The former British champ says tennis unlikely to get serve and volley Grand Slam champion….writes Sayan Mukherjee
The gradual slowing of playing surfaces, which has prompted players to adopt a pro-backline approach, means tennis is unlikely to get a serve and volley champion any time soon, bemoans former British No.1 Tim Henman.
A serve and volleyer at heart, Henman reached the Wimbledon semi-finals four times and was a good exponent of that particular style of play. It was still prevalent during his playing days in the 1990s and early 2000s, but since his retirement in 2007, a uniform hard-hitting, baseline approach has become a norm of sorts.
It is this one dimensionality of contemporary tennis that hurts the former World No.4, but he accepts that it is unlikely to change any time soon with budding players inclined to follow suit.
“Yeah, the serve and volley game is dying, you know the surfaces are a lot slower now. The players come to the net less. So they don’t develop those skills at a young age. So on the circuit they serve and volley a lot less,” Henman told IANS in an interview, on the sidelines of the “Road to Wimbledon” programme, a tournament for Under-14 players here.
“Probably not. We won’t get a serve and volley champion. Not any time soon,” he added, when prodded to predict the future of the endangered style.
He is not the only one, however, to voice concerns about the predicament staring at tennis. His one-time adversary, 14-time Major champion Pete Sampras, against whom he lost two successive Wimbledon semi-finals in 1998 and ’99, has also earlier lamented the slow demise of the style among the current crop of players.
Henman feels the homogeneous slow nature of tennis surfaces globally has contributed to it as it affects the overall development of a player, discouraging forward movement, adding they could only benefit from playing in non-identical surfaces.
The 41-year-old is, however, curious to see the extent of dominance reigning top ranker Novak Djokovic has on the circuit. It is the Serbian’s “effectiveness” that sets him apart and Henman is curious how many more Grand Slam trophies he can win.
“He has already won 11 Grand Slams. It will be interesting to see how many more he can win in the future,” he says.
He concedes that Djokovic doesn’t have any evident visible weakness in his game. But irrespective of the 28-year-old’s formidability, he is unwilling to dub him the most complete player ever.
“No, he is not the most complete player ever. He might be one of the most effective players. I think his every aspect of his game is so advanced and so athletic. He is very solid from the back of the court, one of the best ever. He makes so few unforced errors,” the six-time Grand Slam semi-finalist said.
These attributes have made Djokovic almost “unbeatable” at the moment, and the Serbian star is unlikely to alter his hugely successful style. But Henman would still love to see him come to the net more often, which would test his weaker volleys.
“There’s no weakness as such. It looks like he is unbeatable at the moment. But he doesn’t come to the net a massive amount. So, you know, his volleys are not the best. But that’s not what his game is all about. His athletic ability and speed at the baseline and how consistent his ground strokes are.”
The Brit expressed shock at reports of rampant fixing in tennis, hoping that the malice doesn’t become overwhelming. He also prescribed that India should develop singles players by concentrating on making them “physically fitter and stronger”.
“There have been reports leading to a lot of speculation. We have to understand the facts and I hope it’s not going on,” Henman bemoaned.
“India needs better singles players to progress as a tennis nation. They need to develop, be physically fitter and stronger.”