A Tennis Twofer

Today is your lucky day because we have a tennis twofer–two topics in a single blog post! You can’t say you’re not getting your money’s worth with LittleYellowBall!

Our first piece of business is wrapping up the Serena Williams saga. No doubt more will transpire in this story, but after today I’m done. (Well, unless something really exciting happens.)

There have been two interesting developments, in case you missed them. One is a threatened chair umpire boycott of Serena Williams’s matches. Not surprisingly, chair umpires are not happy with the treatment of their colleague Carlos Ramos, whom they see as having been thrown under the bus. They believe the WTA should have stood up for the integrity of the longtime, highly respected official. (The ITF did issue a statement backing Ramos and asserting he acted completely professionally.) From what I understand, however, chair umpires are non-unionized independent contractors, so organizing a boycott could prove difficult.

The other development, if it can be called that, is the fact that former tennis professional and sportscaster Mary Carillo has broken ranks with her colleagues and is defending Ramos’s decisions in the final. She gave an interview with MSNBC in which she argues that cries about double standards are misguided.

She also had this to say about Serena:

“At her very best — and she is very often at her very best — I respect and admire Serena beyond measure. She is so powerful. She’s an important voice. She’s a ferocious competitor.

“But at her very worst, as she was on this night, she acts like a bully.”

That’s a pretty brave departure from the narrative being pushed by the WTA and many of her colleagues. It’s newsworthy because Carillo is one of the most familiar faces of tennis for those of us who watch on television.

Carillo’s defection is also notable for me because I’m actually a huge Carillo fan. I’ve sometimes thought that if I could have lunch with anyone in tennis, it would be Carillo, rather than a famous player. She’s simply one of the most intelligent, insightful, and articulate sportscasters in the business.

(She’s also extremely funny. During the 2004 Summer Olympics, NBC producers asked her to fill some dead air time leading into their badminton coverage. If you’ve never heard her famous riff on backyard badminton, you’re missing out on something special. Check it out here.)

Thinking too much about the women’s final can get downright depressing, which is why we turn now to topic number two: Apparently if you play enough tennis, you’ll live forever! That’s my general takeaway from the recent study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Researchers in this observational study looked at the longevity of over 8,000 Danish adults. Some of these Danes led sedentary lives, while others exercised. As you might expect, exercise increased the subjects’ lifespan. But among the various forms of exercise, tennis came out on top, adding a whopping 9.7 years over the lifespan of the average sedentary person. That’s almost a whole decade!

Tennis handily beat out jogging, cycling, and swimming when it came to extending the subjects’ lives. Interestingly, working out in a gym, such as on an elliptical, added only 1.5 years of life, the smallest benefit among the activities listed in the study. (Is anyone else surprised by what a puny advantage the gym rats get? Who wants to spend years schlepping to the gym and slogging on an elliptical for only an 18-month gain?!!)

Researchers hypothesize it’s the social aspect of tennis that accounts for its outsized boost in longevity. As we’ve all been hearing lately, loneliness negatively affects one’s lifespan. But social interaction, like you get from tennis, can reduce stress, a proven cause of inflammation, and add years to one’s life.

And what about the cognitive aspect of tennis? Compared to jogging which requires no thought at all, tennis involves hand-eye coordination, strategy, and anticipation–not to mention the challenge of trying to remember the score! Although the researchers didn’t mention the sport’s cognitive aspect, it must also help keep the brain young, too, right?

Whatever the reason, it sounds like we tennis players will keep playing tennis for a long, long time. (Hmm, maybe we better stock up on more tennis outfits…)


Many thanks to the various people who sent me links to the health study! Which reminds me…if you have an idea for the blog or see an interesting tennis article, let me know! (Unless the idea is about Serena, that is. I’m taking a much-needed Serena sabbatical starting next week!)

4 thoughts on “A Tennis Twofer

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  1. I have to agree that Serena displayed poor sportsmanship. My guess is that the pressure got to her. Getting older and seeing a young athlete whip your butt is just so hard — and add to that the pressure to beat the record, to show that moms can still be taken seriously, and just to live up to decades of expectations. I think she should apologize and let us all move on.

    On the study: Does this mean that book club is good for longevity, too?! And parties? If all we need to do is to be social to live longer, well, that sounds good.

    As for the gym rats, I doubt most people are there for the longevity gains. I think most people want to look good. Some people enjoy the burn, enjoy their classes, and have social interactions at the gym. And I’m sure a few are there because they’ve had a health scare.

    Drawing causation conclusions from observational studies is so difficult. They would have to compare the really social gym rats with the social tennis players. But hey, if there’s a chance to live almost a decade longer while having fun with friends, sign me up!

    Maybe insurance companies should start reimbursing for tennis memberships, gear and outfits! They pay toward gym memberships in some cases, so it’s not impossible. Actually, I guess a tennis club membership could count for that. I’ll have to look into it.

  2. Yes, insurance companies should definitely cover tennis fees and the cost of outfits. You should run for public office on that platform–that’s the kind of health care reform we need! I would totally vote for you.

    Maybe you should have a jogging book club. Then you’d have exercise, intellectual stimulation, and socializing all in one. You should suggest this at your next book club meeting. 🙂

Let me know what you think!

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