Have you played… Tennis Elbow 2013?
More pleasant than the name suggests
You know it's a proper tennis sim when Nadal sounds like he's laying an egg the size and shape of the Taj Mahal with each swing.
I'm no tennis player, so I can't vouch for how playing Tennis Elbow 2013 compares to playing real tennis. What I am, however, is a happy spectator of Wimbledon and the other majors each year. I'm there for all those 150km/h serves, all the twenty-shot rallies, all those edge-of-your-seat lobs or passing shots where the entire audience inhales in one collective gasp: "Surely not..."
And all that is something Tennis Elbow 2013 gets very right.
You have to put in the hours, though, because this is not a love-at-first-sight scenario. You have to get past the game's ugly visuals, horrific UI, counterintuitive controls, and an AI that is more than happy to show you just how little you understand how to play this goddamn game. It requires persistence to love, and there are so many games out there to fill up your time with. It's utterly okay if you decide this isn't worth the effort.
I persisted because I love tennis games. I remember playing Top Spin on my old Xbox back in 2003, forging legends out of misshapen polygons, seeing my trusty character through every tense break point, every sneaky drop shot. And once you get to know the controls, Tennis Elbow 2013 recaptures these moments better than any tennis game I've played. When your opponent hits a beautiful passing shot, your stomach lurches as you mash the keys to try to reach it. When you score a perfect ace on that vital break point, you want to pump your fist and cry with exultation. The game walks a different path from the rest, not even bothering to immerse you with good-looking player models and visuals, but immersing you in the feel of a real game of tennis.
Seriously though, it really doesn't look good. This is my character from my current career, currently ranked 4th in the world.
What a gorgeous fella.
You'll also likely want to look into modding the base game in order to switch all the recognisable preset players to their correct names, because it feels more special to beat Roger Federer than to defeat "Riccardo Fidirir". Better to ace Andy Murray, not "Alex Myrrou".
But otherwise, this is a game that takes time to learn, but where you can see yourself improving with each match played. And once you understand the controls, the game really shines. At this point, you turn off all indicators and other UI elements, let go of everything else, and just focus on hitting the ball back over the net as hard, and as deep, and as often as possible.