RG 2016: Musings Ahead of Day 6

There are a lot of interesting matches scheduled to play out today. Let’s look at the potentially interesting ones as well as an interesting and largely unnoticed fact.

  • Kyrgios vs Gasquet (H2H: 2 – 5): This one sure feels like a firecracker of a match in the making.  They’ve played seven times with Gasquet coming out the victor in five of them, but Kyrgios won their last match easily.  He bageled Gasquet in one of those sets.  Roland Garros and the pressure it brings, typically crushes the uber mentally fragile Richie.  Unlike Monfils or Tsonga, he doesn’t do well standing up to the expectations of his country men.  I don’t see a change in the trend today.  Unless Kyrgios theatrics come up long enough for Gasquet to open his shoulders up, Kyrgios should sail through.  (Kyrgios in four)
  • Karlovic vs Murray (H2H: 0 – 7): Murray has never lost a match to Dr. Ivo in seven matches and he’s only lost four sets but three of those four sets lost have been in tiebreakers.  That minute stat and the fact that Murray comes into this match already logging over seven hours of play  could cause potential problems for the Scotsman.  He can’t afford to let too many sets go the distance.  If he wants to get out of this one largely unscathed, Murray needs to return like a wizard, against Karlovic.  No pressure.  It won’t be easy, but Murray has shown in this tournament that he knows how to scrap out a win… or two.  (Murray in three)
  • Nishikori vs Verdasco (H2H: 1 – 3):  Well what do you know?  The underdog leads this head to head.  However, it is a bit misleading.  Verdasco logged in his wins at a time when Nishikori was still in the process of discovering his top ten game.  They have played sparingly over the years but they did as recently as last year with Nishikori notching up a three set win at the BNP Paribas.  Verdasco is not your typical clay court specialist.  He loves to go big and he loves to go flat.  When he’s on, he is dangerous on any surface.  However Nishikori -despite his small frame – can play lights out tennis as well.  He’s got the edge in confidence too.  (Nishikori in five)
  • Quick side note, did you know that four Americans will be competing in today’s third round matches?  That number is polled from both the men and women’s matches scheduled.  Yup!  Four.  In the third round!  On clay.  They’ve been flying under the radar and I’d have loved to keep it that way, but me and my big mouth and gossiping fingers.  Call it a small victory and here’s to at least two making it to the second week.

Happy Tennis watching, guys.

RG 2016 Musings: Rafa’s 200th victory

Before today, I’d never seen Facundo Bagnis play a tennis shot.  It was interesting watching the world #99 lefty, trade shots with Nadal.  It was also clear that his southpaw nature troubled Nadal a bit.  It is a bit ironic, for Nadal and his lefty disposition, has been the scourge of many top tennis players – particularly Federer – for years.  Yet, he represents an increasingly rare demographic in tennis circles, particularly at the top of the game.  Every other member of the big four and its sometimes honorary member, Wawrinka, play right handed.

As such, Nadal had a hard time re-calibrating his choice of shots.  Early on, he consistently hit his trade mark cross court forehands right into… Bagnis’s forehand.  Worse still, the Argentine was making him pay.  Just when you thought Rafa was gonna get dragged into a Murray-like scrap fest, the other interesting thing I observed, happened.

We talk a lot about the glory of the top five guys.  Their skill, their champion’s mindset, their killer instinct and their accomplishments are always major discussion points.  What we sometimes fail to consider is the absolute ridiculousness of how high they have pushed the bar in those areas of excellence.  The field is by no means weak or shallow.  Facundo for instance, hits a very flat and deep ball.  In truth, he wails on the ball rather than hitting a tennis stroke.  He also moves fairly well and there were a lot of entertaining rallies between these two to buttress that fact.  However, as the match progressed, Rafa’s class slowly reined Bagnis in and soon Rafa had the match firmly beneath his bull like horns.

So what changed?  Time and time again we watch our favorite stars get caught in a dogfight with players we expect them to dispatch with considerable aplomb.  For a moment the tennis neutralist is entertained by the possibility of an upset and the tennis fan is rolling through heart attacks faster than a Bugatti would cover the autobahn.  Yet for all the excitement that builds up, the result is usually the same.  Our favorite star, wins. Today Rafa won by hitting his shots a little closer to the lines than Bagnis was comfortable doing.  He won by not missing when he took the initiative in the rallies – something Bagnis was guilty of… A LOT.  He placed his serves just that little bit better and timed his returns well.  Finally, he moved brilliantly and his stamina/fitness held up.  Bagnis’s didn’t.  End result, a routine three set win that made the mini scare of the opening games feel like an imagined event.

Rafa moves on to the next round, nothing up his 200th victory at a tournament of this level.  It is a befitting accomplishment and he deserves all the recognition he gets for it.  Being the consummate professional, he won’t dwell on it for too long.  After all, his next opponent will be looking to ensure he doesn’t make it 201.

Roland Garros: Day 2 Musings (Women)

It was a topsy turvy day for the women at Roland Garros as well.  Here are a few matches that caught my interest.

Roberta Vinci (7)  1 3

If you missed my article on Roberta Vinci’s upset of Serena Williams last year, you’ll find it in my blog listings. It is titled “The Vinci Element”. As I said in that article, Roberta hasn’t done anything of note since. That trend continues with a first round loss to Kateryna Bondarenko here at the French Open.

Who says they can’t play on clay?
Coco Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers, and Sloane Stephens step up to the podium! Applause! Applause!! You have just won yourselves a second round showing at Roland Garros. Seven American ladies played yesterday and three won. That’s less than fifty percent, but it is still encouraging. Christina McHale wasn’t so lucky, as she went down to wild card, Myrtille Georges.

Daniela Hantuchova. Remember her? At the peak of her powers, this wily player was ranked as high as #5 in the world. Yesterday, at 33 and entering Roland Garros a qualifier, she lost tamely to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. I thought briefly that the arc of a tennis player’s career is so similar to the arc of life. There’s the birth, the rise, the crest and the inevitable decline. This career has largely gone under the radar, but there are a few of us who won’t forget it.

Enjoy today’s matches!

Roland Garros: Day 2 Musings (Men)

Hey guys.  I know we are in day three of the French Open, but here are my thoughts on yesterday’s concluded matches.  The ones that caught my eye anyway.

Milos Raonic (8)  6 6 7

This may have looked easy from the results, but I’m sure for Milos it was anything but. He’s coming off some recent bad form and Tipsarevic, while making a return, is always a dangerous customer. While I don’t consider Raonic a dirtballer by any stretch of the imagination, I do feel like he can put in a decent second week showing here. It’ll be good to build up his confidence for Wimbledon: A place I feel he can rediscover that Australian Open form he displayed in January.

Jack Sock (23)  6 7 3 6 6
Robin Haase    3 5 6 7 2

One of a fair share of five set matches played yesterday, the veteran dutch man pushed the young American to the brink. Sock did well to hang on and eek out the win. Question is will he have enough left in the tank for the next round. His body hasn’t always been the most robust out there. For now, he proves that a few American men can survive on clay.

Grigor Dimitrov       6 3 7 5 3
Viktor Troicki (22)  2 6 5 7 6

Ah Grigor, Grigor. He of so much potential and so very few results. Personally, I think Grigor’s slide started at the tail end of 2014 – a breakthrough year for him. He had the opportunity to participate in the World Tour Finals – he was an alternative when Rafa pulled out – and didn’t take it. At the time, I thought it wasn’t the wisest choice. It was a golden opportunity for him to test his mettle against at least three of the best eight players in the world, back to back. His not taking it was a show of some hubris for me. What professional player thinks a top 8 finish is guaranteed? Grigor hasn’t been in contention for that high a finish, since. Enough said.

Lukas Rosol  6 1 6 3 4
Stan Wawrinka (3)  4 6 3 6 6

Is Rosol some quadrennial event waiting to pick off French Open champions when you least expect it – at the early rounds of a grand slam? The Rosol catastrophe nearly happened again and this time his intended victim was yet another player who evokes bestial comparisons. The Stanimal, Stanilas Wawrinka. Four years ago, he had blasted Rafael Nadal, off the court in Wimbledon. Yesterday he nearly took down Wawrinka and he nearly did it with finesse, rather than power. Sure there were the blitzing shots he is known for, but there was also a willingness to come to net that was a bit surprising for a big guy. ON CLAY nonetheless. It almost worked. But a man who has perfected the art of failing better, can at any moment, topple any adversary. That’s exactly what Wawrinka did. The champion survives to fight another day.

Side Note: 2014 U.S Open champion, Marin Cilic, was knocked out.  The victor?  A qualifier named Marco Trungelliti. I guess we’ll chuck that up as a mini upset.  Stay tuned for the women’s musings.

Day One Musings on Interesting Results (Women)

Let’s take a look at the women for day one.  There was only one solid talking point… Petra.

Petra Kvitova (10)  6 4 7

Petra Kvitova is a two time grand slam (Wimbledon) champion.  As such you’d expect her opponents to feel a certain amount of champion’s aura around her when they step on the same court.  Either they don’t feel it, or she doesn’t use it to her advantage often enough, because Kvitova is usually a victim of the upset fever when it breaks.

Over the last two days at Roland Garros, the upset fever has threatened to break a couple of times but on this occasion, Petra held on.  She’s through to the second round and with Petra, she can catch fire as easily as she can freeze over.  This near crash might liberate her, but with Petra these days, I’m not so sure it will.

Day One Musings on Interesting Results (Men)

Hey guys!  The French Open is underway and already we’ve got some catchy talking points from the first day – yesterday.  I’m gonna skip a few of the big headlines and talk about the results that piqued my interest, and my take on them.  Alright let’s begin.

Remember Benjamin Becker?  The second coming of Boris?  He who sent the great Andre Agassi into retirement in Andre’s house?  He hasn’t done much since that emotional day in 2006 has he?  Ten years on – has it been that long? – and Becker has spent his time as a comfortable journey man.  This result didn’t come as a surprise, it was just interesting and slightly nostalgic seeing his name.

Nick Kyrgios (17)  7 7 6
Marco Cecchinato (ll)  6 6 4

The verdict is out on Kyrgios for me.  I have pronounced other young up and comers as ready for the big time, only to have them slip back into obscurity… ahem Dimitrov.  What I will say is that for the time being Kyrgios is on the right track to making the news for more of the right reasons, than the wrong ones.  He’s gotten a bit more consistent and is winning a bit more of the matches he’s supposed to win.  Round one down at the French.  Let’s take it one step at a time Nick.  Let’s see how round two goes.

Donald Young  6 2 3

Remember Donald Young from last year’s U.S open?  Another culprit of teasing tennis fans with his guile and talent, Donald Young appeared ready to make a statement after last year’s U.S open.  He defended, counter-punched and outmaneuvered his way into the fourth round, falling to this French Open’s defending champion, Wawrinka.  No shame in that.  Since then?  DY has waltzed back into the land of obscurity.  He’ll stay there too unless his results improve… again.

17 Years

The man lazily lumbered into the locker room.  His ever thinning hairline and gruff beard, a far cry from the shock of oil black hair and clean shave he sported in his prime.  Pistol… they called him then.  Legend, is what he usually goes by these days.  He stood in front of a declining king – his heir, his successor – whose head was drooped low in disappointment.  If Pistol was a legend, this one… this one had truly been special.  He went by many names: Maestro, Genius, The Greatest, Icon.  They were all befitting.  They had all been argued against.  There was however one name that could not be argued against and it is the name we shall use in this story.  THE FED.  

Pistol: “What is your fascination with the number, 17?”

The Fed: “I don’t understand.”

Pistol: “17 grand slam titles… 17 years of consecutive grand slam appearances…”

The Fed: “Well technically we only just started the 17th year.  If my back had held up till the U.S Open…”

Pistol: “Semantics.  Semantics.  Do you always have to be so accurate?”

The Fed shrugged and managed a wry smile.  He always had a way of taming his emotions even when they threatened to ripple through the surface.  It hadn’t always been that way.  The boy before the man had been a firestorm.  That boy eventually grew up.  Many have accused that control as being a carefully built facade… a key pillar to the image he had built over the years.  It indeed was a preposterous claim.  How could it be a facade, when the decision to imbibe control came at a time when the Champion had not been born… came… after lessons were learned from a life changing event.  The death of a mentor in South Africa.

The Fed: “I’m Swiss.  I suppose it is innate.”

Pistol rubbed his scruffy beard and sat down beside his successor.

Pistol: “Is winning still innate?”

The Fed: “The mind wants to… but the body… the back…”

Pistol: “I had back issues too remember?  1999?”

The Fed: “I know.  I just think I need time to recover.”

Pistol: “To recover, or to make that decision?”

The silence in the room was as deafening as that moment on Wimbledon Center Court right before both these greats served out a Championship Point.  The Fed silently looked at his predecessor.

Pistol: “There it is… there’s the fire I was looking for.”

The Fed: “Like I said, ‘the mind wants to.'”

Pistol: “The body holds no opinion where the mind has truly made a decision… you know this.  Your main rival… knows this.”

The Fed: “The Matador.”

Pistol: “Yes.  How many times has he come back, willing broken body along until he finally caught up to me?  Listen, if you walk away now nobody will blame you.  Nobody will accuse you.  Not after what you have given the sport.  Not after 65 consecutive grand slam appearances.  However, some will attempt to taint you… re-brand your legend.  Broods and brigands, all of them.  They will come after you and your loved ones.  They came after my wife as the reason for my decline when all knew the truth.  Time was slowly sapping me of my energy.”

The Fed: “What did you do then?”

The Pistol leaned in slowly, a small smirk on his face.  It was a familiar smirk.  In no way was it malicious, and in every way was it competitive.  It was that slight upturn of the lips right before he delivered the scorching comets that earned him his timeless moniker.  Those deliveries had always been statements of intent that sent primal fear running down the veins of lesser men and champions alike.  It was clear he was about to make a statement now.

Pistol: “I defied time one last time.”

The Pistol looked The Fed directly in the eyes, before getting up and adjusting his suit.

Pistol: “Remind them of who you are.  I’ll be watching.”

He walked noiselessly out of the locker room, the door closing behind him with a click as loud as a detonation.  The hibernation had begun.

Destination: Paris

Hey guys!  Roland Garros is upon us!!!  Are you excited?  The next six to ten weeks are gonna be some of the most exciting for tennis fans.  You’ve got the French Open, Wimbledon and then the Olympics not long after.  Talk about blockbuster stuff.  History could be made, remade and unmade by the time August rolls around.  I suggest you all fasten your seat belts.

Today though, I’ll  be focusing on The French Open and some of the running themes coming into the year’s second and probably most challenging grand slam competition.

1.) “It’s just a little stiff…”

I can imagine Roger Federer saying this to Mirka while he lies motionless in bed, for fear of pulling, popping, breaking anything else.  This has been quite the challenging season for the Mighty RF and it is becoming clearer that the recurring back issue might be the career ending element for him.  I understand that it is a bold statement, but Federer has come off as quite testy, the last few weeks.  He is not use to his body failing him for such long periods and at 34 going on 35, I am not sure how much fight the champion has in him to overcome this.  Safe to say, a second week showing at the French Open might be all he can squeeze out of his aging physical gifts.  A deep run will be very difficult to pull off.  A win would be nothing short of a miracle.  I just don’t see it happening.

2.) Going for Number 10

Now here is a guy who knows a thing or two about bouncing back from hindering injuries.  Rafa’s clay court campaign might not be at the Desert King’s dizzying heights from his glory days, but it sure has been a marked improvement from last year.  His competitive performance against Novak in Rome was a victory in itself.  While he lost the match, the match wasn’t a dud or a blowout.  Those were becoming disturbingly frequent whenever he faced of against the top ranked, Djokovic.  The question is, can he pull off the win at the French.  This year’s French Open might be more open than even last year’s but you can’t count out a 9 time champion… no?

3.) There’s a Muzzard in Town

Up until last year the only real clay court pedigree Andy Murray could boast of was that he grew up playing on it.  Somehow that hadn’t translated into clay court success, the way most would have thought it would… and that’s okay.  Hey, it’s Murray.  He’s as genuine a conundrum as I’ve ever seen.  He of the big serve and defensive game, that hadn’t translated to results on clay, but had won him two grand slams and one Olympic gold medal on two of the most offensive minded show courts in tennis.  But recently, Murray has been putting it all together and he has to be considered the third favorite to lift this year’s trophy.

4.) It’s Serena vs everyone else… still

With a bit more focus, the queen was back in the winner’s circle in Rome, last weekend.  It seems that unlike Federer, she has put her health challenges behind her.  Her win also re-enforces the notion that once Serena is dialed in, there’s no matching her.  The Grand Slams are still on her racket.

5.) Maria… Mariaaaaaaaaaaaah

Bad pun on an old song.  It’s a classic though… check it out.  If Federer’s year has been rough, Maria’s has been horrendous.  She opened her season with yet another defeat at the hands of Serena – this time in the Australian Open final.  Then her season came to a crashing halt with the discovery of her failed drug test at the Australian Open.  The bad is that Sharapova is provisionally banned until a hearing that should happen this week.  The not so bad is that the substance in question, Meldonium, has proven to be a rather complex one to categorize by WADA.  It is this little sliver of hope that the Sharapova team is holding on to.  Best case scenario, we might see Maria back in time for Wimbledon.  Worst case?  We might never see her play active tennis again.  Admit it, you don’t wanna see the shriek go just yet.

6.) The tower of Tandil

He hasn’t fallen over yet and if recent indications are anything to go by, his powerful presence might be fully felt very soon.  There’s just something about Juan Martin Del Potro that makes me like him.  Out of all the tennis stars, he does come across as your regular Joe.  He’s the normal guy who can do super-normal things with a tennis racket.  He also might have been the missing x-factor in the reign of Novak the crusher.  Either way, it is good to see him back and one hopes that his wrist holds up this time.  Once he is back to peak form, I have a feeling he might have one or two more Grand Slams in him.

7.) Tale of the not so youthful

I will keep harping on this.. .dead horse until something changes.  In Australia, Milos Raonic was our darling youthful upstart.  He ran the table ragged until he hit a wall in Andy Murray, in the semifinals.  Still, as always, it was seen as a sign of bigger things to come.  Raonic has mostly been a dud since.  In the wake of his run, Dominic Thiem has been the youth of note through the spring hard court and summer clay court swings.  His biggest moment, the recent defeat of a crippled Federer, in Rome.  If you haven’t read Federer’s response to that loss, you should.  I found it quite amusing.  Despite the obvious element of hubris, I think Federer’s statements clearly underscore the feelings of the big four.  They don’t believe they have been surpassed… yet.  One good tournament every now and then is not gonna cut it.  The model is consistency in excellence.  For now, Thiem is my pick for another magical youthful ride in this year’s French Open.  We’ve had a few of them: Dimitrov at Wimbledon in 2014, Kei Nishikori at the U.S Open in 2014, Raonic at the AO in 2016… lot’s of smoke but no fire.

8.) Stop the Fear

I’d like to end this blog post on a rather serious note.  The recent spate of terrorist attacks across Europe , inhumane killings and murders in many parts of the middle east and political scandals in South America have made every sporting event from the European Grand Slams, to the Olympics, to EURO 2016, a major source of worry for world leaders, sports governing bodies, players and sports fans/lovers alike.  However, the essence of sport, the spirit of sport is in its unifying power.  The ability to showcase the extent of human capability and the beauty of the human spirit.  I enjoin all of us sports lovers to come together in a stand against fear and unnecessary bloodshed and to tell those who would rather we cower in their presence, that we will not be subdued.  No matter how much evil attempts to thrive in the world, the reason why we are human is because we can subdue it.

See you all at the French!

In the trails of settling dust…

The tennis clay court train will soon shift trajectories to the eternal city of Rome.  In its wake, a lot has happened to the tennis landscape, both on the ATP and the WTA tours.  As we head into Rome, I’ll share with you what I know, and what I think I know, as we get ready for the clay swing’s final masters level tournament.

  • What I Know
    • The old guard needs a good tournament showing.  Yes I am talking about Roger Federer and Serena Williams.  Both champions have a combined 38 grand slam titles between them, and yet both come into Rome with no titles to show for 2016.  The similarities don’t stop there.  They both have recently been struggling with their health and match fitness.  Has age finally caught up to these two?  Is the stress and strain of the tour finally too much to handle?  Is this the beginning of the long awaited and inevitable decline?  A victory by either in Rome, would silence a portion of the dreaded R noise.  A good showing would definitely douse it a bit, but a poor showing would be like adding fuel to a wild fire.
    • The WTA is rudderless at the moment.  Taking Serena’s recent woes a notch further, it has left the WTA in a bit of distress.  As has been the common theme for a number of years, nobody seems ready to ahem… “take the throne”.  One day it’s Halep, the next it’s Bouchard and the day after, Radwanska takes home her customary quarterly title.  While Azarenka has put on a strong showing since her return, it is clear to see that any tennis fan looking towards her as the next model of consistency in excellence, will be disappointed.  With Sharapova fighting a looming career ending ban, it is anyone’s guess who will win in Rome or in Roland Garros thereafter.  So, who’s your money on?  Who’s your Leicester City?
  • What I think I Know
    • Rafa’s back!  I still think this is true, even with a competitive loss to Murray in Madrid.  While I do not mean to throw any shade on Murray’s accomplishment (beating Rafa twice AND BACK TO BACK at the same tournament), this was Madrid.  It is Rafa’s least productive clay court masters tournament by a long way.  The high altitude in Madrid means it plays much faster than other clay court tournaments – an advantage to the Spaniard’s main rivals.  All other members of the big four, have beaten Rafa in Madrid.  Rome should be a different matter entirely.  It’s speed and bounce are truer to conditions at the French, where Rafa should still be considered the resounding favorite.
    • He’s flying under the radar and it just might be good for him.  These days, you don’t get to use that phrase with Novak Djokovic a lot.  He’s the deserving world number 1, and an almost default lock to come away from any tournament as the last man standing.  Despite that, this is the French Open – a tournament that has broken his heart its fair share of times.  It also happens to be the only tournament separating him from greatness and true tennis immortality.  No pressure.
    • Murray’s clay game is good.  It’s really good.  Madrid or not, it is not easy to defeat Rafa on clay.  Particularly a Rafa getting back to his best.  Murray did that and he has positioned himself as a third favorite (in my book) to win the title. I think he’ll put in AT LEAST a decent showing come Paris, but this is Murray.  If his emotions get the better of him at any point in the tournament, it could be another grand slam exit, without the silverware.
    • The next generation is not ready… STILL!  At what point does the next generation start notching up consistent wins over this generation’s champions?  When they are walking on crutches?  Tennis transitions are always exciting times.  The established, albeit aging champions fight to remain in control, while the upcoming challengers refine their game until there is a true passing of the torch.  That hasn’t happened to this set of champions yet.  Even with Dominic Thiem’s season, he has always fallen short when he pits his skills against one of the established top men.  He’s gonna have to go that extra mile, if he wants to change the trend.

As you can see, I’m not sure about a lot of things… yet.  But as a certain Spaniard would say; We gonna see after Rome, no?

Breaking Point

Roger Federer, Serena Williams, and Victoria Azarenka.

What do these three tennis players have in common?  They all pulled out of Madrid, citing some injury or ailment.  Tennis might not be a contact sport, but it is an athletic sport; demanding a fine mixture of explosiveness, power, multi-directional changes, repeated limb – hip rotations and the occasional aerial leaps.  Bottom line, there are bound to be injuries every now and then.  Yet the recent spate of withdrawals due to injuries has to have tournament organizers, fans and perhaps tennis players, worrying a bit.

It is easy to chalk up Roger and Serena’s challenges to age, but what about the younger and recently far more dangerous Azarenka?  Remember, she just came back from an injury hiatus.  I’m hard pressed to believe age is the problem in all cases.  I also don’t believe the often talked about length of the season has anything to do with it.  In fact, I never believed it did.  If, as a professional player your body is too worn out to participate in the last few masters tournaments of the season, but you can stroll into a grandiose after season exhibition for a hefty appearance fee, then there is a bit of a contradiction.  However, I digress.  The real issue lies within the recent evolution of tennis itself.

Over the last two decades or so, tennis has slowly but surely changed from the sport that dominated the early open era, to what it is today.  In fact, if you were watching side by side YouTube highlights of a match played in 1970, and a match played yesterday, you’d be hard pressed to believe it was the same sport.  The first thing you will probably notice, is the tennis playing style and patterns.

Early on, tennis was a game of angles, explosiveness and a willingness to come forward.  It was an attack minded game with a premium on short high octane points that rewarded daring, sharp reflexes and a crafty mind, over patience, grinding and risk aversion.  Did you have to be physically fit?  Yes!  But in a different way.  The emphasis was on footwork (as it was understood back in the day), so strong legs were always an advantage.  Today, tennis is a game of spin.  Opponents send deep probing shots that dovetail onto the court, just inside the baseline.  They continually redirect the ball, yanking each other back and forth along the back court, with the occasional angled shot aimed to expose the open court.  The initiative is not to strike a decisive blow, but to wear down the opponent, over time.  What’s more, they can do this for hours on end.

If you stepped through a time capsule from 1970 till now, found out about WordPress, are reading this blog and wondering how the hell tennis got to be played this way, I’ll introduce you to the next big change.  Racket and string technology.  In retrospect, the style of tennis today is not just a change, but a resultant change of this particularly paradigm shifting event.  New materials (composites) for making rackets were discovered.  These were lighter and invariably led to bigger rackets that could be wielded more efficiently than their wooden counterparts.  Strings, not to be left behind, also experienced advances that diversified from the original natural gut feel to give a varied array of power and control that was virtually unthinkable prior to their development.  The sweet spot got bigger.  This translated very obviously to the receiver, and to the rallies.  Shots could be controlled from any part of the court, and with more power, players could flat out scorch the court with outright winners from the baseline.  The beginning of the end for S&V.

Finally, the tennis court decided to join in on the act.  With a clamor from fans to make the game more… ‘interesting’ tennis’s ruling bodies have slowed down the naturally faster courts so much so, that they play like clay courts – the naturally slowest of the courts.  The result?  More rallies, less efficiency in S&V and what we have today –  A monotony of tennis styles that save for the top flight guys, can leave one feeling… less than interested.  To be fair, the slowing down of the courts has been met with mixed results.  It is riveting when you have natural shot makers who revel in finding the angles, making incredible gets and orchestrating spectacular winners.  It can also be a drag when you’ve got conservative players who won’t hit a single winner, during a match.

Like I said earlier, the fitness requirements for tennis in the early open era, is very different from what it is today.  With the advent of baseline rallying and increased all court coverage, the tennis player had to rely not just on short little steps and split steps, but on long strides, slides, lunges, and twists on a dime.  This puts a lot of strain on the body and that finally leads us full circle.  The evolutionary trend has made the tennis player more vulnerable to injuries ranging from mild to career defining.  Playing such a style – no matter how rewarding it might be – eventually has its drawbacks.  The body just can’t keep up for so long and as it ages, this becomes even more true.

Bottom line, they have got to speed up the court again.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be like it was in the early open era, but it should make a world of difference for the players who beat up on their own bodies day after day.  They might be at their absolute physical peak, but even the greatest of them have breaking points.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts below!