Former World No. 1 and three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten recently weighed in on the difference between the current generation of tennis and the previous ones. The Brazilian asserted that today's legends such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have an advantage over players from earlier eras due to the advances in science and technology.
On Sunday, Rafael Nadal won his 20th Grand Slam title at the French Open. In the process, he tied the record held by Roger Federer for most Slams in men's tennis history.
Before Federer the record was held by American Pete Sampras, who won 14 Slams, the last of which came in 2002. Sampras had broken a record that had stood for over 30 years of Australian Roy Emerson, who won 12 Grand Slams.
But now, Rafael Nadal has more titles at a single Slam - Roland Garros - than Emerson had across all four.
Kuerten pointed out how the current generation has certain advantages over the Emerson era or even over the Sampras era, especially in terms of fitness and nutrition.
"The fact is that life is going to change a lot over the next 50 years, and this is a reflection of what is to come," Kuerten told the Roland Garros website. "The human being is different, one is born to live 150 years. Sport, and tennis, are on the crest of that wave."
"Rafael Nadal and Federer have five or eight years of extra tennis life compared to previous generations," the Brazilian added. "They are taking advantage of the evolution of the human being, of training, of medicine, of food. And since Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are two great players, they are taking advantage of those advantages even better than others."
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are from a generation that has science at its disposal: Gustavo Kuerten
Kuerten, who had a 2-1 record on the tour against Federer but never played against Rafael Nadal, went on to explain how science and technology have extended the life span of humans - and by extension the careers of tennis players too.
"They (Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal) are from a generation that has science at its disposal, they have the physical capacity to do things much better for much longer. And there time is decisive. If you think about a 15-year career, it's 50 percent more than a 10-year career. They started before us and will finish later," Kuerten said.
"Tennis players will play for 20 years and will still be competitive at 40. And that's when they have to try to play well at 35, at 38. You live to be 80 and play until you're 30, you devote 40 percent of your life to tennis. If you live to be 130, it is logical that you play until you are 40. And you are a better tennis player until later. The coming players will last longer than us," he added.
Kuerten, who is now 44 years old, retired from the sport in 2008 after a Hall-of-Fame career that saw him win 20 singles and 8 doubles titles. The Brazilian spoke about how the varied surfaces and different balls on the tour during his time made the playing conditions through the year much more difficult as compared to the current scenario.
"The physical condition of the players today guarantees that the courts are adapted to the player," Kuerten said. "In our time it was the other way round: it was up to us to adapt to the different surfaces, to change the game patterns. They don't have the problems we did."
"The scheme of 15, 20 years ago did not benefit us much: the balls were more 'alive', everything was heavier or faster. Everything was much more messy. Today everything is more homogeneous, the surfaces are much more similar," he added.
The difference is most evident at Wimbledon, where the faster courts and lower bounce earlier meant that serve-and-volleyers such as Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were typically favored to win. But in recent years, baseliners - including Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt - have achieved plenty of success at the All-England Club.
"Look at Wimbledon, which is at times a slow court tournament," Kuerten said. "The balls were what made the most difference, because fast was too fast and slow was too slow. Today the ball is bigger than it was then and heavier. Today it can be played from the baseline, not before. If you look at it, today the best always make it to the finals. It wasn't like that before."Published 15 Oct 2020, 14:48 IST