Will Video Tennis Overtake the Hard Court Version?

Tennis joined the world of popular video games with Wii tennis and Prince has joined in by making a Wii tennis racket.

I was watching football on TV yesterday when an ad came on. The camera panned a diorama of toy soldiers engaged in a horrific battle. Fireballs were frozen in mid-explosion. Soldiers sat stunned on the sideline. Frozen smoke billowed out of firearms. I thought the Democratic Party had kicked off its 2008 presidential campaign with an anti-Iraq war ad but, no, it was an ad for the video game Halo 3.

There’s even a “making of” documentary for the Halo diorama which is dedicated to the hero of the battle, Master Chief Petty Officer John 117.

Video games are so pervasive I’m having trouble distinguishing them from political ads. I haven’t even bought an XBox 360 yet and Halo is already making mockumentaries about its heroes.

Life in tennis is much simpler. We’ve never had a good video game – unless you count pong – and those that did exist were never popular enough to generate interest from manufacturers of tennis gear.

That has now changed on both accounts.

Ninetendo’s Wii video game has become wildly popular and today, Prince Sports announced the release of tennis rackets for Wii tennis. To play Wii tennis, you swing the Wii controller as if it were a tennis racket and hit the ball coming at you on the screen. Wii Tennis has a generic white controller but now you can play with a hot pink Prince racket.

To see Wii tennis in action, start up Tennis Diary TV on the right side of this page, click on the Channel Guide and watch Wii Tennis Anyone?

In its press release, Prince says the following:

Playing Wii Tennis has led to competitions at local bars, Wii Tennis as part of school PE curriculums, and the first ever “Wimbledon” tournament held earlier this year.

Really, it’s part of the physical education curriculum at schools? For sure it’s a lot cheaper to play Wii Tennis than build a tennis court but wouldn’t our youth be better served if they ran around a playground or played kickball?

That Wii “Wimbledon” tournament took place at the Brooklyn tavern Barcade in June. About 600 people wanted to play in the tournament but there was only space for 128. I ask you, when was the last time a “real” tennis tournament turned away 472 players?

All of which leads me to wonder: How many years will it take till tennis video has more players than the real version? Ten years? Twenty years? Thirty years? Never? Cast your vote in the poll to the right.

I’d like to think the answer is never but it’s a whole lot easier to stand in your living room and wave a tiny racket around than it is to go out on a tennis court and figure out how to hit an overhead without swinging and totally missing.

We like instant gratification when we can get it and tennis is a difficult sport to learn. Most professional athletes grew up playing a variety of sports but young tennis players are encouraged to start at around seven or eight years of age and focus solely on tennis.

The Wii tennis game is in its infancy at the moment. You don’t even control your player’s movement, only the act of hitting the ball. With newer versions that should change and I’m pretty sure you’ll also be able to play as Roger Federer or choose Ana Ivanovic as your luscious onscreen avatar.

Meanwhile, go outside and play tennis on a tennis court while you still can.

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