December 10th, 2012The Tennis Racquet Goes to Hollywood
Although tennis has been around longer than many other American sports like basketball, football or baseball, it’s more of a challenge to find tennis racquets in movies or television shows. There is no tennis equivalent of Friday Night Lights, Hoosiers or Field of Dreams. That’s not to say that they cannot be found, but you do have to put some effort in looking. I found an example of one film and one TV show that featured the sport in different ways.
One of the memorable tennis scenes in film comes from the 1977 movie Annie Hall, directed and written by Woody Allen. The scene with the tennis game only lasts about a minute; it’s a mixed doubles match with Alvy (Allen) and Janet (Wendy Girard) against Rob (Tony Roberts) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). This is where Alvy meets Annie for the first time; a very critical scene in the movie’s plot in spite of its brevity.
You can appreciate how dated the movie is as Annie played with an aluminum tennis racquet; the other three with wood. The movie does not go into which pair won the match although Alvy later tells Annie she plays well. All that is shown are close-up shots of each player hitting the ball. Fortunately these were close-ups, since it appears that the trajectory of a couple of shots off the racquet are so way off, that there’s no way the ball could have landed on the court.
Annie Hall won four Oscars at the 1978 Academy Awards: Keaton for Best Actress; Allen for Best Director; Allen and Marshall Brickman for Best Screenplay and Charles Joffe for Best Picture.
The Tennis Racket was a 2003 episode of cable TV’s The Osbournes that dealt with annoying neighbors of the rock star family who seemed to play tennis 24/7 along with some ‘hoopin and hollerin’ to make it worse. Son Jack tries to retaliate by playing his drums outdoors, but to no avail. Ozzy blasts loud, hard core metal over a Bose system, but no luck.
The neighbors complain about the Osbourne’s cats leaving deposits on the court. Paintball shooting from Jack leads to a visit from law enforcement. The family’s cats disappear, which they blame on the neighbors, but footage shows coyotes on the property. Since The Osbournes would never be accused of having a plot, the episode ends rather abruptly. We never know how or if the conflict was resolved. It makes one wonder if the whole thing was staged. Naaah, that couldn’t happen.
As for the tennis players themselves, their faces are blurred out because of reality show legalities. We don’t get a real good look at the racquets, but it’s safe to say that in an affluent neighborhood, the players likely had whatever was state of the art for 2003. It had to be better than what appeared in Annie Hall.
For a sport that enjoys global popularity, tennis racquets have not enjoyed the big and small screen as many other sports have. Instead it often appears in a supporting or incidental role sometimes to the point of being replaceable. If you substituted a game of bridge for the tennis match in Annie Hall for example, it would not have affected the plot of the movie that much, even though the scene had the critical moment of Alvy meeting Annie and some nostalgic racquets. Is this an oversight on the part of screenwriters or because tennis is still perceived as a sport of elites that many moviegoers can’t relate to? It’s hard to say, but it suggests that the sport of tennis provides opportunities to come up with something new. How many more movies about comic book characters and remakes can we take?
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Christopher Mohr is a freelance writer from San Diego, Calif. who enjoys covering topics including sports, electronics and athletic equipment. Before becoming a writer, he worked for several years in IT and customer service.