Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Times Were...

I’ve been getting back into playing tennis lately. I played a ton when I was a kid. From about 12 or so years-old through high school, between lessons, leagues, and recreational matches, I couldn’t even guess how much time I put in on the court. In any event, it was a lot.

I took a bit of a hiatus through college. It was due almost exclusively to the fact that I couldn’t find anyone to play against, and membership fees to an indoor club were not an option. So I put it on the shelf for a while, took the opportunities to play whenever they arose, and followed the game and it’s pros a little less aggressively than I had in high school.

Jump ahead until now, about 6 years later, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make a new friend who can play the game. And by play the game, I mean he’s more than just a backstop. I’m getting out and running around more, getting stronger in areas that have been dormant for a while, and getting enough pt that I’m considering getting a new racquet.

So to that end, here’s what I’ve noticed about the changes I’ve seen in the game as a whole…

Times were: hitting an open-stance forehand was lazy, inefficient, and somewhat frowned upon as overall bad technique; trademark of someone who did not have good coaching.
Now: you better figure it out in short order. People hit with more pace now then ever before and taking the extra step, while good form, isn’t always possible with a 90 mph groundstroke closing in on you. Not to mention, the way you have to slide on surfaces like clay necessitate at least knowing how to hit from an open stance.

Times were: you were bombing serves at 110 mph. I remember the first US Open that I really paid attention to was a match featuring Jimmy Connors, which should tell you that was probably 20 years ago give or take. It was amazing to everyone that his serve was moving around 108. Pete Sampras helped to elevate the serve smacking them in the mid-120’s with pin point control. And monster lefty Goran Ivanisevic was a marvel dropping bombs in the neighborhood of almost 140. As far as the women’s tour, Brenda Schultz-McCarthy set the benchmark being the first woman to hit the 120 mark in the early 90’s.
Now: Andy Roddick has been recorded as dropping the biggest bomb at 155 mph. And for that matter, if he hits one as slow as 115, he’s hurt or exhausted.

Times were: a western-grip for ground strokes was novel. The first people I remember with really western grips were mostly clay players with big, looping ground strokes. But then I remember reading about Jim Courier holding his forehand western to evoke more spin naturally.
Now: does anyone use anything else?

Times were: you would never, ever, ever, ever swing at a volley. Showy, inefficient, nearly impossible to control, just bad tradecraft.
Now: you can thank the great Andre Agassi for laying rest to those statements. He’d take a chest-high ball and swing away no matter where he was on the court. Now, like an open stance on ground strokes, its common practice.

Times were: racquets were wood.
Now: who the hell knows what all materials they use these days? But I guess that’s just technology and product advancements. What I found more interesting is the head size. As the materials changed, the racquets got lighter, the heads got bigger, which is not hard when compared to their wood counterparts. They tended to settle around the 95 square inch mark for mid-size models, and 110 for oversize. Then something interesting happened- they started getting smaller again. Pete Sampras and Jim Courier used the original Wilson ProStaff. That thing was a heavy club with an 85 square inch head. A lot of people thought they were nuts. Now, the philosophy of the players has changed such that they are moving back towards smaller heads and heavier racquets. A mid-size now is likely to run close to 90 or 93 inches. They still have the 95 inch models, but some of them now run all the way down to 85. Not to mention, Oversizes seem to run to the 105 mark anymore. I guess it all speaks to the evolution of the player getting stronger and wanting an edge in control.

Funny what you pick up…

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