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By Chris Oddo/ Tuesday, September 17, 2013

 

Pat Cash is getting tired of baseline tennis, and he ripped the modern game in a recently penned column for CNN.

Photo Source: AP

In a recent column, published just after the U.S. Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash took a few shots at the modern game, saying, “There's an argument that this generation of men's tennis is boring and I think it's a valid one.”

Do you agree? Can it possibly be that this generation, replete with two of the three most accomplished players of all-time and the blockbuster rivalries that each has spawned, is no more entertaining or perhaps even less entertaining than previous generations?

Cash thinks so, and so do many others who are forever lamenting the end of serve-and-volley tennis and all the improvisational acrobatics that went with it. “Nowadays they all settle down and say 'OK, this is going to be two hours of baseline rallies,' writes Cash. “The guy who outlasts the other one wins. It’s taken a lot of the skill out of tennis.”

Well, it's taken the volley out of tennis for sure, but one can also make the argument that today's baseliners are far superior technically than any generation ever has been. Just compare Novak Djokovic's backhand to John McEnroe's and consider my point expressed.

But Cash's perspective is valid. True, he is a tried-and-true serve-and-volleyer, so he is and will always will be biased in a sense. But who among us hasn't wished that the game had more variety in it these days? The more monochrome the tennis, the less surprising and the less uplifting, but the problem is not with the players, it's with the technology.

“Nadal and Djokovic are exceptional athletes, there’s no doubt about it, but to say they are better athletes than past greats like Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg is just nonsense,” writes Cash. “This is some crap drummed up by somebody and I think it’s an insult to past players. Modern players don’t dive around the net, they don’t deliver backhand smashes, they don’t have to twist and turn like past generations.”

Some of what Cash is saying is true. These days the net game that he laments the loss of is more of a change-of-pace tactic that is used for the element of surprise, but the reason has more to do with the lethality of today's baseliners, who can drop balls off a cliff with revolutionary spin trajectories, while launching them at over 100 mph. Even Stefan Edberg would not want to deal with Rafael Nadal's ridiculous passing game, and I'm convinced that if he played in this generation, he'd give his all-out net-rushing tactics a second and third thought when he found passing shots whizzing by him or cliff-diving into his shoelaces each time he approached. With today's polyester strings and lighter, stiffer racquets, it's a whole different game.

Did anyone see Li Na try to incorporate a net game into her U.S. Open semifinal against Serena Williams? Or how about Roger Federer's kamikaze forays against Tommy Robredo? It may have been exciting,  but for Li and Federer it was also a death sentence. The message there is that if you don't hit a perfect approach shot and have your opponent on the defensive, the odds of winning that point are significantly less than they used to be. Today's players are too smart to take that risk over and over so they stick with what wins them points, games, sets and matches. Who could blame them for that?

The finished product, as Cash so eloquently puts, can sometimes lack variety. It's a shame, but as the cliché goes, it is what it is.

“In terms of pure baseline quality it’s hard to better these guys, but I like to see a contrast,” writes Cash. “Human beings love variety. We don’t want to watch the same style of play, we don’t want to watch the same shots all of the time. Players have got to mix it up. Almost every modern player has the same tactics, which some use better than others. We rightly celebrate these great matches between Nadal and Djokovic, but we need to look at the bigger picture.”

The bigger picture does not involve the players, it involves the tournaments—who have worked extremely hard to homogenize tennis's playing surfaces, making them all play similarly, slow and high bouncing—and it involves the lack of regulation of new string and racquet technologies that are making today's players more lethal than ever from the baseline.

Now more than ever players can do more from the baseline. When their opponent recklessly makes his way to the net, they can do even more damage. So why go to the net?

It may be boring but until more people get in Cash's corner and start to push for change through the powers that be, it will be reality.

What do you think?


 

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