Borris Becker : Last of the Mohicans
Sports like cinema creates stars and we create impressions of these stars based on the limited time that we get to see them on the TV or the stadium For some reason I always thought the rivalry is highest in individual sports than team sports, because it is a clash of individual abilities and personalities. I assume the temperament that I see on the court or the ring is what these stars take back to their living rooms. I could not have been more wrong than assuming that Amrish Puri and Amitabh Bachchan were not friends in real life.
My entire child hood I hated Stefan Edberg because he was the arch rival of my all-time tennis favorite; Boris Becker. Head-to-head match stats: Of 35 times Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg met on the court at Becker led the table 25-10. Edberg on the other hand won three out of four meetings in the biggest test of Grand Slams. Both of them had won the career Grand Slam titles six times each, with both failing short to win the French Open. Also both the players have won the Australian Open two times each, showing rivalry more precisely in terms of title winnings.
As a kid I followed Becker’s every game. It was time of no Internet and Doordarshan, so the task was not as easy as it is today. I had to hunt for Sportstar or Sportsworld or the international magazines in the local library to keep up with his wins and his ranks. As a group of friends, we used to compare weekly notes on the Tennis ranking. The hunt was always on for the centerfold of Sportstar which regularly gave away poster of an international star. If Boris was on the centerfold I get to buy the magazine. The four major Grand slams were a family affair, with every one compelled to be behind Boris Becker lest they unveil the wrath of me or my younger brother. The tournament is over for me if Boris is eliminated in early rounds. The guy who defeats him would be my arch rival. So I hated a lot of Tennis Players. Notably among them are Stefan Edberg, Michel Stich, Goran Ivanisevic, Pat cash. There were a lot more whom I care not to remember.
I used to watch every match of Wimbledon and hated the French open because clay was not the best court for my star. In fact he never won the French open. Becker was not the best on the tour. He was simply someone whom I used to adore. There was a charm that I am no longer able to put into words but he was simply someone I idolized.
I find it humorous now that I did not play Tennis, I had never set foot on a tennis court then and I still play tennis like a 10 year old. I was a cricket buff, I loved the game played the game but there was no one I could idolize. Well Viv Richards, Joel Garner, David Boon, were someone I loved but I did not follow them with the same passion as Boris Becker. In fact I cared very little about them. I have never been able to figure out why Becker evoked that passion in me. I still like him and I still get the same kind of nostalgic happiness to watch his vintage clips on YouTube.
I guess it was the playing style that enamored me the most. Becker’s game was based on a fast and well-placed serve that earned him the nicknames “Boom Boom”, “Der Bomber” and “Baron von Slam”, and great volleying skills at the net. He could supplement his pure serve-and-volley game with brilliant athleticism at the net, which included the diving volley that was considered a trademark of the young German, and which endeared him to his fans. His heavy forehand and return of serve were also very significant factors in his game. It was the serve and volley game that drew me to follow the sport. It is for the same reason I never liked French Open that was played on the clay courts. The rush of the fast paced serve and pin point volleys made the game interesting and Boris was the best of his times. Over the years with the death of the serve and volley format and return of the power baseline games I lost my interest in the game itself.
But what happed to serve and Volley?
In part, serve-and-volley became a victim of its own success. By the mid-1990s, big-serving attackers—again, see Sampras—were winning points and games in bang-bang fashion, producing complaints of boring, monotonous tennis. The griping had merit: bereft of long rallies, matches between net-rushers lacked both flow and consistent action, reducing a game of ebb, flow and varied geometry to a soccer penalty shootout.
In response, courts were tweaked to make balls bounce slower and higher. Wimbledon, for instance, altered the composition of its grass in 2001, producing a firmer and more durable playing surface. This shifted the balance of power in the direction of baseliners, giving them valuable extra time—think a tenth of a second, which is all they needed—to line up returns and passing shots.
The 2002 Wimbledon final between Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian marked the first time since 1978 that two baseliners met for the tournament title. In a combined 150 opportunities, neither player attempted to serve-and-volley. Not once. This is the current state of Tennis. I cannot recall anyone who can be called a true serve and volley player in the top 25 players. Tennis as I like it has lost its charm. Not to say that it does not have talented players. In fact there are some great players who are playing the game right now.There are even greater rivalries read Federer and Nadal. But this is not the game i like. The last player I really liked and followed was Pete Samparas and tennis seems to have retired after that.
Tennis I miss you……