Nicolas Mahut: Could the Frenchman Have Been a Top-10 Player 15 Years Ago?
He came out on the losing end of the longest match in tennis history, but if anything, Nicolas Mahut has shown in 2013 that he's determined for that not to be the only thing he's known for.
The French veteran has won the first two singles titles of his career this season and is playing well at this week's ATP World Tour event in Metz, France.
Those tournament victories and the deep run this week only support the fact that Mahut plays his best under faster conditions: His titles were won on grass in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, and Newport, Rhode Island, while Metz is played on indoor hard courts.
That sparks a particular question in regards to how Mahut's career has gone.
What if he played in a different era, before the advent of slower surfaces?
Nowadays, it's nothing to see pure baseliners such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray contest Wimbledon finals, where as recently as 15 years ago—with their style of play—they would've been hard-pressed to make it out of the premier grass tournament's first week.
With court surfaces slowed to extend rallies and fast carpet removed from indoor tournaments, heavier balls and breakthroughs in string technology that allows players to hit all-out with heavy topspin, it's left players reluctant or unable to move forward unless they've hit the perfect shot. That's been a huge deterrent in seeing serve-and-volley tennis.
Those factors have left competitors like Mahut in the dust.
Before Mahut lost that epic Wimbledon match to John Isner, he was known primarily as a player that could pose a threat on grass and perhaps indoors. It showed in his results as the only other times he made singles finals came in 2007, when he reached the championship round in Newport and Queen's Club in London.
Mahut has had success in doubles, where attacking play is rewarded. This year, he notched the biggest result of his career when he reached the finals of the French Open—surprisingly enough, on clay.
But maybe that's what's caused Mahut to tackle the game with such vigor now as his two singles titles came post-Roland Garros. He seems to have realized more than ever that there are places where he can achieve success.
If he would've been playing in the era of Pete Sampras, Richard Krajicek, Pat Rafter and Tim Henman—the last period where serve-and-volleyers still had a place in the game—then Mahut could have experienced this late-career renaissance a lot earlier.
Subsequently, the sport would've looked at the Frenchman in a different light.
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