I’ve never seen Rafael Nadal and thought, “I could do that.” I’ve never seen Roger Federer and thought, “I can beat a forehand like that.” I’ve never seen Djokovic do one of his backhand splits and thought: “I want to do that.” But I watched Adrian Mannarino and wondered if I might not be a good tennis player myself.
Adrian Mannarino at the Australian Open 2022
Not much on paper
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about Mannarino. He’s of average height, he has a decent physique and he won’t blow you away with any of his physical attributes. He moves well on the pitch, but he’s not Monfils or De Minaur. He hits the ball cleanly, but not like Jannik Sinner. His serve is regular, his forehand is slightly powerful, and his backhand is smooth and moderate. His playstyle Patronus is Gilles Simon.
Mannarino is minus lightning. He has neither Tsitsipas’ hair nor Benoit Paire’s beard. He did not revive Agassi’s fashion like Denis Shapovalov. He has neither Berrettini’s bicep tattoo nor Kyrgios’ sleeve. He shaves his head and wears shirts with skulls on them.
Connectedness is inspirational
And that’s why he’s inspirational. Reilly Opelka doesn’t inspire me because I’m not 6’11. Nadal doesn’t excite me because I can’t sprint at full speed for five hours. Tsitsipas doesn’t inspire me because I wasn’t carved from marble to play tennis. But Adrian Mannarino… he makes me believe I can do it.
I don’t mean that Mannarino makes me believe that I can play tennis. i can play tennis He makes me believe that I can be a pro. He made his career by not hitting very hard [relative to top players], not serving very hard and not being exceptional. A career anchored in the top 50 for ten years. No, he won’t go down as an all-time great, and he might not even get past Nadal in his next match; but more than the greats and more than Nadal, he makes tennis credible. I realize that I will not be a professional tennis player; but the thought that it might be me makes it all the more fun to play.
Well, I wouldn’t trade Nadal and Opelka and Tsitsipas for a tour full of Mannarinos. But I wouldn’t trade Mannarino for another superman either. I see myself when I see him play and I learn from him. His forehand seems doable, his tactics learnable, his inconspicuous game doable. And that makes it more fun to watch him win because so often it seems like he shouldn’t. But I shouldn’t win either, and that’s where the inspiration lies.
Players like Mannarino are important to the sport of tennis because fans need to be reminded that not everyone was born on Olympus, not everyone was carved by Michelangelo. They say, “It takes all types to make a world”; and, I would add, a sport. Mannarino’s laconic style and non-awesome game are refreshing in a sport full of tough thugs and athletic rock stars for realistic contrast. He may not get past Nadal – maybe he never gets past Nadal – but everybody plays tennis and sometimes he wins. And that’s inspiring.
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