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CLR James

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Men's Tennis Standards Today: An Unmatched Era
« on: August 22, 2009, 05:35:45 PM »


August 15, 2009

An Era Defined by More Power, More Speed and Unmatched Depth

By Greg Bishop, New York Times

MONTREAL — Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal sit atop men’s tennis like two Greek gods, trading Grand Slam titles and turns in the international spotlight. But this can leave the mistaken impression that the ATP World Tour consists of Federer and Nadal and everybody else.

Beyond the considerable shadow cast by the two greatest players of their generation, the rest of the top 10 remains deep and dangerous. Perhaps not since the days of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, among others, has there been so much talent clustered at the top of men’s tennis.

“This is as deep as the men’s game has been since the early ’80s,” said Larry Stefanki, a coach and pro for 30 years. “This is as good as I’ve seen it. You have 10 guys every week challenging for titles.”

Consider Stefanki’s latest pupil, Andy Roddick. Near the end of perhaps his most consistent season, Roddick has dueled with Federer at Wimbledon, advanced to the quarterfinals in 11 of 12 tournaments and changed the perception that his once-promising career was trending downward.

In recent years, Stefanki said Roddick would have shot up the rankings, a reward for results as consistent as a metronome. This year, Roddick fights to hang on at No. 5. Counting Roddick, six players have won at least 40 matches this year, including Novak Djokovic, who leads the tour with 49 victories. Federer had won 21 straight matches, until seventh-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ended that streak in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup on Friday.

Nadal also lost in the quarterfinals, to Juan Martín del Potro, but leads competitors in championships with five. Further proof of the talent at the top came Saturday, when Andy Murray dispatched Tsonga in the semifinals, 6-4, 7-6 (8), and displaced Nadal, who missed 10 weeks recently with tendinitis in his knees, from the No. 2 ranking. The last player other than Federer or Nadal to be ranked No. 2 was Lleyton Hewitt in July 2005.

Even further proof came in the night cap, when the lower ranked del Potro downed Roddick for the second time this week. Both matches were close and long, and Roddick even lost a match point here, before falling 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

It was these moments, matches both close and frequent between top players not named Federer or Nadal, that Stefanki and Roddick considered during a quiet moment inside the players’ lounge this week. “It’s the same guys every week,” Stefanki recalled Roddick saying.

“It has never been like this,” Stefanki added.



The men’s tour ended up here by natural evolution, as speed and power became more important, marginalizing the marginal athlete, even one with superior technical skills. Stefanki said tennis now looked more like its table tennis cousin, with balls flying rapidly across the net, snapping the necks of spectators back and forth.

Stefanki and Roddick watched a 1979 match between Connors and Bjorn Borg the other day. Dinosaur ball, Stefanki called it, and he meant no disrespect.

Marian Vajda has spent 26 years on the men’s tour, the time divided evenly in stints as a player and a coach. Currently, he is charged with elevating Djokovic, who last week said he was born in the wrong era, into the space occupied by Federer and Nadal.

Vajda, too, cannot believe the depth. “When you compare old-fashioned tennis with now, they were like in slow motion,” he said.

Stefan Edberg watches the current pros, and he said in a telephone interview that they exhibited a physicality that was not evident during his career. In particular, Edberg points to Nadal, all the grunts and the way he lunges at the ball, viciously attacking it, as evidence of the way the modern game has changed.

Combine that power with the speed and athleticism on the tour, and Federer said it was no longer enough for professionals to win with technical precision, or superior strokes.

“Talent is not enough anymore,” Federer said. “I’m talking about talent, let’s say, in your hands. Like about touch and feel and spin. I’m not saying that it used to be. But it used to bring you a long way before and not anymore.”

The changes in the modern game have led to more intense workouts among top players, Stefanki said, pointing to the 15 pounds that Roddick lost to become lighter and more nimble. Before, Stefanki watched top players operate as if wearing what he called “horse blinders,” staying inside their respective training bubbles. Now, they must adapt in order to compete.

That was evident at the Rogers Cup, where the top eight ranked players advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in men’s tennis. Once there, Federer (No. 1), Nadal (No. 2) and Djokovic (No. 4) all lost to lower seeds, although few would call those losses major upsets.

Many of those players had taken breaks after Wimbledon or before, for a variety of reasons, including the birth of Federer’s twin girls and the tendinitis that pained Nadal’s knees. They arrived here focused and rested, and the results showed that.

Vajda said he would prefer an easier match for Djokovic now and again, especially in early rounds and in tournaments used as tuneups for Grand Slams. But Djokovic disagreed with his coach, saying tournaments like the Rogers Cup actually provided the best way to prepare.

Since Roddick lost to Federer at Wimbledon, he noticed the way the reaction continued back in the United States, from his mailman knocking on his door to offer unsolicited advice to fans approaching him in coffee shops for autographs.

Coaches and players agree that the increase of elite players and the depth of talent in the top 10 are better for tennis.

With that in mind, the United States Open is set to begin on Aug. 31, and Stefanki could not hide his excitement, speaking in long and excited bursts. With Nadal’s return, Roddick’s continued resurgence and the deepest field Stefanki can remember in more than two decades, all Stefanki sees is possibility.

“The writing’s on the wall,” he said. “This is going to be one of the best Opens ever, no question.”

A version of this article appeared in print on August 16, 2009, on page SP1 of the New York edition.
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dextrous

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Re: Men's Tennis Standards Today: An Unmatched Era
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2009, 06:00:38 PM »

I'm not sure how the article is supporting its own point--if not undermining it completely. Unless we're to believe Roddick is the second-coming of Sampras or that Borg was inferior in any way to Djkovic because he played in an era of wooden racquets and grass courts, it is hard to make any sense out of this article.
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CLR James

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Re: Men's Tennis Standards Today: An Unmatched Era
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2009, 06:52:36 PM »

Oh definitely a biased article. My point though is that there is enough consensus among the close followers of the game that this era is not less competitive than any era. As a matter of fact, it is perhaps as or more competitive than many other eras.
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dextrous

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Re: Men's Tennis Standards Today: An Unmatched Era
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2009, 08:19:33 PM »

My point though is that there is enough consensus among the close followers of the game that this era is not less competitive than any era.

Yes, sir, among Federer fans ;)
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CLR James

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Re: Men's Tennis Standards Today: An Unmatched Era
« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2009, 02:54:13 AM »

My point though is that there is enough consensus among the close followers of the game that this era is not less competitive than any era.

Yes, sir, among Federer fans ;)


True, but that is because Federer the goat has no competition. I wonder why that gets your goat!  ;D ;D ;D
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