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Joel Drucker: What Love Means in Tennis

Valentine’s Day, when talk of love abounds. In tennis, that can take many forms, be it jokes about the scoring system to the many romances formed by this sport. Fancy indeed, the distinct affinity shared by Andre Agassi and Stephanie Graf – across time and tennis, pain and gain, perhaps much even beyond words.

Then there’s another form of love in tennis that can also make a major difference. On the one hand, tennis is very much an individual sport, its singular warriors more likely to identify with the lone wolf than the wolf pack.

But peel back the curtain and you’ll see more than a solo act. Team sports have an institutional, collective infrastructure, from coaches directing play to parents organizing carpools.

Tennis, though, requires relentless family engagement – from those early morning rides to practice to setting out on the tour to, in some cases, siblings who at once cooperate and compete. Last week, the Zverev brothers, Alexander and Mischa, enjoyed a spectacular run in Montpelier, Alexander winning the singles and then joining forces with Mischa to take the doubles. Mischa, a decade older, has attributed his recent resurgence to seeing Alexander make his way up the ranks.

The Zverevs, of course, aren’t the only family duo that have made a mark on pro tennis. Unquestionably, one of the most heart-warming tales of this year’s Australian Open was watching Venus and Serena Williams reach yet another Grand Slam singles final – and, per usual, graciously hug one another one it was over. Other notable contemporary sibling duos include Andy and Jamie Murray, Bob and Mike Bryan, Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova. Dozens more have made a mark on the sport – Marat and Dinara Safina, Luke and Murphy Jensen, Tim and Tom Gullikson, Gene and Sandy Mayer, Nancy and Cliff Richey, John and Patrick McEnroe, the three Maleeva sisters, the four Austins (Jeff and John, Pam and Tracy).

Consider all of this a counter to the solitude that takes place inside the lines, a reminder that even a tennis player is not merely an island, but part of a community. And perhaps that spirit can take one even further than self-reliance. All you need is love.

Coming Up

+ Tennis MIAs

+ Happy Birthday, Johnny Mac

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