Monday, June 30, 2003

Tennis, Anyone? Fine article in WSJ (here, if you subscribe) on the changes that the big serve has brought to Wimbledon. Grass used to be the serve-and-volley player's home court, but power serves and huge racquets have made the returns so powerful that a clean volley is difficult to pull off.
So grass-court tennis has become more like tennis on hard courts. Hit a big serve. Stay back. And wait to hit a short forehand for a winner.
Now, an alarming number of points still come from unreturnable serves, or from rallies in which the returner is never really in the point. The matches may be a bit longer, but not particularly more interesting. This is partly because, while power has increased in importance, strategy has not. (The exception her is the brief dominance of Martina Hingis on the ladies' side. That the petite Swiss could handle the Williamses and Davenport made things very interesting. Justine Henin has some of the same ability.) So two baseliners playing it out at Wimbledon can be nearly as much of a yawn as two big-hitting server-and-volley players going five sets with only a comparative handful of contested points. In any number of big men's matches, service breaks are quite rare.

The Journal points to Andy Roddick as the new Wimbledon player:

But Mr. Roddick's serve is not only blazingly fast, it's also remarkably effective, winning more than 70% of his service points. Even more importantly, that serve holds up under pressure. He plays the big points supremely well, fighting off 66.7% of break points. All this adds up to making Mr. Roddick the world's toughest player to break, with an incredible 89.1 hold percentage.
It's true that players like Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick look to the style of, say, Ivan Lendl. (Amazingly, Lendl, the ice-master of the baseline, served and volleyed at SW19.) But it hasn't been that long since Sampras dominated SW19, with Pat Rafter and Richard Krajicek not far behind. It might be worth waiting to see if the trend holds up. Either way, a smaller racquet would put some life back into the game. But that won't happen soon. For better or worse, the ATP markets itself as a power sport now.

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