- Joel Drucker
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Australians are to tennis what the French are to winemaking: exemplary practitioners of the craft. As you might expect from a nation so steeped in the sport's core values, Aussies have a wide range of opinions based on a long-standing history of excellence, sportsmanship, diligence and, perhaps most notably, all-court tennis.
Having just finished a week at the John Newcombe Tennis Ranch in New Braunfels, Texas, conducting a once-yearly fantasy camp ("Tennis Fantasies with John Newcombe and the Legends"), four Aussie notables -- Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Mark Woodforde and Owen Davidson -- waxed on a variety of current topics.
Between them, these four have earned 74 Grand Slam titles, Emerson's 28 singles and doubles more than any other man in tennis history. Emerson is one of only six men to have won the singles at all four majors. Stolle's two Slam singles titles came on the clay of Roland Garros and the grass of Forest Hills. Emerson and Stolle are enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Woodforde and Davidson are on the 2009 ballot.
Does Serena Williams deserve further sanctions from her U.S. Open tirade?
Owen Davidson: I thought that was a disgrace. They shouldn't have allowed her to play the doubles [final].
Fred Stolle: While there's no question Serena and Venus have been very good for tennis, there's no place in the sport for that kind of language. A $10,000 fine isn't enough. She should be suspended from the first two Grand Slams of next year.
Roy Emerson: It's unfortunate that happened when it did. I've been called for a foot fault on match point, and it's pretty annoying. What I'd like to see happen is for the umpire to at first give the player a warning.
Mark Woodforde: It's funny that Serena's outburst was being covered in the U.S. by CBS and Tennis Channel. CBS had John McEnroe in the booth, Tennis Channel had Jimmy Connors, and of course both those guys did things much worse than what Serena did. But the time to have done something would have been right then and there, such as defaulting her out of the doubles. Now it's too late to have some sort of suspension.
What's the future of the game?
Stolle: The build of men and women is changing. Everyone's taller. It's amazing to think that a guy who's 6 feet tall is on the short side.
Woodforde: I'm liking that there are niches in the game for players like Andy Murray who can change the spin and the pace of the ball. [Juan Martin] del Potro mostly bludgeons the ball, but he still has that subtle ability to change paces, position himself in different parts of the court and hit some slices.
Davidson: I was never a big fan of del Potro, but he proved me wrong. He smoothed up his rough edges. As for Murray, as much as I'd like to see it happen, as wonderfully talented as he is, I'm beginning to wonder if he'll ever win a Slam. I'm not 100 percent sure about him and the mental part of the game. He's had these breakdowns.
Is the season too long?
Stolle: When we turned pro, you played 40 weeks of the year at the minimum. So in my opinion, calling the year too long is crazy. These guys don't want to play too many tournaments, but then their agents arrange exhibitions, which of course are a hell of lot easier. I think players should sign a contract that calls for playing 26 weeks and Davis Cup -- just like the contract you sign on the PGA Tour.
Davidson: I don't think they play too much, but what's tough is the scheduling and the surfaces. We played on hard courts only two weeks a year -- in L.A. and Berkeley after we'd been away from home for more than six months. But now, when you have hard-court events like Canada and Cincinnati back-to-back, that's a surefire way to beat up a player's body.
Emerson: The way the game is played now, on rough, slow hard courts from the baseline, creates a lot of physical stress. Look at how [Rafael] Nadal is suffering. That excessive topspin is not easy on the body. Maybe a lot can be done by looking into what shoes the players are wearing. On hard courts, it's much better to wear a smooth shoe than one that's always gripping the court. I remember at the Australian Open seeing [Pete] Sampras actually filing down his shoes so he had some more give.
What about doubles?
Stolle: It's really a shame. You ask any tennis fan who's won the last four Grand Slam doubles titles, and they wouldn't know.
Woodforde: Thank goodness for the Bryan brothers. If it wasn't for them, there wouldn't be a lot of allure to doubles. I'd like to see every top-20 player have to play the doubles in at least one Slam and a few Tennis Masters 1000 events. To me it's part of the commitment to the tour. The game is not segregated between singles and doubles.
Emerson: It's a lot easier to play doubles than to have to arrange practices. And when top players don't play doubles, it takes the shine off people winning titles.
Can serve-and-volley return?
Davidson: I watched a lot of the juniors at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year and actually saw a lot more serve-and-volley tennis. Guys on the tour do not like playing a net rusher like Radek Stepanek. It just takes a bit of courage from the parents and the coaches to recognize that it takes a while to build an all-court game. Sampras had his share of early losses, but then look what happened.
Emerson: Years ago, there was too much serve-and-volley; now there's too much baseline tennis. Coaches aren't spending enough time developing all-court skills.
Woodforde: I understand that the game has changed, but coming to net makes you a more rounded player. It's really helpful to have a wide range of tools. Look how effective [Roger] Federer is with that sliced short backhand. Growing up in Australia, we learned how to use the backhand slice as a great transition shot. I like how guys like Murray, [Andy] Roddick and [Fernando] Gonzalez use this shot, too. I want to see a lot more thinking out there, a lot more thinking about how to use the whole court and lots of spins and paces. The approach shot is intended to set you up for establishing good court position at the net. These days, though, too many players think it's supposed to be winner. But I still think there's plenty of room in the game for all-court, attacking tennis.
Stolle: One problem is that there aren't enough coaches around who understand serve-and-volley tennis. Larry Stefanki does, but not many really see what it takes to teach it to their players.
Joel Drucker is based in Oakland, Calif., and writes for Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.
7hK. Lee Davis