Everything changes. It’s inevitable. The entire planet is continually morphing. The only thing I can think of that is unchanging is that everything is changing.
Tennis is no exception, and the changes that have occurred in our sport are remarkable.
It’s the same game for sure but the athletes contesting it are not. They are bigger, stronger, faster, more agile, and all have a resting heart rate that is close to the equivalent of flat-lining compared to us average humans. Their endurance is beyond belief.
To play for five-plus hours at an incomparable rate of physicality has become the norm rather than exception. A highest-level match by this new breed of “super athlete” can leave a stadium of spectators breathless, and all we’re using is our eyeballs.
I’d be willing to bet that any one of these guys could jump into a triathlon and give some of the upper crust triathletes a run for their money. That’s how fit they are.
Startling advances in technology have contributed greatly to the equation. Rackets have become lighter and more durable while returning more energy to a struck ball than ever before.The frame/string combinations in the hands of today’s players produce an astonishing array of shots. It seems any angle is achievable while the pace on some ground strokes at times is faster than some pros can serve.
Who knows what technological innovation is next? Maybe a user-interactive-racket that has a little built-in infrared tracking system that picks up the flight of an incoming ball, measures mph’s, spin, projected height when it reaches the hitting zone, and then transmits an electrical impulse to the players body that initiates the swing motion to precisely meet the ball at the most expeditious moment to produce the perfect shot.
Sound farfetched? Laugh if you wanna. I’ll get back to you after I’ve finished and field-tested my prototype.
To further explore the changes in tennis, one need only watch one of the more recent encounters between Nadal and Djokovic. Better still, watch several, a few from the Djokovic “reign of supremacy” over Nadal, and then a few from the Nadal “reign of supremacy” over Djokovic and any other poor soul along the route to get to a meeting with him.
Here’s what I’ve seen.
Tennis is no longer about simply imposing your strengths against the opponents weaknesses. That just doesn’t work anymore, at least not at the elite level. They’re far to evenly matched.
It’s all about pattern play.
The parity between these guys is so very close despite playing stylistically different games that they now must rely on finding a pattern of play within each rally that affords them the greatest chance of winning the point. That’s a point…one point. Then they have to replicate that pattern repeatedly, point after point after point within the structure of the entire match to emerge victorious.
Listen, both guys can produce shots that astound, many planned, some improvised as needed. But they both also can defend against those miracle shots equally well.
If it was just about shot creation and execution, hell, “The Fed” would still be numero uno. No player on the planet has a more complete catalog of shots than Roger Federer. And Federer’s improvisational skills are astonishing. The level of elegant acumen he brings to a match leaves one shaking his head in amazement.
So, the outcome of a match between Nadal and Djokovic, ultimately, boils down to which player has devised and been able to implement his pattern most successfully for the duration of the contest.
Modern tennis is just far more intricate than in the past.
As Nadal answered in a post-match interview concerning how he was able to get the better of Djokovic, after a thoughtful pause, with furrowed brow, he said, “It’s complicated.”