I find most ex-pro athletes to be poor color commentators on their own sports, but tennis seems to be an exception. Agassi was in the booth providing commentary on the Roddick-Federer quarterfinal match and damn if he wasn't a really fantastic analyst who provided some unique insight into what it was like to play Federer.
Unfortunately, CBS still insists on having Dick Enberg do a lot of big matches, like today's men's final. He stumbled over Djokovic's name in the trophy presentation, one night after having referred to Justine Henin by her married name of Henin-Hardenne just a short while after her divorce. Which would all be fine, but Enberg knows about as much about tennis as your average Joe, so why not put someone like Cliff Dryesdale in the booth with McEnroe and Carillo?
Watching Djokovic and Federer trading nuclear forehands, I tried to think of another sport that had changed as much in my lifetime. The combination of racket technology, grip changes, and the rising popularity of the two-handed backhand have transformed tennis at the pro level into a power baseline game. Players can hit groundstrokes with so much pace and spin that you can hit outright winners from the back court with unprecedented frequency. The foot speed of the average human just hasn't been able to keep pace.
Except perhaps for players like Federer and Nadal, who seem to be able to get to everything. One of the joys of watching Federer is that he seems to have fused the past and the present. He uses the classic Eastern forehand grip unlike so many modern players, and yet his forehand shares the spin and pace of a Western grip forehand. It's a modernized Eastern forehand, hit from an open stance with a loose wrist that lags until just before impact, generating crazy pace and spin. Go to YouTube and you'll find dozens of slow-motion videos of the Federer forehand. Bill Viola should do a high-def exhibition with dozens of plasma TV's displaying various Federer strokes playing on loop.
Federer also hits a classic one-handed backhand, but again, it has the spin of a two-handed backhand, allowing him to hit some shots I thought could only be hit with two hands, like that crazy dipping cross-court pass. I have no idea how he does it.
I downloaded a demo of Virtua Tennis 3 for the PS3 and found Federer in that game to be ridiculously good. You can literally hit a winner on every shot with Federer. But is his videogame doppelganger really so different from the real thing? Maybe not.
As for Djokovic, at least he had both Sharapova and Robert De Niro in his box. And for tennis fans, he looks like someone besides Nadal who can push Federer which is good for the game.