No Ordinary Time? Part 1 – Raising Questions

No Ordinary Time? Part 1 of 3

The General Narrative is that since 2004 ATP Tennis has entered a golden age of unprecedented quality and consistency.  It seems reasonable to ask how different tennis of the past 10-15 years has been from what came before it.

A Few Obvious (?) Differences

  • The STRINGS – Spin is easier to generate so players can swing harder with a greater margin for error.  The oldest players on tour have used these strings for most of their professional careers while players 30 and under used these strings as juniors as well.  Andre Agassi credited switching to polyester strings in 2002 with a resurgence even if his team had to fine tune his new stringing materials for different surfaces.
    • Have contemporary string technologies made losses of foot speed less catastrophic by providing a greater margin for error for aging players?
    • Have today’s strings made surface differences easier to negotiate?
  • Players are handling age better – Why?
    • Has the rise in prize money allowed top players to travel more easily so that miles take less of a toll on their psyches?  Did Agassi’s private jet usher in a new era of elite longevity?  Agassi did play much deeper into his 30s than his peers.
      • If this is the case, how does the longevity of non-elite players such as Ivo Karlovic and Gilles Muller fit into the travel narrative?
    • Have tennis specific exercises made injury from cross-training less of an issue and allowed for greater longevity?
  • Looking at the great Aussies, longevity was a given.  What parallel structures might exist today?
    • Tennis surfaces are more uniform today than they were in the 1980s & 1990s.  The Aussies of the 1960s and 1970s played a great deal of tennis on grass courts.  Does surface uniformity make preparation for tennis easier in a manner that allows for longer careers?

How Different is Tennis Today?

  • From 2000-2003, each year had 4 different players claim the 4 Grand Slam titles of a given year.  From 2004 to 2016, only 2012 and 2014 featured 4 different Grand Slam winners.
    • 2000-2003 seems quite different from the typical tour results in recent years, but didn’t Sampras win 2 majors per year 4 different times?  Agassi and Courier each did this once as well.  Therefore from 1992-1999, only 1996 featured a year with 4 different Grand Slam champions.
    • In the 1980s, Bjorn Borg (1980), John McEnroe (1981 & 1984), Jimmy Connors (1982), Ivan Lendl (1986 & 1987), Mats Wilander (1988), and Boris Becker (1989) all had years with multiple Grand Slam titles.
      • Given how different clay and grass played from one another then and the lesser emphasis on the Australian Open, are the results of 1992-1999 and the results of the 1980s that different from the results from 2004-2016?
  • Is 2000-2003 the true anomaly? 1990 and 1991 also featured a generational shift and seasons with 4 different Grand Slam champions.

“Hey Pete, I reached 2 major finals in 1995 and won 1 of them.”

“Andre, I reached 3 major finals and won 2 of them.”

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3 Comments

  1. All good points (and questions). I think also, with the rise in the amount of prize money, top players can be more selective of what tournaments they play, thus putting less stress on their bodies…leading to longevity. And, for better or worse, I just finished reading Jimmy Conners “Outsider” and although a lot of the book was excuses for some of his inexplicable behavior, he does raise a lot of good points about how the game has changed over the years.

    1. I need to read it at some point. Yeah, I agree prize money has allowed for more selective scheduling. Also, the Masters 1000 events started doing byes for seeded players. Trying to go back-to-back with Canada and Cincinnati like Rafter did in 1998 or Roddick in 2003 was a lot harder than it is now.

  2. More incentive to stick around too with higher pay. Guys like Ferrer, Berdych, youhzny, robredo may well have retired in the past as the money wouldn’t have been much of an incentive to guys to stick around past when they could produce their best results. Now there’s good reason for a former top 5-10 player to compete with younger guys to stay in the top 50. This is the biggest difference IMO. I still think the very best will still quit when they can’t win majors anymore.

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