Tennis has become steadily more gladiatorial and it is losing a lot of quality because of the ‘last man standing’ nature of the matches at the highest level.
Many of the ATP finals are about one player outlasting another, and the concept of pure tennis does not come into it, sadly. It is a great shame that players have to concentrate all of their efforts on simply surviving physically.
A classic example was at the Miami Masters when the final between Andy Murray and David Ferrer simply came down to conditioning and the two players taking themselves to their limits in terms of fitness.
I am a Murray fan, but it was not great tennis: it was an error-strewn contest decided by the Brit’s astonishing levels of fitness and strength; it was a difficult match to watch with two players giving absolutely everything in tough conditions.
Novak Djokovic and Murray are the top two players in the world right now because they are fitter than anyone else and can outlast their opponents under all sorts of difficult situations and in testing match after testing match.
Rafael Nadal has relied upon his superior intensity and fitness levels for a long time at the top of the game, and his strength and power continues to see him thrive despite a spate of long-term injury problems.
But is this all we want from the game that we love? Do we just want to see marathon finals decided by one player outlasting another?
I am far from the biggest purist, but I sometimes despair when I see this survival tennis becoming such a theme in the modern game.
The last couple of tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami have left me increasingly concerned for the future of the sport, with American TV networks even cutting away from matches because of their seemingly endless plodding.
There has to be a solution, however, and I believe that it is to quicken up the courts – to shorten the rallies and to restore the game to be focusing primarily upon shot-making and not purely on fitness levels.
The sport is fast becoming a question of ultra fit players slogging it out on desperately slow courts, and the benchmark of a so-called good match is how long it lasted. This has to change, because spectators and TV networks are fast losing interest.
The courts at Indian Wells and Miami were shockingly slow, and this is becoming an issue across the board. Even at Wimbledon, the courts are slower by the year and that is not conducive to pure, attacking tennis.
No one wants to see consistently defensive play from the top players, and the issue of fitness should be a secondary aspect behind the quality of the shots that are produced at the top level. After all, why do we watch tennis if it is not to admire the play of the best in the world?
The talent is being taken away from the tennis, and incredibly gifted shot-makers are being crushed due to them not having enough strength or stamina – we will never again see a young player burst onto the scene in an exciting way because of how difficult it is to compete physically. An immensely talented player such as Grigor Dimitrov has not had a sniff of a Grand Slam, whereas in other eras perhaps he could have stunned the world.
The players have to put so much into matches that it is impossible for them to maintain such a high intensity throughout the season – this means that there are always going to be very serious blips in form and drops in quality. It has to be a real concern.
Tennis at the very highest level has totally changed, even in the last five years, and it is far too attritional now. We want to see the very best of the top players, and the courts and the approach has to change, because the game is only going in one direction.