BNPPO: BRAINY AND NOT-SO-BRAINY MOMENTS IN THE GAME

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A BRAIN IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE

This isn’t exactly brain science. Still, let’s get serious about brains.

In “The Wizard of Oz,” the endearing Tin Man sings, “If I Only Had a Brain.” As for our sport, Jay Berger once said that “the biggest weapon in tennis was Mats Wilander’s brain.” But after his third-round loss to David Goffin (in which, incredibly, there were 13 breaks of serve and assorted blunders) Stan Wawrinka said the contest was “a match without brains.”

With this in mind, here’s a primer on brains – and the lack thereof – in tennis.

  • Amelie Mauresmo once said that the only way she could avoid having another disappointing result at the French Open was to “clear my head and get a brain graft.”
  • Former Golden State Warrior Joe Barry Carroll claimed that his talent for tennis was “exceeded only by my talent for brain surgery.”
  • Our favorite brainstorm about doubles came from writer Scott Ostler, who observed that after a bad a bad loss, “Martina Navratilova was beside herself – which, come to think of it, would make a hell of a doubles team.”
  • Venus Williams joked that her dad Richard “brainwashed” her into thinking that she would become No. 1.
  • Jimmy Connors claimed, “To a large degree, Ivan Lendl became No. 1 by default. Look, Borg quit, I got old and McEnroe went a little brain-dead…Somebody had to be No. 1.”
  • Alexandra Stevenson said that on tour, “you can lose some serious brain cells.”
  • Inside Tennis once had Albert Einstein on its cover.
  • Andre Agassi claimed, “I have an uncanny ability to make people think I’m stupid.”
  • After his defeat by fellow Zambian Musumba Bwayla, Lighton Mdewayl offered this excuse: “Musumba Bwayla is a stupid man and a hopeless player. He has a huge nose and is cross-eyed. Girls hate him. He beat me because my jockstrap was too tight and because when he serves he farts, and that made me lose my concentration, for which I am famous throughout Zambia.”
  • After noting the many fans that call out to her during matches, Li Na said, “Maybe they think I’m stupid, so they coach me. But I would like to say I’m not stupid.”
  • Papa Richard Williams said, “I always talk like I am stupid. I prefer people to think I’m stupid.”
  • Asked if she could change one thing, Sloane Stephens said, “That boys weren’t so stupid.”
  • When we asked the brainy Novak Djokovic who were the smartest people he’d met, he offered this wise reply. “Roger [Federer] is somebody that has been evolving over the course of his career and is always trying to get better. All the top players, have [a] very high level of sports and tennis intelligence, otherwise they wouldn’t be there.

“There are people who rely more on…data and statistics. There are people who rely more on gut feelings and instinct…

“I believe the best way is somewhere in the middle…Technology helps you get better in every aspect of your game, but if you start to calculate too much it can be distracting.

“Tennis is a special game that requires a lot from one player and a team. You try to work on yourself and your personality and strengthen your character in order to get better. It’s all correlated.”

  • Djokovic isn’t the only smart player on the tour. Milos Raonic is brilliant. His parents are professors and when he talks about art, he sounds like a deep-think critic. (I’ll see your cubism, and raise you postmodernism.)
  • Michael Chang was so thoughtful. But, on court, said writer Richard Evans, there hasn’t been anyone smarter than Martina Hingis, who despite being small, dominated at age 16. The late Bud Collins wrote that, as a teen, “Hingis has the extraordinary tennis mind of a jaded long-timer. Intriguing to behold, she has figured out the puzzles of the rectangle, the alteration of pace and angles, something that most phenoms never do.”
  • Croat Marin Cilic said that the best players are the smartest. That brings to mind the worldly wisdom of Federer, who navigates the game with such ease. Still, in the end, we feel that the inquisitive Billie Jean King and wordsmith Mary Carillo were two of the brightest women we’ve encountered, and that Arthur Ashe was the smartest man. Reflective, calm, wide-ranging and deep, his insights were astounding, his wisdom profound.