If you are a tennis fan and have at any point relied on Twitter for information about matches and players, chances are you’ve come across an account called @doublefault28.

In fact, it’s almost impossible that a tennis fan on the social media platform, (Tennis Twitter as the collective is called on the website), has not seen and enjoyed the Graphics Interchange Format – aka GIFs – created by @doublefault28.

The Twitter account run by tennis fan Alexander, with over 45,000 followers which includes top tennis journalists and Judy Murray among tennis celebrities, is studiously dedicated to creating and uploading GIFs of tennis action in real-time. Fans may not know the face behind the account, but it remains one of the most popular handles with constant interactions and requests when tennis tournaments are on.

Alexander, who is based in Moscow, Russia, had no idea the following it would amass over time. In fact, he had little idea about making GIFs with the lightning speed he now has, when he started this account in the latter half of 2015.

It was created purely to follow tennis on Twitter and that’s why he didn’t give much thought to the name. A very private person in his own words, tennis and being a fan of Kei Nishikori changed his approach to social media and put him on the path of becoming the gifted technician he is now.

“I didn’t plan anything. I just created this account for “read only” reasons… for reading and for receiving information about my favorite players, Maria Sharapova and Kei Nishikori” Alex told Scroll.in. “Therefore the terrible nickname, I can’t tell you how much I hate it. But I didn’t know at that time and now it’s too late to change it.”

It was accidental that he learned how to make GIFs and the story involves Nishikori and his fans.

“Finding information about Masha [Sharapova] is not big problem, but finding information about Nishikori was very difficult. Therefore when his app appeared, it became a big help especially for foreign fans. I followed few Kei fans who wrote in English with translations of articles, interviews. One of them is Moruni, who knew how to make amazing GIFs and she became my teacher. I made some GIFs and I liked it so I thought: ‘I watch a lot of tennis, see many fun moments and now I can make GIFs of it. It is just for fun, nothing more,” he said.

Fun is the operative word here as Alex gets absolutely no financial benefit for his effort, and prefers it this way.

“I haven’t made any commercial benefit from my account. I have to be independent and I want to do what I want. I respect all the other players on the tour and I believe that I should be independent and impartial,” he said.

The GIF format is now integrated with almost every app and keyboards on smartphones after all, and Alex has been doing it long before they became commonplace. And in the four-plus years it has been around, the account has enhanced the experience of watching tennis.

Capturing the perfect moment

The value of his work as a fan to the ecosystem of a sport like tennis is simple – capturing the perfect moment amid swift and intense action. It can be hard to keep a track of what’s going on in every match and unlike cricket, replays are minimal during live telecast in tennis.

GIFs have longer shelf life and here’s where Alex’s Twitter account plays a crucial role – the joy of replaying a moment, the lingering effect to that perfect shot, be it a sizzling ace lost in the flurry of rallies, the celebration of a good point or even the expression on the face of a chair umpire after their call was challenged.

A crucial aspect that sets @Doublefault28 apart is that the GIFs are uploaded within a couple of minutes after a particular play. He also takes requests from fans and mediapersons who want to relive a particular point or shot. During Grand Slam time, the value is further enhanced with GIFs from all courts and doubles matches that normally slip under the radar.

How does he manage to keep up, with the time spent and time zones?

“I watch a lot of tennis, on two screens for many hours every day. I love tennis and have the opportunity to watch for many hours. If I don’t like something, I will never do it,” he said.

And of course, he gets by with a lot of help from his followers-turned-friends – the burgeoning community of Tennis Twitter. Alex admits he had no idea he would reach out to such a vast cross-section of people all over the world.

“I didn’t expect anything [but] I’m very happy that many people like my account. This is very important and valuable to me, the main thing for me is that now I can communicate with the people from all over the world, I have many friends from a lot of countries,” he said.

“My account is not official and I do what I want. I believe that I should be independent and impartial and try to be objective and positive. I’m really glad that many players and organisers are my followers,” he added.

Overcoming challenges

Of course this independent pursuit has not been without its share of challenges, the most prominent was when his account was suspended for copyright infringement. Notably on that occasion, the tennis community had banded together to help restore the account.

“That was after Roland Garros 2018. I always make GIFs from this tournament and I know what I can do and what I can’t. But FFT [French Tennis Federation] wrote a letter about my GIF. I still don’t know what kind of GIF it was and my account was blocked,” he recounted.

“I will always remember the incredible support from the entire tennis community when my account was blocked. I could read all messages, but I couldn’t write anything and then my account was back.”

The ongoing shutdown of sport due to the coronavirus has not been easy for the super fan and he admitted he was avoiding Twitter for a bit.

“These are very difficult times, I try to watch old matches and the ones I have not seen. And of course make GIFs, I’ve already made 1,500 GIFs in the last month. We just need to wait and everything will be fine,” he signed off.