NEW YORK — As a pioneer in tennis' "big game," Jack Kramer always tried to end a point as soon as possible, usually with a powerful service, killing volley or a forehand that is generally recognized as one of the best in the game's history.
But now Kramer, one of the game's all-time greats and one of its most perceptive observers, blames a decline in American tennis fortunes on an abandonment of that style of play among many promising young players.
Noting that in the last year only about a half-dozen native Americans usually have been ranked in the men's top 20, Kramer says coaches are going to have to stress the serve and volley game if the United States is to dominate the upper echelon as it did in the late 1970s.
"Too many of the good young players are playing a baseline game, and you can only get away with that if you're a Borg or a Lendl," said Kramer who won U.S. and Wimbledon singles' titles in the 1940s.
"Two of our best young players in the last few years have been Jimmy Arias and Aaron Krickstein, but, although they have outstanding forehands, have gone down in the rankings because they're basically baseline players without overpowering serves."
Arias, once as high as fifth in the world rankings, is currently ranked 21st while Krickstein, plagued by injuries last year, has dropped to 38th.
"Most of the tournaments nowadays are played on fast surfaces, both indoors and outdoors, so a strong service and good volley are essential if you're going to win," Kramer said in an interview.
Reminded that the current top 10 includes four Swedes who spend most of their time at the baseline--Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Joakim Nystrom and Anders Jarryd--Kramer said, "It's true that they're mainly baseliners, but they all have strong serves, and that's very important today because of all the hard courts."
Kramer cited West Germany's Boris Becker as a classic example of a strong serve and volley player who has quickly made it into the top 10.
"I think he's going to be an outstanding champion because he can serve and volley so well, along with his other great skills and his athletic ability," said Kramer, who helped pioneer the professional game in the late 1940s and 1950s before the advent of the "open" era.
Kramer lamented the fact that so few leading American male players play doubles nowadays.
"It's interesting to note that the best American player in recent years, John McEnroe, also has been a very good doubles player," said Kramer, himself an outstanding doubles performer who shared in four U.S. and two Wimbledon doubles championships.
"I think that if more of the Americans played doubles they'd improve both their serves and volleys.
"We also have to do a better recruiting job in attracting good young athletes from other sports," he said. "We have so many sports in the United States, and that definitely puts us at a disadvantage in tennis."