Category Archives: tennis’ occupational hazard

A tennis player knows: Sun gets in your eyes.

(The professional men’s tennis tour is stopping in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this week, just miles from the Equator, another summer stop in the sport’s traveling circus. Below is a story produced for Newsday during the recent U.S. Open that never saw the light of day. No pun intended. Perhaps it applies….)


For tennis players, the sun is an occupational hazard. Especially when executing a service toss around high noon.

“It’s like an outfielder trying to catch a fly ball,” top-ranked American John Isner said. “You see it all the time that they lose the ball in the sun. We lose balls in the sun all the time as well.”

The process of keeping an eye on the ball, after lifting it overhead and directly in line with Sol, is just one more potential peril in the game. It is not unusual to see a player repeatedly look up to gauge the sun’s angle before serving, sometimes adding a practice toss.

Tennis, after all, is a sport that literally follows the sun, with the majority of the pro tour contested outdoors and often in warmer climes, beginning the calendar year Down Under in Australia’s summertime. Yet the challenge of having to regularly spy a yellow tennis ball in a sky with a big white ball of light is ongoing.

“I actually asked John [Isner] the same question [about the service toss],” said No. 4 women’s player Caroline Wozniacki. “Because, sometimes—in Australia, especially—the sun in right in your face and it’s really hard.

“You can kind of throw the ball a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right and kind of work with it. But you just know it’s the same for the opponent, so you just have to go with it.

“I don’t {change the] position of my stance, just my aim. You need to make sure you get up to the ball with perfect timing, because you have less of a margin when you move the ball around.”


Marin Cilic of Croatia, the 2014 U.S. champ, called it “always tricky” to adjust a toss to keep the sun out of his eyes, “looking more to one side so the sun doesn’t bother me so much. And that’s always going to play around with your effectiveness on your serve.”

More difficult, even, “is the first shot after the serve,” he said, “still having the [effects of looking into the] sun in your eyes.”

So why, one might ask, don’t more tennis pros play in sunglasses?

A few do. Serb Janko Tipsarevic and his countryman Viktor Troicki. Australia’s Samantha Stoser. First-year pro Jamie Loeb, North Carolina’s NCAA champ.


Loeb said she began playing in shades when she was 7 or 8 because her eyes “are really sensitive and I can’t play with a hat. I know a lot of girls say they just can’t play with sunglasses but, for me, it’s something I’m comfortable with.”

Yet it has nothing to do, Loeb said, with fighting the sun on her service toss, which is “just something I’ve gotten use to over the years.”

Stoser’s rationale for sunglasses has even less to do with playing conditions. “I started wearing them when I was about 14,” she said, “just because I thought I’d look cool and different. And now I can’t play without them” except at night or in full shade.

Even with the eyewear, she said, “if I’m serving right into the sun, I still probably squint a little bit.”

There are on-line tennis discussion boards in which recreational players have declared that their eye doctors recommend playing in sunglasses, yet others insist that dark lenses impair reaction time. Some even suggest a tactical advantage similar to that used by poker players indoors, where there is no sun: With dark glasses, your opponent can’t detect, from your eyes the direction of the upcoming shot.

But pure reasoning and science don’t appear to affect players’ choice in the matter any more than 1968 Olympic gold medal relay sprinter Charlie Greene’s explanation for competing in sunglasses. “These,” Greene said of his shades, “are my re-entry shields.”

In the end, the lack of sunglasses-wearing tennis pros appears to be a matter of merely doing things the way they’re always been done. Cilic is among those who said he simply would feel “uncomfortable” playing in sunglasses.

“When I was younger,” Wozniacki said, “when I was, like, 9, I think my coach said it was unprofessional [to play in sunglasses]. You know, Why not play with sunglasses that actually make it easier to see? I don’t see a reason why not. But when you’re not used to it and you didn’t do it growing up, it’s a hard transition.”

Even the old song—“My future’s so bright I gotta wear shades”—doesn’t appear to apply here.