Joe Shults and Jonathon Braden battled on the tennis court for many years in Columbia, Mo. Just ask someone in the home of the Missouri Tigers, surely they all remember. (Actually, don’t ask.) Now they take their tennis battles here in the first of an ongoing series on JonathonBraden.com. We ask a question, we pick sides and we debate our point, all in the name of tennis.
Q: Would you rather have the talent of a top player for a year, competing at the highest level, winning major tournaments and acquiring fame and fortune, only to have the talent “turned off” after a year, or be a journeyman player; one who never wins a major and cracks the top 35, but has a 15-year career, celebrates longevity and becomes one of the most consistent players on tour?
STEFAN WERMUTH/REUTERS Murray-esque talent for a year?
Top player for a year:
A: Think back, if you can, to your childhood; to the time you spent hitting ball after dirty ball against a wall, or to when you and your buddy from down the street rode to the park and pretended you were pros. Got it in your mind? Good. Now this:
What were you doing and thinking about while you played in your youth? Was it grinding out a qualifying tournament win in Tashkent, only to get beaten in the first round of the main draw in front of 55 Uzbeks and four goats? Did you then, in your dreams, catch a plane for Johannesburg or some other far-flung locale to do the whole thing over again — for 15 years?
The answer to all of these is, of course, no.
When you were a wee lad, you pretended that you were locked in a battle on Centre Court at Wimbledon. The match went back and forth. Match points were saved, the server came up with opportune aces and pinpoint passing shots were struck. The crowd went WILD! You held the golden trophy high above your head while the Duke of Kent joined with the lower classes in chanting your name.
Wouldn’t you want to see the realization of our dreams, even if that realization is but a fleeting moment. Wouldn’t you want have just a taste of glory, instead of a full stomach of mediocrity?
Consider the practical point related to what makes the world go ’round: money. Novak Djokovic had a nearly unequalled season in 2011, winning 10 tournaments, including three grand slam tournaments. The compensation for Mr. Djokovic’s toil? $12 million in prize money. Of course, that’s eclipsed by endorsement deals, exhibition payments and appearance fees. As of this writing, Djokovic has earned nearly $7.5 million in 2012. What can you do with $19.5 million? If you’re not, I don’t know, a complete fool, you can live the rest of your life in luxury. Italian Filippo Volandri, currently ranked No. 75 in the world, has made $315,873 in 2012. Nothing to sneeze at, no doubt, but take into account travel and expenses, and it’s nothing close to an amount that sets you up for the rest of your life.
I would choose to be the best at something, even if I’m the best for only two years. I would choose to run like the wind, to be able to hit any shot from anywhere on the court, to outwit my opponent and to taste adulation, fame and fortune the world over.
I think I’d owe it to my 10-year-old self.
- Joe Shults
Mikhail Youzhny, photo by Jason Szenes/European Pressphoto Agency
Top 35 career:
Who do you admire the most, Gaston Gaudio, 2004 French Open champion, or Mikhail Youzhny, currently ranked No. 25 and has been on the ATP Tour since 1998? (Gaston who?) Your answer to this question tells you everything about how we view tennis players in the Open era. Think about it: What do we admire most about Roger Federer, about Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick or any of the top players? Yes, their flashy points, their “Was that real?” shots and their laughable serves miles out of reach from their opponents.
But, more than those, more than their skills, we admire their endurance, their consistency, their ability to grind out matches every few weeks. The tennis season is like no other, with a year-round calendar and few guaranteed breaks. These players grind away for two weeks at a major, take a break, play a tournament and have to again play their best in another major championship.
The hallmark of a great tennis life is not stringing together a few good tournaments, winning a big match here and there and sneaking a major out during a down time of tennis. The seal of a Hall of Fame tennis career is consistency, being on the service line match after match, competing for championship after championship and depositing your body on the court every tournament. And so what if you don’t break through and win a major, do you realize how many stellar tennis players DO NOT win a major? How nearly impossible it is to win a major statistically speaking, especially these days when you only people with the first names Novak, Rafa, Roger and Andy can have a shot?
No, you do not want to be a Gaston Gaudio, someone who had a good run on red clay but is barely a footnote in tennis history. You want a career, not a fun vacation. Besides, go ahead and win a few tournaments one year and go away. How many fans and sportswriters won’t wonder aloud, Hmm, how did he win so much so fast? The rumblings will only grow louder when this mystery performer never wins again. All credibility from the hot streak disappears without the consistency we have come to expect from the top performers.
In 2012, we do not judge a player by a hot tournament, by a nice run in one of four tournaments. You want much more than a lucky streak, and so would I. I would want a career. I would want to be in the top 20, experience what the best of the best go through and endure a tennis life.
So, if I had to pick, I would gladly answer to Mr. Youhzny.
- Jonathon Braden