Adrian Mannarino: The Most Inspiring Player Left in the Draw

Adrian Mannarino 2022 Australian Open
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I have never watched Rafael Nadal and thought, “I could do that.” I have never watched Roger Federer and thought, “I can hit a forehand like that.” I have never seen Djokovic do one of his backhand splits and thought, “I want to do that.” But I have watched Adrian Mannarino and wondered if, perhaps, I could not be a good tennis player myself.

Adrian Mannarino at the 2022 Australian Open

Not Much on Paper

There is nothing particularly noteworthy about Mannarino. He is of average height, he has a decent build, and he doesn’t blow you away with any of his physical characteristics. He moves well on court, but he’s not Monfils or De Minaur. He strikes the ball cleanly, but not like Jannik Sinner. His serve is regular, his forehand is mildly powerful, and his backhand is smooth and moderate. His playing style patronus is Gilles Simon.

Mannarino is minus flash. He does not have Tsitsipas’ hair, or Benoit Paire’s beard. He did not resurrect Agassi’s fashion like Denis Shapovalov. He does not have Berrettini’s bicep tattoo, or Kyrgios’ sleeve. He shaves his head and wears shirts with skulls on them.

Relatability is Inspiring

And this is why he’s inspiring. Reilly Opelka doesn’t inspire me, because I’m not 6’11”. Nadal doesn’t inspire me, because I can’t sprint full speed for five hours. Tsitsipas doesn’t inspire me because I wasn’t chiseled out of marble to play tennis. But Adrian Mannarino…he makes me believe I can do it.

I don’t mean that Mannarino makes me believe I can play tennis. I can play tennis. He makes me believe I can be a professional. He has made a career out of not hitting very hard [relative to top players], not serving very hard, and not being extraordinary. A career that has planted inside the Top 50 for ten years. No, he won’t go down as an all-time great, and he might not even get past Nadal in his next match; but more than the all-time greats, and more than Nadal, he makes tennis believable. I realize I’m not going to be a professional tennis player; but the thought that maybe I could be makes playing that much more fun.

Now, I wouldn’t trade Nadal and Opelka and Tsitsipas for a tour filled with Mannarinos. But I also wouldn’t trade Mannarino for another superhuman. I see myself when I watch him play, and I learn from him. His forehand seems attainable, his tactics seem learnable, his unimposing game seems achievable. And this makes it more fun to watch him win, because it so often seems like he shouldn’t. But I shouldn’t win either, and therein lies the inspiration.

Players like Mannarino are important for tennis because fans need reminders that not everyone was born on Olympus, not everyone was carved by Michelangelo. They say “It takes all types to make a world”; and, I would add, a sport. Mannarino’s laconic style and non-fantastic game are refreshing in a sport filled with heavy-hitters and athletic rock stars, as a realistic contrast. He might not get past Nadal—he might never get past Nadal—but Everyman plays tennis, and sometimes he wins. And that’s inspiring.

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