This year’s BNP Paribas Open. Martina Hingis wins the doubles, nearly 20 years after she won the singles. Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer in the singles final. Each well over age 30. Each from Switzerland. Most important, each graced with what appear to be different playing styles.
Here, Hingis, famous long ago, for a time the world’s best singles player, then down, out, returned, now the ultimate doubles spider, delicately weaving her web.
Wawrinka, as pleasing a late bloomer as tennis has ever seen. Not until he was 28 did Wawrinka reach a Grand Slam singles semi. Since then, three Slams in three years, results generated most of all courtesy of Wawrinka’s thunderous backhand and sheer physicality.
Federer, the man who had everything, at 35 seemingly better than ever, his backhand snapped crisply into all corners, adding yet another jewel to his sparkling tennis crown.
If you view your tennis with a flag in your eye, you might start to wonder how one small mountain nation allegedly produced such great players. But player development is hardly an assembly plan. Let the factories produce cars. Singular athletes? That’s a whole different story.
My contention is that the very small size of the Swiss pond helped let these three flourish. Hingis, Wawrinka and Federer were given the chance to build their own games in their own way. Different as each plays, they occupy common ground in their pursuit of a singular style that would fit their personality, physical tools and mental desires. Are they products of Switzerland? Technically, yes. But in a bigger sense, scarcely. Dare we really think there is some special Swiss system that can be copied and grafted on to others? Perhaps the bigger lesson is that from a young age, instructors and students must work together to understand not just strokes, but what a playing style can truly be.