“The better player does not always win” – Welcome to the world of ‘Dirty Tennis’
Thirty-four years after it first hit the screens, a 30-minute film about tennis that quickly attracted a cult following is being re-released. “Dirty Tennis”, which is available to buy or rent on Amazon, tells the story of how a casual player of very limited ability beats a superior opponent by unsettling him with all manner of distractions.
The characters in the film all play themselves. The actor and comedian Dick Van Patten invites Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion, to his home for a tennis match. Jenner is the better player, but Van Patten employs “dirty tennis” tactics to put him off. They range from
Van Patten’s bizarre clothing (swimming trunks and a gaudy shirt) to the courtside presence of the scantily-clad Nicollette Sheridan and interruptions from his family members. They include Van Patten’s son, Vincent, a former professional player who was once ranked in the world’s top 30 and is also an actor.
It is of no relevance to the film itself, but years after its release Jenner announced that she identified as a woman and wanted to be known as Caitlyn Jenner. “It was the last thing that Bruce Jenner did before he went off the air,” Jonathan Baker, the director and producer of “Dirty Tennis”, said. “When he came back on the air 15 years later he was Caitlyn Jenner, so that in itself is kind of interesting.”
As for Jenner’s tennis, Baker said: “He is an athlete, a decathlon Olympic winner and a very good tennis player. And so for Dick Van Patten to come in there and destroy him, because the game is real, we just chopped it up. To see that Dick can really use those tricks and win, that’s what the whole farce is about.
“So why do people want to watch it in this day and age? One, they understand the novelty aspect of it. Two, they love tennis and there’s not a lot of this in tennis. It is a very formal game or it is a very skilful game. There is very little comedy that moves around tennis. This is one of the only things out there. We have had all the top players get a copy of this, we have sent it to everybody. So when somebody watches it, they chuckle.”
He added: “The whole point of tennis is to play and get into the other person’s head. And Van Patten clearly got into everybody’s head.”
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