How good were the early players really?

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by gzhpcu, Nov 5, 2009.

  1. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    There's some truth to that for sure. Although Mac was a peculiar case in that he didnt' do much training off court early on. (he did all kinds later) Mac did have the gift (as do most pros) off being naturally fast and quick (and you can't put that in, if you don't have it to begin with)

    But a lot of that is simple genetics. Nadal, certainly doesn't train harder or more efficently than say...Lendl...or Borg...or Muster...or Courier!

    The biggest advance though...and it is a big one...is doping. I am NOT pointing fingers at Nadal here....I think it's widespread...and no tennis player is big enough just to tell by looking. I will say that Nadal has to be even more a freak to look like he does, when you consider that nobody in tennis has ever come along and looked naturally like him....he is not huge by any means, but frankly, it's hard NOT to be kind of scrawny, no matter how hard you hit the weights, if you are seriosly running around on court 4+ hours a day. However, it's possible that Nadal is natural and Federer is doping. You can't tell form appearance anymore than you could tell Mcenroe took steroids, or Korda, or Coria...etc.
     
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  2. gzhpcu

    gzhpcu Professional

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    Don't forget how few people were playing tennis in the 1920's compared to today.

    Just look, for example, at Johnny Weismüller, who won Olympic Gold, and would be beaten by young girls today.

    The more people play, the tougher it is to be on top of the pyramid.

    I still contend, tennis began to take off quality-wise with Jack Kramer and Pancho Gonzales.
     
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  3. Ripper014

    Ripper014 Hall of Fame

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    I think of you as a thoughtful polster and I agree that we believe in some common ideals and disgree with others... you have a long list of things to go over but I will offer my opinions on a few of them... as you said just my opinions.

    I think the game has changed leaps and bounds technically, I would not say for the better. When I started playing everything was hit with a closed stance when possible mid 70's until Borg showed up. And now everything is being hit with an open stance, the game has also evolved to sport of excessive topspin... starting to look more like table tennis on a large surface than the game I grew up with. Regardless... I am not sure if this is a passing fad or an evolution of the game, I myself still look like a player out of the 70's. Classic strokes... nothing violent and I only hit excessive topspin on occasion. I like to think I have a very efficient game.

    As for fitness, I can only reflect on my experiences... being that I play alot of different sports in addition to tennis, my normal regiment was to play about 3 to 4 hours of tennis everyday after work or until it was dark and all day Saturday and Sunday. I became a social thing, but it finally burnt me out and I walked away... Anyway... what I wanted to get at was that my level of fitness was very good at the time or so I thought, that winter I spent working out at the gym, more to keep someone company than anything else. In the spring I was invited out to play some tennis with a tournament player I knew... and we were warming up and he was at the net and hit a drop volley a very good one. What surprised me was that without a thought I was able to reach it easily, something that has stuck in my head since that day. I have always been quick off the mark but never like that, and attributed it all to the training over the winter. So I believe training does help, just my observations.

    As for the current players I believe for the most part they are being punched out like atomatons, there is not much to choose the strokes of one player and the next. It is not like the 70' and 80's where there was more variation in how a player looked and played, almost every player had a distinctive strokes. But I agree with you that there is that something in each player that makes him/her that much better, enough to be the difference.

    You mentioned Lendl, this is a player I never thought of with the most talent. What he had was heart and a work ethic probably second to none. Even though he didn't have the talent of a McEnroe he would wear you down with repeatable stroke play and fitness, I guess in some respects Evert was the same way, by the way I don't think people recognize how quick Evert was around the court... it may have been her best weapon.

    As far as nutrition... I have mixed feeling about what you said, I have a fiancee in the medical field and I give her a hard time. In the medical field they like to use the word "Practice", and that is exactly what it is, they are practicing... alot of times I don't think they know. They interpet data and assume one thing is a catalyst that is causing something else is going to happen and so forth. Like you said, what they think works today is incorrect tomorrow. However... in saying all of this... I think it is also safe to say water is probably better for you than a bottle of coke.

    I agree... every once in a while a naturally gifted player like a Connors, Evert, McEnroe, Borg, Sampras, Agassi, Nadal, or Federer will come along and change the way the game is played. And I too long for the days of Nastase, Leconte, Noah, Connors, McEnroe, Goolagong, Mandlikova, Korda, Ashe, Laver, Rosewall and so many others. Back then there was a lot more artistry to the game... it is too bad we are so addicted to power tennis. We have lost a lot in the evolution of the game, especially the ability for the small player to compete in the pro game. I don't think you can be under 6'-0 now and be competitive, back in the days of Connors the ideal height was thought of as about 5'-10 and now it appears to be about 6'-1 (Federer and Nadal). No longer any room for players like Laver and Rosewall both of whom I think were 5'-7.

    With technology where it is we should take the lead from golf and restrict the amount of power a racket can output, maintain the head size but dampen the power.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2009
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  4. Ripper014

    Ripper014 Hall of Fame

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    Connors was only 19 at the time that Pancho beat him... Connors was just at the beginning of his career. Connors was a bit of a freak as far as his longevity in the game the only other player that comes to mind is Rosewall who was 40 when he met Connors in the final of the '74 Wimbledon and the US Open Finals... granted he did not last long there but he did make the finals.
     
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  5. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

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    The highlighted part is valid observation IMO though I think those realities are very often misinterpreted as to what is "cause" and what is "effect".

    It seems alot of young guns believe that because the upper echelon is dominated so strongly by 6'+ athletes today they have physically outclassed smaller tennis players.

    IMO that is not the case. (I'll also add that this is not a short man's lament as I am 6'1") But IMO the rising height at the top of the game is a result not of human evolution and/or diet or anything to do with biology, but simply of environmental change.

    Changes in surface, ball and racquet tech and the homogenizing effect it has had in play, has raised ideal strike zone height a foot to two feet. The result is that every element of today's tennis environment has played into the taller individual. Period.

    There were always 6'+ tennis athletes. However the consensus was due to varied conditions and overall much lower bounces as a whole, those athletes until the 90's were always thought to be at a disadvantage overall. From personal experience as a player and later as a coach mantra was always about "down". If those taller athletes wanted to succeed they had to "get down". Shorter players had the advantage because they were "already there" or much closer to it than the taller athletes of the day. However, skills were drilled and honed to do just that "Keep the ball down", every return at the net rushers feet, nasty, greasy, driven sliced approaches, sliced serves yanking returners into the first row of sideline seating, etc.

    It's not that taller players couldn't succeed in the former environment, i.e. Gonzales, Smith, Newcombe, Ashe et al, but overall the sub 6 foot athlete , over the course of any given tennis year, held in inate advantage.

    The "Big Bang" change in the playing environment was the slow down which played into changes in equipment. A forced evolution more akin to a mass extinction by elimination of the former environment. I'd also point out the term "evolution" means change, it carries with it no expectation of "improvement", though often in these forums it seems to be projected as such.

    Eliminate high growing plant life in Africa and giraffe's wouldn't suddenly become ground grazers, eliminate the grasslands and there wouldn't be any ground grazers. The heights aren't a cause they are a result. Go back to lower bounces and engineer out some of the power and it becomes a more level playing arena for athletes of a wider height range. Taller tennis athletes didn't suddenly outclass shorter tennis athletes, they simply are enjoying the advantage of an inherited, radically altered, environment.

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  6. Clintspin

    Clintspin Semi-Pro

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    I doubt Nadal's muscles are doing much for his game. It's not like those big arms are making him hit the fastest forehands or the biggest serves. Tennis is more a game of leg strength.
     
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  7. CyBorg

    CyBorg Legend

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    He would be beaten by young girls today? Wow, we're really living in an extraordiary age.
     
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  8. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    At last he was Tarzan. He would be kissed by girls, bot beaten, and by jungle beasts too. Another example: Owens jumped 8,13 long in 1935. He would be 5th at this (2009) years World Championships at Berlin.
     
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  9. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    McEnroe took a match from Sampras in the Champions Tour a little while ago.

    http://www.tennis-x.com/story/2008-05-03/i.php
    Let's put it in perspective. Of course Pete is superior to John McEnroe now. He's also many years younger. Pete at his age now would lose almost all the time to a 25 year old McEnroe assuming both use the same equipement. A lot of what seems like superior play today is really due to the illusion of the superior equipment.

    Out of curiosity, what early players do you consider unathletic? Pancho Gonzelez, Frank Sedgman, Fred Perry, Lew Hoad? I think some of these players were great athletes. Pancho Gonzalez would be a great athlete in any era. Frankly as much as I like Andre Agassi, I don't consider him a great athlete. Agassi is obviously a great tennis player but hardly a great athlete. Is Jim Courier a great athlete? I don't think so.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2009
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  10. FiveO

    FiveO Hall of Fame

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    Good points. Great athletes, good athletes with a particular tennis specific gift, even lesser athletes with several tennis specific skills have flourished and still succeed today. They always have. To be competitive on the pro tour one needs a mosaic of tennis attributes. No one has all of them nor all of them in the same measure. Some have come very close to that level of perfection, but no one's got them all.

    As you mentioned no one was more fit than Emerson or Sedgman before him. No one. They may have achieved that fitness level in an inefficient manner by todays standards but were insanely fit and more fit than some on the tour today. However, there were players consistently better than both or Jim Courier. Connors was no where near the "athlete" Borg was yet was able to dominate Borg for a significant period of time before Borg gained the enough experience to turn the tables. Lendl was not a great athlete and admitted in a book written with Gene Scott that footwork was a constant mental battle for him. Agassi may have been able to bench press more than anyone else on tour at one point in his career and had exceptional hand/eye coordination but was outclassed in many athletic standards by alot of his peers. Endomorph body type aside, Nalbandian played his entire career heavier than he could/should have, yet remained a sporadic thorn in Federer's side even when Fed was at the absolute zenith of his performance level. Claims that Nalbandian couldn't have played 15 lbs. lighter than he did are naive IMO. Put a 15 lb. weight vest on Fed in his absolute prime and see how he would have faired. Murray wasn't considered a contender until he brought his fitness level to an elite level.

    In that way tennis' demands are probably most akin to those of position players in Major League Baseball, the most individual of team sports. No not the same athletic demands sport to sport, but similar in how varied the demands of each sport are. While there exist complete "deal breakers" in terms of minimum requirements in each sport, for the most part, even when speaking of the most elite performers in each, baseball and tennis players are, for lack of a better term and with very, very, very few exceptions, comprimise athletes. If not, every MLB athlete today would look like and be as athletic as Bo Jackson and every tennis athlete would be Sampras or Nadal, which is simply not the case.


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    Last edited: Nov 14, 2009
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  11. gzhpcu

    gzhpcu Professional

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    IMHO, the Tilden era players as not that particularly great and from Kramer onwards the quality is impressive. Gonzalez, Hoad, Laver, all great movers...
     
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