Will Tennis still be the same sport in a few decades? Between the arrival of smart racquets and new competitions like the IPTL, WeAreTennis asked a former member of the top 10, a coach and a journalist to discuss the most important changes and the future of tennis. Warning… they have many things to say.
- A level of play in constant progression
"The first observation that can be made by observing tennis at the moment is simple: it goes faster and faster and the average level is on the rise. Players are stronger and move faster. Ten years ago, Andy Roddick was the fastest server, at around 140 mph. Today the fastest services exceed 155mph… » says Laurent Raymond, former coach of Fabrice Santoro, Michael Llodra, or Albano Olivetti. Before explaining: « between the first point won on the ATP tour and the entry into the top 100, there's around five years today, on average. The learning stage is long. Twenty years ago, the big jump could be made in less than two years. » Marc Rosset takes over: « at the time, guys like Jimmy Arias were successful with a great forehand. Today, it is no longer possible, players have to be complete.» Frederic Viard, a journalist for French Channel Canal +, adds that « equipment -racquets and balls- which is in constant evolution play a part in speeding up the game and general improvement of the level on the tour. » Conclusion: In 2050, services will reach 190 mph, it will take 10 years to integrate the Top 100 and racquets will be made from the same material that NASA rockets. We’re barely exaggerating.
- Homogenization of surfaces and playing styles
“Tournaments are slowing the surfaces to make matches more spectacular for spectators. Starting with Wimbledon, where the grass has been changed in order to block great servers like Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic. In the 90s, Rafael Nadal would never have won Wimbledon.” Marc Rosset does not beat around the bush to say what he thinks: "A match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open is exactly the same than at Roland Garros, Wimbledon... I 'm not sure that it’s good thing. Tennis and playing styles are standardized.” An observation shared with Frederic Viard: « it's true; a serve-and-volley player such as Michael Llodra is now a dinosaur. Radek Stepanek is also an original player... There are less and less ‘touch players’ although Bernard Tomic and Grigor Dimitrov are still a bit like this. » Laurent Raymond also agrees with the initial postulate: “there is no fundamental difference between Wimbledon Lawn and Melbourne's hard courts anymore. Last year, the average exchange time was longer at Roland Garros than at Wimbledon.” However, there's still hope that all players won’t be clones. For him, no doubt, original players, who still use the serve-and-volley, for example, will have a future: « I don’t think that we killed a whole kind of players by slowing down the surfaces. Players have never served better than today. Attackers will be on the rise again. Roger Federer plays better than two years ago because he's more offensive, it means something. »
- The end of the hegemony of just a few
"In the 80s, people were tired of seeing finals between Lendl and Wilander with endless exchanges. In the 90s, people were tired of seeing only the good servers win all the tournaments. Today, with the slow surfaces, we mainly see matches played from the baseline. In 2050, we'll maybe see a return of rapid surfaces and great attacking players?” says Marc Rosset. Tennis as an eternal repetition? "Not necessarily, according to Laurent Raymond. I don't see tennis being dominated by a few players in the future. There was the McEnroe, Connors and Borg era, the Sampras and Agassi era and the Big Four era. I cannot imagine such a domination happening again. Because the level is progressing and more and more players will be dangerous in the future." Whatever the future holds, Frederic Viard saw in his crystal ball the fall of the Big Four: "Roger Federer is getting old, Rafael Nadal too because he’s worn out physically, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have been on top since they were 19, the years will soon start to weigh, a new era is coming… »
- What kind of tour in the future?
The International Tennis Premier League, Mahesh Bhupathi's project of closed league, has caused a stir recently with its big wages, its teams mixing current and retired stars, its draft and matches made of one set of five games. Enough to worry ATP tournaments? "Grand Slams and other big tournaments remain the key moments of the season. These leagues could however hurt ATP 250, which are less attractive financially" says Marc Rosset. Who also insists, to support his thesis of a gradual disappearance of small tournaments, on the constraints they already have: « it comes down to the problems generated by the Big Four. ATP 250 can't attract the best players in the world and they are losing money because no one talks about the other players who play them... If you are an ATP 250, you pay a big deposit to Ferrer or Tipsarevic, but will they fill the stadium? No! David Ferrer has only won one Masters 1000 in his career! There's also this question of standardization of the surfaces that favours some players, even if they are already very strong.” That's for the anxiety version. For the optimist one, we asked Frederic Viard. The TV journalist looks away: “The sporting challenge of Grand Slams and Masters 1000 will always be more important. Who cares of the rest. We want to see the history of tennis in motion.”
- The future of tennis in the hands of the media?
“Today, at the U.S. Open, it's the TVs and Nike who decide of the programming… Gradually, the economic pressure is becoming more important, allowing sponsors and media to dictate the future of tennis” says Marc Rosset. “You never know when a match is going to end or when it will resume when it’s interrupted. In a society of channel hopping, this model is becoming increasingly archaic” according to Frederic Viard. Before concluding: "Broadcasters bring a lot of money to competitions. It’s not absurd to imagine that one day, they might ask for established matches durations... It could be the next big evolution of tennis. »
By Antoine Mestres