Nicolas Escude Saving Grace for Serve & Volley Tennis?!
Hope Yet for Fans of Serve & Volley Tennis
By David Law - Tennis Radio Network
In 1992, Goran Ivanisevic blasted over a thousand aces past the likes of Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Andre Agassi, reaching the final of Wimbledon in the process, and there were those who worried that baseline tennis might be a thing of the past in the wake of the big men with even bigger serves.
Ten years on, little Lleyton Hewitt is the number one player in the world, Agassi is still plying his glorious trade from the back of the court, and Argentine David Nalbandian reached the 2002 final of Wimbledon.
Now, the fear is for those who like to serve, approach the net, and knock off an instant volley winner. Why would anyone dare approach the net on a sliced backhand with the likes of Hewitt there to rifle a return past them?
Those people need not worry, because to a large extent, tennis is a self-correcting, cyclical sport. Just as the smaller players in the mid-to-late 1990's developed incredible speed and improved returns to combat the big servers, so too will they realise the need to develop other sides of their game to compete with the baseliners.
Todd Martin, one of the more imposing figures at the net, reflected on the changing nature of tennis earlier this week at the BNP Paribas Masters.
"The use of spin has certainly changed the game immeasurably over the last five years," he said.
"The court is much bigger than it used to be for the players who play with a lot of top-spin so it provides a lot of trouble for the guys coming to the net. The idea for us serve & volley players is to make the court smaller. It used to feel like I covered 75% of the court at the net but now it’s about 66%. But in a couple of years, when it becomes a rarity for guys to play someone who has an attacking style of play, the attacking player will have some advantages because they will be the odd-ball and the tough guy to match up against. I wouldn’t be surprised if that boosts the amount of attacking, serve & volley players in the younger age groups."
The evidence is there to be seen in Paris, in the form of Frenchman Nicolas Escude.
For the first six years of Escude's professional life as a tennis player, he operated primarily from the baseline, performing solidly, if unspectacularly.
In 2001, he faced a decision. Should he carry on battling it out from the back of the court, and protect his Top 50 status, or should he gamble and re-model his game? Escude went for the latter, and it paid off. Suddenly, at Wimbledon 2001, he was seen charging the net after both first and second serves, diving for volleys and generally making a nuisance of himself to those trying to pass him.
In the fourth round he beat Hewitt, and he remains the only player to have defeated the World Number One, on grass, in the last two years. Escude even repeated the trick in the Davis Cup final in Australia at the end of 2001.
There is also hope elsewhere. As Bob Brett, former coach of Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic, told media at a launch for the Bobb Brett Elite Team academy, the volley is an integral part of his young players' development.
Of the 84 Grand Slam tournaments played since 1981, 35 have been won by the serve & volley contingent of John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras.
With Roger Federer, Tim Henman and Escude now fighting their cause, the days of serve and volley tennis are far from over.
The Tennis Refuge
You will be missed, Michel Kratochvil!