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Tennis Eminence:  Federer Regains Wimbledon With Record 15th Major

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Tennis Eminence: Federer Regains Wimbledon With Record 15th Major

img_0461The Wimbledon championship was the scene for round 21 of world number two, Swiss Roger Federer, versus world number six, American Andy Roddick. For the second consecutive year, the men’s final had one exhausting superlatives as Federer vanquished Roddick in a five set marathon 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14 for his sixth Wimbledon prize and a record setting fifteen majors.

Roddick baptized the match by blasting away on serve and holding for 1-0. Federer, no slouch himself, kept up on serve. After neither neared the other’s serve, at 5 all, Roddick appeared on the verge of cracking. With two inexplicable errors, Roddick faced 0-30. But with two explosive serves, Andy forced Roger to miss. Yet, in the first long rally of the match, 18 strokes, Federer dipped a forehand so low that Roddick made a forehand error giving the Swiss his first break point. Still, with his star stroke, the serve, Roddick escaped. Federer got three more chances; however, Roddick came up with the answers each time and took the lead 6-5. Now, it became conspicuous to Federer that there was a new nuance to Roddick’s game. Although the serves were still coming at ungodly speed, Federer’s customary tactic of blocking them back was futile because of variety and placement. Furthermore, Roddick’s weaker stroke, the backhand, was producing winners either down the line or crosscourt, a novelty to Federer. These developments contributed to Federer slicing a backhand and forehand up the line long to give Roddick break point and subsequently the set.

In the second set, Roddick continued his brilliant play, volleying well from both wings. But, Federer’s shot making ability was also on display as he tracked down a Roddick dropshot and flicked it crosscourt for a backhand winner in a  23 stroke rally to hold for 5 all. No break point on sale by either man, the set went to a tiebreaker. A forehand error by Federer handed Roddick a mini-break for 2-0. Andy got a second mini-break and a 5-1 edge when Federer pushed a backhand down the line long. The Swiss appeared on his way to a two set deficit. Federer saved the first set point with a backhand crosscourt winner on Roddick’s serve. After Federer protected his serve, Roddick missed a backhand volley which leveled the tiebreaker at 6 all. Then, Federer provoked a volley error from Roddick with a low backhand to earn set point which the Swiss converted when the American’s backhand sailed long.

After the previous set’s disappointment, Roddick could have wilted away. To the contrary, with a forehand down the line winner, Roddick salvaged his first service game and carried his second at love. Serving at 2-3, Roddick sliced a backhand long donating to Federer a break point. Yet, with a great body serve, Andy got back on track and eventually rescued the game. With each player’s tactical acumen spot on, the proprietor of the set was settled by a tiebreaker. With a low backhand slice, Federer forced a backhand error from Roddick to go up a mini-break at 2-1. Subsequently, with Roddick netting a forehand, Federer extended his lead by two mini-breaks at 5-2. Roddick got one back with a forehand crosscourt winner and held serve for 5-6. However, Andy could not steal the set as Roger had done the second as Federer spoiled Roddick’s plan with a forehand crosscourt winner.

Again, there was cause to believe that Roddick’s 19th lost to Federer, his third at Wimbledon, was at hand. Yet, Andy’s body language did not waver. After each man was slightly tested on serve, holding at 40-30, Roddick held at love for 2-1. As Federer sliced backhand found the net and with Roddick converting a backhand volley winner, the American had double break point. When Federer misfired on volley off a sensational backhand pass, Andy had the break and a 3-1 lead. Despite a tough game, Roddick consolidated for 4-1. Although Federer pressured Roddick’s serve, he never achieved a deuce point. With a service unreturnable, Roddick pushed Federer to a fifth set.

After Federer held serve to start, with a backhand crosscourt pass, the Swiss had his first break point in a while. With a stellar first serve, Roddick induced a forehand return error and later equalized the set at 1 all. The subsequent seven games were an exhibition of masterful shots with winners and intelligent serving from both competitors. At 4-5, Roddick produced a forehand winner and an ace for the tie. Then at 5-6, the American squared things off with a down the line backhand pass. With no tiebreaker in the deciding set, the two played on. After Federer miscalculated a forehand crosscourt and a net court dropped for a winner for Roddick, at 30 all, the American seemed to have an opening. However, with a forehand up the line winner and a tremendous serve, Federer pulled ahead 7-6. With games at a premium, both players cruised on serve. At 8 apiece, Roddick blasted a forehand crosscourt winner. Then, with fabulous defense and another backhand down the line winner, Andy attained double break point. But, Federer came up with some dandy shots to ward off Roddick. As the set progressed, neither player retreated. Serving at 12-13 and 40-15, Roddick made a backhand error while Federer converted a forehand crosscourt for deuce. With two bombastic serves, Roddick protected serve. After Federer forged ahead 15-14 with a love game, Roddick committed two errors on deep returns by Federer. But once again, Roddick got to game point because of his dynamic serve. Although Roddick’s backhand crosscourt mistake led to deuce, with a backhand error, Federer gave Roddick a second chance to hold. However, when Roddick made a forehand up the line error on a mishit return by Federer, the American faced championship point. Considering Federer was 0 for 6 on break point conversion, the odds seemed in Roddick’s corner. Despite a good serve, Roddick had a forehand mid-court go long dashing his dream of a first Wimbledon title.

To count Andy out, Roger needed 4 hours and 16 minutes, 95 minutes for the fifth alone, the most number of games in any major final by far, 50 aces, more than 100 winners and as Federer himself admitted “ a little luck at the end”. As Pete Sampras looked on, Roddick did his best to “hold [Federer] off” and stop Roger from surpassing Sampras at 14 majors. With this win, Federer reclaims the number one ranking. However, he acknowledges there’s a footnote since Rafael Nadal could not defend his title. Federer achieved another rarity in tennis as Nadal did last year, winning the French and Wimbledon back to back.

After last year’s thrilling five set final between Nadal and Federer, no tennis fan could have dreamt that a similar spectacle would be repeated today. Once again, with this kind of unforgettable and mesmerizing performance, it almost makes one wish that the winner’s trophy could be severed in half.

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Fait Accompli: Federer Solidifies Place In History With First French Open Title

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Fait Accompli: Federer Solidifies Place In History With First French Open Title

img_0441-version-2For three years, Roger Federer has been a bridesmaid at the French Open. Today, at last, Federer vanquished Swede Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 to seize his first ‘Coupe Des Mousquetaires’ and complete the career grand slam. Federer becomes just the sixth male player to possess all four majors.

Federer got off to an idyllic start by pressuring Soderling’s serve. With a forehand up the line error by Soderling, Federer had break point and cashed in courtesy of a double fault. After consolidating with a love game, Federer extended his lead by connecting on a forehand return winner for 3-0. After Soderling held serve in a tight game, he was unable to get a point in Federer’s game. Then, Soderling watched the first set end when Federer cranked a backhand crosscourt pass to break again.

In the second set, the caliber of Soderling’s play improved with a higher percentage of first serves and more forehand winners. With Soderling serving at 15-0, a deranged spectator leapt on court and accosted Federer, waving a Barcelona flag in his face. This frightening incident was terminated when security personnel tackled the intruder. Fortunately, after Robin won his game, Federer refocused and comfortably held for 3-2. With neither man able to dent the other’s serve, the set went to a tiebreaker. With an ace and by forcing Soderling into a forehand error, Federer went ahead 2-1. Soderling never touched Federer’s serve. With three additional aces, a backhand down the line error by Soderling and a forehand drop shot winner, Federer carried the set.

A double fault offered Federer his first opportunity to take charge in the third. Roger capitalized when Robin missed a forehand up the line. With his serve on autopilot, Federer went up 2-0. A hiccup came when serving at 2-1, Federer miscalculated a forehand up the line handing Soderling his first break chance. However, with a forehand down the line winner, Roger wiped out his previous error and held for 3-1. Once Federer extended his advantage to 5-3, tears began to creep into his eyes. Federer realized that he was four points from securing the only major trophy that had escaped him. After Soderling guarded serve, Federer misfired on a forehand mid-court to donate a break point. However, with a good serve and a forehand error from Robin, Roger was back on track. Subsequently, with a forehand volley winner, Federer finally arrived at match point and sealed the championship when Soderling’s return found the net.

This was an unpredictable French Open. Soderling’s run to his maiden major final was surreal. In the round of 16, Soderling beat Rafael Nadal, Federer’s hindrance at the French the ultimate four years. In so doing, the Swede prohibited Nadal from surpassing countryman Bjorn Borg’s record of four successive French Open titles. Strangely, Bjorn had Nadal to thank last year for preventing Federer from overtaking his record of five consecutive trophies at Wimbledon. Moreover, Soderling’s road kill list included David Ferrer in the third round, Nikolay Davydenko in the quarters and Fernando Gonzalez in the semis, all formidable clay court players.  Also, unlike prior years, Federer’s path was fraught with peril. Roger needed four sets in both second and third round against Jose Acasuso and Paul-Henri Mathieu, respectively. Further, Federer was possibly one forehand miscue from losing to Tommy Haas in the round of 16. Then, world number five Juan Martin Del Potro pushed Federer to five sets in the semifinals.

Post match, Soderling acknowledged he had a tough time since Federer did not permit him to be ‘aggressive’. Soderling felt his task was impossible because ‘Roger makes [one] play bad’. Federer confessed that ‘it was an emotional roller coaster’, citing he was nervous and his mind kept wandering. The question ‘what if I win this tournament’ continuously popped in his head, adding to his anxiety particularly when serving out the match. Federer claimed that along with his first Wimbledon, undoubtedly, this was his most satisfying win. Now, Federer has equaled Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors. More importantly, unlike Pete, Federer has a French Open title on his resume.

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Clay : You Have To Love It For It To Love You Back

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Clay : You Have To Love It For It To Love You Back

img_9979_bwFor as long as I live, when I think of the red clay at Roland Garros, the picture that will always come to mind is that of Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten tracing the contours of a heart on the ground after his grueling five sets win over Swede Magnus Norman in the 2000 French Open final.

Bar none, clay is the most demanding surface to play on. The points can be endless.  A men’s three set match can last longer than three hours. Thus, that type of court can exact a significant mental and physical price. Ironically though, clay is much gentler on the body than a hard court where joints can be prone to injury. Despite the clay presenting some significant health benefits, the list of players who excel on that specific turf is far shorter than that of those who perform well on hard court. Therefore, the question must be posed as to the source of this disconnection.

One explanation may be the competitors’ lack of familiarity with the surface. The majority of Americans and non- Iberian Europeans nowadays grow up playing on concrete. Red clay practice courts and tournaments have become a rarity in the U.S. Currently, the ladies have a choice of either Charleston or Jacksonville; many have characterized both as “simulated clay”. Players have described the green surface as a hard court dusted with clay which makes their movement feel awkward. For the men, their only option is the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston. Although it is more suitable than what’s available to the women, in many respects it falls short of the necessary requisite to offer a full fledge European red clay experience.

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Nadal Bests Federer On The Hardcourt In Melbourne

It’s a spectacle seldom seen, Roger Federer in tears in the face of failure. But this was the scene at the Australian Open where Federer fell to his archrival Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 2-6 in their first majors’ meeting on hardcourt.

The first game was reflective of the entire match. Federer made four consecutive errors including a double fault to start in a hole. Yet, the next game, Federer ripped a forehand down the line winner to get back to 1 all. Serving exclusively to the backhand side, Nadal got a ton of unforced errors from Federer. Then, in the sixth game, Federer curled a backhand winner up the line for 0-15 and with a forehand winner up the line obtained a break point. Roger converted by running around his backhand for a forehand service winner for 4-2. However, Roger’s lead was brief. With a backhand crosscourt winner, Rafa arrived at break point and capitalized when Roger donated a double fault. Serving at 5-6, Roger made two forehand unforced errors giving Nadal the break and ultimately the set.

At 1-2 in the second set, Nadal swept away a break point from Federer with his first ace and held. With two forehand misses from Federer, Nadal broke promptly. But, when Nadal overhit a forehand, the score was leveled at 3. At 4-3, with his fifth break point of the game, Federer saw Nadal dump a backhand crosscourt into the net giving him the break. This time, Roger closed out the set.

In the third set, serving at 2-3, Federer got into trouble when another backhand crosscourt found the net and gave Nadal break point. With a forehand crosscourt winner, Roger saved break point for the first time in the match and held. At 4 all, Nadal made a rare backhand crosscourt error and two forehand errors to stare at triple break point. With crosscourt winners from each wing and a Federer forehand error, Nadal was at deuce and carried the game. After an uneventful service game, Federer again cornered Nadal for double break point. Nadal escaped when Federer sent a backhand service return into the net and overcooked a forehand. The set’s proprietor was settled in a tiebreak. After a forehand error by Nadal handed Federer a minibreak, Roger returned the favor with an error of his own. Tied at 3, as Federer’s crosscourt forehand failed to clear the net, Nadal had the minibreak. Federer culminated his largesse by double faulting the set away.

After getting a 2-0 advantage with a forehand down the line winner in the fourth set, Federer lost his serve when Nadal passed him at net. Living on the edge at 2 all, Federer saved four break points in a seven deuce game to stay on serve. In the subsequent game, aided by a few unforced errors from Nadal, Federer broke and hung on to claim the set.

After a 5 hour 14 minute semifinal against countryman Fernando Verdasco on Friday, remarkably, Nadal was the one with all the answers in the decisive set while Federer withered. Serving at 1-2 and ahead 30-0, Federer overshot the forehand, double faulted and committed two backhand errors gifting Nadal the break. Then serving at 2-5 to extend the match, Federer became unhinged with the match ending on a forehand error.

For Federer, this match, just like their previous six encounters in finals, can be summed up as a case of multiple break point opportunities blown. Or to the contrary, Nadal may be the master at delivering the goods when the chips are down. Federer is to Andy Roddick as Nadal is to Federer, a slick wall impossible to climb. Today, not only did Rafa prevent Federer from matching Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors, he also became the first Spaniard to win down under. Considering that the next major is the French, it’s unlikely that Federer will equal or surpass Pete’s mark anytime soon. So for now, Sampras can exhale.

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The Serve and Volley: A Dying Art

Although it may seem like eons ago, there was a time in tennis when one could distinguish two different types of players because they relied predominantly on one style of play. Competitors were earmarked as either baseline grinders or serve and volleyers. In the last few years, there has been a scarcity in the singles’ game of the latter type of play. Homogeneity has become the rule with competitors apparently content with being branded baseline specialists, not venturing to the net even when the occasion clearly presents itself. Thus, this begs the questions as to whether the “classic” serve and volleyer will become a thing of the past.

In a society where the desire for instant gratification is the norm, one would think that the serve and volley would be better appreciated because it does not demand a long attention span. Simplistic as it may sound, there may be a logical explanation for the gravitation towards baseline play, power- the ultimate high. From my viewpoint, this love affair may arise from one’s desire to take his or her aggression not only on the ball but to also demonstrate his or her dominance over the opponent; a statement made less effectively by the serve and volley precisely because the points are too short. Advancements in technology are in part to blame for the prospect of this art form being retired to the tennis hall of fame. As wooden rackets have given way to metal ones, players have been able to generate so much power with their shots that their primary goal appears to be to hit a winner from five feet behind the baseline. Granted, this type of play is simultaneously exciting and exasperating. Enjoyable in the sense that one is amazed at the player’s ability, for instance, to maintain a thirty plus stroke rally. On the hand, endurance at times gives way to boredom on the part of the viewer when he or she realizes that shots are just mirror images.

Baseline play appears quasi a duel, a display of raw power, conjuring up images of two battling gladiators. Yet, the beauty of the serve and volley lies in the subtlety with which power is exhibited; power is the essence of that style of play. Historically, the most successful serve and volleyers have been the likes Boris Becker and Pete Sampras whose blazing serve was their invitation to the net. These days, big servers are widespread, but proficiency at the net is lacking. At times, net play seems either an afterthought or a tactic of last resort. Even the volley itself has undergone some modifications. With the traditional volley, the player maintains his racket in front as he rushes the net where he finishes with a crisp shot with the racket in that same stance. Nowadays, the uneasiness that some competitors feel with the conventional volley, since they utilize it so sparingly, has given birth to the “swing volley”, a more aggressively struck shot, leaving the only similarity between the two the location from which the ball is hit. To the observer, this is further evidence that some players are just having difficulty mastering the fundamentals of volleying.

In essence, technology has been both a blessing and curse in that the serve and volley may become obsolete on the surface best suited for it, grass. With the exception of Bjorn Borg who was a baseline player and won five Wimbledon titles, history has shown that when the “classic” serve and volleyer is confronted with the baseline hoverer in the finals, the former has usually come out the victor. The speed of this type of court has always favored the competitor willing to come to the net. Over the last few years though, baseline play has invaded even this surface, at the end of a fortnight of competition, the baseline is the part of the court that is most worn out is while the grass around the net stays pretty intact. Lately, there have been rumors the All England Club may be altering the composition of the grass to “slow” down the court. Invariably, this kind of move may mean that players whose game fare better on a clay court may have better result while serving to the detriment of the serve and volleyer. It seems that the talented athlete should be able to adjust his game regardless of the surface without technology having to be a key variable.

In my opinion, variety is an important element when it comes to spectator sports. The ideal player is one who can marry the two forms of play. Versatility provides excitement and captures the interest of the viewer, thus, there is still a place in the game for the “classic” serve and volleyer. Two excellent examples are Martina Hingis and Roger Federer, both from Switzerland. The words often used by tennis connoisseurs to describe Hingis are a “ smart player”; she is an expert at both baseline and net play, with variety being the cornerstone of her game. Although Hingis was formidable enough to defeat lower ranked players, she could not keep up with the so-called “power hitters”. Ironically, power was often the latter’s only weapon against Hingis’ well-rounded game. Like Hingis, Federer is a master at shot selection. He knows when to charge the net and when to stay back or play from the baseline. Unlike his compatriot, Federer is capable of bombing the serve or to sustain a rally and hit a winner from the baseline when the opportunity presents itself; thereby, neutralizing the opponent’s power.

Since everyone is not as gifted as Federer or Hingis, there exists a need to focus on finding out where the player’s talent lies since that is an integral part of the equation. Obviously, all baseliners are not proficient at the craft. Otherwise, there would a more equitable distribution of trophies and not the skewed dominance exhibited by just a few players. The hope is that the current trend is cyclical. Perhaps, eventually balance will be restored whereby both styles can flourish so that the serve and volley will not become a dying art.

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