For the Love of the Game

I just watched Roger Federer beat Andy Murray in the Wimbledon finals, simultaneously winning his seventeenth major and crushing the hopes and dreams of the remnants of an empire.  Not bad for a day’s work.

But watching him win at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, his luscious locks bounding atop a white headband, all I could think was: what happened to all the great facial hair in tennis?  Long gone are the days when Ion Tiriac, known in some circles (around my computer) as the Rugged Rug of Romania, would crush opponents using the sheer intimidation of his epic ‘stache.  Nowadays, we have guys like Murray, who would look just as comfortable playing tennis for his junior high team than for the glory of Britons everywhere.

And that doesn’t mean that facial hair is declining in sports worldwide.  Basketball has James Harden and Lebron James (who, granted, is only growing hair on his chin because he can’t grow any on his head); baseball has Bryce Harper, who at 19 can already cultivate some pretty respectable scruff; and hockey has the entire league come playoff time.  And with notoriously hairy Europeans, you’d think the pro tour would have some thoroughly professional looking face swag.

In order to redeem tennis’ lost allure, I present a brief list of notable facial hair of men’s number-one ranked players from 1973.  I tried to compile a woman’s list, but you have to get down to at least number seven before they start getting really hairy.

One of the first with the fuzz but still the best, this American spent eight weeks at the top of the charts in the Seventies, thanks no doubt to his glorious handlebar mustache that even graced the cover to Sports Illustrated.  Though he’s no longer heating up Wimbledon or Melbourne, he can still be spotted with his signature ‘stache whenever he makes appearances or commentaries, or when he puts it on a leash and takes it for a walk.

No conversation about tennis greats would be complete without Bjorn Borg, whose record of three consecutive years winning both Wimbledon and the French Open remains unbeaten, and apparently will be for years to come.  The Swingin’ Swede matched his prowess on the court with a resplendent mane up top and a respectable pre-beard below.  Reports on his ability to cook meatballs are still unfounded.

Mac Attack gets an honorable mention not for his facial hair but for that glorious mess he called a hair do.  Although now he’s doing analysis for ESPN and sports a respectable buzz, back in his Eighties prime he had what we can only assume was a young badger growing on top of his head, held in place by a headband and kept docile by his constant yelling.  He may have been one of the best players of his decade, but that clown wig will always be his claim to fame in my eyes.

Some people have scruff, and some people have scruff.  This eight-time Grand Slam winner and one-time Olympic Gold Medalist had that perfect blend of business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back that must have made ladies in the Fabio era swoon uncontrollably.  Like, seriously, he probably needed to keep a medical team on hand at all times to care for all the women constantly fainting in his presence.  Though today he’s got a shaved head and an equally shaved face, we can’t help but think he longs for the glory days of his full mane.

The Serb with the Serve (man, I need to start trademarking all these nicknames) earns his spot on this list for his seeming nonchalance about his hair.  It’s not that the look itself is impressive, it’s that he seems to be so cavalier about it.  It’s like he looks in the mirror every morning and thinks, “Should I shave today, or should I go win the Australian Open for a fourth time?  Decisions, decisions.”  You don’t have to decide for me, Djoker™.  You’ve already won.


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