From 1985 through to 1988 it seemed as though there was a change of pace as far as men's Professional Tennis was concerned . Players such as Thomas Muster, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier , John McEnroe and Sergi Brugera were all hitting with graphite tennis rackets. This was the next change up from the wooden rackets that we were all used to from the beginning of time. Players were starting to hit the ball harder and it seemed more than just a coincidence that from 1985 through to 2001 at Wimbledon a big server was crowned the Champion. Andre Agassi was perhaps the only 'odd man out' in 1992.
Perhaps the most 'uninteresting' final in that era was the 1994 title match between Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic, this was a farce of epic proportions. A 7-6, 7-6, 6-0 win to Sampras with a four shot rally being perhaps the longest exchange for the day had experts wondering if tennis was on the decline as far as a spectacle was concerned. This match forced some changes, but it took a few years for them to be implimented.
In 2001 Wimbledon changed it's grass seed to 100 per cent perennial rye which actually resulted in a higher bounce and the following year in 2002 a bigger tennis ball was introduced. It was said to have given players at least 10 per cent more reaction time on a service return and that is a big difference in any player's game. The change in both the grass surface in London along with the slower, bigger ball in fact saw the last of the predominantly big server's domination on the turf.
From the very next year it was in fact won by the back court expertise of Australian Lleyton Hewitt over another base liner David Nalbandian . From 2003 through to this year it was then dominated by the current big four of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. None of the above mentioned dominated with either a serve or a volley. Federer served perhaps slightly bigger than the rest however he is not just a server as we all know and his serve and volley routine is not his only style of play.
Looking back on the winners from '85 through to 2001 it was a rarity if the eventual champion (except for Agassi) didn't follow both the first and second serves into the net for a volley . So did Wimbledon do the tennis loving public a favor in regards to the changes made in slowing down the play ?
Well personally I like watching a serve and volley expert up against a base line master as it reminds me of my first impressions of the game, Borg vs McEnroe, entertaining. These two however were in a class of their own and they both almost perfected their respective ways of playing.
Federer and Nadal have always been entertaining to watch because it was never going to be two players sitting at the base line. Federer was always going to try to finish it at the net, he knew then and still knows his limitations .
What Wimbledon did do however was unique as it opened up the tournament to a different style of play due to the domination of the big server. Some of the past Champions such as McEnroe, Ashe, Laver , Newcombe, Borg etc all had good serves, some bigger than others but the equipment then used had it's limitations as far as effect was concerned.
So when players such as Sampras , Ivanisavic , Krajicek and Becker came along with a new racket it required a special type of returner to even get close to them. Only Agassi springs to mind, not too many others made an impression in that time frame.
Wimbledon I believe saved it's own tournament by counter acting the new pace of server due to the new racket technology that enabled players to serve bombs and win without rallying. The other side of the coin now though is the fact that the game is pretty much all the same, a base line war of attrition. Only Federer really has a game that differs from the rest as far as the top 20 players are concerned.
Personally I believe that Wimbledon got it right, slowing it all down opened the tournament up to all styles of play, it's now an even playing field. It will be even more so when the Big 4 have hung up their rackets.
Perhaps a new Borg and McEnroe will one day serve us up a classic like they did in the 1980 Men's final, a serve and volley expert vs the base line master. That would be worth the wait..........