You were the king of serve and volley, but now all we see is players slugging it out from the baseline. How can we reintroduce serve and volley into the game?
You can’t all of a sudden bring it back. The change in racket technology and strings, and slowing down the courts by using a different type of grass, means everyone now plays from the baseline, where it’s easier to accelerate and get a lot of power and hit winners. So players don’t have to come to the net as often as before.
So it’s goodbye forever…
On a clay court nobody serves and volleys, but very few ever did that anyway. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is one of the few players left with a big serve who sometimes comes forward on clay, but with the quality of the returns nowadays, that can be very dangerous. Grass and hard courts are different, though; they play faster than clay, and players would be well advised to come to the net as often as they can after a good serve or a groundstoke. Over the past 18 months, Roger Federer has picked up on the fact he has a very natural serve-and-volley game and is playing more offensively. That helps him keep the matches shorter, too, but it takes a lot of skill and very few players are as naturally talented as Federer.
Do you think there is a coincidence between baseline slugging and the number of injuries – Rafael Nadal’s knees are shot, Andy Murray’s back is giving him gyp…
But the players show us that they can keep playing! If Murray was really injured, he wouldn’t have reached the French Open quarter-finals. There are always aches and pains and niggles, but the top players are professional enough and almost always find a way to get better. It’s called evolution. I think everything is better these days.
Except those endless baseline rallies aren’t better than serve and volley…
The best matches are always between the attacking serve-and-volley player and the defending player. Finals between Federer and Nadal are always the highlights, and when it’s Novak Djokovic versus Nadal, you know it will mean long rallies and five-hour matches. I’d rather see a combination of Federer v Nadal, or Federer v Djokovic, which we had in the semi-final of the French Open. But you will always have new players coming up with new styles. Nothing stays still forever.
Some say the men’s game has never been stronger. But could tennis be in trouble if it doesn’t find some variety on court?
It’s a great era right now and new great players and new number one players have been the story of tennis for some time. The competition between players always creates new champions. Nadal is only 26 and Murray and Djokovic are only 25, so they’ll stay on top for a few years. Federer, at 31, is in the autumn of his career, but with his quality, he’ll hopefully play for another couple of years. Remember, in the French Open semi-finals, Tsonga, who’s 27, had match points against Djokovic; and Juan Martin del Potro, who’s only 23, had a two-set lead over Federer, so these players might take over the top spots. I think tennis is in good shape.