Sun Jul 03 09:06am EDT
Usually not prone to start controversy, Rafael Nadal made an exception during this Wimbledon about playing on grass through the decades.
"I've started playing Wimbledon in 2002 and the courts are exactly the same since this date. I can't comment on how it was before but saying it has been slowed since 2002 is not true. As far as I'm concerned, it's not really thrilling to watch a match between Sampras and Ivanisevic or this kind of player. It's not really tennis, but only some racquet shots."
Some points should be reminded here: Nadal is from a Spanish culture that regards tennis like this: serve, return on the diagonal and then the point is on. That's not a criticism, it's just how they are taught to play. Then it should be no surprise he doesn't like matches between big serving guys. But when he says the surface isn't slower than before, he's in bad faith. Because it's a fact: this surface has little to do with the one of the past.
This has helped Nadal's career. I don't think he could have had the same career 20 years ago when the courts were much faster. I'm not taking credit away from what Rafa has achieved and from his outstanding abilities because he would have entered the history of this sport by one way or an other because of his amazing mental strength.
Beside grass, there's a trend of slowering the surfaces set up by the ITF, the ATP and the WTA and it's taking place in another trend of molding players with similar type of games. The top players of today aren't determined by the same criteria as before. A player like Ivo Karlovic would have had an other career in the '90s and could have had a chance of winning Wimbledon. Result is that styles oppositions are over. Only Federer is trying to resist when he's in shape against the hard hitters from the baseline. I think that this slower and slower game has done more wrong than good for tennis.
It's the same with the rules of conduct for the players on court. What makes a sport famous isn't only variety of styles, it's also battle of personalities. When Borg and McEnroe were playing against each other, it was like fire fighting ice. It's important to let players express themselves on the court because people need to be able to relate to one player and to take his or her side. Now it's getting tougher.