In the recent spat on social media between former tennis stars Boris Becker and Nick Kyrgios, Novak Djokovic found himself unwittingly thrust into the center of a debate that transcends generations. The crux of the disagreement centered on Kyrgios' claim that Djokovic would "eat Pete Sampras alive", with Becker challenging Kyrgios' tennis credibility.
This verbal contest discussed tennis through different eras and hypothetical scenarios of players traveling through time. Kyrgios argued that the evolution of tennis technology, particularly the improvement in racket quality, makes it challenging to compare players from different eras.
He highlighted the increased speed of the serve in the modern game, with today's players routinely breaking the 220 km/h mark, a feat unimaginable in the past. We have to agree that Kyrgios' statements make sense, but would it affect if some of the best tennis players from the past can't manage in today's time.
Although it is impractical to directly compare players from different eras due to technological advances, surface specialization and changes in playing styles, the human question of "what if" remains.
Service volley players are dominant
For example, in the first three decades of the Open era, from 1969, only one title was not won by a service volley player.
It was Andre Agassi in 1992, in the final against Goran Ivanisevic. It was not until Lleyton Hewitt repeated his success in 2002, and then Rafael Nadal won in 2007-08, that Nole and Andy Murray would make it a habit in the next decade.
Even Björn Borg, the legendary baseline grandmaster, played a service volley at Wimbledon. So in Becker's time, in the eighties, as well as in Sampras's nineties, it was almost impossible to win the London Grand Slam from the baseline.
Given that Novak doesn't have a top game at the net, he probably wouldn't be as compelling as he is now. Djokovic's prowess on clay and hard surfaces is acknowledged, but the question arises as to how effective he would be on grass, where the serve-and-volley tactic has historically prevailed, yet experts assess Djokovic's adaptability, acknowledging his ability to find solutions for every situation.
While Djokovic's style may differ from the classic serve-and-volley game, his adaptability could still make him a formidable opponent in any era.