How about a “big screen” tennis biography?

It was over 5 years ago that I wrote on these pages about my other passion and its relation to this one, and referred to an ‘essay’ that I’d written on the topic for my site. (The article is really just a compilation of movies that contain at least one scene – or even a glimpse – of my favorite sport “in action”). Since then, I’ve added dozens of additional “tennis-related” films – some foreign but mostly domestic – the most recent being the seventieth title added to the list: last year’s Academy Award winning Best Picture The Artist (2011), which has a brief scene featuring Bérénice Bejo on a tennis court, coming to the net to shake hands after a mixed doubles match.

After significant star treatment in Wimbledon (2004) and Woody Allen’s Match Point (2005), there were a couple of minor independent comedies that featured tennis in a significant way – Tennis, Anyone…? (2005) and Confetti (2006) – as well as the Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe collaboration A Good Year (2006), otherwise the sport’s appearance in movie theaters remains few and far between, and only in brief (if important) character revealing scenes such as those in A Single Man (2009) and Bridesmaids (2011).

So again, I have to wonder, given the mano-a-mano nature of the sport, akin to boxing – an Oscar favorite – which has had more than its share of true, fictionalized truth, or outright original stories produced by Hollywood (annually it seems), why hasn’t a really good tennis biography been made? Is the sport not “blue collar” enough, or is it the lack of violence? The storylines can certainly be as compelling, just look at today’s athletes … look no further than this morning’s Wimbledon finalists (both of whom are making history today):

  • Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest men’s champion of all time (holder of 16 Grand Slam titles), who today is the first man to play in eight finals at the All England Club, and would tie Pete Sampras for most titles (7) there in the “Open Era” (e.g. since 1968, when amateurs and professionals could compete together)
  • Andy Murray, whose appearance in today’s final makes him the first male from Great Britain in 74 years to make it there; with a victory, he’d become first winner from his country in 35 years (the first male in 76 years) to win the title. Not compelling enough – as an 8 year old, he survived the Dunblane school massacre

Another current player with a tantalizing childhood, who ironically was born exactly one week after Murray in 1987, is Novak Djokovic, the number one player in the world (depending upon the result of today’s men’s final); he survived the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia while growing up in Belgrade and has gone on to become a five time (thus far) Grand Slam champion.


Other former male players whose life stories have yielded page-turning biographies include cultural icon John McEnroe (You Cannot Be Serious, a #1 New York Times Bestseller) – who married actress Tatum O’Neal and then rocker Patty Smyth – and more recently Andre Agassi, whose bestselling autobiography Open contains details of his abusive father, drug use, failed marriage to actress Brooke Shields, and current wife (all-time ladies’ tennis Grand Slam champion) Steffi Graf as well as all of his charity work, including founding a college preparatory academy in Las Vegas.

On the ladies’ side, obviously there are the Williams sisters (Venus and Serena, who yesterday at Wimbledon won her 14th Grand Slam singles title); they survived a humble (and dangerous) Compton, CA upbringing and were trained by an unconventional “tennis novice” father Richard to become two of the most successful champions in the history of women’s tennis. But also Billie Jean King (O.K., been there, kind of with a TV movie When Billie Beat Bobby (2001)) and Martina Navratilova. Surely one of these stories has a wide enough appeal for a movie-going audience.

So where is the tennis biography movie (that’s not a documentary or just an ESPN special)?

0 Response How about a “big screen” tennis biography?
Posted By AL : July 8, 2012 5:58 pm

don’t forget uber-talent Dean Martin’s son movie…

Posted By AL : July 8, 2012 5:58 pm

don’t forget uber-talent Dean Martin’s son movie…

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : July 8, 2012 7:24 pm

Though she wasn’t a tennis player, I’m surprised there has never been a biofilm about Babe Didrickson Zaharias, who may have been the greatest American athlete, ever. She came from obscurity, born in Port Arthur, TX (hometown of Janis Joplin, too) and did not merely participate but dominated in several sports. Not only did she excel in track and field, but also in basketball, baseball and, most famously, golf. Pretty damn good pool player, too. She wasn’t very pretty, but neither was her contemporary, Amelia Earhardt, whose story has been filmed endlessly. Somebody is missing a great bet.

Posted By John Maddox Roberts : July 8, 2012 7:24 pm

Though she wasn’t a tennis player, I’m surprised there has never been a biofilm about Babe Didrickson Zaharias, who may have been the greatest American athlete, ever. She came from obscurity, born in Port Arthur, TX (hometown of Janis Joplin, too) and did not merely participate but dominated in several sports. Not only did she excel in track and field, but also in basketball, baseball and, most famously, golf. Pretty damn good pool player, too. She wasn’t very pretty, but neither was her contemporary, Amelia Earhardt, whose story has been filmed endlessly. Somebody is missing a great bet.

Posted By vp19 : July 8, 2012 7:34 pm

How about Alice Marble, a four-time winner at Forest Hills and the 1939 Wimbledon champion? There’s also a Hollywood connection, as she rallied from health problems in the early ’30s with the support of Carole Lombard, a fine tennis player who became a close friend. Marble also worked in espionage during World War II, work she later described, along with her friendship with Lombard and her career (she even sang in nightclubs) in her autobiography, “Courting Danger.” Learn more about Alice Marble at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/31058.html.

Posted By vp19 : July 8, 2012 7:34 pm

How about Alice Marble, a four-time winner at Forest Hills and the 1939 Wimbledon champion? There’s also a Hollywood connection, as she rallied from health problems in the early ’30s with the support of Carole Lombard, a fine tennis player who became a close friend. Marble also worked in espionage during World War II, work she later described, along with her friendship with Lombard and her career (she even sang in nightclubs) in her autobiography, “Courting Danger.” Learn more about Alice Marble at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/31058.html.

Posted By Pamela Porter : July 8, 2012 8:55 pm

There was a 1975 TV movie about Babe Didrickson Zaharias – called “Babe”. It starred Susan Clark as Babe and Alex Karras (her real-life husband) as George Zaharias. I haven’t seen it in eons, but I remember it as being well-received.

A big-screen treatment would be great, I think.

Pamela

Posted By Pamela Porter : July 8, 2012 8:55 pm

There was a 1975 TV movie about Babe Didrickson Zaharias – called “Babe”. It starred Susan Clark as Babe and Alex Karras (her real-life husband) as George Zaharias. I haven’t seen it in eons, but I remember it as being well-received.

A big-screen treatment would be great, I think.

Pamela

Posted By Kingrat : July 9, 2012 5:05 pm

The movie AL alludes to is PLAYERS, starring Dean Paul Martin and Ali McGraw. Script and performances were equally dismal. The script did have some classic bad movie dialogue, such as “Whenever you speak French, it means you’re saying goodbye.”

The life of Martina Navratilova would make a most entertaining film, from her beginnings in Czechoslovakia to her various relationships with other women. Martina seems to have been a serial monogamist, and some of her romantic partners have been interesting women in their own right.

Posted By Kingrat : July 9, 2012 5:05 pm

The movie AL alludes to is PLAYERS, starring Dean Paul Martin and Ali McGraw. Script and performances were equally dismal. The script did have some classic bad movie dialogue, such as “Whenever you speak French, it means you’re saying goodbye.”

The life of Martina Navratilova would make a most entertaining film, from her beginnings in Czechoslovakia to her various relationships with other women. Martina seems to have been a serial monogamist, and some of her romantic partners have been interesting women in their own right.

Posted By morlockjeff : July 15, 2012 9:56 am

I think the made for TV movie SECOND SERVE with Vanessa Redgrave giving a brilliant performance as Renee Richards is probably the best movie I have seen that is set in the professional tennis arena. Other than than, tennis usually takes a backseat to other plot points as in Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

Posted By morlockjeff : July 15, 2012 9:56 am

I think the made for TV movie SECOND SERVE with Vanessa Redgrave giving a brilliant performance as Renee Richards is probably the best movie I have seen that is set in the professional tennis arena. Other than than, tennis usually takes a backseat to other plot points as in Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.

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