Tennis Has Become a Whole Different Racket
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
The Wimbledon championships begin on Monday. Sports commentators often complain that modern graphite rackets with the sweet spot the size of Kansas are ruining the game. They, including former champion John McEnroe, say that the faster, bigger rackets have turned tennis into a serving contest.
But Tom Perrotta, who writes for the New York Sun and Tennis magazine, says that changes in racket technology have actually saved the sport. And here just to look at the play of Wimbledon's defending champion, Roger Federer, Tom Perrotta joins us from London where he's covering Wimbledon. Thanks so much for being with us.
TOM PERROTTA: My pleasure to be here, Scott.
SIMON: And what should we see when we look at Roger Federer's game?
PERROTTA: I think what you see is someone who can do everything and that's the sort of player that critics for years, in the last 15 years, have said wouldn't come around anymore. He has an excellent forehand, an excellent backhand, he's very solid at the net. He moves incredibly well. He has a good serve, but not an overpowering serve. And defeats people with variety rather than overpowering them.
SIMON: And how do the new rackets pertain to his game?
PERROTTA: The big thing about the rackets is, especially in men's tennis, the serve has become, you know, harder and harder every year. But it's largely because the men are bigger and stronger and more fit. With modern rackets, it's easier to return those serves. And you know, without that racket, the game would probably be even faster paced than it is today, and more dominant on serving.
And you know, tests have been done to show that a top-level pro can serve just as hard with a wooden racket, pretty much, within a mile an hour or two, as with a graphite one.
SIMON: Has the effect been the same in the woman's game?
PERROTTA: The serve has never been as dominant in the women's game. It's become more so over time, but still is less so. But no question the rackets have helped the women hit sharper groundstrokes, more spin, more angles.
SIMON: We often that the public interest in tennis was at its peak when Bjorn Borg was playing with a wooden racket. And some of those great Borg-McEnroe matches with - I don't know how many times they'd return it to each other. But is that kind of game possible today?
PERROTTA: I don't expect to see that sort of game anymore. But what I find interesting is, there's an excellent book that John McPhee wrote called Levels of the Game. It's about Arthur Ashe playing Clark Graebner at the U.S. Open I believe in 1968. He has a few paragraphs about the power game and a lot of people complaining about the power game and that the average amount of strokes per rally was two, and something had to be done to slow it down.
And his suggestion was to require a player to let the ball bounce after he served, not being able to serve and volley. And that's sort of the game that's developed on its own largely because of the modern racket. It's forced players to have to do that.
And I think now we've gone from a period where there were very long rallies between players like Lendl and Wilander to a game where there are rallies, but they're not quite as long. And there are players going for winners, playing aggressive, coming in at times, really doing some stuff that's interesting to watch. And you know, you hope that that's going to last.
SIMON: Mr. Perrotta, you have a nice couple of weeks there.
PERROTTA: Thank you so much.
SIMON: Tom Perrotta who is covering Wimbledon for the New York Sun. Twenty-two minutes before the hour.