No matter the era, tennis remains as thrilling and dazzling as ever
If you’re at least in your late-twenties and you’re a long time tennis follower you might be feeling just a touch nostalgic of the old days and you might even be getting a bit blasé at times about the whole experience of watching tennis these days.
The same old baseline rallies point after point and usually the same up and coming hard-hitting young players trying to finish off the point with the serve or following it up with a big forehand. We get to see quite a lot of them nowadays, as if the entire new generation has been mass-produced from the same clay, has been subjected to the same training regime and has been instilled with the same values and styles of play.
Surely then, something must be wrong with the whole thing, right? Some might offer legitimate arguments to consolidate that position and they would be fully entitled to do so, but to this writer’s mind, this somewhat general feeling of nostalgia is fully understandable and perhaps even recommendable.
Who would not wish to wallow for a while in the balmy, enchanted pool of tennis remembrance? Take for instance, the elatedness of watching Nadal play the game. Who amongst us does not remember him skidding vigorously and jubilantly on clay or on hard courts and making our hearts beat faster and faster with every impossible ball that he recovered? Who amongst us does not recall all those enticing and foreseeable moments when the whole world stopped for a few seconds simply to let you admire him hitting an unreturnable forehand or making the most unbelievable passing shot you had ever seen. Many of us will forever gladly suffer the remembrance of such gratifying memories. (So as not to be misunderstood, I do not wish to imply in any way that Nadal’s time has passed, but hope that he returns to such form as soon as possible)
If that physically tearing game is not exactly to your liking, why not go back a few more years and engage in flashbacks of watching Sampras take on the tennis world. Sublimely combining his massive serve and braw volleys (part of a heritage that was still quite well rooted in his time) with precise, lightning fast returns and adding to the mix not only defensive, but also splendid counter-attacking skills from the baseline, Sampras became the most beloved tennis player of his generation. That was how he so overbearingly dominated the game for a number of years, reaching the then landmark of fourteen Grand Slam titles, milestone that has been exceeded so far only by Federer, who in many ways was, in the early 2000s, his successor.
Speaking of Federer it would be impossible to overlook the countless moments of brilliance and elegant destruction of his opponents that have forever changed the game of tennis. Still to this day he is fighting the good fight, changing and mixing up his game, finding new and somewhat unexpected paths to success and lately taking us back to twenty, thirty years ago and reviving the old serve and volley game (in his own, unmatchable way) in order to give his rivals something different to deal with. He is without doubt the player that has revolutionized tennis most, raising the bar higher than ever before and best of all he is still out there making it all happen and continuing to bless us with his genius and inestimable tennis worth.
Though only three of the people’s favourites have been mentioned above, it is quite plain to see that the list is almost never-ending, that being, of course, one the reasons for pointing out just a small number of the all-time tennis greats.
The secondary cause of having such a short and unfair number of tennis legends mentioned has to do with the fact that when ensnared by this bitter-sweet trap of romanticized recollection of the good ol’ days (as it’s often the case with human being who bear love and that have a natural inclination for being nostalgic about the past), we sometimes end up having an unappreciative view of the often, just as glorious, present.
Nowadays, Djokovic is the name on everyone’s lips and rightfully so. He is not only the player who, by profiting from his rivalries with Federer and Nadal, has managed to reach and exceed his full potential beyond all expectations, but he is also the prototype for the player of the future. There are others, such as Berdych, Wawrinka, Ferrer perhaps and especially Murray, who have benefited from having Federer and Nadal as their contemporaries, but unlike Djokovic, all the grueling battles they had to face against the greats have left them rather drained and manacled somewhere in the shadow, their own luster eclipsed by the brilliance of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. It is in such conditions that one’s character is truly tested and Djokovic’s resilience, versatility and fighting spirit have thrust him to the top, whereas others still linger in the penumbra.
In the last couple of years Federer has been trying to revive the serve and volley game and by adding it to his already tremendous tennis arsenal, he has managed to get back to his winning ways, even when having to face Djokovic. Though Roger may beat Novak in the final of a fairly important 500 event, as it has happened a couple of times in the last year , when Djokovic is truly focused and gunning for an important title he always finds a way to turn things around in his favour. This leaves you with the feeling that even tough Roger is still a threat for Novak and he may beat him every now and again, in the long run, Djokovic will be the one to come out on top.
Therefore, after considering all this, Novak truly seems to be the quintessential player of the modern age and if he manages to stay consistent and injury free for at least four more years he can also became the greatest of all time.
Indeed, it may be hard to believe that there will be many others able to match him in skill and professionalism, yet backed up by his results and the consistency of his game he is the one whose style most youngsters will probably be looking to replicate. Perhaps the most frightening thought here is in reference to the future of tennis. Would it be possible to see more Djokovic like players in the days to come?
We can only hope so considering how complete such players must be. Novak has a very efficient serve, a great forehand that can find both sharp angles and great length, a smashing backhand, crosscourt or down the line, exceptional agility and defensive skills. Moreover, he is probably the greatest returner of all time and top it all off, mentally he is definitely the strongest player out there these days. Considering all this, one would have to be a fool not to wish to have more such players in the future. Additionally, taking into account how hard players have to work to get him into trouble and how consistent one has to be to actually defeat him, we would more than likely have all the ingredients for spectacular and breathtaking tennis matches, filled with drama and wondrous shot making.
Lastly, I would also point out the fact that, same as Federer is doing at the moment, many tennis players will be trying to add more and more perspectives to their game. Therefore, instead of being stuck with flatter matches made up of big serves, hard forehands and at times never-ending baseline rallies, the old (serve and volley) and the new will somehow be combined into an all-around game that will have to be even more complete than that of Djokovic.
Whether all this will happen or not is difficult to say with certainty and though some might say that this article deals in speculation concerning the future, one thing is quite certain: one needn’t be nostalgic about the old days, nor need be preoccupied with the future of the game, as it’s probably going to offer more than any of us would ever expect.
When watching the game, just kick back, enjoy and remember – no matter the era, tennis has always been more thrilling and dazzling than expected and that is probably not going to change any time soon.