The green charms of the old world

In Dravid, Amla, Steyn, Swann and even Cheteshwar Pujara, a sports romantic will always find something that lasts longer than the last 90-mile maximum or flawless baseline rally at SW 19. What is that something? Emotion? Federer can win 17 Grand Slams, but nothing he does will give John McEnroe goosebumps, he might induce awe, sure, but not emotion. For that, one has to turn elsewhere, away from the helicopter shot, with the eyes trained on the grass.

updated: July 01, 2013 15:27 IST
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Tennis used to be quite a passion once upon a time, especially gaining strength after the 1985 Wimbledon men's final - Becker vs Curren. It was riveting stuff. The 'other' tennis, the one they played in Paris, was sometimes exciting, but only just. Really, why would a ten year old be more interested in endless baseline rallies when the alternative, on green, green grass, was so much more entertaining?

Here was a tall, skinny German boy with hair so blond you couldn't tell he had eyebrows. He served harder than anyone I'd ever seen, played this flowing backhand drive, rushed to the net to cut off all angles and, when he wasn't in position, he dived to make sure he got to the ball. This was fun. Sure, McEnroe and Amritraj were fun too, but there was something about Becker's testosterone-charged game that made the touch artists of the past look almost wimpy. And when we played tennis after that, on the grasscourts that Calcutta was full of, we did the same: serve, rush to the net, volley and, if there were a few girls watching, throw in a dive.

Then, once the Becker-Edberg phase got over and baseliners started winning Wimbledon (poor Ivan Lendl, ahead of his time, wasn't he?), tennis stopped being that important. Months would go by before I remembered to check what was happening. A friend who understands the sport better than I do told me it's because the grass at Wimbledon had slowed down - the opponents had more time to play the passing shot and that didn't help serve and volley players. Also, I suppose, more and more players were targeting all-court games. And with the decline of the serve-and-volleyers, even passing shots became passé shots.

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