Tag Archive | "Sampras"

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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