Yesterdays Super Bowl XLVIII result proved one thing in football, that the #1 defense in the NFL is more important that the #1 offense. Watching the trend in tennis over the last decade has proven to yield a positive correlation between increasing defensive abilities and Grand Slam success. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic have triumphed in 32 of the last 35 Grand Slam titles. This is an amazing statistic.
Over the past decade of tennis it has become quite apparent how important the defensive side of tennis has become. The offensive tennis that once ruled the top echelon of the mens game, has now been replaced with more impressive defensive prowess than we have ever seen. We are truly in the ‘Golden Era’ of the sport where we currently have two players debated as possible greatest of all time in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. This article isn’t to stir the G.O.A.T discussion but to bring to light the evolution of the sport on the mens side.
Whether it be the slowing of the court speeds or the ever improving conditioning and fitness of the competitors, players are chasing down more balls, extending more rallies and making their opponents come up with better shots to beat them in a rally. The cold hard fact is that unless you can defend from the back of the court, you are simply not a grand slam contender!
Obviously to be able to put opponents away you need to be able to step in and attack your opponent with either power or angle BUT everyone can attack the ball in todays game. Great defense separates the men from the boys, so to speak.
Although the Big 4 are currently not ranked that way under the ATP points system, there is no denying that they are the players to beat at any given Grand Slam. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer are all the very best players in the world in defending from the baseline. Djokovic, Nadal and Murray are all known to be able to turn a defensive situation into an offensive one at any moment during a rally and this put incredible pressure on their opponents to hit a better ball, shot after shot, shrinking the court until their opponents either cough up an error going for too much or leave it short for attack.
During the 80’s and 90’s players could get away with having a couple of big weapons and masking their weaknesses. Not so in the modern age. Grand slam winners now have the complete package, along with all the weapons! There are very few chinks in the armor of todays champions and junior players now spend much longer developing their games. I highly doubt we will see a Grand Slam champion of 17 years like we did with Michael Chang at the French Open in 1989. At the moment there are no teenagers in the ATP top 100. As it takes players longer to develop both offensive and defensive games, the average age for a tennis pro is now 27!
2014 should be another great year for the ATP. We have already seen Stanislas Wawrinka shake up the top players to win the Aussie and I am sure this will spur on a slew of would be challengers for the top spots. I’m not sure if anyone can steal the crown from the clear French Open favorite Rafael Nadal but I will enjoy watching the fantastic defense on display over the course of the upcoming clay court season.
See you on the Courts!
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