another book, The Inner Game Of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey (who worked with Barry Green on his book) and apply it to music rehearsal. It’s an amazing book, a really valuable read, and it changed my life as a musician forever.
Out of curiosity, I looked through The Inner Game Of Tennis as well, and though I didn’t read it cover to cover, I definitely understood the commonalities between the two disciplines that drove him to write the book. But I’ve just figured out a few other musical details that I never really put my finger on until now.
WIMBLEDON. It’s all about England. I don’t care about the U.S. Open, the French Open, or the Australian Open. I only care about Wimbledon. And it’s just because it’s British. It’s the same (un)healthy obsession I have with the British Rock Invasion.
In fact, I have a standing date with a certain Scotsman to get dressed to the nines and sit on Henman Hill for the final at least once in this lifetime. You bring the blanket, I’ll bring the strawberries and cream.
GAMES EQUAL SONGS. For me, there is a strong correlation between playing a game of tennis and writing a song. Sometimes a song gets written really quickly. Four aces, moving on. It’s VERY rare, though. Other times, it’s a long and hard-fought battle. Eighth ad on, deuce, ninth ad out, deuce, ad infinitum. But that’s also very rare. Most of the time, it’s just a fairly even playing field, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
The thing that really sits with me about this—whether it took you a long time to win a game or write a song, or if you breeze through it without any resistance, it’s still only worth one point on the scorecard. And one point doesn’t win a set or a match, just like one song doesn’t make you a songwriter. It’s always about the next point.
THE CLOCK RULES. I just learned this one today, actually. I’ve never bothered to understand why tennis is scored so strangely . . . love, 15, 30, 40, advantage, game. My favorite theory has it that players in medieval France used a clock to keep score, and four points won the game. “Love” most likely comes from the French word for “egg” (l’oeuf), and then 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and 45 minutes were used as 1, 2, and 3. When the rule was developed that you can’t win by just one point, 45 became 40 and 50, and 60 was used as the game-winning score. (“Deuce” was named either because both players’ scores were tied at 40, or that either player needed two more points to win the game.)
Everything about songwriting hinges on the manipulation of time, and it definitely helps me track my progress on a song. When I finally have a verse or a chorus written for a song, I definitely feel like i’ve won a point.
MANO Y MANO. The only other sport that pits one person against another is boxing. Thinking of another (beside table tennis, and that doesn’t count) is kind of like trying to think of an animal other than “nightingale” or “newt” that starts with the letter “n.” Breeds don’t count. Good luck to you.
Something about the nature of one-on-one sport reveals its competitive nature. Going up against one other person is as close as you can get to just going up against yourself. When you win, there’s no one else to take credit, and when you lose, there’s no one else to blame. Songwriting definitely works that way for me. I might enjoy playing a game of doubles every once in a while, but the real test of my skill is a good-old-fashioned singles match.
I hope this new insight doesn’t demystify my enthusiasm for tennis. Since any insight I’ve gained into music (or life, for that matter) hasn’t done anything but show me how much I still don’t know, I highly doubt I’ll lose interest. I may even take up tennis lessons. Look out, Nadal. I’m gunning for you in 2025.