By Owais Majid
I’d venture that my tennis origin story is rather different to the majority you’re going to read over the course of this series. For some, it’s a player that makes them fall in love with the sport. For others, it’s a particular match that really drew them in. For me, however, it was a commentator, or rather a commentary team. As such, I hope you’ll indulge me as I provide a slightly different perspective on the sport of tennis.
Being completely blind from birth, most of my consumption of sport came via radio commentary. Living in the UK, that was more often than not radio 5Live. Despite the fact that I’ve always been a sports fanatic, through my early years, tennis was little more than an afterthought. Up until the age of around 12, I had little interest in the sport, barely bothering to check who the latest grand slam champion was. However, there must have been a point, which has now rather irritatingly escaped my memory, that I fell upon BBC 5Live’s tennis coverage. I don’t remember a match per se, or even a specific tournament when I first tuned in, but I just remember being mesmerised at the quality of commentary on show courtesy of David Law and Russell Fuller.
Many of you will be aware of the work of David through his excellent co-hosting of The Tennis Podcast. I’m sure a few of you have listened to him on 5Live too, but for those of you who haven’t as of yet been lucky enough to have experienced the thrill of his commentary, the best description I can give, as much as it doesn’t really do it justice, is that he sounds like he’s absolutely thrilled to be doing his job. There are few sounds more exhilarating than that of hearing David in full flow as he describes a clean forehand winner down the line, no doubt accompanied by a roar of amazement capable of jolting anybody from a stupor (yes, I’ve been there). On many occasions have I heard David say “I’m exhausted just commentating on that” or words to that effect and that, I believe, is the perfect indicator of how much energy and emotion he puts into his work, and the audience is certainly better off for it.
In many ways, Russell is very similar to David in the way he commentates, yet he brings his own unique style to the table. Russell’s ability to describe a point regardless of how frantic it is comes second to nobody I’ve heard before or since. Time and time again, he has been able to faultlessly provide a crystal clear description of a lung-busting 25 shot rally and it never ceases to amaze me. Between the pair of them and the various co-commentators that work alongside them, they gave the listener everything you could possibly hope for from a commentary. From the sheer emotion their voices are able to portray to the incredible execution of skill they’re describing, they gave me the impression that what I was lacking in visuals was being more than made up for by the audio. More importantly, they gave me a reason to follow tennis as closely as I now do.
I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here – it’s something I’m prone to doing in my writing so please forgive me – but I felt it was necessary in order to truly convey how the two aforementioned commentators got me into this sport that so many of us love so dearly. Whilst I’m sure there’s plenty I’m missing out on, I can safely say that I wouldn’t have my tennis experience any other way if I had the choice. Granted I’m extremely biased, but there really is nothing like the joys of sport on the radio. I hope I’ve done some justice to how enjoyable it is to simply let a couple of voices take you on an adventure by talking you through a tennis match.