WIMBLEDON, England — The complaint was the same from the two men whose dream of reaching Sunday’s Wimbledon championship was squelched in the semifinals: The ball kept coming back.
“He was everywhere,” said Tsonga, who succumbed in four sets, like Murray, and was left baffled by how anyone could keep pace with Djokovic’s speed and stamina.
It’s no surprise, then, that the players regarded as the best movers in tennis — Nadal, 25, and Djokovic, 24 — advanced to Sunday’s Wimbledon final.
“There are no slow players in the top 10 any more,” said veteran coach Darren Cahill, a tennis analyst with ESPN. “The era of being relatively slow but having a big game is completely gone.”
Tennis, of course, has always had players regarded as great movers — quick, fluid, agile and explosive on court.
Bjorn Borg was among them.
But when Borg and John McEnroe ruled the sport three decades ago, squaring off in the gripping Wimbledon finals of 1980 and 1981, the best movers in tennis were the naturally gifted athletes. They didn’t necessarily work at it.
Back then, tennis players’ training consisted almost exclusively of hitting the ball.
McEnroe, now 52, barely worked out in the gym when he was at the top of his game. He also traveled on his own much of the season. Borg was an anomaly, among the few pros to travel full-time with his coach.
Today, Nadal, Djokovic and the sport’s top players travel with entourages that include coaches, athletic trainers, hitting partners and, on occasion, physiotherapists and massage therapists.
“Times are different,” McEnroe said earlier this week. “We were like one-man bands. Now, all the sudden, players have 10 people around them.”
More significantly, they spend as much time, if not more, developing their speed and conditioning off the court as they do hitting balls on it.
Says Cahill, who coached Andre Agassi late in his career: “All the coaches spend a lot of time working on movement. You back that up with shot selection and what type of shot to play in a defensive position and what to play in an offensive position. But it all starts with movement. If you can’t track down the ball, you can’t stay in the point.”
The top-ranked Nadal, who is seeking his 11th Grand Slam title and third Wimbledon championship Sunday, is a master retriever, wearing opponents down by not only getting to balls but also turning a defensive shot into an offensive shot with brute strength. So, too, is Djokovic, who has lost only once this year in 48 matches.
“His game is really complete defending, and when he attacks, too,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “But in my opinion, his general game — his total game — is really complete. Good serve, very good movements. Very easy. His eyes are very fast, and he can go inside the court very easy playing very difficult shots. “