“I really hate watching myself play. I know it’s not the kind of game people prefer to see on TV.” Adrian Mannarino gave a small layer of it in self-denigration last week in the columns of The team. This is not the first time that the French have sung this little tune.
As recently as last September, he said much the same thing: “I drew a line under my hopes of playing good tennis. I can’t stand to see myself on TV, I find it horrible, filthy. But I’d rather play like that and make a living than play champagne and lose every week in the Challenger.”
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Whatever one thinks of the aesthetics or the presumed ugliness of his tennis, he has indeed allowed Adrian Mannarino to make a fine little career. He’s been on the main circuit for 15 years, winning two titles, one on grass, one on hard courts, making nine other finals, playing in three Grand Slam Round of 16 and, at his peak, flirting with the World Top 20 (22nd in 2018).
But beyond these considerations, Adrian Mannarino asks a question that is subjectivity, almost intimate, that of the link that the spectator, or television viewer, ties with such and such a player. We could talk for hours about what the “beautiful game” is. Relativism has its limits and no doubt it will be commonly accepted that Roger Federer’s tennis was more polished than that of John Isner. But by definition, since he was unique, not everyone can play like Federer.
In reality, in modern tennis, many games are alike. Of course, everyone brings their own nuance, their gestures. Fortunately, otherwise tennis would become a sport of artificial intelligence, the keyword here being “artificial”. It is in this that a Mannarino acts a bit like a UFO.
Is it really ugly? For my very modest part, I always liked his game, and to see him play. I’ve always liked this silky side, more than brutal. A certain delicacy, almost. This little left paw. This counter game, capable of relying on the speed of the opponent’s ball, a bit like a judoka using the superior brute force of his opponent to better propel him to the mat, like a skillfully set trap.
I fully understand why Mannarino says all this, but his strength is his difference. All this lack of style? Yes, but, in a way, the absence of style is already a style. The virtue of its expression is that it is unique.
We could attach a double cinematographic metaphor to it. One feminine, the other masculine. Mannarino’s tennis is a bit like Anemone, alias Thérèse de Monsou, in Father Christmas is trash, of which Pierre Mortez, aka Thierry Lhermitte, says: “Thérèse is not ugly, she does not have an easy physique.”
It is also Michel Simon. This dented face, almost improbable. But that face, there weren’t two of them on the screens. It was his chance. The cinema can only be made of twinks with the face of a young first. You need Brad Pitts, and Michel Simons. In tennis, we have the right, even the duty, to swoon over the stylistic perfection of a Federer. But we also have the right to appreciate a Mannarino.
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