Tennis is a language. Why. A broadcaster once mentioned during a Roger Federer’s match that he speaks 5 languages (English, German, French + Italian Swedish). The other braodcaster replied "he speaks 6, the last one is tennis." And they both laughted at the joke.
But is it really a joke?
A teammate mentioned to me the other day, she said tennis is a sport that one just has to start young, otherwise no matter how athletic the person is, it’s just hard to become very good (by elite, top notch standard) at it. I wanted to rebuttle, yet couldn’t stand on ground. I recall back in the days when the lights on Courier, Chang, and Sampras were dimming (Agassi held on for a few more years), and Roddick was just coming out of the jr’s, and there was the talk of how America was running out of tennis pros. Then during the intermission of the US Open, the program was opened for call-in to discuss on the issue. There was a letter that had its content typed on the screen, asking if it is too late to start playing at the age of 17. The host at the time frankly spoke about how difficult it is when one starts the sport late, but, being an American (a good dreamer), he closed it with "never say never." That was about a decade ago, when I was a teenager in NY.
Now I have an answer and a reason to that. In order to become an elite tennis player, one MUST start young. Tennis, unlike many other sport, utilizes a very unnatural swing of the arm and sharp curl of the elbow to complete a stroke. The motion is not in anyway developed in any other unrelated sport or daily activities. In other popular sports, there are mainly adopted forms of throwing, tossing, shooting, swinging, and punching that pretty much fits the rule of biomechanics. Not tennis. And therefore this act of movement must require a brain region which is specifically developed for this purporse.
A psychobehavioral study shows that, one of the least functional part of our body, the left pinkie, has a specifically designated region in the brain. Most of the people do not require the development of this region and therefore their parts are hypotrophic. However, a skilled violinist uses the left pinkie actively, and therefore, has well-developed, or hypertrophic neurons in that reflected brain region. However, there is still one distinct difference: age. For those who begin violin playing before the age of 7 have the most well-developed brain in the reflected region, while those who begin to play after the age of 7 show a limit to its development. As a bystander can imagine, the ones that begin to play probably wouldn’t be able to achieve the level of skill at the left pinkie relative to the ones that starts before the age of 7. Simply put, if don’t start playing before the age of 7, don’t put your money on it. It’s destined.
Language is also one of the example. The organ of control is the tongue. The pronounciation and innonation of a language is just too complicated for an already-developed tongue to handle. Or to speak, for our brain to adopt. Therefore, the ones that learn a language after the age of 7, usually carry an accent, no matter how fluent or instinctive they are with it.
Tennis is a language. People can be multi-lingual. If he/she does not start playing before the age of 7, one can still be good, probably very good if the efforts are devoted. However, no matter how hard he/she works at it, even with all the commitments to expertise more languages than Roger, he/she can never be playing like him. Because tennis is a language; if you don’t start early, you are destined, to play with an accent.