The world of tennis is going through a surprisingly unique phase–the old legends continue to dominate the winning streak with singular authority while the youngsters struggle and almost fail to make a mark at least when it comes to the Grand Slams. With injuries to Djokovic and Murray, and other big-shots including Cilic, Del Potro, and Wawrinka failing to live up to their billing, it seems there is no young player who could challenge both Nadal and Federer. The only real challenge both these legends of the game have is one another. But isn’t that very curious stage because the same situation was there more than 10 years ago?
There are certain qualities in both these towering figures of the game that make them virtually undefeatable at the biggest stage the game has. There is precision and accuracy in Federer’s game while Nadal survives on his doggedness and stamina that is almost unmatched. However, the coaches of the young generations, many of them actually the peers of these two players, have almost failed to inculcate those qualities in the young players.
No doubt the young generation of tennis has fresh legs, fast serves, and a willingness to make an impact but they seem to be lacking very basic techniques that could make them successful at the Slams.
In the 3rd round match of the ongoing Wimbledon Championships, Federer was playing against Jan-Lennard Struff. The youngster seems to be buoyed by the opportunity and was willing to make an impact, yet lots of his returns on Federer’s serve and during the rallies went out of the baseline. At the same time, if you noticed the return that Federer made on his serve, almost all of landed inside and made Struff play the rallies, which could either way. Struff had a good, big serve but he was made to play the points because of the returns that Federer was able to make.
The gentleness or the lightness with which Federer holds his racquet is quite visible and extraordinary–it should be picked up as a technique by the coaches and passed on the next generation. In the trend of big serves and aces, it is very important to get the ball back in the game and make the opponent play somehow.
Similarly, in yesterday’s match between Nadal and the young Alex De Minaur, you could see the excitement and willingness to play his shots shows by the Australian, but there was a lack of stability. He seemed to rush to prove his point, which is obviously natural but he could have stayed in the rallies before going for risky shots, which may or may not turn into winners. The strength of Nadal lies in wearing down the opponent by engaging in long rallies and making him commit unforced errors. It requires a Herculean physical stamina but it has been proven to be a winning strategy.
Similarly, the returnability or the retrieving strength of Djokovic is a treat to watch–you will notice that youngsters give up on points too early. There seems to be a lack of extra commitment that is needed at such a stage.
Of course, it sounds all very easy to say and utmost difficult to practice, but given the scenario that after 5 years or so, we will not have Federer or Nadal dominating the Championships, there seems to be a real vacuum of rivalries and clear match-winners in the upcoming generation.