While I do not feel as rare as the East African Bongo (pictured above), I was watching some top junior players in my region hitting. They all hit with extreme grips, generated a lot of topspin and hit two-handed backhands that were slightly different from the form I observed as a kid (I have hit a one-handed backhand for all but two weeks of my tennis life). It was great to see young players who love tennis hitting the ball as hard as they were.
It was also a bit jarring. Certainly in the 1990s, a lot of players had patterned their games after Andre Agassi, Jim Courier or Michael Chang. Still, Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Patrick Rafter, Michael Stich and others gave templates for one-handed players who built their game around their serves. I fell into this category. My first year of regularly playing matches with neighborhood friends was an exercise on how to lose. However, once I learned to serve with some acumen in the seventh grade, I routinely beat my friends, did well in leagues and began to play tournaments. I hit big serves, moved forward, volleyed well and generally played a clean style of tennis. As I moved into high school and larger pools of opponents, I did not always meet with success, but my game was fairly straight forward. Win or lose, I was going to serve pretty big and get to the net during my matches.
My one-handed backhand at that age was a liability because I could really only slice the ball unless an ideal situation arose for driving though the ball. By the time I was in college, I was strong enough to have really good versatility on my backhand wing. In the early part of the 2000’s I was living in a remote location, but a man from Spain lived near me and we played tennis four or five days per week for a solid year (even in very cold weather). His topspin based game helped me round out my game and become a more all court player. Still, I generally beat him. I did so because I was willing to serve and volley and willing to chip and charge. He said as much when I eventually moved ending our one year run of singles competition. He told me he had to learn to come forward as well.
Edberg vs. Muster 1994
I love this clip because it captures two very different approaches for constructing and winning points.
Where You Are the Endangered Species
That was the tagline for the very mediocre film adaptation of the novel Congo. Watching these juniors, I thought my grips, my court positioning, my backhand and my general approach to tennis is anathema to how they play. I do not begrudge the pros for turning away from more net centric styles of tennis. The percentages just are not there. However, I am not convinced that the average junior player or club player has the hand eye coordination or racquet head speed to really push an opponent off of the net. Regardless of the racquets and strings available to an average player, he or she is average just like me.
That makes me think forward moving styles of tennis are still quite viable. I have had a chance to hit for a few minutes here and there with junior players this year. The one shot that they struggle with the most is my one-handed slice backhand. I hit the shot reasonably well, but it is also a shot they never see. Therefore, the advantage of unorthodoxy or the element of surprise alone should keep players like me who honed their games in the 1990s or prior happy to maintain our style of play. Throw in that an attacking player knows what to expect from almost every younger player and that younger players are not used to hitting passing shots or lobs, and the future just gets brighter for a style that is seemingly obsolete. I just got my preferred racquets restrung, and I was cracking serves like it was 1993. I simply say that if tennis that focuses on getting to the net is a dinosaur, it is the job of practitioners of attacking tennis to be Jurassic Park.
The Law of Eternal Recurrence?