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Where Are the Clones?

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Post by Guest Fri 20 May 2016, 5:02 am

Following on from a few other threads the big elephant in the room is where is the next generation and why haven't they broken through?  Lydian's 850 analysis requires at some stage the next generation to break through, but they are not filling up the top fifty in preparation for an immanent takeover of the sport to thwart Djokovic as he endeavours to gather more slams to his collection.

So my specific question is: where are the next generation clones?

Preamble:  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have trail blazed themselves into the history books of tennis.  Similarly Novak Djokovic (& Andy Murray) trail blazed themselves into the sport at an early age, although they hit a ceiling with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal ruling the roost.  Djokovic had early success in 2008 but reached a new level in 2011 and the rest is history.

So here we have clear blueprints for success - why don't we have a whole generation of baby Federers, baby Nadals, baby Djokovics.  If they trained as their clones then they would be expected to be breaking through at the age of 18/19/20 and winning slams aged 21/22/23.  Imagine a Federer Clone aged 21 versus an Aging Real Federer aged 28.  Similarly a Nadal Clone aged 21 versus dodgy kneed Nadal aged 28.  

So why aren't there any clones of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the next generation or two?

The Theory That I Favour
Firstly why aren't there are any Pete Sampras Clones winning Slams?
My Favoured Answer: the game has changed, mainly in the racket / string technology, but also in the slowing conditions / higher bouncing surfaces of Wimbledon and possibly the US Open and Australian Open.  Basically here the technology and conditions have killed off the serve and volley style that made Pete Sampras successful.  There may be a few Pete Sampras clones out there but they are not successful in the present conditions.
Critique of this Answer:  I am not 100% certain that is true.  A Pete Sampras clone should still have some success at Wimbledon & the US Open?  Maybe it is not being taught any longer?  Maybe the serve and volley tactic only works for a few tournaments nowadays (or none?), with the majority of tournaments favouring the baseline, passing game - so it is not cost effective to teach a Pete Sampras type Serve & Volley game.

Now back to Federer, Nadal & Djokovic.  
My Favoured Answer: their success depends on attributes that cannot be taught.  Those three plus Andy Murray have the unteachable attribute of being able to read the game and read their opponent.  They seem to have special reflexes and seem able to determine quickly where the opponent is going to hit the ball.  They may even be able to work out where the opponent is going to hit the ball before the opponent hits the ball.

In addition Federer, Nadal, Djokovic have unteachable special powers (attributes) that have turned them into multi-slammers.
a) Federer: ability to hit the ball early, ability to vary the play, a sort of genius ability to know what to do, and ability to place the ball.
b) Nadal: that whippy wrist action thingy he does that generates an additional 1500 to 2000 revs per minute on the ball than anyone else.  That seems positively freakish and unteachable.
c) Djokovic: the ultimate in bendy elastic rubber men.  He slides on the hard court (unheard of), he twists, he contorts, he angles, he stretches and is still able to transmit the power into his shots.  That is just unteachable.

So in conclusion the reason why there are no clones of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic - is because their success ultimately comes down to unique unteachable qualities and talents.  All that can be done is to identify the players with such natural abilities at an early age and then train them to become professional level tennis players.  I just don't think the qualities that make them multi-slammers can be taught.

Anyway these are my thoughts.  Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree, maybe you partially agree?  Maybe I have poached your own ideas from comments I have read in the past.


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Post by banbrotam Fri 20 May 2016, 9:40 am

I agree. I've always said that the Top 4 are a remarkable bunch IMO would be winning slams in any era

Furthermore, the improvements Novak and Andy made in catching Roger and Rafa is grossly under-rated

Look at Andy after the back surgery. Just another player around August 2014, when he was ranked around 11 in the world (or whatever it was). In just over 18 months, he's managed to make himself a fairly safe No.2

This is why, assuming Roger and Rafa's best days are behind them, I think both he and Novak can dominate for three more years, the gap they have to the others is massive.


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Post by lydian Fri 20 May 2016, 10:56 am

Nice article the end of the day there doesn't seem to be the same talent pool coming through.
There is also the argument that the top 4 have made each other better too.

Speaking of which, I hear what you say banbrotam but lets not forget Federer is 6 years older than Murray & Djokovic. He is simply not the player from 2004-2009 which makes his 2015 run all the more remarkable.
Therefore I would put Fed's achievement in staying at #2/#3 at 34yo as higher than any gains made by Murray/Novak.
I do agree however that they will go on to dominate...the only question left is how much can Nadal (at 960 matches on the clock) achieve and who will step up to make future slam finals?

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Post by dummy_half Wed 25 May 2016, 12:07 pm

Tying into the same theme as this, there is currently an article on the BBC website about an English guy coaching his 7 year old daughter and with grand plans for her being a great tennis player. It sounds from the article that he's a bit living his sporting fantasy through his daughters (he's a former pro football coach, but never amounted to much).

Raises the nature v nurture question again, and ties in to the 10000 hours rule.

My take on this, and I think somewhat backed up by the current state of men's tennis, is that nurture (and opportunity) can take you so far, but that there is a certain extra something that sets the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic above their contemporaries. In a way it is most clear to see in Federer that here is someone who has just that bit more of a natural gift for hitting a ball than his opponents, and no amount of training, coaching, video analysis or sports psychology is going to give the world number 20 the same ability.
In the same way, Rafa has (or had) an ability to hit his forehand in a manner (i.e. fast and with the huge rpm) others couldn't, and more particularly the ability to do this consistently.
Djoko, it's the movement, the ability to hit the ball effectively from what should be difficult positions and again the consistency - other top pros might be able to hit certain shots effectively 50% of the time, yet Novak manages the same thing 95% of the time.

Now whether you call this 'natural talent' is semantics, but there clearly is a difference between a tennis player who is good enough to make a very comfortable living from the sport and someone who is 'the best' for an extended duration, and I very much doubt that this difference can be compensated for by training.

So the point of the opening post stands - the reason there are no 'clones' of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic coming through to dominate the sport as these guys age is that it is not possible to simply train to be this good, you need an extra little something...


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Post by Guest Wed 25 May 2016, 12:28 pm

For girls / women I think it may be less clear cut.  What tends to stop them is the transition from girls into adults and associated picking up of injuries which ends their potential career.  Also they would need to have some basic genetics to generate the power necessary in todays women's game.  One person who was quite unique and probably had that unteachable natural talent was Justin Henin. I think the Williams sisters had a natural power advantage when they emerged onto the scene.


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Post by socal1976 Wed 25 May 2016, 8:58 pm

To be honest for me generally I think brains as a genetic or trained part of the success of great champions. You have to make good decisions on and off the court 

I think if we did a battery of intelligence tests on the great and dominant champions and let's say other tennis pros who lets say attained top 50 status, I wouldn't be surprised to see the world number 1s and big champs with a marked advantage not only physically but in the brains department. I am not saying these guys are nuclear physicists or anything but there a different kinds of intelligence. It is part of what allows them to quickly pick up new technique or to put together a successful staff or to do the right kind of preparation or even the right kind of shot selection


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