Peter Bodo has an interesting post over at Tennis.com about the impact of the tennis racket string technology on the modern game which I hadn't considered when discussing Federer and the evolution of tennis the other day. Federer agrees that at some point, passing shots and returns became far easier to hit, lowering the effectiveness of the net game, but he attributes it to racket strings:
I mean, I used to play obviously much different at the age like Djokovic. I would chip and charge, serve and volley a little bit, play like my idols basically: Becker, Edberg, Sampras. They all did it, so for me it was like I got to play the same way.
Then I realized things were slowing down. The new string generation came along where returning and passing shots was made easier. It was harder to attack in some ways, you know.
Tennis Warehouse has a list of ATP Top 500 players who use Luxilon strings. Roger Federer isn't listed (he's a Wilson guy), but the Wilson strings he does use are actually a combination of Luxilon ALU Power Rough and Natural Gut.
Federer is reputed to have been as fanatical about the development of his racket (the Wilson K Factor KSix-One Tour 90) as, say, Lance Armstrong was about the specifications of his bike. Of course, most professionals are probably meticulous about the tools of their trade, but it's not surprise that the only ones we hear about are those at the top of their sports. You give me Federer's racket and and put a wet spaghetti noodle in his hand and he still probably beats me love and love.
Traditionalists in sports like golf and tennis like to complain about technology and its impact on their sports, but all I care about is that advances in technology continue to reward those with the best fundamentals and skills, that we continue to see beautiful game rise to the top. Far better for tennis fans to enjoy the awe-inspiring virtuosity of Federer on the court than pure bangers like Richard Krajicek who just served their opponents out of the stadium. Tiger Woods can hit the ball a country mile, yes, but he has a near fundamentally perfect golf swing and mental fortitude and work habits that are legendary. If they changed golf ball technology or golf clubs, would Woods suddenly fall back to the pack? I doubt it.
Interesting trivia about Federer and the men's professional game in general: what % of points did Federer win in his US Open Final against Djokovic?
The answer is 119 of 222 points, or 53.6%. For the entire year, Federer has won something like 56% of the points he's played. You'd expect the number to be higher for someone who's probably the greatest tennis player of all time, but that's the sport. A few points here and there make all the difference.