Roger Alton Roger Alton

Spectator Sport | 19 July 2008

Epic in the gloom

Grass-court tennis eh? A bit boring? Just serve and volley, ace, serve and volley? Well not any more. And sometimes old-style serve-return, bish-bosh, really did get a bit tedious. Go on, admit it. Obscure studies by people with a bit too much time on their hands proved that once you’ve factored in breaks between games, towelling down, or getting ready to bounce balls, top grass-court players would only spend four or five minutes per hour actually playing tennis. Very definitely not any more. Do you know how many times Rafa Nadal served and volleyed in that quite extraordinary, thunderously brilliant epic of epics in the gloom of SW19 last month? Just once, in the last game of the final set.

What’s happened of course is the game has changed. Huge technical advances in stringing and racket sizes have meant that players can return serve with much greater accuracy. And the ultimate physical evolution of the tennis player as supreme baseline athlete is Nadal. But would anyone have swapped this year’s final for a tight three or four sets of serve and volley? I don’t think so. In fact this year we have been uniquely privileged to have witnessed, within a few weeks, two of the greatest events in any sport ever — that Wimbledon final, where you literally had no idea what was going to happen next from second to second, and the US Open in San Diego when Woods played on with his wrecked leg in a Homeric struggle against Rocco Mediate right through to the 91st hole. We’re lucky, lucky people.

There’s a lot of chaff, mostly coming out of the US, to the effect that this year’s Open doesn’t really matter because Woods won’t be there. We’ll see about that.

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