Somewhere along the way, the United States forgot about tennis.
Maybe you, specifically, didn't. And maybe collectively we didn't forget about it completely. But in a slowly evolving process over the past two to three decades, team sports became more popular for TV viewers and professional tennis became more of a footnote.
This is documented by countless surveys and explained by practical matters such as decreased mainstream media coverage of tennis, the increased availability of televised team sports and perhaps even fewer great tennis rivalries (although the Australian Open finals this weekend, both men's and women's, provided a counter to that last point).
As someone who has found himself watching less tennis over the years — only to be reminded how great it is when I actually do watch it — this makes me a little sad, confused and guilty.
Tennis at its best — which it was when Roger Federer outlasted Rafael Nadal in a duel for the ages in the Aussie men's final and when Serena Williams claimed the women's crown over sister Venus on the women's side — is about as good as it gets.
But even merely adequate professional tennis — matches between less-heralded players in less-heralded tournaments — has so many things going for it that more popular sports do not.
Want a sport that is an intense physical test, but you still need a ball to keep you interested? Tennis has you covered. Looking for a sport where competitors have nobody but themselves to blame when things go wrong, and in which momentum can turn countless times? Sure, that's tennis.
It has the psychological battle of golf combined with the physical endurance challenge of the more pure "Olympic" sports such as track and field or swimming.
But most important, when stacked up against the reality of football, baseball, basketball and hockey in 2017, modern tennis has two vital things that make it imminently watchable:
First, it has a replay system that is pretty much unfailingly accurate and barely even causes a ripple in the flow of play. A challenge takes, what, 15 seconds? Thanks to technology and a belief in that technology, there can be no griping about in or out, or about how long it takes to figure that out. When other sports take 10 times as long and still come away inconclusive on major replays, that's huge.
Second (and related to that): The element of luck is virtually nonexistent in tennis. You will succeed or fail based on your own merit and training, plus your own execution and mental fortitude, on that particular day.
You will not be bailed out by a pass interference call, phantom foul or penalty. You will not be put in a greater position to succeed because of an improperly called ball or strike. You will not suffer because of a weird bounce from a strangely shaped ball or a funky carom off a shin pad.
Admittedly, I came to these conclusions thanks in part to the recency bias of the great Australian Open finals. But hey, sometimes you just need to watch something great to be reminded of how great it is.