Today's players have abandoned the style used by greats like Pete Sampras and John McEnroe
Okay, pop quiz. With Wimbledon underway, which of the following are sports fans least likely to encounter at this year's edition of the iconic English tennis tournament?
(a) Strawberries and cream replaced by Slim Jims and Four Loko;
(b) Pippa Middleton and Anthony Weiner, exchanging texts in the Royal Box;
(c) Defending champion Rafael Nadal playing an entire match in trousers and a cable-knit sweater, atop blue-and-orange Astroturf at Centre Court;
(d) A player following his serve by charging to the net for a put-away volley, and doing so regularly.
All set? Good. Pencils at ease. The correct answer, obviously, is D—and if you had to think about it, then you probably haven't paid attention to the last decade of professional men's tennis. Like moderate Republicans and anything Netscape, the classic serve-and-volley style is all but extinct, a victim of shifting mores, disruptive technology, and competitive obsolescence.
This is a shame.
It's a shame because net-rushing can be fun to watch, an exciting display of skill and élan. It's a shame because tennis seems somehow impoverished when a huge chunk of the playing surface goes unused, like a basketball game in which the players never enter the paint. It's a shame, too, because the sport doesn't have to be this way, an endless procession of baseline bashers trading topspin with metronomic consistency of the boxing robots in that upcoming Rocky meets Transformers flick.