Nick Kyrgios has expressed his bewilderment following the recent in match spat with a disgruntled spectator
Fellow Roarer, ohtani’s jacket, once said to me: “There’s something about the Australian Open that brings out the best in tennis players. That adds to its prestige, and elevates it above the US Open and the French Open in my mind.”
I’m inclined to agree, because after watching much of the Australian Open this year, I have one comment to make: men’s tennis has never been stronger.
A debatable remark directed toward Federer’s place among the greats made earlier in his career was that he faced easier competition than Sampras. There’s surely nothing easy about becoming the world number one, and it appears a harsh thing to say. However, I felt it was a fair comment once.
After watching the underrated dominance of Pete Sampras, a man I consider to have the most dominant “game” in the history of tennis (although not the most “complete game”), I have to say there was a period where I was under whelmed by men’s game.
First was Lleyton Hewitt, who beat Sampras (past his prime) to win the US Open. Hewitt didn’t have the game the greats did though. He didn’t have the Sampras serve that got you out of trouble when you needed it, or the complete game Federer had.
I admired Hewitt for his fighting spirit, his return of serve, the way he’d hunt balls down. But much of his game was defence coupled with a never-say-die attitude.
Long since then, Hewitt’s been ‘there and abouts’ among the world’s top 30 players. In his defence he’s had injuries. But he wasn’t Sampras’ successor like Federer is. Currently he’s won two Grand Slams, and won’t be considered one of the greats of tennis.
Then came Marat Safin, who reminded me of Mark Philippoussis in terms of potential. Philippoussis could have been anything. His serve was so incredible that I remember him beating the world’s best players on days when his serve couldn’t be beaten. Added to that, he could move well for a big man and had tremendous power.
That sums up Safin to me. He beat Federer in the Australian Open semi-final one year playing some incredible tennis. Federer was at the peak of his powers and hardly lost another game for the year. Safin moved incredibly for a big man.
But his mind was everywhere. He could be the world number one and then slip down the ranks so quickly. He lost his temper sometimes, and this affected his game. At the point when he was the world number one, I didn’t sense he would be remembered as one of the greats.
Andy Roddick had a short stop at the top. Roddick has a very blunt approach to tennis and even Jimmy Conners once made the remark he needed to think his way through points better. Mentally he was a bit like Safin, and prone to losing his ‘cool’.
Then came Federer, and there was no doubt he was the successor to Sampras – a player you could say would go down as one of the greats. When off the court, it’s said Federer is an emotional guy, and certainly he was an emotional player early in his career. But he mastered his mind to become very cool on the court.
His tennis style was beautiful and laid-back. He had all the shots so he never looked pressured. Like Sampras he could buy a serve when he really needed it. While I’m not sure if he’s the best tennis player ever, he’s certainly the most complete player I’ve seen. And in terms of completeness, the experts say only Rod Laver is comparable to Federer.
But when Federer was on top I began to question how good he was. Honestly, I didn’t see Hewitt or Safin or Roddick as being as good as someone like Agassi, who won many Grand Slams and constantly challenged Pete Sampras. Yes, Federer did play Agassi many times, but that was near the twilight of Agassi’s career.
The Andre Agassi of 1999, who reinvented himself as the best returner of a serve I’ve ever seen, would have been a good match for Federer, I felt.
Nadal came through the ranks and I began to barrack for him. I wanted someone to compete with Federer so I could grasp how great Federer was. He enjoyed dominance over Federer on clay, but I wanted to see more.
My wish came true when Nadal played Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon Final, which to me ranks as number one sporting event of the last decade. That match was everything it could possibly be.
But along came the likes of Novak and Andy Murray and I begun to change my opinion on the men’s game.
Right now, during this very Australian Open, I think the men’s game is stronger than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime, or at least certainly in the top five.
Andy Murray has played some incredible tennis during this Open. His ability to anticipate the next shot is incredible. Murray would be an incredible dark horse pick. He’s playing better than ever.
Novak is playing well too, and is displaying more maturity as he progresses. Unfortunately, his biggest enemy can be himself, especially when calls don’t go his way or if the crowd isn’t on his side. Hopefully none of that will factor into his game when he plays Federer next.
Federer and Nadal… either one could be the greatest tennis player ever and you’d never know. Both have won all the Grand Slams.
Nadal, if he wins this Australian Open, will hold all four simultaneously. And he’s won more Grand Slams, at his age, than Federer did at the same age.
I’ve been watching men’s tennis for a very long-time now. It’s always been one of my favourite sports. I still play it occasionally. What I can say with confidence is this: I don’t think there’s ever been a better period in the history of men’s tennis.
Right now, there are more talented top 10 players than I have ever seen.