How do today’s players compare with the top players from the 60’s and 70’s? Bob Callaway had some thoughts

Bob Callaway had these observations:

I’ve often been asked, ‘how do today’s players compare with the top players from the 60′s and 70′s?’ Back then, platform tennis was booming. Court time was at a premium. Fox Meadow closed the gates at the Nationals due to overcrowding as a reported 4,000-5,000 people packed the stands at Forest Hills. My answer is, however, today’s top players are better. The following is evidence to support my point.

When I was researching material for my book, Platform Tennis (published in 1972), I charted matches at men’s and women’s national ranking tournaments, state tournaments, and club tournaments in order to get more information on how points were being won and lost. One finding was that, depending on the level of the players’ games, 60-80% of points were determined with the serve, return, and first volley. I did the same charting this past season and the percentages had gone down to a low 23% (Cosimano/Haller vs. Ohlmuller/Gambino) to a high 38% (a consolation match at the 1999 Connecticut state women’s tournament). Now, I don’t think anyone will argue that Cosimano/Haller and Ohlmuller/Gambino were playing pitty-pat defensive “paddle”. Instead, I think the point worth noting is how consistent all the other top men and women players are today, particularly with their drives.

It is interesting that in most other categories, the percent of driving and volleying errors (after the first volley), lobbing, screen and overhead errors and winners (passing, crease, drop, and skid shots) did not change very much from the 70′s, but these skills do not show up in the statistics, possibly further supporting the point that today’s players are better, particularly in being able to handle these shots.

During the so-called “golden days”, I was not only competing, but also involved in running many tournaments. I can remember how we used to schedule matches, using an hour for early round matches and 1 1/2 hours for the quarters and on. Today, in the men’s national ranking tournaments from the round of 16 on, you need to schedule at least an hour per set. In some matches at the 1999 Nationals, 20% of the points went over 100 strokes and sets took over an hour and 15 minutes. And again, these players were not playing “no-offense paddle”.

One can argue that the top players today do not hit as hard as Herb Fitz Gibbon, John Mangan, and company of the 70′s. I don’t know. I have had limited exposure to the top players of today. I can remember how hard it was to volley Fitz Gibbon’s return of serve. But the important point is how remarkably consistent today’s players drive the ball. In addition, with the longer duration of matches, focus and concentration over a longer period of time become even more important. I have seen so many matches in recent years, where there is no discernable difference in the teams until a turn in the third set when one player’s concentration, frustration, or will to win “snaps”. I think these are elements that distinguish today’s top players from the majority of players in the 60′s and 70′s and make platform tennis unique and interesting.

Source: Platform Tennis Magazine, Issue 3, January, 2000