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Old May 30th, 2006, 02:26 AM   #1
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Today vs. Yesteryears

I'm going to admit my bias up front: Maybe it's old age, but I think the women of yesteryear played a more appealing game than today. I don't think I felt this way until the last few years, believing the game was progressing as the players became stronger. But quite honestly, the good women's matches seem few and far between these days. For the most part, every match I watch these days is an error-fest, with a few quality points played for good measure.

Certainly, the styles and power game are vastly different, but I tend to believe that players of yesteryear simply had better strokes and more complete games. Moreover, while today's players are stronger and fitter, I'm hard-pressed to be impressed by their all-court athleticism. Frankly, I don't think I've seen a more athletic contest than the Goolagong-King 74 U.S. Open final. They covered every inch of the court, up and back, with volleys, lobs, passing shots. It was amazing, thoughtful tennis, and it made me realize why today's game is losing my interest. Fitter and stronger players we may have today, but in a game where everything is played side to side, it's not very athletic to me.

Just a few thoughts, and maybe I'm in the minority here, but I'd be interested to hear others thoughts -- about the styles and about the athleticism.
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Old May 30th, 2006, 03:43 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by Jem
I'm going to admit my bias up front: Maybe it's old age, but I think the women of yesteryear played a more appealing game than today. I don't think I felt this way until the last few years, believing the game was progressing as the players became stronger. But quite honestly, the good women's matches seem few and far between these days. For the most part, every match I watch these days is an error-fest, with a few quality points played for good measure.

Certainly, the styles and power game are vastly different, but I tend to believe that players of yesteryear simply had better strokes and more complete games. Moreover, while today's players are stronger and fitter, I'm hard-pressed to be impressed by their all-court athleticism. Frankly, I don't think I've seen a more athletic contest than the Goolagong-King 74 U.S. Open final. They covered every inch of the court, up and back, with volleys, lobs, passing shots. It was amazing, thoughtful tennis, and it made me realize why today's game is losing my interest. Fitter and stronger players we may have today, but in a game where everything is played side to side, it's not very athletic to me.

Just a few thoughts, and maybe I'm in the minority here, but I'd be interested to hear others thoughts -- about the styles and about the athleticism.
Hi Jem ... you don't have to sell your idea to me. I adore the game from the 60s and 70s in particular. Anything pre the modern rackets really which have largely been responsible for creating the bash fest we see today. That and the fact that grass has been cut back so much so that variety and artistry is almost non-existent. Even Hingis, the master strategist and tactician, has had to revert to bashing to keep up with the power game. It's true - I saw her live in Australia and was shocked and a little dismayed at how hard she had to exert herself in trying to generate power to keep up with Clijsters etc. Although she still has incredible touch and shows it on occasion, when the power girls bash returns back at her she isn't able to show us that artistry as often these days.

In the days when smaller framed rackets where the go, players couldn't just bash their way to victory - thank heavens or Betty Stove would have dominated the tour ! In the 60s and 70s players had to use all manner of strategies and placements and had to construct points. Also, there were a plethora of styles abounding from the S&V players (eg. King & Goolagong) to the baseliners (eg. Evert & Richey) and the junkballers (eg. Durr & Heldman). You saw a far greater variety of shot in play more often - flat, topspin, slice, volleys, lobs, dinks etc and far more changes of pace and angles.

I still enjoy tennis today, but not anywhere near as much as watching an old classic from my favourite two decades when the sport showcased tennis in it's most glorious form.
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Old May 30th, 2006, 12:01 PM   #3
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All anyone would have to do is catch the third set of that Sharapova/Washington match the other day to see the total lack of point construction, and how much the game itself has eroded into a shell of what it once was. Neither girl gave any thought for what they'd have to do to pull out the win in a very close contest- just bang the ball as hard as you can, and to hell with your unforced errors, let alone maneuvering your opponent on a slow surface. It was ugly, especially when juxtaposed against that marvelous 1974 Forest Hills final.
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Old May 30th, 2006, 12:57 PM   #4
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I haven't watched tennis from the 60s, 70s or 80s, but I'd have to agree as well. From what I saw in the early 90s, the level has really deteriorated. Graf-Seles used to hit the ball hard as well, but they never racked up the number of unforced errors we see today. There may be more depth (if you consider that the WTA resembles a M.A.S.H unit more than anything else) today in the sense that you may not know who the outright favourite for the title is, but I miss the guarantee of good tennis that came with the semifinals and finals of majors in years past.
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Old May 30th, 2006, 04:43 PM   #5
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Even six years ago, I could stay at a tournament all day long and see a lot of matches that were fun and interesting to watch. Today, after one set (if I can last that long), forget it, move to the next one. By 5 at the absolute latest, I'm bored to tears, time for cocktail time, go back to the hotel/condo. I didn't even stay for one of the finals this year, and didn't particularly want to even attend the other one.
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Old May 31st, 2006, 02:05 AM   #6
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If you have a chance, check out the Video Archive on the French Open site. They are currently featuring the last 20 years of Finals. It is really a good primer on what has gone so terribly wrong.

From comparing the pre-2000 finals to the post-2000 finals, I have come to the conclusion that it is not just that today's players don't have a clue as to how to construct a point, it is also the case that they aren't forced to figure it out from playing opponents who have a clear pattern for winning points.

Let me explain. Take Martina and Chris as just one example. Going into their matches, Chris knew what Martina's pattern was, to approach off her serve or a short ball and volley into the open or short court. In order to keep Martina from doing that, Chris knew she had keep the ball deep on her serve/groundstrokes. If Chris could keep Martina at the baseline, she could put her own offensive strategy into effect, usually that involved getting Martina to take herself out of the play, and thus hitting to the area of the court that Martina had left undefended. Martina knew that in order to avoid getting into such positional battles with Chris she really had to get to the net as soon as effectively possible.

That kind of thinking doesn't take place anymore in the women's game. There may still be players who have an idea about how to win a point. But, they are incapable of turning that idea into a pattern that they can use regardless of the situation. Without any such clear and formidable patterns to counter, the players on the women's side rarely go onto the court today thinking they have to do anything other than just move the ball side to side and back and forth.

With so much being the same today, it may be too much to hope to develop two players as different stylistically and strategically as Martina and Chris. But, really all one needs to save the women's game is one really great player with a very clear and formidable way of winning points. Alas, we don't even have that anymore.

As an example of how that might work, take for instance the '96 FO Final. In that final, there is really only one player with a formidable pattern for winning points, Steffi Graf. Going into the match, Sanchez knew what that pattern was. Sanchez's chances of winning depended on keeping Steffi from putting that pattern into effect and thus frustrating Steffi into making errors when she couldn't hit her forehand from her favorite spots on the court. Against Steffi, therefore, Sanchez became a more interesting and even a better player because she not only had to figure out how to counter a particular pattern for winning points, but eventually she had to figure out how to win points in a positive way when she proved unable to get Graf to take herself out of the play. Though history shows Sanchez never came up with a formidable pattern of her own, her ability to understand and to counter to some degree one of the most formidable patterns ever in the women's game for winning points made possible some of the most memorable matches in the history of the women's game.
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Old May 31st, 2006, 11:44 AM   #7
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All of which I feel comes back to the racquet, and the direction the game is being taught with lightweight, oversized frames designed to make the open stance on both wings, as well as a huge sweetspot which is much closer to the wrist than ever before. Ilie Nastase saw it coming all the way back at the 1990 French final between Agassi and Courier. When asked what he thought of the match, his classic reply was "this is more like ping-pong than tennis", and he was absolutely right. With the women, there is a marked difference in how their games do not rely on a big serve compared to men, and there are no really great servers out there right now, just big and tall players who bang the ball into play without much thought for percentages of replies to any given serve, let alone varying the pace and placement (like a good pitcher in baseball) to give the receiver different looks. Men on the other hand, have much bigger and better serves as a whole, and as a result, you see more developed tennis from them.
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Old May 31st, 2006, 06:02 PM   #8
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I agree with TV & Alfa that it is LARGELY a racquet-based issue....the equipment has changed the nature of the sport. Its not just that you have less time to think within a point, in order to begin carving strategy into the play, but the subtle differences in shot production (from having the smaller head and not having half your placement organized for you by your racquet) on each stroke disappears, and so variety disappears. You had little mis-hits, unexpected sidespins, and a great need to focus MUCH of your energy on achieving depth and not just weight of shot. So that entire focus of mind * body energy has shifted.

And it is STRANGE because making things easier is the opposite of any other 'sporting challenge' --even if we use VIDEO GAMES as an example. As you move up, it gets MORE difficult each level.

But the tennis went in the opposite direction: make it EASIER. and so, say to the talent, patience, and artistry. Such fewer challenges certainly make it less enjoyable to watch.

I will say, in all fairness & to not be a big grump, some of the mens tennis today captivates me when its good....yes, when its good...but a lot of matches from yesteryear also had boring 'just get it back in play' aspects to it...we just tend to not go back and watch tapes of those.

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Old May 31st, 2006, 08:39 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daze11
...I will say, in all fairness & to not be a big grump, some of the mens tennis today captivates me when its good....yes, when its good...but a lot of matches from yesteryear also had boring 'just get it back in play' aspects to it...we just tend to not go back and watch tapes of those.
This is so true, and one of the quotes that John McEnroe uses sometimes in the booth is from Jaime (sp?) Hawkins "the older we get, the better we used to be", and it sums it up pretty neatly from an athlete's standpoint. We do only tend to remember and glorify the classic matches and tennis from the past. I think another thing to consider is that most of the majors were on grass for the longest time, and it provided for much more scintillating and aggressive play than what was in that Vilas/Gottfried clip. Just look at how much nicer it was to watch Bjorn Borg on grass than it was on red clay. I'll never forget sitting in my dad's livingroom chewing my nails and hanging on every ace Roscoe Tanner was scoring against Bjorn one year, and the tennis was pretty good stuff despite all the cheap service winners.
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Old Jun 1st, 2006, 02:22 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daze11
I will say, in all fairness & to not be a big grump, some of the mens tennis today captivates me when its good....yes, when its good...but a lot of matches from yesteryear also had boring 'just get it back in play' aspects to it...we just tend to not go back and watch tapes of those.
Agreed. No doubt, I'm re-watching some of the best matches, which color my opinions. I remember at one point in the 1990s thinking that the men's game had become nothing but big serves. Today, I think the men are putting on a marvelous show, even if it's almost all side to side.

I'm hopeful that the women are simply evolving, and will one day find some consitency to match their power. Thanks for weighing in, everyone!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2006, 03:57 AM   #11
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this could go in our mens thread, BUT...it moreso relates to this.

i just had to transfer the 1981 wimbledon semi of borg d. connors 0-6 4-6 6-3 6-0 6-4 and got to sit & watch the whole thing. its more than about racquets, because one of the dynamic things is so much flat, sidespin, slice, and topspin in concert...whereas now we see predominantly TOPSPIN all of the time from both sides of the court.

i went to a tennis lesson just a couple of years back, which i took almost as a check-up, and the pro didnt know how to hit flat. I was hitting those super-flat bullets which he mistakenly read as slice and when we went over the stroke, he couldnt understand putting the racquet straight back, hitting through contact and then following through. he ONLY knew starting BELOW the level of contact and flipping the followthrough cross the body....which is topspin. he called it flat. and then exaggerrated that motion of low to high profusely to show what 'topspin' would be. well, i knew we were having a generation gap, but i'm betting the players around the world are also taught tennis this way. ie, wrong. and it produces a profound monotony.

it was also notable that jimmy & bjorn ended 90% of the points in that last set with winners, not errors. and all of borg's aces...well, it is beyond impressive to hit those aces with a wood racquet, and here i think i'm moving beyond opinion and into fact: hitting aces with a wood racquet exemplifies skill that does not get communicated by a player using his modern racquet to do the same thing. one way feels like a cheap point, the other feels like brilliance.

so racquet is a big part of the standout quality of the 70s, though i will say 'personality' is ALSO a big part of it, and then the issue of how many variety of strokes were used throughout those rallies...the pace varied & the angles struck with sidespin, flat, topspin, etc.....just keeps you, the viewer, alert to the art in a way we cant get with these all-topspin affairs.

now i should also mention today was my birthday....and as i watched that & thought this, there was one clear conclusion: time keeps moving and boy am i getting old.

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Old Jun 3rd, 2006, 05:31 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by daze11
now i should also mention today was my birthday....and as i watched that & thought this, there was one clear conclusion: time keeps moving and boy am i getting old.
Belated happy birthday to you daze11. Yes, we may be getting older, but it sure beats the alternative in my book!!!
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Old Jun 3rd, 2006, 05:50 PM   #13
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Congratulations, Daze a bit belated but none the less sincere wish for a bumper year to come, full of life and love
hug
Andy
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Old Jun 3rd, 2006, 09:12 PM   #14
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Yep, blondie, I sez happy birthday, too.
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Old Jun 4th, 2006, 12:19 PM   #15
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But then we get frustrated when a player like say a Nadal shows us there IS away to beat Federer, great pattern or no great pattern.Then we call him a boring retrieving player who only wins because he camps 20 feet behind the baseline, waiting for the error.

Is he getting even half as many accolades as Roger gets. for cracking the Federer-code? Is he being called the greatest ever? Nope..just because he hasn't built his game around just the forehand. Tjaaa...
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