For The Love Of It
It’s not always easy to tell which players genuinely love their sport. The likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray could swing either way when it comes to tennis; they don’t seem to live and breathe it, but they don’t harbour any obvious resentment. There is the occasional player, however, that makes it clear to fans that they wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. Roger Federer, Caroline Wozniacki, and Michael Llodra come to mind. The latter may not be a household name, but he’s been making his mark in Paris this week with a grin on his face.
Llodra has been on the circuit since 1999 and whilst he’s amassed many an admirer along the way, results haven’t come as easy. He’s never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam and he reached his career-high singles ranking of 28 this year at the age of 30. He’s not going to be writing his name in record books anytime soon unless he makes the endangered species list; Llodra is a serve and volleyer, a breed on the brink of extinction. His serve and volley style may not land him in the final rounds of a Slam, in fact, it quite often results in a first round loss, but when it clicks it’s capable of destroying even the hardest-hitting baseliners. Llodra took out Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych at the US Open this year, and yesterday he followed it up with a sublime win over in-form Djokovic. Djokovic wasn’t exactly shanking balls either; Llodra was simply playing the kind of tennis that makes us wonder why he’s taken this long to make a move. Of course, Llodra hasn’t been without success in tennis. He has dedicated much of his career to playing doubles and has won three Grand Slams doing so. But doubles is a sport where the serve and volleyer can thrive. In singles, it is much like a veteran archer coming up against a soldier with a AK-47. Most of the time, the shots fail to hit, but now and then, he gets a big one.
Tennis has to be grateful for men like Michael Llodra. He loves playing tennis, he’s still doing his best at the grand age of 30, and he plays the kind of tennis we don’t see very much these days. He’s a rare breed that can change the pace of a shot at will, uses the slice as something more than a method of defense, and comes to the net at every opportunity. He’s a willy veteran up against a sea of young talent and he’s playing with a lack of fear that only comes to those very young or very old. He’s the kind of player that the seeds are going to hope isn’t in their draw because his name can either mean a routine victory or a potential upset. It’s great to watch and we can only be thankful that he’s hung around long enough to show us what he’s capable of. With Davis Cup taking place in December, Llodra will once again be able to strut his stuff. There’s a high change he’ll feature not just in doubles but singles too. In fact, with his experience and tricky game, France would be silly not to play him.