Is there already a thread about that? I didn't find any.
By Franklin L. Johnson
Monday, April 27, 2009
Victor Lamm's recent Tennis Week article, Does Surface Similarity Produce The Same Game?, was indeed very interesting and informative. Yet, his conclusion needs a bit of articulation. While there's little doubt the play on various surfaces has become more standardized, this result can't be completely blamed on surface similarity.
A cynical reader of the facts could say the homogenization of surfaces has returned. Mr. Lamm himself duly noted our sport, at one time, was largely played on grass and only occasionally on slow clay. This clear lack of variety benefited the English, Aussies and Americans. So, is it any wonder most of the winners of the majors, pre-Open Era, were from these three nations? The very fact tennis is played on so many different surfaces today, both in and outdoor, seems to require a different kind of athlete than the grass grazers of yesteryear.
Victor Lamm goes on to list some of the greats and their accomplishments through the decades without mentioning the fact the variety in playing styles expanded when the types of surfaces did. You could say an inverted "U" curve would correctly outline the progress of variety in tennis play from the classic style of the legendary players to the varied styles of the post-Open Era players to the ball-busting styles of today's super-athletes.
Further, surface standardization alone isn't responsible for much of the boring play on tour. Explosive power, produced by state-of-the-art training, diets and gear, place a greater emphasis on defensive skills and less on point production brilliance. Roger Federer is brutally beaten into submission by the younger, stronger Rafa Nadal. His exquisite game is never allowed to blossom on court. When Roger is forced by the sheer ferocity of Nadal's shots to abandon his skills for a defensive shell, it seems we should all be very alarmed. When a supreme dirt-baller starts winning Wimbledon, it's clear something isn't right in our sport.
Again, the problem isn't only the equalizing of surface speed. This writer has bitterly complained for decades about the factory farm system of tennis instruction. Modern tennis is often boring because the players are taught only the basic skills of the game. Why is it just a handful of pro players use slices, lobs and drop shots effectively? It can't be merely the result of the surface and gear. However, it can be successfully argued there's little subtleness in pro tennis today because the players aren't taught how to use it.
The rise of Rafa Nadal means the next generation of players will be bigger and stronger than ever. We already see them crowding into the Top Twenty. If we want to release the bash-ball stranglehold on pro tennis, we must make changes to the game which will encourage a greater variegation of play. Restoring wider variety to the surfaces would be a major first step. But, more important, the young players must be exposed to all the classic shots and they must be prompted to use them.
Unfortunately, it seems the Roger Federer era was more accident than evolution. While the facts bear this out with the return to gorilla-ball, an optimistic perspective envisions a more glorious than infamous future. Tennis is still a game for the agile and quick. Modern athletes stitched brute force onto the profile of the professional player. The unique Rafa Nadal era will soon close because his linebacker body will break down from all the years and pounding. The next generation of players will probably be a hybrid of Federer's utter genius and Nadal's physical gifts. Greater variety will return to the game with surface differentiation and comprehensive instruction. It all depends on which aspects of the game are emphasized.