Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Best Hair Matchup in Tennis is Now Set


When the draw was released for the Two Directions Open, a few things immediately stood out to me. First, the possibility of the best server in tennis (in my mind John Isner) and possibly the best returner to ever play the game (Novak Djovakic) were set up to play in a Quarterfinal that would be exhilarating for exactly half of the games. Second, Jack Sock was given a Wildcard into the field and we at The Outer Courts were contractually required to follow him as we did at Indian Wells and wait for his antics to anger us (that took place last night). And finally, a round of 16 matchup featuring the greatest hair duo in modern sports was possible. With today's relatively easy victory by Tommy Haas over Marcel Granollers (6-4, 6-1), Roger Federer awaits making this epic battle now a reality.

More than any other sport, fashion is a key component of the game in professional tennis. Uniforms pervade in virtually all team games, and while golf has its occasional Rickie Fowler, what passes for a fashion statement on the links is Tiger Woods wearing red on Sundays. But tennis is different, looking good is as much a part of the game as playing well, something that showcases itself all over the grounds. The Williams sisters have made no secret of the fact that they consider themselves fashion aficionados and the influence of female fashion is ubiquitous in the crowds, where otherwise normal housewives come to the matches in short tennis skirts looking tan and fit to mimic their favorite players on the court. In no other sport does this occur...have you ever seen baseball fans wear stirrups to a game? No, but in tennis looking the part is how you express your personality in the arena.

This mindset is also a part of the men's game (even 20 years after the Agassi "Image is Everything" commercial) and nowhere is this more obvious than when tennis' two elder statesmen Haas and Federer take the court. As David Foster Wallace famously noted, watching Federer play can be a religious experience, in part because of the elegant way he seems to glide across the court. Fashion is a key component in creating that experience, specifically Federer's flowing hair. At all times, it seems that not a piece of Roger's hair is out of place, even after chases down a smacked forehand down the line. Similarly, Haas has made the decision to rock the backwards hat, a look that completely when I attempt it, destroys my meager attempts to contain my hair and produces instead the phenomenon of "hat head." But for Haas, the moment he removes the hat, his sweeping locks are right back in place, never missing a beat. Both players have found a way to bypass the boring crew cuts of their fellow competitors and join Rafa Nadal in an attempt to walk the runway while also acing the competition.

From an age perspective, I am in the same region as Haas and Federer. However when it comes to hair, we might as well be living on different planets. As I try to maintain and preserve the hair I have (a fight I trudge through every day), they are one step away from a shampoo commercial. Tomorrow they take the court in a match that on the surface is about who will make it to the Quarterfinals, but deep down it is about Follicle Supremacy in the one sport where it matters deeply. May the best conditioner win.