As tennis matches grow longer, it leaves a puzzling question – how much can the athletes’ body take? The past two years has seen the rise of Novak Djokovic, a player who simply could not climb tennis’ Everest in the preceding years. He has reached 6 of the last nine finals, losing only one of those to Scot Andy Murray. What audiences realize is that the Serb is merely trudging on the foundations laid forth by Nadal. Djokovic has managed to prolong the duration of rallies and in turn the length of matches much like Nadal in his hay day.
Gone are the days when tennis was a recreational sport, the only requirement being a fit body and nippy toes. The likes of Borg, Connors, Sampras and Federer are testimony. Lighter racquets and heavy tennis balls have changed the dimensions and brought about the power of the muscle. These new balls were smoother in the air and although they travelled with the same velocity, they gave the players a few microseconds more to make returns, hence longer rallies.
For the better part of a decade, Federer enthralled audiences with nuances of a perfect game. He remained the only top flight athlete to use a heavier racquet, a reason that enables him to hit better returns at the price of lesser reactionary speed. Nadal challenged him with baseline battles and won. His muscular winners were too quick for Federer. Djokovic beat Nadal at his own game, and it all came round when Murray won at Flushing Meadows.
The sport has turned more physical even though it might lack actual contact. This will take a toll, like Nadal’s knee giving way or Djokovic’s back spasm last year. Murray frailty with his ankles are a known fable while Federer’s exhaustion makes him attack more and hence the unforced errors.
Tennis was never this complicated. The influx of muscle over mind makes it thrilling to watch, but at what cost?