Has the current state of play (courts, ball, strings, etc) made it easier for the big 3?

Hit 'em clean

Semi-Pro
This thought happened across my mind as Nadal one #19 and the gaudy stats of the big 3 in terms of slam totals. It seems almost crazy that a slam total of 14 by Sampras was eclipsed so fast and by not one, but three players playing in the same era. How many years was it between Emerson and Sampras? Is this just an unbelievable coincidence or were some major changes in the game afoot that enabled this to happen? Regardless of my thoughts below I personally think the big 3 currently all are deserving of GOAT discussion, but I think it's worth considering what has happened and if that somehow allowed for the slam results we've seen.

Consider the era of Agassi/Sampras and before... how different the courts were between the slams. Even the hard courts and conditions of the US Open and Australia were different. As a result players had to make a serious effort to adjust from one surface to another between the 'seasons' as it were. As great as the big 3 are, I'm not convinced that they could've taken the amount of time off that they have and had the same outrageous success. The play between the four slams these days almost seems more like just a change in the color of the court. They all play slower, the balls are heavier, and the poly strings... all have enabled a clay court style of play across virtually every surface. The powers that be back in the 90's were worried about the power of the game reducing tennis to two shot rallies or even a one shot serve and so the great slowdown began. I also believe they thought this would make things more competitive. In thinking about this I found this article that describe exactly what I've felt over the years and heard... http://www.tennisviewmag.com/tennis...urt-surfaces-slowing-down-game-does-it-matter.

Instead of making the game more competitive, perhaps it did the opposite and made it easier for the cream of the crop to separate themselves. Talk to any pro player or coach and they will all tell you talent whether it's speed, power, athleticism, etc. will only get you so far. The true thing that separates the top player or 2-3 players in this era is the mental game and believe/confidence those players have. You see it all the time when a player is trying to beat one of the big 3 they get tight when it times to close the deal and fail... usually because they don't believe they can do... the get nervous. By reducing the speed of the courts/ball it allows Nadal, etc to play from 30ft (I'm being ridiculous here) behind the court and run down balls. It becomes parts strategy, fitness, and a lot of mental strength to win. The off chance of a guy getting hot and being able to bomb serves or forehands to get them over the hump has all but been removed.

So we don't see too many surprise upsets. The changes might have made it easier for the big 3 to achieve what they have. Rather than making it more competitive... it's possibly made it harder to break through. In a game where so often a match is decided by a few points between both players it's amazing how often the big 3 come out on top in tight situations... that's not luck or coincidence. On faster courts with a faster ball, and less string tech... those situations would show a lot more surprising upset results.

Sure, tennis as a sport is built so that 'luck' shouldn't ever be why a player wins. You have to win by '2' at almost every stage of the point system (games, sets, tie breaks, 5 sets matches). I don't know if slower courts would've benefited a player like Sampras and his serve/volley game (as evidenced by his clay court record), but certainly Agassi and others may have.

I know things have sped back up a bit... which helped Fed greatly in winning the Australian and beating Nadal. If they made Wimbledon like it used to be Fed would have a much better chance. I still think they need to really speed up the hard courts and Wimbledon to create more of a separation. I like variety and it all looks a little the same to me.

So would Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have the gaudy slam totals they do today if the courts/balls were faster? Throw out the poly strings and I think they'd all had a hard time getting past Sampras' total... maybe Fed, but barely. I think Djokovic and Nadal would both be much further down the list for sure (I'm a big Nadal and Djokovic fan btw).

Again... I'm not knocking any player here. It's more about the current playing conditions and whether that has truly helped create these amazing slam totals. Of course some may argue there is a talent gap and some may believe that this is the greatest era of 3 players that we may ever witness regardless of all of the above.
 

TheIntrovert

Hall of Fame
The lack of technological progress has definitely played a part in the younger gen taking so long to step up, which wasn’t the case in previous generations. How big a part, I’m not sure.
 

tudwell

Legend
I think it's a perfect storm of a bunch of different factors: poly strings somewhat homogenizing how the various surfaces play, lack of new technology as @TheIntrovert just pointed out (no young Beckers blowing guys off the court with never-before-seen power), advances in training and medicine to allow players to play for longer, changes in the way the game is played that has resulted in most players peaking in their late 20s or even early 30s, and most likely a historically weak generation just beneath them (I think it's telling that the Next Gen at 23 years or younger have already pretty much matched the achievements of the so-called Lost Gen – everyone between Thiem and Cilic or so). There are probably more factors than that, and of course a lot of it is that the Big 3 are just abnormally great tennis players – who knows? Maybe a couple decades from now there will be greater context or more revealing statistics to help elucidate things.
 

tonylg

Legend
If poly strings and 100 square inch racquets had come a few decades earlier, Sampras nor McEnroe nor Becker would have won a single slam. They would have all been cleaned up by Borg, Lendl and Agassi.

A lot of people may regard this as a good thing.
 
Short answer?

Yes.

It's made it easier for everyone to switch from surface to surface without longer periods of adjustments, hence there's more consistency hence more records.
 

travlerajm

G.O.A.T.
This thought happened across my mind as Nadal one #19 and the gaudy stats of the big 3 in terms of slam totals. It seems almost crazy that a slam total of 14 by Sampras was eclipsed so fast and by not one, but three players playing in the same era. How many years was it between Emerson and Sampras? Is this just an unbelievable coincidence or were some major changes in the game afoot that enabled this to happen? Regardless of my thoughts below I personally think the big 3 currently all are deserving of GOAT discussion, but I think it's worth considering what has happened and if that somehow allowed for the slam results we've seen.

Consider the era of Agassi/Sampras and before... how different the courts were between the slams. Even the hard courts and conditions of the US Open and Australia were different. As a result players had to make a serious effort to adjust from one surface to another between the 'seasons' as it were. As great as the big 3 are, I'm not convinced that they could've taken the amount of time off that they have and had the same outrageous success. The play between the four slams these days almost seems more like just a change in the color of the court. They all play slower, the balls are heavier, and the poly strings... all have enabled a clay court style of play across virtually every surface. The powers that be back in the 90's were worried about the power of the game reducing tennis to two shot rallies or even a one shot serve and so the great slowdown began. I also believe they thought this would make things more competitive. In thinking about this I found this article that describe exactly what I've felt over the years and heard... http://www.tennisviewmag.com/tennis...urt-surfaces-slowing-down-game-does-it-matter.

Instead of making the game more competitive, perhaps it did the opposite and made it easier for the cream of the crop to separate themselves. Talk to any pro player or coach and they will all tell you talent whether it's speed, power, athleticism, etc. will only get you so far. The true thing that separates the top player or 2-3 players in this era is the mental game and believe/confidence those players have. You see it all the time when a player is trying to beat one of the big 3 they get tight when it times to close the deal and fail... usually because they don't believe they can do... the get nervous. By reducing the speed of the courts/ball it allows Nadal, etc to play from 30ft (I'm being ridiculous here) behind the court and run down balls. It becomes parts strategy, fitness, and a lot of mental strength to win. The off chance of a guy getting hot and being able to bomb serves or forehands to get them over the hump has all but been removed.

So we don't see too many surprise upsets. The changes might have made it easier for the big 3 to achieve what they have. Rather than making it more competitive... it's possibly made it harder to break through. In a game where so often a match is decided by a few points between both players it's amazing how often the big 3 come out on top in tight situations... that's not luck or coincidence. On faster courts with a faster ball, and less string tech... those situations would show a lot more surprising upset results.

Sure, tennis as a sport is built so that 'luck' shouldn't ever be why a player wins. You have to win by '2' at almost every stage of the point system (games, sets, tie breaks, 5 sets matches). I don't know if slower courts would've benefited a player like Sampras and his serve/volley game (as evidenced by his clay court record), but certainly Agassi and others may have.

I know things have sped back up a bit... which helped Fed greatly in winning the Australian and beating Nadal. If they made Wimbledon like it used to be Fed would have a much better chance. I still think they need to really speed up the hard courts and Wimbledon to create more of a separation. I like variety and it all looks a little the same to me.

So would Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have the gaudy slam totals they do today if the courts/balls were faster? Throw out the poly strings and I think they'd all had a hard time getting past Sampras' total... maybe Fed, but barely. I think Djokovic and Nadal would both be much further down the list for sure (I'm a big Nadal and Djokovic fan btw).

Again... I'm not knocking any player here. It's more about the current playing conditions and whether that has truly helped create these amazing slam totals. Of course some may argue there is a talent gap and some may believe that this is the greatest era of 3 players that we may ever witness regardless of all of the above.
The ‘modern forehand’. Only 3 guys in the history of tennis can actually use it well.
 
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