Hello Arvis ! Manutoo and some modders will do a better job than me to answer you, but I remember how greedy for answers I was when I first discovered this amazing game some years ago
1) You can start your career whenever you like, from 1990 to nowadays
You don't have any mods in the base game, but after having purchased the game, you'll be able to download any mod you want (you'll find the links on the forum).
With the mods, top 100/150 players are very well "modelized", you can identify Federer, Nadal, Tsonga, Fognini, or even Kyrgios or Mahut in a second. On the contrary, past players like Becker, Edberg, Lendl etc...don't look like to the real life.
The best thing is the gestures : forehands, backhand, type of serves are totally crazy, Gulbis' weird forehand preparation is the same than real life for example.
2) I only play the ATP tour, but I know there's a WTA patch too. You can start your career on 2 different ways :
- a real career, based on real life, so with Zheng Jie, you'll start in 2003
- a season mode, you can do the season you like, and stats will be adapted to real life too (I mean, if you play with Djokovic in 2011, he'll have amazing stats, with you play with him in 2007, he'll just be a solid top ten)
3) I know what you mean, in TS 4, reach a Grand Slam semi final was like a walk in the park, and the two last matches were incredibly hard to win, whoever you play, Federer, Tomic or Simon lol.
Tennis Elbow sticks to reality on this. Any match is different from the last and from the next. I mean, in my current career, I'd won against Federer in Dubai, and two weeks later he litteraly wrecked me in Indian Wells semi final.
And yes you can lose on early rounds against an opponent "on fire" (I've made a comeback from 2 sets to love in my UsOpen 3rd round against David Goffin for example).
However, a player can retire from a match or a tournament, but never against you.
4) You can play with arcade, simulation or elite controls. With elite controls in master or incredible level, you have quite the same number of winners and UE, like in real life. However, it also depends on the type of player you play with.
You have a stamina gauge, and unlike to famous tennis games, it really have a effect on rallies !
5) There's the only point where Tennis Elbow is less impressive than commercial tennis games : no cinematic, no trophy ceremonies or changeovers. But there's celebrations (you can throw your racket, raise your hands, applause your opponent, kneel down after a great victory...
Anyway, you won't be disappointed ! The moment you'll beat Federer in a Wimbledon final 11/9 on the fifth, or even have a great match against a Joe six-pack in an obscur ATP 250, you'll be thrilled