Sometimes it’s refreshing and entertaining to read old books. Last week I stumbled upon an old classic in a used book fair called “How to Play Winning Tennis” by a certain Rod Laver. It offers Grand Slam champion Laver talking about his career, interspersed with tennis instruction and general advice such as “use the Eastern grip.” with a drawing of how that grip looks like.
Laver is one of the best tennis players of all time, but I have a tendency to not bother with the old greats, because the game is so different today. But looking at Youtube clips of Laver matches and growing up in the era of Sampras, Edberg and serve-volley strategy, it’s nice to be reminded of how it once was. Classic stroke mechanics, constant moving into the net, less muscular and more brainy.
The game today is obviously of higher quality with fitter players, better rackets and strings, and a more competitive atmosphere, but there’s still beauty in watching legends like Borg, Laver, McEnroe etc, hit a winning combination of shots. Because back then it was less wham-bam, 15-0 and more strategy and building the point due to less immediate access to power.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a 130 mph ace down the line as much as anyone, but it’s also nice to the see the ball caressed elegantly around the court with miniscule-sized and ridiculously heavy wooden rackets. There’s a lot of skill involved in hitting a top-spin shot with an 80-inch frame racket weighing 14 ounces, I’ll tell you that. I’ve actually dug up an old wooden racket and played a few hours with it just to try and while you do get supreme control and feel, there’s not much free power available to say the least.
So while we bathe in the glory of our contemporary tennis heroes, we should also do like them and pay respect to the old legends like Rod Laver. And if you want to get insight into how it was to break through on the tennis scene in the 50s/60s, I’d highly suggest you to check out “How to Play Winning Tennis” – it’s a charming little book.