In a fast paced game such as tennis, a player’s survival hinges not on his talent alone.
In addition to the gift of talent that he possesses, his success rests in the spirit that he shows, the energy that he exhibits, the temperament that he portrays, the attitude that he brings and so on. If any of those qualities is found absent, then no matter how much ever talented a player is, glories can never be encashed.
We have often come across many such players in tennis, whose career charts were seen cutting a sorry figure, once they were finished, inspite of the immeasurable talents which they owned right from the time they started picking up the racquets in their hands. With highly talented players like Thomas Berdych and David Nalbandian already going out in the first round of this year’s wimbledon, how about going through a list of under achievers in tennis who had never done justice to the skill and finesse they were blessed with.
As a twenty year old kid, in the year 2000, he outclassed Pete Sampras, the former four times champion in Flushing Meadows, 6-4 6-3 6-3. Having fetched one of the greatest victories of his career at such a tender age, one would have expected him to really go all out threatening to surpass Pete Sampras’s record of 14 majors. Well, that was then – way back a decade before. But, when he finally hanged off his boots we could find a sorry tale of a career, which actually should have blossomed and attained tennis eternity. For the next four years, since he won his maiden grandslam title in the Flushing Meadows, he could not win a single major. His lone major thereafter came in 2005 when he beat Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in the finals of the Australian open 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-4 after prevailing over Roger Federer in the semifinals. His career finally ended with only two majors, on the whole. A player who promised so much at the start as a great young talent could never come into terms in the big stage all the time and that was a real pity.
What did Safin not have? He had everything as a tennis player. He had big serves and mind blowing double handed backhands plus very good net approach shots too. So much so, he was very strong in physique which added more fillip to his game. The only weakness one could think of was the lack of swiftness in movement on the courts but since he had other things safer in his repertoire, it should have hardly mattered. Yet the Russian lacked something which resulted in a pretty ordinary career.
He carried one of the worst temperaments on court. The man had always looked good when things were going well for him but when they started sliding, starting from “Racquet Insult”, he used to everything. He had never been a crowd favourite all throughout, as a result. He had very frequently allowed his game to dip in those cases. A man who beat an incomparable Pistol Pete in the US open final had begun to lose to players to whom he was not supposed to lose. So, the former world no.1, when he retired, was nowhere near to the other players, who were less talented, in the ranking system. His temperament did cost him dearly.
Atleast in defense of Safin, we can say he had won 2 grandslam titles and he was once world no.1 but in case of this Argentine called David Nalbandian, strictly no adulations can be searched and prefixed against his name. If there was ever an all court player in the world of tennis, barring Roger Federer, it has to be this Argentine. He could do anything on the tennis court from deep ground strokes to occasional serve and volley, from double handed back hand down the line to chips and drops and so on. He was a complete player with the ability to hit winners from anywhere behind the baseline.
Nalbandian had been playing an error free game when he began his career. He was one of those guys who holds a very rare record of beating both Nadal and Federer back to back in one of the masters events, five years ago. Nalbandian’s lone grandslam final appearance was against Lleyton Hewitt in 2002 Wimbledon which the latter won in straight sets. Of course, the Argentine is still active as a player but any tennis fan, hands down, would say he has no chance to win a grandslam now. He did not even come close to doing it in the last dozen years and so to expect him to do something now will be viewed as a real madness.
Nalbandian is one guy who can seal victory against any top ranked players any time as he is quite good and complete as a player. But, two things which had really gone against him was his lack of belief and energy. Whenever he comes to the court, he rarely shows the energy or belief which could get his job half done. He always has his shoulders drooping when he enters the court. No show of charisma or anything which one can view when he plays tennis. It always looked and still looks as if he is no longer interested in winning big matches. Of course, he had his surgeries and all injury problems but even then, he could have done much better. A player of his ability should have won atleast four or five grandslams, if not more.
Falling from the first floor of a hundred storey building one won’t get hurt that much. But if the same person reaches the top of the terrace and falls down, you need not check what has happened to him. This is the situation with Andy Roddick right now. “A Rod”, as he was fondly referred to by his fans was once, along with Roger Federer, WAS a player to beat. He was in his sublime best in the year 2003 when he won his lone grandslam at Flushing Meadows. He reached two Wimbledon finals back to back in the year 2004 and 2005, only to be beaten by the eventual champion, Roger Federer. Those days were greener for Roddick as people felt he could seriously be a strong contender other than the Swiss for all grandslams, barring French open. But suddenly from such an elevated position, to see him slipping to the position where he is now, not even top 10 or 20 is something unbelievable or should we have to say, something which is unacceptable.
Roddick had one of the fastest serves in the planet and he used to do quite well with it. He also had the luxury of chipping in winners with good volleys and he has been a good player down the line, specially with his backhands. He has been a good grass court player and has also been more than a good player in hard courts. But, he could somehow not convert his talent to triumphs. There is more than one reason attached to it. Being a good server, one would expect such a player to attack the nets quite often, but though at the initial stage of his career he looked to be doing it, slowly he settled with baseline. Probably, he never anticipated the advent of baseline adventurers in tennis invading in such a fashion. They have proved themselves better than him in so many ways more from the baseline and they have settled as specialists playing such types of game. Roddick could simply not come into terms with them so far. So, complacency of not improving his game according to the situation was one of the factors, we could say has hampered the progress of this gentleman.
The other thing being the lack of positive attitude which one could see from Andy Roddick. During last year and the beginning of this year, we all saw how Djokovic had dominated Rafael Nadal. He beat him 7 times in a row all in tournament finals but that did not put full stop to Rafa’s quest. He came back and has now has scored three consecutive victories over the world no.1 Serb. That is attitude of killer instinct and self belief, something of that sort we had not seen in Andy. Having got beaten and badly bruised by Roger Federer time and again, he lost his trust in himself totally and so his game got deteriorated. Now, even meanest of the meanest players have been beating him with ease. Roddick, like Nalbandian, is very unlikely from this situation to win a grandslam, all because of attitude.
Thus these three tennis players, for me, are under achievers in the world of tennis. Of course, I was tempted to include Berdych also in this list but since he has still got age and some tennis left, I have not labeled him as an under achiever yet.