Rod Laver's Backhand

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by Nathaniel_Near, Feb 13, 2014.

  1. Nathaniel_Near

    Nathaniel_Near Talk Tennis Guru

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    Relax folks, ...
    I constantly marvel at just how potent and powerful Laver's backhand was, but most amazing to me is how it seems like a complete anachronism as a stroke. He was telling the tennis future way before it happened and his backhand stroke mechanics look basically as modern, free flowing and fluid as modern day one-handers. More remarkable still though is that Laver was using a wooden racket with a smaller head size and sweet spot where the chances of a miss hit are much higher when taking such exaggerated and accelerated swings at the ball.

    Laver's forehand doesn't stack up quite so well in terms of offering immediately transposable technique to the game of today, Borg's for example was significantly more evolved. However, his backhand was extremely nostradamic and I believe that Laver's game was more or less as modern as Borg's -- if not in style (all encompassing all-court style no longer modern place) -- then in the mechanical sense, despite coming along much earlier.
     
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  2. President

    President Legend

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    I agree with you that Laver's game was extremely modern for his time. It's funny to think that McEnroe, who played a similar game to Laver and was 20 years younger to boot, actually had mechanically much more primitive strokes than Laver did.
     
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  3. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Agree on both posts above.

    Laver's backhand was one of the great shots in the history of the game IMO, specifically because it had so much variety.

    It could incoporate huge power, massive topspin (as much as was available with racquet sizes of the period), or be a flat-drive, or underspin slice, or a chip, or a lob (with various possible spins). And when he was on, look out --he could paint the lines with any of these shots.

    Rosewall's BH may have been better in terms of consistency, but Laver's BH takes it (for me) with variety.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2014
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  4. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    An excerpt from the book Tennis Strokes and Strategies in the the chapter written by John Alexander titled "How the Pros Return Service":

    "Laver's return is a very different matter. He has an infinite variety of returns, and when they are all working, his opponents find it impossible to settle down. Serve wide to Laver's backhand in the deuce court (which is not the best place to serve to Laver) and he has the perfect return--in six varieties. His three most noted are his full-swing topspin backhand--down the line [1] and crosscourt [2]--and a very sharply angled crosscourt chip [3]. He also has a moderately angled crosscourt chip [4] which usually lands very close to the sideline a little deeper than the service line. He has a full-blooded backhand [5] that can really give you shock. And, there is his punishing slice return down the line [6], a softer version of which [7] will draw you a little close to the net for comfort."
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2014
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  5. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    An excerpt from his book Arthur Ashe-Portrait in Motion:

    "Laver has one fantastic little shot that serves as sort of a weathervane for him. If this shot is working, you can be sure his whole game is on. It is a soft backhand, underspin lob down the line. He doesn't hit it high but just sort of scoops it up--and he never uses it except to your backhand side. When that shot is on, it goes, diabolically, exactly one inch past your backhand reach and lands just inside the baseline."
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2014
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  6. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    hoodjem, I strongly doubt that Laver had a better backhand than Rosewall. If so, Rosewall would not have been able to cope with Laver in many matches, especially majors, because Laver was clearly better with his service and forehand ( and about equal at volleys, speed and other departments)!
     
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  7. Nathaniel_Near

    Nathaniel_Near Talk Tennis Guru

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    Relax folks, ...
    Perhaps Rosewall was tactically and strategically stronger as well as having an edge on the backhand.
     
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  8. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    hoodjem, Excellent description by John Alexander who, by the way, once called Ken Rosewall the all-time best.

    Rosewall did not have such a variety but with his kind of the backhand service return he was strong enough of winning 23 majors...
     
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  9. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    Nathaniel, I believe you are right. Maybe Rosewall also had slightly better drop shots and half-volleys.
     
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  10. Vensai

    Vensai Professional

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    The difference isn't vast but it is significant.
    Rosewall BH > Laver BH.
     
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  11. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Okay. To each his own.






    I am not going to put up a big stink here. There is no way to argue against Rosewall's backhand. I can only suggest that Laver's had more variety. One can certainly love both backhands.

    Personally, I prefer more variety over more consistency. But I would "kill" to have either.
     
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  12. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    Vensai, welcome to the club of the majority of experts!
     
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  13. Le Master

    Le Master Semi-Pro

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    Please post video clips of great backhands by him.
     
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  14. DMP

    DMP Semi-Pro

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    To be honest I'm surprised you see it as being so 'modern'. I think there are quite a few 'old' backhands with wooden rackets that would look very similar. I think it is an obvious way to try to hit an backhand.

    The problem with wooden rackets, of course, is that the small sweet spot meant it was really quite difficult to hit good topspin, so there was an increased tendency to frame the shot, and a drive was a safer option. The thing about Laver's backhand that was so impressive at the time was its flexibility, reliability, and the power a smallish player could get (because of his powerful forearm). The other thing that was impressive was that he had a powerful match-winning forehand. That is not so unusual, there have been lots of great forehands over the years (eg Lendl, Sampras, Federer), but they usually come with a (relatively) weak backhand. The thing about Laver was that if his opponent avoided his forehand and tried to probe his backhand, he was equally likely to get stung.

    Having said all that, Rosewall's backhand was simply more potent. It was seen as a shot to avoid at all costs.
     
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  15. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Well-put.

    While his backhand was awesome, his forehand was merely great!
     
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  16. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Both players had a very well rounded up all round game.Laver was flasier and Rosewall steadier.They could dominate from the baseline and wait for the opening and both were great volleyers.Rosewall was a perfect machine and Laver able to hit the most unexpected shots.Not big servers though.
     
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  17. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Laver the laser.



    P.S. Laver was a much bigger server than Kenny.
     
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  18. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Ken Rosewall said, after depriving his friend Hoad of the 56 gran Slam that he really felt bad and that " Hoad didn´t play well that US Open final...I felt bad because he was my friend and, in anycase, when he was playing well I am sure he was the greatest of them all"

    Nice tribute and the, once more, confirmation that Hoad may have been the best...that said by peers like Rosewall and Gonzales or Laver.
     
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  19. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    Yep. Laver named Hoad as no. 1 of the pre-Open era.
     
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  20. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    Bobbyone...didn´t Peter Feigl beat Rosewall at his last AO in 78? 5 sets match?
     
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  21. Edburger

    Edburger Rookie

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    I feel, Laver backhand not good model. Too much forearm and wrist.

    Rosewall backhand, very simple and timeless. Very good model for young player.
     
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  22. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    kiki, I also believe that Hoad was the greatest for one match.
     
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  23. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    kiki, you walking encyclopedia, you are right.

    Feigl, after the match No.35 ATP, beat Rosewall in a tough 5 set match. As long as Feigl aimed to Rosewall's backhand, he trailed 2-6, 2-6. Then Peter "massaged" rather Rosewall's forehand and finally won after Muscles had lead in all remaining sets...

    After set 2 Feigl speculated to give Muscles some money for that lesson!
    ,
     
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  24. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    In evaluations of matches, done by Krosero and Moose Malloy, Laver was the one player across eras, who permanently had the most winners with the backhand, and often had more backhand winners than forehand winners (beginning with his Wim final with Fraser in 1960). I think, for one match only Gasquet in a Wim match with Roddick had more or as many backhand winners. Against Roddick, quite a few players had many winners, i remember Kohlschreiber hitting a lot backhand winners at an AO match.
    Laver was the first, who could come over the ball with his backhand, his shoulder turns, free swing and great wrist flexibility were essential. Often when preparing the stroke, his back was turned into the direction of the net. As it is said, he had great variety, slice, flat and topspin, and he could mask the direction of his passing shots, seemingly holding the ball on the racket for some seconds. He overcame a long standing lefthander stereotype, that a lefty could not hit a backhand. Drobny, Fraser, Rose all had rather weak backhands (maybe Art Larsen was an exeception from the rule), and he set a model for lefty players like Vilas, who had also fine backhands.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
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  25. jrs

    jrs Professional

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    Could someone expand on this

    I thought Rosewall mostly sliced the backhands.
    Laver's backhand always looked quite complicated to me - not easy duplicate I would think.
     
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  26. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    Laver has one of my favorite backhands. I think it's classic and really timeless. A player today would be well served with Laver's backhand. This is nice footage of Laver vs. Emerson in the 1969 Australian Open semifinal.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FquHcwZByWE
     
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  27. ARFED

    ARFED Semi-Pro

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    It may be true, but keep in mind that in modern tennis (last 20 years ), running around the backhand to shot an inside-out or inside-in forehand is such a crucial part of the game. It is related to a more baseline- oriented game currently, in which lateral movement is a key component in todays game. Besides, topspin is essential nowadays and you can generate probably 3 or 4 times more topspin, in average, with your forehand than with your backhand. Thanks to this evolution in footwork and movement (generally speaking of course) players can cheat to their backhand side more often than in past days. Just look at past players with amazing forehands like Lendl, and you wonder why he did not run around his backhand more often, and he did it a lot when compared with the rest of the 80`s players. Then you can look more recent players with amazing backhands like Rios, Agassi, Nalbandian, Safin, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Gasquet and even the ones with the worst lateral movement (Agassi, Nalbandian) would try to cheat their backhands as much as they could.
    I believe that even a player like Laver (amazing backhand but great footwork as well), if playing in present day, would run around his backhand as much as he can. So almost certainly, those numbers you mention are byproduct of the era in which Rod played
     
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  28. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    he had Vilas´top, Orantes sliced and Connors flat all in one, only one handed,talking about lefties with great BH
     
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  29. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    jrs, Rosewall sometimes sliced his bh, sometimes he hit it as a powerful drive just adding a bit of slice.
     
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  30. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    borg number one, This match must have been from the third round. Emerson never reached any major open era SF.
     
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  31. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    ARFED, Your darling rather often runs around his backhand and even so he can't cope with Nadal...
     
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  32. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    and you wonder why people think of you as utterly biased ? :lol:

    Here is a tip. That guy nadal who is your so called modern 'savior' runs around his BH more than federer does.
     
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  33. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    this

    and this
     
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  34. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Agreed. Laver was very unusual (an understatement to be sure) in that his left wrist and arm were so strong that he could wield the tennis racquet much like people would hit a table tennis racket. Even players of great strength in the past like Pancho Gonzalez (who could do it to some degree but not nearly as well as Laver) and John Newcombe could not do that as well.
    Excellent points Arfed. However let's say hypothetically we transported the Laver from 1966 (around his peak not 1969 when he was a little over the hill) and he had to play today's game. Well the tennis ball doesn't care if a players hits a forehand or a backhand but what the tennis ball reacts to is how the racquet angle is when it hits the ball and the racquet speed. Laver, on his backhand side often would flick the racquet, hitting over the ball with tremendous racquet speed and spin with a wood racquet. I've seen people hit perfect lobs over Laver's head right into Laver's backhand corner at the baseline and yet Laver would run back smoothly and while moving backwards hit incredible backhand winners loaded with topspin at sharp angles past his opponents.

    Yes I would agree with you that Laver probably would hit more topspin on his forehand side but to be honest I do wonder if it would be that much more considering his tremendous wrist strength and how he could load the ball up with topspin on the backhand side. Laver could handle high kick serves extremely well because his powerful left arm allowed him to drive those ball back. The other thing is that as Arthur Ashe said, Laver would hit the ball very early on the backhand return.

    In some ways with Laver it was like playing two forehands. Laver wrote that on the service return he figured that he was about equal on both sides. Remember one of the problems players have with one handed backhands is that the backhand is less equipped to handle power than a forehand. As Ivan Lendl pointed out, if you push the wrist back of the person preparing to hit a backhand it is easier to push back than if you switch side and push back on the forehand. Laver, because his wrist was so strong could handle the great power on his backhand side better and could attempt offensive backhand shots more often. A player like Vilas had that type of strength also but he often didn't flatten it out and often chose to hit more topspin.

    I think in today's game, considering we have bigger and lighter racquets, better strings built for spin that Laver would hit his backhand far more often with heavy topspin because the margin for error is far less than if he was hitting with the old heavy tiny wooden racquets. You just wonder how well a young Rod Laver would hit the ball on his backhand with the equipment today.

    Would Laver hit his forehand more? Well actually I think he hit his forehand more in the old days also but whether he would run around it as much as Nadal and Federer, well I'm not so sure about that. If we look at players today like Djokovic and Murray, who have super backhands, I've noticed that they don't run around their backhands as much for obvious reasons, because their backhands are great shots. I think it actually helps them in that because they may not be as often vulnerable to down the lines shots to their forehand sides because they were far away because they ran around their backhand. It's very possible that Laver, not favoring one side that much may not run around his forehand as much as many of the players today because his backhand is such a major weapon.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-JgJX1pBPw

    On a slightly different note, Ken Rosewall as we all know hit a very flat backhand that was legendary for it's effectiveness. One of the big keys to hitting any great groundstroke is the preparation and how early the player can hit the groundie. Rosewall hit his backhand very very early and his footwork allowed him to get to the ball early to hit the shot.

    I would venture to say in today's game that of course Rosewall's legendary backhand would be great today however I do have a theory on what Rosewall would do today with today's equipment. Did you guys know that Rosewall, in practice often used a topspin backhand? Apparently it was an excellent shot but he never used it in regular matches? I think with today's racquets, with the great margin for error due to the larger surface I think it's very possible Rosewall would regularly hit backhand with some topspin but sort of semi-flat like Agassi but it would be a great shot like Agassi's backhand because of how early Rosewall hit the ball.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
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  35. Nathaniel_Near

    Nathaniel_Near Talk Tennis Guru

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    Relax folks, ...
    pc1, your willingness to present your ideas is deeply welcomed and respected by myself as well as many others.

    This post resonated with me very much because of the segment I've highlighted. I did not know that Rosewall used to often practice a topspin backhand! It seems one could draw a parallel between Rosewall and Graf. Rosewall simply chose to play in the manner that he felt would best garner him success and if he had felt that conditions warranted a strategic overhaul of his backhand practices during matches, then he would have done so, and this ethos can be extended across eras.
     
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  36. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    abmk, Only YOU and a few other "experts" think of me that way...

    But I really wonder that you are so biased!

    I don't need any saviour!

    Nadal might do it but with much more success than the Swiss No.2...
     
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  37. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    It seems to me most pros run around their weaker shot in order to hit their stronger shot.

    Does Gasquet or Almagro run around their backhand to hit a forehand?
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
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  38. kiki

    kiki Banned

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    run, baby run
     
    #38
  39. ARFED

    ARFED Semi-Pro

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    Good post Pc1.
    Well, it is all speculative. To begin with, chances are that players of the past like Laver and even Rosewall, if born in the 80`s would play with a 2 handed backhand. So that would change the mechanics and the stroke itself. You are more or less asuming that Laver plays pretty much the same way he did it back then. Laver could have had tremendous amounts of topspin in his backhand for his time, but the facts remains, and you play tennis so you should know, that in the forehand side, unless you play with a continental grip (edberg being the obvious example), you will always get much more topspin, and i really mean much more, than with your backhand. It is more a matter of wrist loosenes than wrist strenght, and you obviously have a looser wrist on the forehand side.
    In the tactical side, as good and consistent as his backhand was, he would find hard to sustain long rallies against the top modern forehands (Nadal, Federer, Tsonga, Del Potro, Djokovic, Roddick, etc). So, just like Nadal, he would take the advantage of being a lefty, and the first cc forehand that is not angled enough he would pummel it with his forehand. Keep in mind that Laver never faced anyone who would test his backhand side with 2000+ rpm, 80+ mph forehands on a consistent basis.

    IMO he still would posess one of the best, if not the very best backhand in modern game. Playing with a one hander or a two hander. A guy with his talent could adapt in any era. But i sustain that his tactical approach to the game would be very different
     
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  40. ARFED

    ARFED Semi-Pro

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    Gasquet, does it more often than Almagro, wich is odd since Almagro`s forehand is better than Gasquet`s. But they both do it on a consistent basis, much more on clay btw, as the slower pace allows them to
     
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  41. Nathaniel_Near

    Nathaniel_Near Talk Tennis Guru

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    Relax folks, ...
    This is a very contentious general sort of 'axiom' that I subscribe to without hesitation, but many others do not.
     
    #41
  42. ARFED

    ARFED Semi-Pro

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    And it works both ways. I find it laughable, to say the least, when people in this forum claim that players like Nadal or Djokovic, could not adapt even to 90`s conditions. They just asume that you transport Nadal back to 1975 and he plays the same way as he does now.
     
    #42
  43. Nathaniel_Near

    Nathaniel_Near Talk Tennis Guru

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    Relax folks, ...
    Yes. I am constantly bringing this up in the main section of the forum too.
     
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  44. borg number one

    borg number one Legend

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    My mistake for the typo. I meant Laver vs. Roche in the '69 AO SF. Thanks.
     
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  45. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    borg number one, Thanks. One of the all-time great matches...
     
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  46. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    No, anyone who isn't utterly biased and sane can see that.My point was that federer was nowhere near the conversation until you brought him in ... highlights your insecurity. I find your referring to federer as Swiss no 2 very amusing as well -- stan just smashed two of your 'strong' era guys to lift the AO :lol:

    your boy Rosewall was Aussie #2 for so long - after hoad, laver and then newk ....

    I'm biased to an extent, but am able to get past it mostly and not make ridiculous statements like 'federer lacks touch shots or his peak level is much below that of nadal and djokovic' etc etc just to belittle another player.

    And yes, you desperately and I repeat desperately need nadal to cling on to in order to denigrate federer.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2014
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  47. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    pc1,

    interesting thing about Rosewall having an excellent topspin BH in practice. Any links or sources that elaborate on that ?

    On djokovic or murray running around their BHs, sure, they don't run around it as much as nadal or federer do, but ..

    djokovic does run around his BH on quite a few occasions and andy murray since lendl runs around his BH more than he used to.

    even agassi used to run around his BH on quite a few occasions and he had a rock solid BH, perhaps the best and most solid of all ...
     
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  48. abmk

    abmk G.O.A.T.

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    heh :)

    10 chars ...
     
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  49. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    I did not know this.

    Most interesting.
     
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  50. BobbyOne

    BobbyOne Banned

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    ARFED, Rosewall and Laver were at least as talented as Hoad.

    Muscles was good enough to win more majors than Laver and Federer...
     
    #50

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