I agree the odds favor Nadal and Djokovic. And I do agree that Federer will have a hard time winning as he does not get a day off between matches. But I would not entirely count him out because there is no smarter player out there and if the stars line up for him, and he plays flawlessly in the final who know. His chances are better against Nole then Nadal. I don't think he believes he can beat Nadal.
I would love to see Del Potro win. We need a new player in the mix and he has everything it takes to be number one.
There is no one else in the field who poses a threat (Is Murray skipping the tournament?).
As for the odd winners such as Corretja in 1998 and Kuerten in 2000 they played brilliantly. Kuerten was a great player. He beat Agassi who said Kuerten was hitting balls so deep he couldn't return them. Kuerten was an underrated player. As for Corretja, he also played well. And if there wasn't a fifth set tiebreaker at the U.S. Open he would have beaten Sampras as Sampras couldn't have gone on.
David L. Levine
Thanks for your email. I always thought Kuerten had a lot of game as well (what a backhand he had!). The surprising thing -and this applies for Corretja too -was his being able to put it together to win an event of that magnitude on such a fast surface against players like Agassi and Sampras, when most of his successes by far came on clay. That said, he did win Cincinnati the following year, so it was clearly no fluke.
I'd say though, that anyone other than Djokovic, Nadal or Federer winning on Monday would be greater surprise.
I scanned your newsletter below but didn't find what I believe is the root cause of tennis players competing at older ages. My answer is MONEY. The prize monies are much greater than in the days of the past players you mentioned. With larger pay-outs now, the players who are currently winning the tournaments have the incentive to keep playing and use some of their money for coaches, trainers, etc., so they can keep on winning. It's somewhat like other businesses — the rich get richer. I don't think that is bad, but just a fact that goes a long way to answer the question you asked. Professional players in other sports (football, baseball, basketball, hockey and more) are also playing longer than previously for the same root cause.
J. T. Madell
Interesting observation, however, I don't believe money alone can explain this phenomenon. After all, the younger players get the same prize money if they win.
Can any one player or coach be credited for each stroke innovation? The two handed backhand, the pronation serve, the swinging volley, the jump forehand and backhand, squaring up move and other footwork patterns, open stance, buggy whip forehand etc etc.
It will be interesting to know who were the original players who started using these techniques and where and who taught them.
Good question, not sure there is a clear answer here. Certainly Michael Chang was one of the first to make use of the jump two-handed backhand, but was he first? Hard to say.
Great article (Geriatric Tennis?) as ever. However surely one of the key reasons for the rise of older and established players is resource led.
Players at the top levels of the game can now invest some of their considerable prize money on specialist back room staff to improve all aspects of their performance. Young emerging players would struggle to afford this wage bill unless they had very generous and trusting funders and sponsors.
LTA Senior Club Coach. ( Monmouth, Wales.)
Please address the obvious “cause” of the geriatric movement in professional tennis. One needs only to glance over to Major League Baseball and the Tour de France to see that performance enhancing drugs are the “fountain of youth” and has IN ADDITION to training and equipment lead to the current crop of “champions”. It’s a joke to think otherwise. We will look back when the facts come out that we are in an era similar to the 1980’s in baseball. Probably started with Navritalova and has continued on to this day. I sarcastically say , Yeah, it’s normal for an overweight soft Eastern European to just “diet and exercise” and get into the lean body mass that she’s developed. Cause it’s normal for women to have 10-17% body fat over the age of 35, right? and to keep on putting on lean muscle?
Think about Rafa for example. His knees were SO DAMAGED AND INFLAMED that it was uncertain that he would ever play again. Well he rested and viola it’s all better... But answer this question, if his knees were so damaged and needed the prolonged rest, How did he manage to get in good enough shape to run for hours, twist and turn for ground stroke practices and jump for plyometric training?
If “American Tennis” is so bad.... How is it that Serena and Venus are Americans and dominate women’s tennis? Why not have our women copy their training methods? There are several women on tour that have the same body type as Serena but for some reason just can’t get that NFL fullback physique. I wonder if maybe just a smidge of testosterone, Hgh, Hcg, clomid, Epo, lasix, Provigil, and insulin might just put us on top again. Before you answer with “they’ve never failed a drug test”, neither did Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds.
I love tennis. In my opinion it’s the best sport because of it’s athleticism and scoring system allowing for direct competition in an environment that tests both mental and physical durability. It’s graceful and yet can be aggressively powerful. We as Americans are at a distinct disadvantage to the Europeans in ONE WAY ONLY. It has nothing to do with centralized sports systems or methods of training or “softness” of American teens(comments which really anger me) but in the FACT that the Europeans are leaps and bounds ahead of us in PEDs and until the ITF/ATP implement real out of competition testing with no ability to “miss” or “deny” testing and keeping samples for 10 years we will never clean up our sport.
The rest of the “discussions” about endurance and Spanish or Croatioan or Serbian dominance is mental bubble gum.
In case you were wondering what I would want. Simple. For the PRIVELEDGE of competing in the ATP/ITF the top 8 ranked players are subject to 4xper month testing at ANY TIME. That means it could be 4 days in a row or any combination of days in order to catch someone "cycling" off testosterone. No exceptions. Anyone finishing in the quarterfinal of any of the four grand slam events is automatically placed in that group as well for a period of one year.
For all others. No testing need be done except on random basis by lottery.
The tests must have No exceptions, no delays >24 hours and no excuses. Penalty is a one year automatic suspension for missing a test and two year suspension for testing positive. In order to reenter the tour the athlete must have 52 consecutive negative weekly screens for PEDs and be placed on the 4x per month testing till retirement.
That’s if you’re serious about getting rid of PEDs. However with all the money that the tour and tournament owners and sponsors are making off the PED tour we have now I doubt anything of substance will be done. The players have sold their souls in order to participate in this scripted wrestling match called ATP Tour/GRAND SLAM events.
Respectfully and warmest regards,
Very interesting if somewhat cynical prospective. I can't know for certain so I prefer to take the higher road here.
Adam Gale's article is spot when it comes to Tsonga and 99% of today's pros. They are afraid of the net because they:
1. Do not know how & when to get to the net
2. Topspin approaches sit up for those great passing shots. Copy Bjorn Borg, who had no right winning 5 successive Wimbledons. Develop underspin approaches that hit low and skid ala McEnroe, the best I ever witnessed.
3. Once they do get to the net behind questionable timing and approach shots they do not know how to play at the net. Net play requires positioning, timing and proper technique. How many times have I seen today's pros in the wrong position, hitting volleys close in to their body/late with too little or to much underspin!
4. They do not have the mentality it takes to persevere. Everyone including McEnroe, Edberg, Rafter, Laver, etc, etc, have been passed many times at the net, BUT they still come in at the right time with the right approach and the right technique. Why? Because those great passing shots at 3-3 in the first set become monumentally more difficult at 4-4 in the final set. Ask Bjorn Borg!
5. Tennis instruction in general has relegated net play to a secondary (probably lower than that!) position in importance.
I would like to add one more comment to the article. Tsonga has a frail mentality at times. He comes to some matches with very little purpose and energy we never see in Djokovic and Nadal. I would also add that of these second tier players del Potro has broken through and won a tough major at the US Open. He has what it takes but injuries have not only sapped his confidence a bit, which is improving, but he is not hitting his ground strokes, especially the back hand flat and hard like he did previously. He has become more consistent by hitting with more topspin, but he will never beat Novak and Nadal in who lasts longer from the baseline. He won the US Open and a ton of other tournaments that year and the year before by hitting out more and flatter on his ground strokes. He could hit through ANY player on the tour.
The top 4 can be over powered by these kinds of strokes, especially Federer and Murray He destroyed Rafa in the semis and over powered Roger in the final of that US Open. I do not know if this is an issue with his wrist or confidence, but if he can get back to that old form he can beat anyone, especially on hard courts. He can beat 2 or 3 top level players in succession in a major. The other second tier players may never.
Thanks for your comments! You make a good point about Tsonga's (relative) mental frailty. I think aggression is key again -without a commitment to purposeful attack, he has too much time to think and too much time to doubt.
As for del Potro -he's definitely got the greatest attributes mentally of the second tier, and it absolutely wouldn't surprise me if he bags another major at some point. In general, though, I think the Big Four are so remarkable in so many respects that it's unlikely anyone else will join their ranks as an equal contender for the big ones.
Of course, if Federer fades/retires and Nadal's injury resurfaces, the odds for other guys go up substantially...
Thanks again for your email.
Great article Paul. Your summary and comments on the AO were enjoyable to read.
Your question: How can—should—pro tennis reverse this alarming trend?
I think, like evolution, there always be the survival of the fittest in tennis. Part of being fit, is being intelligent about how to use the fitness.
We might see more “Zen-like” players; more relaxed, effortless power is getting quite popular.
But, changes will happen, that we may not even imagine.
Maybe it’s a good thing that some of the top players get injured. It gives other players a better chance to advance. Ferrer is an example.
They make enough money to take a “forced” break from tennis.
More players might adopt a Federer-like style. Less physical stress.
Maybe the court surfaces will change to accommodate the more intense athleticism.
At a certain point rules might be needed about the strings and racquets used, since technology can get out of hand.
Changes can happen fast now, not like with the wooden racquet period.
Glad you like the article.
Around 2003 John Barrett and about 35 big names in tennis petitioned the ITF to decrease significantly the maximum allowable width of the racket head. That would have reduced racket power. The ITF did nothing to change this important rule. Who knows how that might have affected the number and kind of injuries.
"Survival of the fittest" is fine -- unless that results in fewer and fewer players surviving in matches, seasons, and careers.
Federer is an interesting case because he revealed that early in his pro career he used to have a sore arm a lot. But he did several things subsequently to minimize the frequency and extent of injuries.
Nice article by Adam! It is thought-provoking and I agree Del Potro certainly won't crack the top 4 in 2013.
But one must also consider relativity. Federer and Nadal already peaked and are getting weaker in the next couple years. I think Roger has 2 more majors, but they will come 1-2 years apart. I think he can still win one at age
33-34 but that would be the last and an extraordinary one. Nadal, even if recovered will no longer make a extended run at #1. He could get to #1 for a few months and he has 2-3 more majors in him if healthy but considering he will be 27 this year, for a player relying on speed, his game isn't getting better although he could maintain form for 1-2 more years.
Most players built on speed and movement have peaked in the past at younger ages. They make up the extraordinary teens. For example, Mats Wilander or Michael Chang. More complete, rangy players often peak later, especially those based on power. Todd Martin and Goran Ivanisevic are great examples having their best years near age 30. Also given today's strength requirements and more brutal tour matches, players tend to peak at age 24-30 rather than 18-26 like in 1990. That is, given they take care of their bodies. With given modern care in recovery, training and nutrition and the teams of personnel around the best players, they can extend their careers to some extend (but still, might time take its toll?)
I suspect Del Potro's game will get better, he will become a more complete player. When Nadal and Federer retire,
Del Potro could get to the top 3-4. However, it depends on if his generation of players can cut the gap. That is,
Raonic, Janowicz, Tomic, Nishikori, or Dimitrov. Or others. It's not as talented as Murray/Djokovic/Nadal so in 4-5 years, perhaps Del Potro can get there by default. However, of course, which youngster looms on the horizon may have something to say. However, I agree, Del Potro's game will be always limited by his movement. He should win another major and make 1-2 finals over his career. He is in the same boat as Raonic, neither being a great mover but Raonic has a bigger serve. Janowicz is a slightly better mover (although many say he moves great, yes, maybe for a 6'6" player but average for a smaller player) and he is a threat at top ten, even top 4-5. Cilic doesn't have enough game. I think Tomic neither. He lacks a big serve or real weapon and to rely on finesse and craftiness won't give him a top 2-3 spot although he has talent to be top 10 for a long time. Dimitrov has serious game and does everything well. So of this crop, it could be like Roddick/Nalbandian/Ferrero...good talent but not overwhelming which could open doors for Del Potro. I personally like Grigor's game, he has a complete package but I'm not sure if that will get him to #1. It is quite interesting to see what happens after the current crop as relativity is important (and has hurted a player like Roddick who peaked with Federer peaking and Nadal in the wings).
In addition, perhaps there is another way of expressing the table with the percentage of points won. It's not very clear and the table is mislabeled. For example, rallies 6+ shots won by Del Potro and his opponent don't add up. Are those the specific opponents in the match (Federer at Basal, for example) or a general tendency of winning for Del Potro's matches? It's unclear and mathematically doesn't add up. In addition, it does not seem to prove what you mention, that Del Potro wins in extended rallies. I would interpret his winning percentages vs Federer and Nadal as lower with extended rallies, dropping from 78% to 57% vs Federer and 44% to 38% vs Nadal. So the increase with Djokovic is rather isolated and not statistically meaningful. It would be nice to explain more clearly. Even with my quantitative background, I don't follow the numbers well.
In the end, a fine article. But can you clarify the table? Thanks!
Doug Eng EdD PhD
PTR & USPTA Master Professional
Thanks for your email –I really appreciate your feedback. You raise some
interesting questions about which other players will be challenging for
the big titles over the next few years.
I’ll be watching to see whether Nadal has indeed shrugged off his injury.
If he has, I think he’ll still be quick enough (something that is so
important to his game, as you say) for a couple of years to contend fully
with Djokovic and Murray.
As for the youngsters, I agree that they seem analogous to the
Roddick/Nalbandian/Ferrero/Hewitt generation (ignoring a certain Roger
Federer, that is!) –lots of very good players, but no true all-time
greats. I must say, though, that I had to revise my opinion of Tomic based
on his Australian Open performances (and in the events just prior to it).
His forehand and serve seem to have become real weapons, though I still
believe he lacks the movement and physicality to match a Djokovic or a
I feel I should clarify the table. For four specific matches, it shows the
percentage of points won in different length rallies, on serve. So, for
instance, in the del Potro-Djokovic match at the US Open, del Potro wins
13% of short rallies on del Potro’s serve, while Djokovic wins 54% of
short rallies on Djokovic’s serve. It thus wouldn’t need to add up, though
I think I should have made that clearer.
My point about del Potro’s success in longer vs shorter rallies was that
del Potro has a comparative advantage in longer rallies, rather than an
absolute advantage. So, against Nadal in the US Open, del Potro is indeed
more likely to win shorter rallies than longer ones (44% to 38%) on his
own serve, but then so is Nadal on his own serve.
The fact is that Nadal does relatively even better in shorter rallies on
serve than does del Potro (50% to 38% vs 44% to 38%). For this specific
match, then, you’d say that del Potro’s strength relative to Nadal was in
longer points. Both do equally well (or equally badly) in longer rallies,
but Nadal does better in shorter rallies than del Potro.
What I intended to show was that del Potro does not depend on keeping the
rallies short against these guys any more than they do against him (though
it is still absolutely better for him if the rallies on his serve are
I appreciate this probably doesn’t come over from the table all that well
(I should have provided more explanation, or maybe a bigger table!), but I
hope I’ve cleared it up!
Thanks again — you’re keeping me on my toes!
I would like to comment on the above course (double helix serve). I thought it was fantastic and please pass on my appreciation to Doug. In my view it is one of the best serve courses on the net if not the definitive course; it is so comprehensive.
There is a lot of instruction on the serve on the net, some of it OK, some of it frankly wrong but the Double Helix course is something entirely different. Furthermore I doubt very much that one could get comparable quality from a live lesson; the serve seems to be ignored by a lot of coaches. I managed to master the slice serve — something I have been struggling with for over a year — in about 3 hours more or less following Doug's instruction and progressions.
Particularly with the slice serve a lot of web instruction is plain wrong and Doug shows why (though he doesn't make reference to this). For instance I had been puzzled for a long time as to how pronation or "spike" worked on the slice serve and this was addressed straight away on DH. On his previous courses I had wondered slightly whether there was a little over complication but I now see that the technical detail helps the self-analysis and self correction by offering anchor points which can be checked as you go through what is actually a very complicated process. For example you can add in each of the elements of the serve and then find it's not working but without this knowledge you don't which element is causing the breakdown. I am now a devoted fan of Doug and of TennisOne.
Thanks for your generous comments…it shows that you've really absorbed the approach Doug has been taking. We think the next course, tomorrow, takes things to yet another level. Thanks again.
I have an advance tennis player who is having arms problems and she is seeing a physical therapy. I was showing the physical therapy the serving motion so she would know what my player is doing when she is serving. The physical therapy ask me why should a player land on the on the left foot if the player is right handed. The Physical therapy thought it would make more sense to land of their right foot if you are right handed like throwing a ball. Can you give me a physiologically/biomechanics reason why because that is how the physical therapy understands things.
Bob Farrington PTR
I'm surprised that the physical therapist would make this kind of uninformed remark. When anyone throws a ball, they generally wind up and step forward with their left foot when throwing right handed. In fact, if you watch every single major league pitcher throw, they land on their left foot while their right foot kick very high in the air. Of course, after the delivery, the right foot finally comes around as a landing leg after the sequence is complete.
In serving, this action is even more important because if the right leg comes around during the contact phase, the player will be open at contact and they either pull the ball way out to the left or they will end up having to decelerate the racquet or pronate very early and hit the serve flat, (as in a "paddy cake" serve). In tennis there is always some action of the racquet moving across the ball, even on so-called flat serves. If we open our hips and swing the right leg around during contact, we have no option other than do what I have just described. The same thing happens on the forehand groundstroke. If the player opens up too early, they will have to decelerate the racquet or end up pulling the ball way wide to the left.
The best advice I can offer is to download pictures of pitchers or tennis players, (and even bowlers...who similarly, kick their back, right leg behind them as they release the bowling ball so they can drive their swinging right arm up the lane), at release or at contact, showing how the back leg kicks back and, in fact, doesn't even come close to coming around until well after release of the ball or contact of the ball as in serving.
Here are couple images that should demonstrate this action clearly!
Hope this helps!
David W. Smith