Tennis fans today are treated to the exceptional talents of players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. It’s hard to believe that there could ever be players with more ability.
When these men play each other in a grand slam tournament it is likely to be a slugfest. All four are the consummate competitors and sportsmen, respectful of opponents, umpires and linesmen alike. Who could ask for more?
Unfortunately, the state of men’s tennis today isn’t all peaches and cream. One of the problems is that the game lacks variety. Due chiefly to technology, most players just stand back at the baseline and pound away at the ball. Coming to the net and volleying has become a lost art. Thirty to 40 years ago when wood racquets and early metal composites were in vogue, successful players had to have an all-around game. Tennis was the ultimate chess match and it was fascinating to watch.
The game also had “personalities” back then. The “bad boys” of tennis like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase were constantly berating umpires and linesmen, and sometimes mixing it up with opponents and fans as well. Love them or hate them they always put on a show. They also helped put professional tennis on the map.
It’s not surprising that the 1970s and ‘80s were known as the “golden age” of tennis. It was the era that transformed the sport from its stuffy country club status to the mainstream, highly popular status that it holds today. The volatile personalities and intense rivalries had a lot to do with the explosion in prize money and widespread television coverage. Most of the players were still true gentlemen, but the “bad boys” added some spite to the product.
The most fascinating “bad boy” of all was Jimmy Connors. Of all the controversial figures in the sport he had the longest career and the most ups and downs. In 1974, at the age of 21, he won three grand slam titles and probably would have captured the fourth (the French Open) if the sport’s hierarchy hadn’t conspired to keep him out. At the time, it was hard to believe anyone could unseat him as the king of tennis.