Variations Within the Modern Era of Tennis

Around a table in the clubhouse, one hears often various arguments over the history of tennis, often on subjects like "the best player of all-time," "the deepest era in rankings," or even more specific topics like "who was the best serve-and-volley player" or "the best forehand that one has ever seen." These types of arguments are usually embellished by phrases that are designed to make the person who is talking sound "smart."

What these phrases really mean, nobody seems to know. In any case, this is the purpose of these expressions and phrases; they provide you with an infinite number of explanations and avenues that you can use, in case your argument may begin to breakdown.

Before I digress any further, let's get back to our clubhouse table discussion and consider one of these types of phrases: "in the modern era."

When someone is trying to affirm that X or Y player is the best player in tennis, he or she will follow it up with phrases such as "nobody accomplished what she has in the modern era of tennis," or "his serve is the most versatile in the modern era," or better yet, "she is faster than any other player that has stepped on the court in the modern era."

Does anyone know what that means? When does the modern era begin? What time period is this "know-it-all" talking about? Once again, nobody knows, but at the same time, everybody knows.

Depending on how it fits to your argument, you can take one of the numerous explanations that you have at your disposition thanks to the play-dough shaped term "modern era" that you can mold into any form and fit into any argument.

For example, "modern era" could be when graphite rackets came around. That way, anyone who argues with you about the greatness of Manuel Orantes, Bjorn Borg, or Ilie Nastase can find himself swiftly excluded unless his argument is limited to the 'pre-modern era': "Hey buddy, those guys did not even play in the modern era, so drop it!" You can even strengthen your point and say that another guy from the same era as the ones listed above, namely Guillermo Vilas, could not survive in this particular "graphite-enforced modern era" that you just created, since he never won a tournament once he switched to his first ever non-wood racket in 1984, even though he played well into the late-'80s.

With the above definition of the expression, players like Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe could fit into both "modern era" and "pre-modern era" arguments, since they switched from the old wooden rackets to the rackets that used the new technology; for example, McEnroe played with the wooden Dunlop Maxplay racket, as well as the graphite Dunlop Max 200G.

If the rackets alone are not enough for your purpose, you can always take the "new technology" approach to define your own definition of "modern era of tennis," meaning that now rackets are not enough to describe your understanding of it, but you also need to include in the term "technology," the various machines used in fitness training, different strings, etc. As a result, much to your delight, the "modern era" has now moved nicely and conveniently past John McEnroe into the late-'90s and forward. You can amplify the importance of Ivan Lendl by claiming that he introduced fitness into men's tennis, thus the "modern era."

What? You need it to be placed even further into the future? No problem. Simply modify your parameters and add the manipulation of balls and surfaces to slow down the game in your "modern era" definition. Wimbledon is your prime example as they did both to slow the conditions down in the beginning of the previous decade. Now, my friend, you are well in the 21st century. Wouldn't that fit nicely if your argument was that the game of tennis improved more than ever during the Rafael Nadal/Roger Federer decade? Those two would effectively be the only ones playing in the "modern era," thus helping establish it and "ushering in a new era of tennis." Ah, the wonderful world of elaborate but empty terms.

If you are nostalgic and believe like many other older generation tennis followers that the golden era of tennis was the late-'70s and early-'80s with Jimmy Connors, Borg, and McEnroe in the leading roles on the men's side and Navratilova and Chris Evert on the women's, you can always claim the variety of surfaces in Slams as the determining factor of the "modern era." Slams were beginning to vary more in terms of surfaces (U.S. Open changing surfaces twice) and grass courts were gradually losing their dominance on the game. This way you can claim that the Australian group of female players such as Evonne Goolagong and Margaret Court, and male players such as Rod Laver, John Newcombe, and Ken Rosewall of the late-'60s and early-'70s did not play in the "modern era."

Oh, but don't fret if you are a fan of the Australians mentioned above or if you are an Aussie yourself. You can always define the parameters of your modern era as the "Open Era" if that suits you. In fact, you happen to be on solid grounds if you do so, since the professional organizing body of the game has established this term and entered it into practice in 1968 by allowing professionals and amateurs to play in the same tournaments: your "modern era" is indeed "official."

These are many of the endless types of avenues you can use in your rhetoric by making use of the term "modern era." But what does it really mean? Nobody could tell you; just one of those terms that sounds "full," but when you open it up and look inside, it's all "empty."

Comments and Conversation

March 17, 2011

Enis Oksan:

Mert - You crack me up with this article. It feels like somebody who just met you tried to sell you his ideas of the “modern era” without knowing who you are. But as you are a humble gentleman you didn’t want to spoil his moment, instead evaluated the real issue in an elegant way here with this article.

What cracked me up most is that clubhouse scene you described in the first paragraph. It happened to me once years ago. I don’t remember how many times I checked my watch to get away.

March 18, 2011

Mert Ertunga:

Oh Enis, you don’t know how many times I wanted to say all this to that “somebody” you’re talking about in your comment, LOL.

Then there is also “it could not have been any closer”… That’s for another article :)

March 19, 2011

Umit Oraloglu:

Dear Mert,

Hey take it easy on the Aussies :) Being an Aussie myself and having nothing to brag about in relation to our success in the “Open Era” (especially since after Hewitt won Wimbledon), ofcourse we will define the parameters of the modern era :)

Thanks for this article, you had me cracking up all the way to the end :)

Take care,


March 21, 2011

Mert Ertunga:

Umit good one :)

Don’t worry bro. I always say this others; leaving Laver, Newcombe and the others out of the Open Era discussion would be like leaving Rubik’s cube out of the discussion of the 80’s


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