The USA Today just published an article entitled Simply the Best: The Golden Era of Men's Tennis. A furor of comments are likely to follow attacking the premise of the article. Among others, the most prevalent is that one cannot compare different periods in tennis. Also, Rafael Nadal may never return to form.
However, leaving aside the change in equipment, the one change rarely mentioned is the most important: height. The article could just as easily been headlined: Simply the tallest: The Height Advantage in Men's Tennis.
Over the years, players have become taller, together with the general population. Their assent has been extreme in some cases, with Karlovic being as close to 7' as it gets today in the pro game.
Roger Federer (6'1"), Novak Djokovic (6'3"), Andy Murray (6'3") and Rafael Nadal (6'2") are all 6'2" or taller.
Others are taller, including Milos Raonic (6'5"), Tomas Berdych (6'5"), Juan Martin del Potro (6'6"), Marin Cilic (6'6"), John Isner (6'9") and Ivo Karlovic (6'10").
Some of these players do not seem to have the right height on their ATP and US Open sites. Murray seems more than an inch taller than Federer, but perhaps this is just the camera angles involved.
Cilic, only 23, Isner, Karlovic and del Potro are my picks to be the most likely upset victors in the 2012 US Open, and to be in the all-tall semifinals. Picking any of these players except del Potro to be in the semis may seem foolhardy, and the All-Tall Semifinals unlikely. Yet, because of the hard courts at the US Open and the importance of their serves, all are potential winners in their brackets.
The least likely is Karlovic, currently ranked number 75, whose 2012 Wimbledon was marred by what Karlovic alleged were clearly biased foot-fault calls in his match against Andy Murray. Yet, his play at Wimbledon shows he could advance and reach the semis.
The tallest player above is also the most likely to upset the biggest victim. If seeding were done in the interest of the tennis world, surely Karlovic should have been placed in Murray's bracket. As it is, however, Karlovic will have to beat Federer, making his road almost impossible.
Yet, despite his age, Karlovic proved at Wimbledon that he had enough to play with the best. And although the 2008 Cincinnati Masters was a long time ago, Karlovic has beaten Federer once when compared with ten losses to the world No .1
And if he should win in this one, his next opponent would be Berdych in the quarterfinals, and then Murray in the semis (if Murray is able to get by Cilic). Cilic is still young, but seems more likely to advance over Murray than Karlovic. Although Cilic has lost six out of seven times to Murray, his only win came at the 2009 US Open. Advantage Cilic.
John Isner's path to the semifinals is the easiest. He is in the easiest draw by far. His only likely tough opponent is David Ferrer, one of the few short people (5'9") who can still beat tall ones. But Isner beat him the last time they met and is due to progress again in a Grand Slam. This will be the one, although he has to keep his racket closer to his body if he is to win any ground stroke war.
Finally, Juan Martin del Potro is by far the most likely tall guy to advance to the finals. Who would be his All-Tall Finals opponent under the above scenario?
Given the age difference, one has to favor the ten-years younger Cilic. Yet, for some reason, including the fact that there have only been two matches between the two with the last one resulting in Karlovic's retirement, I favor Karlovic here.
So we have the most unlikely All-Tall Finals of all. Let the tallest man win!