If you’re reading this after Wimbledon’s already started, there’s a good chance all the Brits are already out, bar a stern-faced Andy Murray, who as defending champ will be under a wee bit of pressure.
Thanks to videogames, however, you can today take out your frustrations on anything from a rectangular white racket through to an uncanny valley representation of a famous tennis superstar.
Having trawled through the entire history of tennis videogames, here are Stuff’s 10 superstars that would make any true tennis fan grunt with delight.
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1. Tennis for Two (1958, Donner Model 30 analog computer)
Proving videogames will show up wherever they possibly can, American physicist William Higinbotham subverted a machine designed for calculating ballistic missile trajectories, using its oscilloscope to display the path of a ball and a side-on tennis court (i.e. two lines). A pair of controllers enabled players to time hits and adjust return angles.
At a lab visitor’s day, the game wowed, leaving other exhibits languishing in their inability to provide a basic abstraction of sport. A year later, Higinbotham upgraded the display (from five to 17 inches!), and added varying serve strengths and gravity effects, foreshadowing the games industry’s penchant for incremental upgrades and sequels.
2. Pong (1972, arcade)
If anything, Pong seemed like a step back from Tennis For Two, in that its abstraction of tennis was even less realistic, boasting a square ball and a court that had the ball bounce off of its edges. However, Pong ushered in the era of home gaming when it leapt from the arcades to cheap TV devices. And the game itself still holds up surprisingly well, due to its intuitive nature and varying deflection angles, and the ball getting faster the longer a rally goes on.
More after the break...
3. Match Point (1984, ZX Spectrum)
By the time of the home micro, programmers were ambitiously attempting to recreate sports in a somewhat realistic manner (given the limitations of the machines), but most of the tennis games were woeful.
Match Point bucked the trend, with a fairly decent representation of a court and some surprisingly fast gameplay. Although it only had a single ‘swing racket’ control, it did enable you to change the nature of your shots depending on when you hit the ball, and you could provide extra power through striking it while moving forwards. You could say it was an 8-bit smash! (If you were into rubbish jokes.)
4. Super Tennis (1991, SNES)
We’re skipping forward a bit now, on account of most other retro-era tennis games being rubbish (Passing Shot!), weird (International 3D Tennis!) or just Match Point with prettier graphics.
In a sense, Super Tennis for the SNES initially resembled the last of those; but it soon became clear during play that if this game wasn’t made by Nintendo you’d be forgiven for thinking it a kind of proto-Virtua Tennis. You get plenty of shot types, arcade-oriented rallies, a touch of speech and even players desperately diving to make returns.
Be warned, though: Super Tennis does have a demoralising take-no-prisoners approach to difficulty, unless we’re just getting old and losing our tennis-gaming skills - or just accurately mirroring what usually happens when an English Player ventures on to a court.
5. Virtua Tennis (1999/2000, arcade and Dreamcast)
Virtua Tennis revolutionised tennis games in part through thumbing its nose to realism. Sega just did what Sega always does and transformed the sport into a breezy arcade experience, with speedy games, intuitive controls, and a selection of bizarre mini-games to help you train.
One minute, you’d be lobbing balls into drums; the next, you’re playing some kind of hybrid of ten-pin-bowling and tennis. There were also some truly terrifying representations of the tennis greats of the day, providing a glimpse into the first Wimbledon to occur after the zombie apocalypse.