Tennis Through the Lens
NEW YORK—Photographers have a unique viewpoint on the world's professional tennis players. They see them from a few feet away, and train their cameras on them for hundreds of shots. Naturally, they’re going to notice details about the pros that escape the rest of us. And while we watch a match to see who wins, photographers zoom in on one player at a time, searching for expressions of style, grace, beauty, emotion, effort, and personality in the athlete. Through their pictures, we see the players in their rawest, most unguarded moments.
For the first time in a few years, TENNIS.com had its own photographer, Anita Aguilar, shooting at the U.S. Open. (You can view all of her work here.) While she is lifelong tennis fan and had shot at other tournaments, this was Anita’s first year working the full two weeks at Flushing Meadows. Here are her impressions, close up, of a few of her more notable, and photogenic, subjects.
“She’s become one of my favorite people to photograph; her intensity makes her constantly interesting. She’s really alive as a subject. Between points she walks with this kind of slow drag, but the second the point starts, she’s fully alive. Even though she doesn’t have perfect posture, she holds her head in a regal way. I like to get up close with her, you can really see the effort in her eyes. And I love the way she can fill the frame with her movement when she's in action.”
“The thing I’ve noticed while shooting him up close, that I never noticed on TV, is his hang time. When he hits the ball, he seems to come off the ground in slow motion and stay in the air. This makes him good to shoot from a distance, because you can get a perspective on how much lift he has, as well as his form. You can really see the long arcs of his shots, and how smooth he is, from farther away.”
“I never want to leave the photographer’s pit when he’s playing, because there’s always something to shoot with him. You have to be on your toes; he can get agitated and volatile at any time, and give you a lot of emotion. It makes him fun to shoot, but also a sympathetic figure to me, in a way. He also does things really quickly; even when your camera is trained on him, it might not be fast enough to catch what he does. A French photographer and I were both shooting Murray when he suddenly stuck his racquet in his mouth and bit it. The other photographer looked down at his camera and went, “Oh la la.” He had the shot. I looked down at mine and saw that I’d missed it.
“When he plays, I like to see Murray in shadow. He’s a very muscular guy, and can look like Roman statue. You can appreciate that form in the shadows he throws.”
“I love her. When I'm feeling a little anxious, wondering if I’ll get a good shot that day, I go to her matches. She will give you something beautiful to capture and inspire you for the rest of the day. Her physique is incredible, she has impeccable form, perfect posture—I imagine she might have been a great gymnast. She creates great lines. Also, everything she does is very ladylike, even the way sits on the sidelines, powders her arms.”
“I wasn’t a big fan of his until I watched him on a side court at the French Open and could hear him hit the ball—I couldn’t believe he ever lost. Also, I hadn’t properly appreciated the emotional side of him. What I’ve noticed since then is how he relates to the crowd; there’s a theatrical side to him and a feeling for drama. He holds his poses for a long time, which is great for photographers. After he wins a game, he’ll walk for a long time with his arm raised, or he’ll pull his shirt over his head and keep it there as he walks, kind of like a little kid. It might last for 10 frames. He knows how to work it.”
“You rarely take a bad picture of her, even though she doesn’t always have the greatest form—the way she rounds her shoulders, hunches a bit… What you notice is the vulnerability in her eyes when she’s playing.”
“He’s similar to Serena in his constant intensity. I love capturing the effort in his whole face, in his eyes and his lips. That effort makes him a great subject, but it’s also difficult to shoot him because most of his poses are so familiar. How many times have we seen his arm over his head, or the way his upper lip curls when he’s about to hit a forehand? So you’re always looking for something unusual from him, a shot he doesn’t hit as often.”
“He’s a favorite subject, not so much for the way he looks, but for his energy and form. I was surprised at his intensity. Every point, you see it expressed in his face, his eyes, his mouth, his arms. You usually think of Feli as the model type, someone who looks good when he’s posing. But he’s really the opposite; he’s a great moving subject, and his form on his strokes is picturesque.”
“She’s fun. Pure athleticism, lots of energy and lift when she hits the ball. For someone so tall, she’s very springy. She kicks her back leg way back after she serves, and she takes wide swings on her strokes. It makes for great lines, like a dancer. She has a real presence.”
“There’s always something to shoot, and you can almost never make a bad decision in what you choose to take. The hardest thing to do when he's playing is to stop and put your camera down. His eyes tell you a lot, and he really feels the moment with the crowd. He’s looks great tightly framed, but you also want full body shots of him, to capture his long limbs, his athleticism.”
“He’s interesting because of his flexibility. A lot of times he won’t be in great position on court, but he can move his body so quickly to make up for it. He’s a fun subject because he moves in surprising ways.”
“Usually I like to sit along the baseline, so you can see the players’ faces as they hit the ball, but Gasquet takes such a big shoulder turn on his backhand that I have to move farther back, toward the corner of the court, to capture that shot. It was the only way to get his turn and his follow through, which are really extreme. Grigor Dimitrov is similar on his one-handed backhand; you almost can’t believe what they do with their arms and bodies. Mikhail Youzhny isn’t as extreme with his, which makes it a smoother, prettier shot for photos.”
“A photographer’s dream. He’s a favorite subject for the things he can physically do. The lift he gets off the ground, the way he arches his back and torques his body. He’s the real rubber-band man. You’ll often see photographers staking out his matches because he can give you something really special, unusual to have published or just keep in your portfolio.