Did wood rackets change (style of play) much over the decades?

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by thor's hammer, Sep 3, 2013.

  1. thor's hammer

    thor's hammer Semi-Pro

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    Obviously when the first metal and then graphite rackets came onto the tennis scene things changed pretty dramatically, but one thing I'm curious about is how much the wood rackets changed over the years, say from what Budge and his peers used in the 30's up until woodies disappeared from the pro ranks in the early 80's?

    I know this is essentially about rackets, but also involves the players from those prior eras, as people often wonder how they would have stacked up. Would the rackets have made a big difference?

    Were the stringbed sizes, weight, swing weight, flex, etc very different? Were there significant technological advancements over that period?
     
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  2. robow7

    robow7 Professional

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    I know the Jack Kramer autograph racquet began its 35 year career in 1948 and can say for sure it didn't change much if any in the final 15 years of production. The Dunlop Maxply Fort received a small lamination of graphite in the early 80's and was called a Maxply McEnroe but it played identical to the standard Forts that had been around for years or at least I couldn't tell any difference and I played high school and collegiate tennis with them for years.
     
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  3. robbo1970

    robbo1970 Hall of Fame

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    Some were certainly stiffer than others.

    The Maxply Fort was known for being flexy. I am aware that Borg would have his Donnay's reinforced to cope with the high tensions he would string at, so I would presume they were stiffer.

    There were variances but it does not seem to even closely compare to the minefield that goes on today. It seems a lot of players spend more time analysing their racket specs than they do actually playing. But I suspect that is down to easier access to such information. I am sure that if the same analysis could be done by recreational players back in the day, they would probably do the same as they do today.
     
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  4. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    From what I've read, tennis from the 1800's through the 1930's was primarily a baseline played game. Player rallied until one made an error. Outright winners hit from the baseline were unheard of and seldom if ever seen. Today, they are as common as 130 MPH serves or 120 MPH serves on the women's tour.

    The single biggest change to tennis occurred in the 1940s when Jack Kramer "developed" percentage tennis. This new tactic employed cautious baseline play and approach shots designed to get the player to the net. John McEnroe said it best when he said that he viewed S&V as the best way to win a point given the size of a wood racquet and the geometry of being at net. Quite simply, you had more court to hit into.

    I will disagree with one thing in the OP. Metal racquets have been around forever and really didn't change the game. Jimmy Connors and the T2000 were viewed as revolutionary and it was the combination or perfect storm of the two that did it. Every other pro at the time tried a T2000. They could hit the ball as hard as Connors, but none could control the ball using that frame.

    Likewise, graphite came along and didn't really change the game. There were early graphite frames that were "standard" sized; i.e. they had 67 sq in heads. Among them were the Wilson PWS, Bancroft Scorpion, Fansteel Graphite, Tony Trabert C-6, and Adilla Canon. I own a Trabert C-6 and have hit with most of the others listed. Early graphite frames were very heavy, very stiff, and evenly balanced. The string patterns were just like wood. In short, they were designed to play and swing like wood racquets. There wasn't a big power boost using them.

    It wasn't until the Prince Classic, then just known as the Prince, came along. It wasn't all that powerful by today's standard. It was actually very flexible. Wilson followed suit and produced the first Cobra which was a rocket launcher. I demoed one way back then and aside from being told by my mates I was hitting with a women's racquet, I found it very difficult to keep the ball off the back fence.

    The development of graphite frames has truly been an evolution. Even as late as the late 80's, graphite frames while larger in head size weren't all that much more powerful. I attribute this again to their weight and balance. While lighter than their predecessors, they weren't like today's frames and the balance point was still more even. The frames had a heavy swing to them. I remember reading a Tennis Magazine article way back then which was documenting the evolution. The first "mid" racquet generation headsize averaged 80 square inches. It seemed to be the de facto standard for all manufacturers. Then, almost as if on queue, everybody went to 90's and then 5 years late again to 95's. Now it seems 95's are destined for relegation to the same place as 90's, as specialty frames. Today, the market is vastly dominated by 98 - 100 sq inch frames. OS frames are as common as 90's it seems.

    Anyway, while 80 - 95 sq in racquets were predominant along with their more wood-like weight and balance, S&V tennis dominated. It wasn't until the latest generation of frame came along with more headlight balance, lighter weights, and polyester string that S&V tennis became a thing of the past.

    Way back, pundits were astonished the Bjorn Borg could hit outright winners from the baseline with his opponent on the other baseline with a wood racquet. It simply had not been seen. Borg was the first player to routinely hit winners baseline to baseline. Until then, rallies were won by forcing errors.

    A whole generation of power baseliners followed Borg. And still, S&V was viable.

    Today, S&V is dead mostly due to the refinement of the graphite frame and its ability to be tweaked to the gram in weight and balance. Players can get a frame as light or as heavy as they want. In the days of wood, the only option you had was to drill holes in your racquet as Pancho Gonzalez did in one of his later Wimbledon campaigns. He drilled holes in some of his frames to take out wood to lighten them if the match went long and he found himself tiring. Frames are also measured for flex down to the MM and can be custom built not only for professionals, but for club players. There are racquets today for all levels.

    Finally, the string of today as everyone knows, makes a huge difference. The best term I've heard for it is "anti-performance". It takes all the power out of the shot, but provides unheard of spin and control. Where once players used natural gut to power up wood frames, and then used tension to adjust the power (higher tension/lower power), today players are using polyester to deaden their frames and allow them to swing away.

    If you look at tennis and racquetball side by side, you can see an eerie parallel. Where once you could watch racquetball on TV and see the ball, now that they have tennis-sized heads, you can't even see the ball. And no one really watches it anymore. Tennis crowds are falling away too.
     
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  5. andreh

    andreh Professional

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    ^^ Awsome post.
     
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  6. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    I think, Bunny Austin played in the late 30s with an areodynamic racket, that had three segments and an open racket heart, made by Hazells, which was a bit like the much later Snauwaert wood racket, Miloslav Mecir played with. Jack Crawford played still with an old triangular racket. Overall i think up until the late 30s, the wood rackets looked different, much heavier and often without a leather grip. Since the late 30s, early 40s they looked more streamlined, and didn't change much until the late 60s.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2013
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  7. thor's hammer

    thor's hammer Semi-Pro

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    Great posts! Thanks all for sharing your thoughts, especially Rabbit!

    If anyone has pics of wooden rackets pros commonly would've used in the 30's-40's-50's I think it would be cool to add them into this thread. 60's-70's-80's as well, but they are easier to come by.
     
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  8. vsbabolat

    vsbabolat Legend

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    The Maxply McEnroe had No graphite in it! It was stiffer than the Maxply Fort.
    Here is what the Maxply McEnroe is composed of:
    [​IMG]

    There were of Maxply racquets such as the Maxply Fort Graphite. That did a have a lamination of graphite in the bow. There was also the Maxply Fort Tournament.

    But of the years of the original Maxply Fort the shoulders got much thicker.
     
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  9. robow7

    robow7 Professional

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    Was it the vulcanized fibre that comprised the black striation in the Max Ply McEnroe? and what the heck was "vulcanized fibre", thought it was the early forerunner to graphite?

    And I have to disagree with the post above that stated the Forts were flexible, I know it's all relative but now the TAD's were flexible with that narrow neck, never thought the Forts had that much play in the throat area.
     
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  10. vsbabolat

    vsbabolat Legend

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    Vulcanized Fibre has nothing to do with Carbon Fibre (graphite). Every wood racquet I have ever had has Vulcanized Fibre.

    You are comparing stability to flexible. Its also where the racquet Flexes. The Fort flexed more in the Bow.
     
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  11. gavna

    gavna Hall of Fame

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    Just FYI "Vulcanized Fiber" is a plant/paper based plastic laminate. Common in the use of wood laminates and veneers. Very light, stiff and tough - helps stabilize and add torsion rigidity - many frames in the 70s added it to make frames stiffer without adding weight.
     
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  12. robow7

    robow7 Professional

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    Thanks for the correction, not sure but I think I was confusing the McEnroe Maxply with that graphite version of the Maxply. And here I owned the three racquets below, duh!

    [​IMG]
     
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  13. thor's hammer

    thor's hammer Semi-Pro

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    When I watch some of the players from generations past (say 1960's and older) using wood rackets it seems like they kinda push their ground strokes, sometimes almost flinging the racket through the ball. That's how it comes across. To me.

    However I feel from occasionally hitting with a Kramer Autograph that more modern, coil and release the kinetic chain style hitting can work too. Makes me think a modern top player could potentially play effectively with an old woodie. Not enough to truly be competitive, but still pretty good, and not just on serves and volleys.

    Do you folks see and feel things that way too? Or am I expressing foreign concepts?

    Or dreaming? ;-)
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2013
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  14. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    I wonder what the total sales were of this beautiful wood racquet? Great racquets robow7.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    A big difference in racquets has been the increased width of racquets, which allow for much more extreme swing paths.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2013
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  15. NLBwell

    NLBwell Legend

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    Very nice post Rabbit.
    However, it was Connors who was noted for hitting his groundstrokes so hard. Nobody had really seen the way he was so aggressive on them consistently. Borg was known for his high looping strokes and amazing consistency.
     
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  16. thor's hammer

    thor's hammer Semi-Pro

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    Those Kramer Autographs really are beautiful pieces of work. Pieces of art, really. I found a couple in amazingly good shape in thrift stores, and treasure them!

    >> A big difference in racquets has been the increased width of racquets,
    >> which allow for much more extreme swing paths.

    I guess this is true in the sense that there's a bigger sweetspot and more room to make off-center hits, but regardless of whether there's an extreme low-to-high or high-to-low path, the ball connects with a spot on the strings and off it goes, it doesn't move across the stringbed. If hit dead center it's going to do what it's told.

    And I guess that's why Borg could hit with such great topspin on those small old rackets. He had that phenomenal laser-like focus and concentration. I'll bet the majority of his shots were dead center.
     
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  17. Frankc

    Frankc Semi-Pro

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    Those Kramers are beautiful - yet I do prefer the Pro Staff...
     
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  18. bluegrasser

    bluegrasser Hall of Fame

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    Good Post Rabbit - Looking at your stick ( Wilson 99s, poly) & set up, you're definitely in the modern game, but reading your synopsis of the game the last eighty yrs or so, I get the feeling that you're unhappy with where the game is now, reading between the lines. Is it a " if you can't beat them, join them" just curious. Please don't tell me you're 18 lol
     
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  19. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    Sorry, let me expand. Connors was known for bringing a new dimension of power to the game. And that's why I specifically mentioned the T2000. Every pro during that era it seems at one time or another tried that frame.

    You're correct about Borg...early in his career. However, later in his career when he "manned" up, he not only developed one of the best serves in the game, he also learned to flatten his ground strokes and added a ton of power. Borg progressed during his career from being a retriever to becoming a dominant power player on faster surfaces. While he still played ultra-consistent tennis on clay, he could afford to since he didn't miss and was the fittest guy ever, he often found himself able to completely dominate his opponent through power on faster surfaces.

    You are very perceptive. :) I do miss wood. You may remember about ten years ago, I posted my year playing league with a Head Vilas. It was fun. The most fun was playing 4.5 with it against kids who were younger than my racquet, had never seen a wood racquet, and then really got p!ssed when they lost. I actually won more than I lost with those. When I watched the U.S. Open last night and saw a women's QF at 7:00 ET and stands that were 1/2 full, it makes me miss wood even more! Tennis has become so one dimensional that it just isn't any fun to watch the pros play.

    Sorry, let me add (EDIT) to this that I do like the 99S. I have fun playing with it. I also, have had an epiphany! After trying to rework my forehand into a "modern" stroke, I watched the 1998 Lipton between Rios and Agassi. After that, I searched Youtube for "RIOS FOREHAND". Watch it. Rios had an amazingly convention forehand. The racquet face does not point to the fence on his take back, it's not overly closed. There is life after all with an old school forehand. I played in a mixer last weekend on Labor Day and just "forgot" all the stuff the pro had been telling me to do: prepare in front, get in the cylinder, alter your grip to a Western, prepare high, swing down then up. I forgot all that, took the racquet back in a normal arc with my wrist cocked at about 45 degrees and an Eastern grip and then swing through the ball. My old arsed arm worked a whole lot better like this, I was able to hit the ball harder, I didn't miss a single forehand all day, and it felt......smooth. But, I didn't get the spin the newer technique allows for. But between lots of spin and missing and less spin and not missing....well it's an IQ test. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2013
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  20. bluegrasser

    bluegrasser Hall of Fame

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    Rabbit _ I'm old school all the way, eastern on the forehand, eastern/con't bkhnd, I really have no desire to change, the strokes still work for me. The thing I miss most is the feel/sound when you hit the sweetspot on a wood frame, heavenly.
     
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  21. NLBwell

    NLBwell Legend

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    Yes, you are correct about later Borg. I thought you were referring to Borg when he first came on the scene and made such a big splash - changing the way the game was perceived. I mentioned it because I know you are knowledgeable and it confused me.
     
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  22. thor's hammer

    thor's hammer Semi-Pro

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    When I watch the Rios forehand in action I see an open stance, a western grip, a huge loop, a very pronounced laying back of the wrist, and a windshield wiper motion.

    http://youtu.be/wI9qTCIo6-0

    Old school? Maybe more so than this Djokovic forehand, which seems to exhibit the racket face characteristics you focus on, but overall Rios is pretty modern, IMHO.

    http://youtu.be/PLRLP8g7-zY

    Here's some more food for thought...

    http://youtu.be/6MBymuwSvgg
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2013
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  23. mattennis

    mattennis Hall of Fame

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    It looks between eastern and semiwestern.
     
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  24. thor's hammer

    thor's hammer Semi-Pro

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    Fair enough - western was an overstatement. Still I think the rest was pretty much on target, and to me that's not really an old school forehand, except maybe in the Borg-ian sense. ;-)

    That aside, Rabbit spoke in an earlier post of how he has played with a wood racket. I'm wondering what others' experience has been, regardless of whether they grew up playing on wood and changed over to a more modern racket over time, (possibly/probably evolving their stroke production along the way), or grew up with modern rackets and have just tried playing with old woodies at some point.

    Myself, I mostly use an eastern forehand and backhand, but will slide a little toward semi-western/extreme eastern at times to get a little more topspin on the ball. When I hit with my Kramer Autograph I feel like the biggest adjustment I have to make is to allow more time - the racket is heavier and takes longer to come around on/through the stroke I guess I would say - but otherwise I feel like I hit off both wings more or less the same way I do with my, er, relatively modern racket - Pro Staff 95.

    I also note that with the Kramer volleys can feel a lot more solid, and slice backhands can really come shooting hard off the racket, actually making for a pretty offensive shot. I say "can" because the shots have to be hit right, and with the smaller sweetspot and requirement of more time that can NOT happen. But when it does, in the immortal words of Dick Enberg ... "Oh My!"
     
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  25. Soundog

    Soundog Rookie

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    I grew up playing with wood rackets (Dunlop Maxply, Maxply Graphite etc). I moved to a conventional aluminium and then a mid size aluminium which I never felt comfortable with because the lower sweet spot made it feel to me like playing with a ping pong bat.

    Since then, I've tried almost everything and along the way, have had to adjust my style in terms of swing mechanics and tactics. I tried wide bodies and found plenty of power but little control, oversize, back to mid sizes, long bodies, back to standard length and finally long bodies again.

    After going around the world with rackets and doing a tremendous amount of experimentation with lead and strings, I've finally settled on what I like best which to me, is the formula which works best overall. Good power, good control and comfortable - thin beam ( preferrable box beam ), flexy and long. weighted like wood rackets with very light handles. My current frames are a lengthened Prince Exo3 Tour or a Yonex Pro RD 70 Long 95 with lead on it.

    When I had wood rackets, I used a continental grip for my forehand, had very short swings and used to throw the racket head at the ball. The weight of the rackets was sufficient to do that and still get power which was predominantly from the mass of the racket. I could serve and volley or play from the baseline just as easily. Most of the time I hit flat but had no trouble producing extreme topspin either - it's just that topspin shots didn't go very fast from one end of the court to the other. The short strings and the flex gave the rackets fantastic control and I found a couple of years ago after taking a wood racket out with a ball machine, that I could almost hit lines on cue - particularly with volleys. I was much more confident of my placement with it than with the pro staff 95 which I was using at the time.

    The longer strings in the modern 98 and 100 inch heads produce a lot of power from the elasticity of the strings so they are less controllable. I'm finding that the high amount of flex in my Prince and Yonex compensates for that and gives me back the feel and control I like so much in wood rackets. Also, being lengthened, they put the sweet spot back to where it should be in relation to the distance from my hand, but now I have a western grip on the forehand, play the modern baseline bashing game into the corners and don't volley much because it is harder to do so. I'm now back to my original technique of throwing the racket head at the ball, but have found that the different weight distribution of modern rackets is geared towards baseline power and spin.

    When I added weight to the head to give me better depth control, I had to lighten the handles and shafts by changing butt caps to remove as much weight as possible from them. They played well, but gave me a sore shoulder from always having to stop the swing to control depth. More recently, I've removed much of the lead from the head and put some of it onto the shaft near the fork to make the weighting more like a wood racket. This has improved my volleying but taken out some of the power and venom I had on my ground strokes and serves. My attacking game is in some ways better because I can hit shorter angles hard with more dipping topspin, but my defensive game is worse because I don't get the power and depth when at full stretch or on the run.

    Like all things, it's swings and roundabouts and there really is no perfect racket, but I'm pretty happy with the current compromises I've got. I do miss wood, but I've finally found a frame which feels like I'm still using it.
     
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  26. Frank Silbermann

    Frank Silbermann Professional

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    I read a long time ago that the string beds on the rackets of the 1930s were slightly larger than those of the 1960s and '70s -- maybe 70 to 75 square inches instead of the 65 square inches of a modern standard sized racket (which no one since Ivan Lendl has used).

    Apparently, this was due to the abandonment of baseline tennis in the 1940s and '50s in favor of the modern serve-and-volley game. Some rackets, believe it or not, may have been even smaller than 65 square inches -- such as these:

    http://ts1.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.5004144814654592&pid=1.7&w=300&h=188&c=7&rs=1

    http://ts4.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4819336692499459&pid=1.7&w=270&h=188&c=7&rs=1

    http://ts4.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4722150186092495&pid=1.7&w=254&h=188&c=7&rs=1

    http://ts2.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4799047274269077&pid=1.7&w=256&h=188&c=7&rs=1
     
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  27. Bjorn99

    Bjorn99 Professional

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    Finally someone gets it.
     
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  28. robow7

    robow7 Professional

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    Hey Frank, 1st non-wood racquet I played competitively with was one of those PDP Opens. I was looking for Roscoe's 1st serve, but was never quite able to pull it off even using his racquet, .......imagine that. ha
     
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  29. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    Compare Rios' forehand to Vilas' from 1981 and then Djokovic to either of them. Rios and Vilas have identical take backs and follow throughs. Vilas is playing with a wood racquet.

    My point was this, today, the forehand involves setting up in front of you, taking the racquet back in "a cylinder" with the racquet pointing toward the sky, the racquet face on takeback should be pointing to the fence.

    None of these are true for Vilas or Rios, but all are true of Djokovic. Regardless, an effective shot can be produced.
     
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  30. Bjorn99

    Bjorn99 Professional

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    Coaching was awful back then. Its still pretty awful now, but at least peole can copy and paste the best players. And get most of it.

    Great players are often a result of great coaching.

    Players NOWADAYS concentrate on follow through. Players in yesteryear, put a ton of influence on the back swing. Now??? Players could really care less about the backswing, its ALL about the contact point and a huge, flowing follow through.

    THAT is the salient point versus 2013 and any other era. And its why the top players of todays era, are strong.

    But make no mistake, guys like Connors,Lendl, Laver, Kramer etc... would all be awesome today, as they were in the past. They would just need time to adjust.
     
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