who is better, old timers or modern player?

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by spadesss, Feb 1, 2007.

  1. Rabbit

    Rabbit G.O.A.T.

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    The "athletes today are bigger & stronger argument"

    The guys playing today are undoubtably bigger and stronger than those of the 70s. Back then, there wasn't one guy who was over 6 feet. As of right now, there are two guys in the top ten under 6', Davydenko and Robredo. Davydenko is listed at 5'10" but given the "stretch" factor most pros use, he may be 5'10" in heels.

    And, the bigger argument doesn't hold too much water with me. Not when you consider that on paper, Ivo Karlovic should own a player like Oliver Rochus. Karlovic is I think the current tallest player on tour at 6'10". Rochus lists himself at 5'5", but I'd be really suprsied if he was over 5'3". Rochus is 2 - 0 against Karlovic and one of those wins was on grass!

    Back in the 80s, Tennis magazine did an article on the very topic of how big is optimal in tennis. They arrived at the conclusion that Jose-Luis Clerc had the optimal build and height for tennis. Clerc was 6'1" and weiged 176 pounds. I remember this really well because Cliff Drysdale made reference to it most every time he commentated on a Clerc match. If you look at today's top 10, you'll see that 6'1 +/- and inch is about where the majority are:

    Roger Federer 6'1"
    Rafael Nadal 6'1"
    Nikolay Davydenko 5'10"
    Andy Roddick 6'2"
    Fernando Gonzalez 6'
    James Blake 6'1"
    Tommy Robredo 5'11"
    Ivan Ljubici 6'4"
    Mario Ancic 6'5"
    Tommy Haas 6'2"

    Given that list, I don't think that the bigger/stronger argument is all that valid. The population of the world is getting taller, so it makes sense that athletes would get taller too. I just don't see that big a jump in height from the 80s.

    Stronger. Tennis is really not as much a game of strength as it is speed and timing. Players need speed to get in position to hit the next ball and they need to have excellent timing to hit the ball as well as they do. Agassi experimented with strength training to bulk up. Cliff Drysdale said that he thought it hindered Agassi's stroke and there was much talk/debate about it back then. Tennis players of today basically use high rep work in the weight room to build strength, not bulk strength.

    Today's athletes are in better shape argument

    I think this is simply refuted. Today's points are by and large shorter than the points of yesteryear. That, combined with the advent of the tiebreak pretty much disprove that today's athletes are more fit. Ivan Lendl said it best when he compared the players of today versus his era. He said that today's players were more like sprinters where in his day, they were more like marathon runners. If you look back to the clay court matches between Borg & Vilas when one point had 50 - 75 hits of the ball, all side to side, you'll see that they did much more running than today's players. Likewise on grass, in the days of wood, there were more and longer rallies on the grass than today.
    Now, this is not to say that the older guys were in better shape. No, they were conditioned for a different game. They played longer points and swung heavier rackets. I think that today's players are in great shape. I'm only saying that the guys back then were in as good a condition as the guys today. Any one competing on a world class level is going to be supremely conditioned or supremely talented.

    Today's 5.0 is the equivalent of a pro from <insert year here>

    Guys, if you need an NTRP rating, you do not qualify as a pro. The only reason for an NTRP rating is to handicap your competitive level. A pro from any era competes for a living. Ergo, he's on his own. I have had the great and distinct pleasure of playing a set of doubles against several world class players. (I had to pay for this, mind you.) The game they play bears no resemblance to what you and I do.
    One of the players was Gene Mayer who had a career high ranking of 4 in the world. I was ranted 5.0 at the time we played doubles. Mayer was really nice about the whole thing. Toward the end of the set, I asked him to hit a couple of balls at me with "everything". He wasn't feeling too good, but he agreed. I served and came in, and basically the balls were un-volleyable. He hit them at me and they were on me so fast with so much spin that while I could put a racket on them (he hit them at me), if they went over, it was just pure dumb luck.
    In short, anyone with an NTRP level is going to be a cupcake compared to a pro. We don't want to believe this, but it's true. That's why we have day jobs.
    I also got a chance to play 16 points in a round robin against a kid who is now on the Junior Davis Cup team. It was pretty much the same story.

    Point of this whole exercise is that guys who do this for a living play a game with which we are not familiar.

    Players of today are better because they've trained more

    There are two ways of looking at this IMO. I can agree and say that since Agassi benefited from doing nothing but tennis from age 6(?) and living at a tennis academy that yes, it's true.
    However, you could also say that had Rod Laver benefited from the same environment he would have been as trained and thereby the equal of any player today.
    Today's players may or may not be better trained. I really don't know. I think that today's players are a homogenous product of Academy tennis and that we've seen nothing but baseline bashing for the last decade or so. The difference in styles in the game that once made it a joy to watch have vanished.
    Is all hope lost for us old farts who miss a baseliner against a serve and vollyer? No! To tell you the truth, I've seen more sojourns to the net lately and heard more about players wanting to move forward than I have in a long time. Players are doing this because of Federer. There's such a gap between them and him that they realize there needs to be a change in tactic. Federer has become the benchmark.
    There is a poser in all this as Federer, since achieving the top spot, come to net less and less. But, if this motivates the guys under him to come to net, then all is not lost and maybe the pendulum is swinging away from the style that Nick Bollitieri invented.



    OK, so what does this all mean? Well, IMO, if you could transport Roger Federer to the 50s and give him the same access as Rod Laver, it would mean that Rod Laver would have some stiff competition. It also means that if you could transport Rod Laver to the 80s and let him grow up at Nick Bollitieri's, he'd be giving Roger Federer fits as well.

    Robert Landsdrop and Nick Bollitieri have both said that what a kid has to have to be a great or to have the potential to be a great is the timing. That is the one thing that can't be taught. You can take a kid and train him physically until he's in shape. You can teach him technique and drill him 4 - 6 hours a day on court until he has muscle memory enough to execute. You can coach him until he understands how to construct a point and find weaknesses. (This doesn't explain why Andy Roddick continues to HIT CROSSCOURT APPROACH SHOTS, but that is another thread.) But! you cannot teach timing. The great coaches agree that this is an innate ability that the great players have.

    In short, many things about the game change, but the eyes and hands for tennis is really what counts.
     
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  2. NoBadMojo

    NoBadMojo G.O.A.T.

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    I think if we were to break this down into two compartments, that may be a fair perspective

    -Are todays' athletes better than the athletes in general from days gone by<not tennis specific>

    and

    -Are todays tennis players better athletes, than tennis players of days gone by
    -----------------------------------

    -Are todays' athletes better than the athletes in general <not tennis specific> from days gone by

    Absolutely, and I dont think that is even arguable. Bigger, faster, stronger, quicker more athletic better hand/eye, better training aids, better medicine chests ;), etc and etc

    I consider basketball and ice hockey to be the two sports best showcasing athletic ablity. What hoopsters and hockey players are able to do these days causes my jaw to drop. One Example: To witness a 6'4' hockey guy traveling at a very high rate of speed on 4" razor blades knock down a hot pass with the stick blade, kick the puck with his left foot over to his right side while cranking up a wicked slapshot all in one seemingly seemless motion, all the while being mindful of where his teammates are, where the goalies is, and being aware there is some 6'5 goon lurking wanting to take his head off is the ultimate in sports multitasking to me.

    -Are todays tennis players better athletes, than tennis players of days gone by

    I really dont think so, if you remove the conditioning/training element from the equation

    Just compare how the games are played now versus then (assuming we are talking the pros. Back then almost everyone had to learn to play serve/volley to some degree as to have anysort of chance at W you had to. it wasnt possible to ralley back then on the grass and you had to end the points quickly by hitting winners or forcing shots, and what better way to do that than serve/volley.
    Also many of the shots are totally missing from a game which at the pro level has pretty much turned into a fitness grind and one dimensional basline bashing..it's getting a litle bit like cycling in that fitness sems to be playing a bigger role than athletic ability.
    Approach shots? who hits those these days? well Roddick does, but look how lame those are. The crossover footwork required to hit a good sliced approach shot is an athletic move and it's pretty much missing from the game now. Passing shots? lol....with nobody being at net, those days are also fairly gone. I think folks may agree that it takes more athletic ability to be able to hit ALL of the shots than some of the shots. There would be many more examples I am sure. I am aware that equip,ent plays a big roll, but the only element i see which is 'better' now versus then is the ball speed is huge from the backcourt. how much of that is gear related is pointless to discuss i think

    From my experiences having learned to play in the wood era and then teaching in the wood era, and now teaching a smal bit now, and still playing, i can tell you that i got presented with many more athletic lessons back then, compared to what i get presented with now. Playingwise still being able to hang with the youngins' to a fair degree, but having to go home, ice down, hot tub, then take a nap after ;), i can also say that my opinion is that there were far more good athletes playing tennis back then, compared to now. Why? I suspect it is because guys like me (there were many of us) played many of the sports rather than specializing in one and we came to tennis having played other sports...one sport improves your atheltisism in another...a 12 foot jumper is similar in many ways to a serve.. a shortstop thowing someone out at first can be very similar to a xcourt forehand, thorwing a football has similarities to a service motion, etc. Nowadays, kids seem to specialize...then of course there is being online. we didnt have online..we came home from school, changed clothes, and met at our field of dreams everyday and played some sort of ball sometimes even when it got too dark..didnt matter what kind..we loved them all. also it is obvious that back then with tennis attracting far more people of all walks of life, that with many more people playing, many more of them would be athletic.
     
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  3. Kaptain Karl

    Kaptain Karl Hall Of Fame

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    [I fixed "former female" to "female former pro...."]

    Okay ... I grew-up in Alabama and we Juniors were all "a-buzz" about that skinny girl from Florida ... who was able to severely psychologically damage the better boys in the District by dismantling them at the game. (I saw it happen in Birmingham one year.)

    The problem was ... the boy was trying to blast her off the court (much like HS and College players today would in the same (comparative) situation.) As a spectator, I was sure I could at least make the sets "interesting" by using more shot variety and *not* trying to over-power her.

    Remember, she practiced regularly with her older brother ... who was a highly ranked older Junior. No teenage boy was gonna blow her off the court.

    Chris' serve has never been very strong ... and still isn't all that great today. I think I'd win on a Hard Court. I don't have that confidence on Clay.
    ____________

    Okay. I think Nadal would still win, but it wouldn't be a masacre. [Remember, this is with woodies on a Hard court.]
    ____________

    I was just reviewing some things in Rod Laver's How to Play Championship Tennis (1968 printing). On pp 100-101 there's a picture of the OZ '61 DC team (Fraser, Laver, Fletcher, Hopman, Hewitt, Stolle and Emerson). The chapter addresses conditioning; something Hopman was known for.... Anyway, Laver's comment on the pic includes, "Note how strong each one of these players is in the legs."

    ... Which is kinda funny. Of the six players (Hopman was the Coach.) only Fletcher and Hewitt have quads which look at all comparable to most of the Top 50 players' legs of today. (And Stolle's calves are clearly impressive.

    None of the rest of the guys' legs are "notable" IMO.

    Advancements in training technique and technology have certainly "built" stronger athletes in Tennis today. But to say they're "better" tennis players? I cannot support that....

    - KK
     
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  4. Trinity TC

    Trinity TC Semi-Pro

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    I remember Chris beat Sam Vuille in a match back in 1971 or thereabouts when they were both juniors. Sam later went on to play at Alabama.
     
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  5. joeyscl

    joeyscl Rookie

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    I'd say that today's tennis players are bigger, taller, stronger, giving them an slight edge. Also the topspin vs the flat shots in the old days favour the modern players (i think). I really don't think people have "evolved" or "devolved" in the natural-athletic-ability-department (aka: talent). I'd say the new timers have an edge.

    but again, as to who have more talent, I'd say that hasn't changed.
     
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  6. BeckerFan

    BeckerFan Rookie

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    The differences in equipment truly render this question unanswerable. In terms of skill, I would favor the 'old timers.' Because they relied less on topspin, they were more accurate. And while there are more 'big men' in the game today, not all the players of the past were puny guys. Jack Kramer and Pancho Gonzales were roughly the equivalent of Sampras or Federer. Even then, size isn't everything. Little Olivier Rochus can push Federer to the limit on occasion--imagine what Rod Laver could do.

    As for speed and overall athleticism, I think the advancement of humans is grossly overstated. The runners and jumpers at the forefront of these individual skills are always breaking records, but does this mean tennis players have seen the same development? Fitness and training have improved, I'll give you that. But short of Borg I've never seen footage of a tennis player move better than Fred Perry, even in those wide trousers he wore. The old timers deserve more credit than they get.
     
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  7. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    I think old timers may have had more skill and definitely better point construction, but that doesn't mean they were "better" in any way. There are probably many point guards in college who have more skill than Lebron James, but who's the better basketball player?
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2007
    #57
  8. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    I heard there was some guy from the 1890's who had a 76 inch vertical. Come on. If you really don't see the improvement in overall athleticism in the ATP over the past 25 years...
     
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  9. BeckerFan

    BeckerFan Rookie

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    Reports like that are often exaggerated--similar to Bill Tilden's 161 mph serve (sometimes said to be 163 mph) in 1931--but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about what I've seen with my own two eyes. I definitely think the game is faster today, and the ball hit harder on average. As I said, though, I think it has more to do with training, fitness, and technology than some miraculous improvement in the human species in just a few decades. Evolution takes much longer than that. I am certain that if you transplanted a young Bill Tilden or Fred Perry into modern times and gave them a chance to grow up with today's advantages, they would still turn out to be among the greatest (and most athletic) players in the world.
     
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  10. slice bh compliment

    slice bh compliment G.O.A.T.

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    What it is, Beckerfan.....BTW, I've always liked Becker, too.

    Good point about F. Perry. When I saw Kings of the Court..the footage of Perry was greatness. Over and over, the way he'd crack a running BH drive and use his left foot right after as a recovery step looked a lot like Boris, only effortless. What a great mover.

    His FH ... not as big. But big for the 30s and 40s, I'm sure.
     
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  11. BeckerFan

    BeckerFan Rookie

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    From what I've seen, Perry's forehand was deceptive. Like everything, he played it with a continental grip, but most of the action was in the wrist. He literally flicked it on the rise and generated remarkable pace. According to most of the old timers, it was Perry's great put-away shot. In the video, Perry hits those perfect backhands while running side-to-side on the baseline, and he goes to the forehand more often when he's charging the net. I've read that Perry had formidable volleys, too, but his favorite play seems to have been that running wrist-flick forehand while approaching the net. One of the all-time strokes I'd love to be able to see in person.
     
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  12. urban

    urban Hall of Fame

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    I dont know this video, but one British production, commented by Perry himself from around 1990. He divides the best players in pre (Tilden)and post (Laver) WW II. Perry said, that he modelled his forehand on the rise after Cochet, who was the first to use this tactic to good effect against Tilden.Perry was a very physical player, who trained with the Arsenal football club. He was also a bit tricky and cocky, who tried to intimidate his opponents.Its sad, that because of the amateur-pro-split Perry and Vines didnt face each other 34-36, when both were at their peak. Perry was over the hill, when he turned pro in 37. But in that 34-36 period, he would have had the physical advantage over Vines, who was a bit frail, and had to retire sometimes in hard Davis Cup ties.
     
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  13. heycal

    heycal Hall of Fame

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    I wonder what Ms. Evert would have to say about your prediction of a hard court triumph. Maybe TW could sponsor a match-up between you two to settle this...

    Also, you think Nadal would beat McEnroe on hard court using wood racquets? Really?
     
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  14. chaognosis

    chaognosis Semi-Pro

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    Great post Nick. I agree, and thank you!
     
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  15. Swinging Simian

    Swinging Simian Rookie

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    Who is better, old timers or modern players? Depends on which players you're talking about. For anyone ever called a legend to be doubted is rather odd. In actuality there are only a handful of modern active players who are legends in the making. Hell maybe there might be only one (Fed), and even he fell to tears upon meeting a Legend (AO last year trophy ceremony). If Modern players are better than the old ones then it is only because they have built upon what the old timers have already shown. However to say that the old Timers would get smoked is just plain talking out of your @ss. Don't forget that "modern" players hire old timers to be their coaches for a reason.
     
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  16. BeckerFan

    BeckerFan Rookie

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    Good post, Simian. (Funny that I can say that without being insulting.) I would agree that there is only one legend in the making at present; Federer will most certainly become legend, even if he never picks up a racquet again after today. The game changes, technology changes, training changes, fitness changes, etc., etc.--what doesn't change is that every generation a tiny fraction of players rises head and shoulders above the rest, and will be remembered when all the rest are forgotten. When almost all of today's pros have long since disappeared from memory, tennis fans will still be talking about Bill Tilden and Rod Laver. That alone proves who is greater than whom.
     
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  17. heycal

    heycal Hall of Fame

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    It actually proves nothing of the sort, but your point is taken.
     
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  18. BeckerFan

    BeckerFan Rookie

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    What is greatness aside from the capacity to be remembered? I think it is a much more useful definition than 'who could beat whom,' which is trivial and cannot be tested when comparing players across time. Statistics and records help, but they are not quite the same either. According to almost any source, Lew Hoad is a 'greater' player than Roy Emerson, despite the fact that he achieved far less. In his short career, Hoad impressed his contemporaries enough that they still talk about him, glowingly, decades later. Emerson, despite holding the record number of Grand Slam titles for 34 years, is rarely talked about by comparison. The passage of time only makes these disparities grow. In the endless 'Sampras vs. Federer' discussions, fans today romanticize the 'great' players of Sampras's generation--but who will give a damn about Goran Ivanisevic, Richard Krajicek, or even Michael Chang in 10, 25 or 50 years? These second-class players will be swept away from memory by time, while Tilden, Budge, Laver, etc., will always stand. They are immovable, the mountains of tennis. They have stood the test of time, which is the ONLY test that matters, and therefore they are indisputably great.
     
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  19. heycal

    heycal Hall of Fame

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    Excellent argument, Beckerfan. I almost buy it, but in the end, I think greatness in tennis can only be defined as the ability to play tennis better than other people, not how well-remembered someone is, particularly since other things besides talent may effect how well someone is remembered such as personality, the times, style of play, off-court behavior, etc. To imply that player X could beat player Y simply because he is more famous years later is a bit of a leap, which is why I said being remembered isn't proof of anything.

    I generally avoid these debates because the answers are unknowable, and celebrity/name recognition down the road isn't any more indicative than number of grand slams when it comes to the question of whether Tilden would beat Sampras in a fantasy tennis match or whoever you want to match up. For all we know, Emerson would wipe the floor with both of them.
     
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  20. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    ^ There's greatness in the context of historical significance, and then there's greatness in terms of who would flat out win. Of course, the second context is subjective because of technology evolving, and the subsequent evolution of technique that causes, but I think the former context is even more subjective. Tilden might be terrified by the speed and ferocity of the modern game. It used to be considered a gentleman's passtime for IMO too long, but now it's looking more and more like a real sport.
     
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  21. Yours!05

    Yours!05 Professional

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    Should be stickied BeckerFan.
     
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  22. ohlori

    ohlori Rookie

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    Judge players in the context of their time.
    Roddick would be no better than Roscoe Tanner 30 years ago.
     
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  23. vudal

    vudal Banned

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    Bottom line is that technique is different today than it was then. You can generate more power and spin with the style today than the old days. You can give Roger or Nadal a wooden raquet and sure they can play almost the same as they do with their normal racquets. anyone that disagrees is stupid.
     
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  24. slice bh compliment

    slice bh compliment G.O.A.T.

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    Hi, I am stupid.
     
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  25. vudal

    vudal Banned

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    you said it yourself
     
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  26. slice bh compliment

    slice bh compliment G.O.A.T.

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    dude, you're hilarious. I knew you'd say that.








    And that, under your breath. Good one, vudal.
     
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  27. Kaptain Karl

    Kaptain Karl Hall Of Fame

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    One of the most inaccurate comments I've seen on TT.... Sheesh!

    Okay, cutting you some slack, you are under 20, right?

    - KK
     
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  28. alwaysatnet

    alwaysatnet Semi-Pro

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    I'm almost positive,actually I AM positve,judging from that post,that guy has never used wood. That's like saying you could give one of the Blue Angels a world war I biplane, and they would fly almost the same as they do in their jets. If there was a Hall of Fame for misinformed posts that one would make it unanimously first time up for vote.
     
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  29. SamprasFOREVER

    SamprasFOREVER Banned

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    Old timers.
     
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  30. vudal

    vudal Banned

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    I'll beat all of you sorry players in a sec with a wooden bat. I'll even give you the doubles alley.
     
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  31. Duzza

    Duzza Legend

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    I'm with stupid.
     
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