The Australian Tennis Open is always one of the January’s great sporting dramas.
Over two weeks, the world’s best exponents gather in Melbourne to battle for supremacy in the first grand slam tournament of the year. You can virtually guarantee that there will be a titanic tussle that goes long into the night, a giant-killing run and an on-court meltdown or two (usually assisted by the searing temperatures at the Rod Laver Arena).
Despite the popularity of the sport, it’s only relatively recently that global cinema has cottoned on to the potential box-office appeal of the tennis movie, with some decidedly mixed results.
Hitting New Zealand cinemas just over a year ago, Danish director Janus Metz’s tantalisingly titled Borg vs McEnroe is oddly less about Iceborg vs Superbrat’s rivalry and more about how similar the two seemingly disparate champions were.
The best and most enlightening scenes focus on Borg’s youth. We learn how the talented troublemaker (played brilliantly by Bjorn’s son Leo Borg) was nearly thrown out of the sport for ungentlemanly conduct, with only the advice and support of veteran coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard), who controversially backed him to play in a Davis Cup tie against the then mighty New Zealand at age 15, focusing his energies in the right direction.
In contrast, McEnroe’s narrative feels a little undercooked with an admittedly quite brilliantly cast Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) chewing the scenery and every umpire’s ear as he works through the effects of a childhood where he couldn’t impress his parents no matter what he achieved.
20th Century Fox
Battle of the Sexes is the true story of the 1973 tennis match between women’s world No. 1 Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.
Released just months earlier, Battle of the Sexes focuses on the build up to the 1973 television clash between Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). Initially promoted as a knockabout sports comedy, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ well-constructed and surprisingly weighty dramatisation sometimes feels less about gender equality and more about King’s struggle to redefine her own sexual identity. That it succeeds is down to the charisma and chutzpah of its two leads.
Finally, those after something a little lighter should check out 2004 rom-com Wimbledon. Paul Bettany plays fading British star Peter Colt, who has one final shot at Grand Slam glory when he’s handed a wildcard to the prestigious tournament of the title. However, he’s somewhat distracted by the arrival of women’s World No. 2 Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst).
Fans of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill will know exactly what to expect.