"Now guys stand a long ways back, and the harder they swing, the more control they have," says Agassi, who retired in 2006. "Certain rules don't apply that used to apply. The down-the-lines that I used to play, I played offensively and aggressively, and it came with a great deal of calculated risk. Now guys are playing huge forehands up the line almost as if they'd be surprised if they missed."
For aficionados, this rare conflux of talent and technology—combined with a collision of alltime greats—has come right on schedule. The Open era is just 44 years old, after all, and baseball and basketball didn't hit their first golden ages until they were past 40 too. It's the old story: After a bratty adolescence, tennis in its 30s began to find itself. You don't hear complaints anymore about a lack of "personalities," or a yearning for the days of umpire abuse. The game is drama enough.
Still, if the London Games provide a fine stage for tennis to preen, purists will find it a mixed bag. Benefits include the meatiest grass-court season in 35 years, with the strongest field ever on the Hall of Fame turf in Newport, R.I. But the Olympics won't look like Wimbledon, exactly: The courts figure to be torn up; the All England Club will allow sponsor ads and signage in Centre Court; no player will be required to wear white.
And for those of us who've long urged the IOC to come to its senses and remove the sport, things don't look good. Come July 28, the era, the rivalries and the flag-waving pride all figure to create lightning in the cathedral. A win by any of the Big Three will elevate Olympic tennis like never before.
And then there's the nightmare scenario: Andy Murray wins gold for Britain, conjures the host nation's signature moment and becomes a national hero at last. Then we'll be stuck with Olympic tennis forever.