Modern Tennis Man is tall AND nimble. He can run fast AND bend low. He can crush a flat forehand AND (thanks to modern strings) keep it on the court.
Forever, tennis has been either/or. They’re AND now for Modern Tennis Man.
He arrived in 2009, really, and started revolutionizing the game. Then, he blew out his wrist and went away for a year. Now, Juan Martin del Potro is not fully back, but he did crush No. 4 Robin Soderling, who is having a great year, 6-3, 6-2 Sunday in Miami.
“I’m improving faster than what I’m thinking, or then what I expected,’’ del Potro said the other day. “I think I have a difference between me and Rafa (Nadal) or top 10 players at this moment, but is getting closer.
“Maybe in the second part of the year, I will be ready for fight against them.’’
So Sunday was a big moment in tennis. It was the day that Modern Tennis Man (MTM) announced he would be back soon.
Remember, del Potro made Nadal look like a rag doll in the 2009 US Open. MTM made Nadal look to alter his game.
Then, after a nervous start in the Open final, del Potro crushed Roger Federer, too. MTM made Federer’s game look obsolete.
And if the tennis world got the message Sunday, then del Potro surely got it about himself, too.
The talk of tennis now is Novak Djokovic, and whether Federer and Nadal are chasing him instead of the other way around. I think Federer is chasing Djokovic now, but Djokovic is still chasing Nadal.
But here is a prediction: By the U.S. Open, del Potro will be better than Djokovic.
It’s always exciting when something new comes into the game doing something different. Years ago, when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, the rest of the golf world started panicking. Tom Watson, who was way past his time but still on the leaderboard that day, seemed thrilled about Woods. So I asked him about it.
He said that in sports, the next great thing comes along and then everyone else starts trying to catch him. They see new possibilities. And that’s how a game itself raises its level.
It’s a little embarrassing for a grown man, especially one who has been to a ton of sporting events, to sound like a little kid. But honestly, I was there for del Potro’s win over Federer, and the thrill of watching what he was doing sent my mind buzzing. He was belting those forehands down the line, making maybe the greatest player of all time look silly. You’re just thinking “Oh My God!”
I had the same feeling watching Nadal at the Beijing Olympics. He was MTM about three years ago. Maybe he still is. These generations go by so quickly.
Federer is not going to be able to beat Modern Tennis Man using his old-fashioned racquet. It’s too flexible for a guy with a one-handed backhand to stand up to someone tall guy crushing forehands down the line.
I’m having a hard time telling what racquet del Potro is using for sure. Many players have their racquets painted to look like other racquets, believe it or not.
Delpo might be using the Federer racquet, or something close. But it matches up with his game far better than with Federer’s. So Federer has been trying to swing out on his backhands and crowd the baseline to fight back the modern game.
It has helped, but it hasn’t been enough to beat Djokovic, and it’s not going to hold off del Potro, either.
Nadal’s knees were still sore in that U.S. Open, when Delpo beat him. But he knew afterward that his game had to change. There was no way it was going to hold up to Modern tennis man.
His heavy topspin wasn’t bouncing up and into the weak spot of Federer’s one-handed backhand anymore, but instead into the perfect strike zone of a 6-foot-6 guy’s two-hander. So Nadal worked on flattening out his backhand, and driving it, among other things.
It appeared to be working when he beat Soderling in the French Open final and then Tomas Berdych in the Wimbledon final. They are tall with modern games, too.
But those two aren’t athletic like del Potro.
Someone asked Soderling the other day about how much his height helps. In the old days, 6-foot, 6-1 seemed ideal for tennis. With a few exceptions, taller was too tall.
“The game has improved a lot in just only 10 years,’’ he said. “The service is very important in today’s tennis and, of course, it’s easier to have a good serve if you’re taller.
“There’s still also the smaller guys who’s doing really well. But if you’re not that tall, I think it’s really important that you move really well.’’
Like David Ferrer. Ferrer isn’t tall, but moves great. If here were tall, would he be winning majors?
“Then it (would be) tough to move the way he is,’’ Soderling said.
See? Soderling is still thinking Either/Or, not AND. Tall guys move just fine in the NBA. Soderling doesn’t. Berdych doesn’t.
Del Potro does.
So give him a few more months to regain his feel and confidence. We’ll see whether Nadal’s changes were enough. We’ll see if Federer is pushed backward by MTM. We’ll see if Djokovic, who isn’t playing MTM-style, can fight it off.
In some ways, I think the game is chasing del Potro. But he wasn’t dominant long enough to know for sure.
Now, we’re going to get to find out.