The Eyes Have It

by: Jon Levey | July 23, 2013

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This past week in the Northeast was brutally hot. The high temps were consistently in the 90s and the humidity wasn’t far behind. Thankfully the heat spell broke, but this time of year another one can be a five-day forecast away. Playing tennis in such conditions draws the usual precautions: fluids, hats, sunscreen, towels, and extra shirts. But something that deserves proper attention, but largely goes unprotected by many players, is the eyes.

Now it doesn’t have to be particularly hot for the eyes to get overexposure; any sunny day will do. But when it’s warm is when players typically play in sunshine. Any ophthalmologist worth their degree will tell you that consistently playing tennis outdoors requires some measure of eye protection. Numerous former pros suffer from pterygium, a benign growth in the eye, that can be caused by excessive ultraviolet-light exposure, and can result in vision problems. (Brad Gilbert hasn’t been shy about mentioning his eye troubles on the air).

I’ve been a contact lens wearer most of the my life. Several years ago I went to an optician to have my vision tested and he became concerned by an irregularity he viewed with my optic nerves. He suggested I see a glaucoma specialist and have a vision field test as soon as possible. Fortunately, it turned out he was being overzealous (or incompetent, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt) and apart from being nearsighted my eyes are mostly fine. But that false alarm has scared me into going to an ophthalmologist yearly. Without fail, I get reminded of the importance of eye protection when I’m playing tennis, and yet only when my vision is compromised by a service toss into the sun do I consider putting on sunglasses. I’d like that to change so I’ve been searching for a dependable pair of sports sunglasses to wear more frequently.

The objection most players have to wearing sunglasses during play is 1) their eyesight doesn’t seem as sharp; 2) the frames feel uncomfortable of their face. The first point is difficult to refute as a non-shaded eye generally offers the best perspective; at least when not looking directly at the sun. You either learn to adjust to the difference in light or you don’t. But a foreign body sitting the bridge of the nose, obstructing peripheral vision and squeezing the temples is never going to be an acceptable addition. Throw in fogged or sweat-splotched lenses and the whole thing becomes a losing proposition.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised the other day when I tried out the Bollé Kickback sunglasses (above). Bollé made a splash several years ago when they introduced their CompetiVision lenses which enhances the yellow of the ball by turning everything else green. I’ve tried them in the past and they certainly deliver. However, the greenish background takes some getting used to and I prefer frames that also transition to off-court wear. While the Kickback is available with CompetiVision, I opted for the gunmetal lenses ($150).

From a performance standpoint the flush-to-the-face fit did a nice job of shading all sunlight particularly when looking up on serves and overheads. But what I appreciated most was the lightweight, rimless design that never impeded my vision or felt like an encumbrance. The arms gently grabbed my head yet never felt flimsy as the frames didn't budge on strenuous points. And when the sun wasn’t an issue, I could wrap them around my hat and still play points without any worry they would fly away. Sure, sweat rolling onto to the lenses was still an issue, but a few wipes with the supplied cloth cleared that up. I think having some lens cleaner in the bag would be an even better solution.

Some players, however, can’t wear sunglasses because they already play with corrective eyewear on their faces. They can choose to add detachable lenses to their corrective ones, but a better (albeit more costly) option is to have prescription sports sunglasses made. Tennis RX is an offshoot of Sports Optical, a boutique lenscrafter in Denver that has been specializing in sports frames for more than 20 years. Kyle Ross, a lifelong tennis player and fan who has worked on the ATP Tour, heads up the tennis frames division. They don’t offer the Kickstart, but the company has a generous selection of full-frame and open-bottom frames for prescription sunglasses wearers.

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