“Eric, you seem like a really smart guy. What do you think will be the next big weapon in tennis?”
I hear this question a lot, especially about the part of me being really smart. Now first off, before I go into all of my rambling, I want to make it clear that I cannot predict the future. In fact, I’m really not too sold on the whole idea of anyone’s “psychic ability” in general. The question I always have when it comes to psychics is: Why aren’t they all multibillionaires?
So, with all this being said, I am going to give you my opinion on what will be the next big thing in tennis. And again, this is just my opinion; so don’t think anything less of me if my predictions don’t come true (if that’s even possible).
In case you didn’t know, tennis is a sport that is constantly evolving. I would even go so far to say that weapons and strategies start to change a little bit every five years or so. This is because the technology and the athleticism of the modern athlete are always changing.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the big weapon was finding ways to get to the net quickly. Chipping and charging was very common to see in points. We would also see a lot of serving and volleying, with slicing serves that pulled opponents off the court and enabled the competitors to knock off volleys. Players did this because racquets were mostly made out of wood and sting tensions weren’t really the exact science it is today. Sure, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg were baseliners who were very successful because they were extremely fit for their time and were able to adapt their game to a variety of different surfaces. But for the most part during this era, it was about getting to net as quickly as possible.
Then, the late 1980s and 1990s rolled around and now tennis started seeing a little bit better of an athlete. Players started to hit the gym, and have workout routines to strengthen their on-court performance. Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Andre Agassi were perfect examples of this. Racquet technology improved and now guys were able to hit bigger serves and become harder to break … a la Pete Sampras.
As a few years went by and we entered the 2000s, we started to see less and less pure serve and volley players. It became a dying breed because the game started to get faster and faster. The game was introduced to polyester strings, which enabled players to hit the ball a ton. It was like giving major league baseball players metal bats to play with instead of wood. Serves and forehands got bigger and bigger, and the game became a power game. If you could out-power the other guy, you were going to do well. A young Andy Roddick became very successful in the early part of this decade because he hit serves in excess of 140 mph. And James Blake made it to number four in the world hitting forehand shots that sounded like balloons popping. This power surge in strength and technology is what stopped true serve and volley players forever. If you don’t believe me, just look at Wimbledon’s Center Court during the finals. It used to be that the whole center area from the baseline to net used to be all worn down because of players serving and volleying. Now, it’s nowhere near what it used to be like and the area that takes the most punishment from sneakers rubbing against it is the baseline.
Currently over the last half-decade or so, we have guys like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray who all have all-court games and can pretty much do anything at anytime. They are rock solid and seem to all be perfect tennis players who have very few weaknesses that can be exploited. To beat any one of these top guys, you need to just be better and more solid that given day that you are playing them … a feat that not many can accomplish.
But tennis will keep evolving and we will look back at this time and see how the all-court style will eventually become an obsolete one. You see, in my opinion, I feel the next big thing that we will all see more and more of in the next five to 10 years will be … drum roll … reverse forehands.
For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about, a reverse forehand is the forehand Rafael Nadal hits about 90 percent of the time. It’s a forehand where, instead of turning your shoulders and hitting out on the ball, your swing line looks like the letter “C” and you finish over your head. This shot is what I believe to be the immediate future of tennis. By hitting a forehand like this, Nadal is able to generate tremendous spin and action on the ball, which becomes very difficult for opponents to handle. When you generate the type of spin that Rafa does, he also gets more margin for error because of greater net clearance, which enables him to try crazy shots from all over the court. A reverse forehand allows a player to still be aggressive when they are on the run or should catch a ball late. In fact, players over the last couple decades have used reverse forehands in spots as well. They were known back then as “buggie-whip” forehands and were used only when they were extended or in desperate situations to keep a ball going. Nadal is the first player who uses it when he has both of his feet underneath him and he’s set up perfectly.
Now Nadal is very lucky in that he’s in a time period where the technology exists to make this a tremendously offensive shot. He wouldn’t be able to hit forehands the way he does playing with a Wilson Pro Staff strung with Prince synthetic guy. He plays with a racquet and string combination that perfectly balance each other, and helps him to generate that heavy spin and pace on the ball.
If you watch a tennis match now, an increasing number of pro players are starting to use reverse forehands during points. I feel that this will be the next big thing to take over tennis. If you don’t believe me, just ask Roger Federer. Federer, in many people eyes, is the greatest tennis player to ever live, and Nadal has made him cry more times than my girlfriend has when I take her to Arby’s on a Saturday night. The reason why is because of Nadal’s forehand (the later is because I’m broke due to a Chinese text messaging stock tip). For as good of a player Roger Federer is, he has yet to be able to successfully handle that type of spin when balls are hit to his backhand.
I wouldn’t be surprised in the next couple of years, we start to see young guys who are coming up with a very similar styles to that of Rafael Nadal. These guys will be extremely fast and athletic and will be able to attempt and make absurdly difficult shots at ease because of the action they are able to put on the ball. This will all be capable because they will be using reverse forehands instead of hitting out on them.
The bottom line is that the technology is there and Nadal’s successes are the perfect blueprint to copy. And then, after that, who knows where tennis will be, but what we do know for sure is that it will always keep evolving! Who knows, maybe a string will come out next decade that will enable a player to slice a ball so low it doesn’t even bounce. I guess we will just have to wait and see. Then again, if this whole 2012 thing turns out to be true … who the hell cares about any of this crap!
<p>Tennis Pro Eric Meditz may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com</p>