Tennis nation and the cliché next door

The U.S. Open is in full swing, and one of the highlights has been the unexpected rise of Melanie Oudin, a 17-year-old who knocked off several higher-ranked players. It’s the kind of story that the media love.

That led a colleague to ask on Facebook:

Can a tennis fan explain to me why I keep hearing her referred to as “American-born Melanie Oudin”? What is the importance or significance of where she was born, e.g., they don’t say “Russian-born Maria Sharapova.”

I replied that tennis is an international game that brings out nationalistic feelings in some fans. Many of us who follow tennis cheer for their countrymen (although my favorite player of all time is Swedish-born Bjorn Borg). Curiously, that attitude manifests itself more in devotion to individual players than in the team-based Davis Cup, at least in the United States.

federer-flagTune in to the U.S. Open, and you will hear John McEnroe and brother Patrick bemoan the state of men’s tennis in America. Follow Wimbledon, and you will learn how the British yearn for one of their own to win that title. Fans of players wave the flag of the home country at matches.

As for “-born,” that could be a reference to the fact that some players were born in one country but now live in another. Sharapova, for example, has left her native Russia for the warmer climate of Bradenton, Fla.

It is indeed puzzling to see “born” attached to Oudin’s name. She was born in Georgia (the U.S. state, not the country) and still lives there. A simple “American” before her name will suffice.

And here’s a bit of advice to sports journalists and headline writers: “America’s sweetheart” and “girl next door” have already become shopworn ways to describe Oudin. Avoid these clichés.



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