Faster courts essential for exciting tennis rivalries

Last Updated: Mon, Dec 03, 2012 09:57 hrs

Even by today's standards with such a highly competitive field, with several leading stars vying for honours and with fitness levels at an all time high, this has been a remarkable year for men's tennis. The season has ended and it is time to look back and then look ahead and one can only conclude that international tennis never had it so good. 

Four different players won each of the Grand Slams following many unforgettable duels but as Roger Federer said 2013 could be even better if court surfaces were made faster.
Federer had a point. Not too long ago men's tennis was dominated by big servers and natural volleyers such as Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg. Before that John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors played rallies that were usually decided after just four or five strikes of the ball. These days baseline exchanges of more than 20 strokes are commonplace, shots that used to be clean winners are coming back and matches are stretching longer and longer. 

This year for example, began with a near six-hour Australian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal while the US Open final between Djokovic and Andy Murray was only slightly shorter. Nearing the end of the season the Shanghai Masters final between Murray and Djokovic lasted 3-1/2 hours and that was only a best of three set contest. 

According to Federer slower courts and balls combined with improved fitness levels may have tipped the balance too far in favour of those for whom no ball is unreachabale. ''Just make quicker courts. Then it will be hard to defend and the attacking style will become more important,'' said the Swiss ace the winner of a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles. 

''It's only on the slow court that you can defend the way we are all doing right now. I think it is exciting but it is also tough. What you don't want is that you hit 15 great shots and at the end it ends up in an error.''
For the first time since 2003 before Federer took command of the sport the four Grand Slam titles were shared out. Djokovic beat Nadal in five sets in Australia, Nadal defeated Djokovic in four sets in Paris, Federer got the better of Murray in four sets at Wimbledon and Murray edged out Djokovic in five in New York. 

Murray had the added satisfaction of winning an Olympic gold medal over Federer in London while Djokovic had the last word against Federer in the season ending ATP Tour finals also in London.    
Djokovic may not have reproduced the blistering form that brought him three Grand Slam titles in 2011 but entries into the finals of the French and US Open and the semifinals at Wimbledon saw the Serb finish the year on top with Federer at No 2, Murray at No 3 and Nadal at No 4. 

In a way as Djokovic himself put it the achievement meant more to him than what he produced in the previous year given the quality of the opposition he had to face from Nadal, Federer and Murray. As Tim Henman wrote in his column shortly after the ATP Tour finals in London,''I think the game is stronger than it's ever been with Djokovic maintaining his place at the top of the game after last year when he just dominated everything and was the clear No 1.''

''Now the margins between Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal are so small it comes down to just a few points when they play each other. I think that's the beauty of their rivalry is that they are all capable of beating each other which was emphasized by each of them winning one of the four Slams in 2012.'' 

Federer at 31 is by far the oldest of the quartet but he appears in superb shape and is capable of playing at the highest level for a few more years at least. Even he admitted during the year that the rivalry between the Big Four is the key. ''It makes me motivated trying to play against the likes of Novak, Andy and Rafa. I love playing against the young guys as well because to many of them I am an idol which is kind of strange to me.''
Federer, Djokovic and Murray all seem to set to continue at the top when the new season gets underway in Australia next month but question marks remain over the fitness of Nadal. The Spaniard did not play since a shock defeat to unseeded Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon. Even by the end of the year he had not fully recovered and had to skip the Davis Cup final which Spain lost to the Czech Republic 3-2. 

However latest reports have it that he is back on the practice courts and is hopeful of regaining full fitness in time for the Australian Open. Once the 11 time Grand Slam champion is back tennis fans can look forward to another stellar year in 2013 with Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal once again calling the shots. Plainly put there doesn't seem to be a fifth player even near their class to challenge their exalted status - slow courts or fast. 

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