Archive for December, 2007

Adelaide, Chennai & Doha

December 30, 2007

…all start today and tomorrow.

All draws are out and there are a few interesting 1st rounders.

In Adelaide, home fav. Hewitt has to get past Dudi Sela. A player with breakthrough potential.  Spadea will meet Grosjean. Spadea on hard is never an easy task. Expecting a tough fight here. The one to watch in my opinion is Ancic – Korolev. Talent all over the place but still trouble with consistency. Are they ready for a powerful start to 08? If so, it should be tight matchup.  Querrey-Darcis might be interesting as well. I’ve always considered Darcis as the player of the future. He just has to prove I’m right!

In Chennai, we’ve got Nadal, Baggy and Moya as top seeds. Moya will have to start with rust free game as he will have to take on Gabashvilli in the 1st. That’s the only 1st round match I would watch. Kind of week field in Chennai. #70 is 8th seed.

Doha is the priciest tournament, and therefore also the one fillied with the stars. 1st rounds highlights might be: Murray – Rochus, Johansson – Andreev, Koubek – Ljubicic. Def champ is Ljubicic. I don’t know if he is good enough to power through the drawboard this time; he can get in trouble in SF against Karlovic, and final against Murray or Tursunov.

Things to look for in 1st week of play:

Will Nadal show any signs of knee problems? During the break he finally “officially” said that he is struggling with his knees. Hard courting them through March will probably not help a whole lot. Cannot see what he gets from even entering Chennai. Does he need to beat top 50-100 players at this stage? We will assume he knows what he is doing.

Will Murray win Doha? Murray has gone from top of the sky to rock bottom in several years now. We know he’s got it, but can he play it for one entire season?! I would bet serious cash in Murray, just because if he gets beaten early on… well see you again next year. He seems a little bit unable to rise from bad results. Haven’t followed the news, so I don’t know who he announced as new coach, but he need some discipline or something. So close, yet too far away.

Lastly!! Hewitt!!! I was a frickin’ fan back in the early 00s (haha). I always regarded him as the start of the super fit tennis era. The way he moved on court was not new, but after him there were only super fit athletes who followed, regardless of size and figure. He won GS, he was world number one for over one year, and was still baby face-like. Don’t know what motivates him anymore, but he needs to get back in the winning position to put Australia back on the tennis map! Would like to see him win Adelaide, Sydney and Aussie Open. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it.

 Prediction:

Doha:  W: Murray  RU: Karlovic 
Adelaide: W: Hewitt RU: Stepanek?
Chennai: W: Youzhny RU: Baghdatis? Nadal pulls out (knee problems)

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3 more days..

December 27, 2007

…and the poor bastards are back in action. I don’t know how new year’s eve is for the guys playing the first three tournaments, but it would be weird seeing grownups going to bed 10 min past midnight. This year they start Dec 31 and there will be players, probably the unseeded, who will play on Dec 31st AND Jan 1. I think the season should start in the 1st whole week of Jan, both for the players’ sake and for the public.

Anyhow, there’s been some news (not news anymore) about Australian Open. First of all, they will play on the new Plexicushion, replacing the old Rebound Ace. I don’t know how much the viewers will enjoy this change. I’ve always liked AO surface becuase it was one of the slower hard courts, which could bring some nice and long rallies in hard fought battles. But it seems that they’ve favored the “marginally” faster Plexicushion which is thinner and therefore retains less heat. This means that they might avoid some of the extreme heat problems they suffered last year when players had to retire.

It seems awful how a place like the coast of Australia, which is cooler than New York, even in the middle of the summer, seems to generate so much heat on the court. Heat is a problem almost every year when the players head to north America, but they rarely experience so much problems with excessive heat on court.

But whatEVER.. lets hope they get a NORMAL Aussie summer with temps around 80 (26).

Second “news” is a record. Only problem is, it would have been a record if…. Starace and Bracciali wouldn’t have bet on matches and been suspended, Hrbaty would not be injured, Johansson would get an immune system, Canas would not be injured… and I think the list goes on.  What I’m talking about? It was announced a while ago that for the first time, all of top 100 would play the Aussie Open. Cannot believe this was announced so early, when there is ALWAYS one player who pulls out even a day or two before it starts. Didn’t understand why it made the headlines.

Third, Isner (you know, the extremely tall dude who made the finals at Legg Mason) supposedly said that he will play Aussie Open doubles with Karlovic!! I certainly hope the Rochus brothers plan to do the same and it has to be a record cumulated height difference. Something like 15ft against 10ft. Would be fun to watch.

Christmas = tennis starts in 1 week!

December 22, 2007

For many players the week of Dec 24-Dec 31 is the only actual break they get. Monday in 8 days time we are back in business for the 2008 season.

It’s hard to be a tennis player!

Ho ho ho…

Movement – footwork and speed

December 21, 2007

We are not in the greatest shots category anymore, but footwork and movement on the court is sometimes more important than knowing how to hit the fuzzy creature. Some players base their tactics around their footwork and use that as a weapon.

Tennis.comhave presented a long list of players and have once again picked Federer for the player in history with the best movement on court. I agree 100%.

He has such a natural movement on court, it seems he was born to move on a tennis court. Perhaps you would argue that there are a lot of players who work harder with their two sticks, and that might be true. The fact is that Federer is one of the few I know of, off all time, who can move with a perfectly balanced speed and agility ratios. He doesn’t seem to be the one who makes the small footwork adjustments prior to hitting the ball, but he is a genius in timing the shot and using his talent to be there with the pefect balanced body, at the right time. And by that I mean that YES, he does make small steps to find the perfect position, but he makes it with great effciency and he doesn’t need to bring the pulse to 500 like for example Roddick and Hewitt.  Efficiency is the key word in my opinion.

Jimmy Connors was given the final pick for footwork and Venus Williams for speed. I don’t know if I agree with Williams, as she too often runs out of fuel footwork-wise. But Jimbo definitely deserves his spot. His movement on court reminded of a “suicide-runner”. He made every rally seem like it was match point for his opponent. He gave 110% at 5-0, and just about the same at 0-5 down.

I certainly want to mention Nadal. Like Federer, he was also born to be tennis “mover”. He would have been more stunned when seeing him running around, if Federer wasn’t around taking the spot light. And SOME of today’s best are Djokovic, Hewitt!!, Nalbandian. 

One last thing about efficiency. All of these players are great footworkers, right? ALL of them except one, sweat quite a lot. WHO IS IT?

Mr. Federer. Have you ever seen him struggling with the sweat? Best movement on court = no sweat??!?! Last time I’m saying it, but Federer is not from planet EARTH!!!

Who rose & who fell?

December 20, 2007

The rankins rarely paint the perfect picture, but it shows where the players are headed and if their last 52 weeks of tennis is improving or not.

Here is a figure of some players in the top.

rank.jpg

Federer is still in control, but has given up some of the points from last year. Nadal is still rising. Djokovic stands for the sickest rise in a long time, and Davy & Rod are sticking around while Ferrer and Nalby only perform in a specific month. (or two)

The lob

December 19, 2007

Tennis.com has now left the net play and gotten to the lob. Probably THE SHOT you just cannot teach. You have to have the talent, the feel, the silk smooth touch, the precision of nuclear physics, and of course sometimes just a little luck. 

Like I’ve said before, I cannot go to deep in tennis history, but if we are talking about the same shot, there must be some kind of mistake. First of all, most players of the 70s would win lob duels with today’s players. Only a few are mentioned. Ken Rosewall got the top spot, and that might be fair, but does Lleyton Hewitt really have that great lob? I would once again pick Federer instead. Federer is not even mentioned in “contemporary picks”, but somehow Nadal gets a spot!

Don’t really understand how Nadal has a better lob than Federer. Chang might have had the feel but, Connors? He lobbed quite a lot in his career, but I didn’t see him making all of them. And where the hell is Nastase? Arguably the best feel and touch in history. Some of his lobs and drop shots where of ET quality.

Well if people don’t agree, I still would pick him as the greatest clown/entertainer. Here are some of his funny moments

2007 review, 2008 preview

December 18, 2007

2007=2006=2008?

That’s the question. 06 and 07 came out almost the same for Federer and Nadal.  Federer lost a few more matches and Nadal had some major ups but some big downs as well. For me, the highlight of the season came around July 8 when the two best tennis players were battling like crazy in Wimbledon. At the point where Nadal took the 4th set…. well that was quite the climax. What comes after a climax? 6-2 for Federer?!!? I think the viewers deserved a more tight end to a very prestigous battle.

2nd highlight was actually a few days earlier when Roddick had to serve his way towards another SF encounter with the Swiss clock, but first he had to serve down Gasquet. And as it was a surprisingly well fought battle from both players, Roddick had the little extra and was up 2 sets to zit and a BREAK ahead in the third (and what was supposed to be final set). Gasquet started to play around with his backhand, perhaps the ONE shot he should have made more during the first part of the match, and turned everything around in the tie breaker. Roddick had won like 18 of those in a row, but why not let Gasquet get one? Gasquet put out his absolute best and was able to turn things completely around as Roddick’s frustration grew and grew. As opposed to the final, this one did not top when Gasquet took the 4th set, rather at 8-6 in the decider! Wow.

Another great performace, which comes in third, is Djokovic and Nalbandian’s wins over the best three players in the world, in three days. Djokovic in Montreal and Nalbandian in Madrid. This is a three day long highlight, but this just doesn’t happen to often and is a major and incredible performance. First of all, when you are seeded 4th, like Djokovic in Montreal, having to beat the 3rd seed, 2nd seed and 1s seed in three days, doesn’t happen a lot. Nalbandian, well…. lets just say that for the first time since the Wimbledon final in 2001, I was a fan.

Expectations for 2008 are even higher!!! Why?

Federer: the train must be stopped some time, it may well be in 08. But who will do it, when, where and HOW?!?! 05, 06 and 07 have been sick, sick, sick from a human standpoint.

Nadal: can he be stopped at RG or will he get better. A big question mark is his knee problem(s) and how much it might affect him. A lot of people have said that with that style, he will have to retire by age 25. I don’t know who’s right anymore.

Djokoman: 2008 will be THE year for him to perform. If he makes it (winning a GS) he will continue to grow at the same pace as now. If not… well it’s easy to get discouraged in a Federer-era but potential? YES! If he’s really good he can do it late Janurary in Melbourne and strip Federer of one GS title.

Davydenko: will he get closer to the slam cups? I still think SF is his best, but if he steps up, maybe he can make RG final if Federer is beaten earlier. Here the question is.. 30+ matches or 35+ matches.

Ferrer: I don’t know, I don’t know. I want to believe in him, but I honestly don’t. He can ride on the good momentum from the end of 07 and start well in 08, but ehmehmehm…

Roddick: Like I’ve written before… if he can start to beat Federer he can start to win slams again. I think he will be supermotivated again in Australia, and ready to take on any challenge. The fact that the AO people are speeding the court of a bit doesn’t hurt his confidence either.

Shot selection

December 15, 2007

Tennis.com is continuing to find the greatest shots in history. I will, due to limited knowledge in the “volley era”, stop with my choices. Most of the players with great volleys played before the Open Era and the first part. Yes, there are players with incredible volley skills today, but the shot is less used and therefore there are a lot more candidates in the history.

I still want to pick the shots I want for Christmas, meaning my personal favorites. These favorites do not represent the shots I think are the best of all time, but simply the ones I would prefer to include in my portfolio.

Serve: Roddick (due to it’s simplicity and very nice weight distribution in the movement)
Forehand: Federer (I needed 0.2sec to decide)
Backhand: Nalbandian (the movement, the ease, the fluid relaxed motion…*drool*)
Return: Agassi (perfection, short and lethal swing, turns most 2nd serves into sissy shots)
Volley: Federer (in today’s game, I don’t see who is better)
Overhead: Sampras!!!!!
Drop-Shot: Federer (many alternatives, but I don’t think there are other players with Federer’s feel) + the good old Nastase (because of his incredible touch with the old stupid rackets)
Slice (backhand): Federer, Federer, Federer…. in Wimbledon, it’s more effective than his backhand.

Feel free to share your shot wishlist for Christmas

Backhand

December 13, 2007

This time it’s backhand. The guys at Tennis.com end up with Ken Rosewall as the player with the best backhand.

For me, it is hard to even try to comment on that. I haven’t seen more than a few clips of him and cannot say anything specific. But from what I’ve seen I still say that it is hard to compare different eras. To comment on what you said Tim; If you watch the following clip maybe you will see what I mean. This is Ashe-Roswewall from 71. Back then, coming to the net was necessary on every point. There are a few baseline rallies, but all of them end up with one of them attacking at the net. Both of them hit backhands but most of them are the short kind that you get from a volley, meaning low bouncing and therefore hard to get a real shot. Towards the end Rosewall shows what he could do. A good shot from Ashe is returned with great ease (almost Federer like) cross court and with a very nice angle. He had the sweet touch and could do a lot with it compared to some of his opponents. So from what I’ve seen, maybe a total of 20mins, Rosewall did have a great backhand. My problem is still that the play back then was so different that today’s players have to deal with a lot of extra details and of course the added pace. But that last backhand pass cross court with the stupid wood thing is quite nice.

The list at Tennis Magazine is long on the backhand shot. I could easily agree with Laver and Agassi. Don’t know enough about Trabert, Budge and Tilden, but my pick is still the short but explosive Jimmy Connors. I think probably for the player in the 70s, this guy was annoying as an opponent. He could hit that backhand pass any guy at the net and usually did it so straight forward and also hard. Wasn’t as fast as today but that guy was sometimes like a fire cracker.

The Contemporary picks I have no problem with. Federer – great, Nalbandian – perhaps even better, Gasquet – wow!, Youzhny – great too, Pavel – so nice and clean, Kuerten  – yes please, Gaudio – yes, but I wouldn’t pick this one, same with Marat. Safin at his best has a great backhand, but that’s the problem. When you find great shots, you need to sort them in a way that the ones who could use them as a weapon and that was consistent throughout their whole career, comes first. Safin consistent? No way.

And the ladies? You know what… Justine Henin gets my frickin’ vote. Better than Rosewall, better than Federer and all of the above. Connors did not have the same feel and flexibility as Henin. She is what… 4ft tall? Well at least in comparison to women’s Karlovic, which of course is Sharapova (6ft 2). With that height she hits it as hard as any ATP player and it is like a shotgun. When Henin is on fire, which she usually is, the backhand stays consistent too.

My pick based on what I’ve seen. (meaning watching whole matches and not 20min clips) Jimmy Connors and Justine Henin

Forehand

December 12, 2007

Tennis.com continues to find the greatest shots in tennis and with the exception of the serve, this shot defines the player. Almost all players on pro level has a weapon in their forehand. Some have more ripping quality, others more topspin based. As opposed to the serve, where you might find a player or two who cannot use their serve as a weapon, I don’t think you will be able to find weak forehands. BUT! There are some way better than others.

No surprise that Federer got the top spot on this one. His forehand is, at times, inhuman, and ahead of it’s time but still so simple and straight forward. You cannot teach to hit it like Federer, as most of the elements in his forehand are a perfect mix of balance, wrist action, upper body rotation and all other small things that play a huge difference.

It’s seems that he can hit it excatly as he wants it, and place it with milliInch precision. The ones I prefer are his high rips and the topspin. I fact, I prefer Federer’s spin over Nadal’s. Federer can hit an effective spin with wrist and natural movement rather than sending the racket head at racket speed straight up. The Federer “brushing” is far more effective than Nadal’s “brushing” in a greater perspective. But what makes it the greatest, which separates him from most other players is the flexibility. The fact that he’s got so many things he can do with it makes it in a class of it’s own. To grasp this, I see Gonzalez and Blake to be exactly opposite. Hard-hit and sometimes consistent, but that’s it.

And the other names…. well you could extend that list by 100 players. For me, including Roddick, Lendl, Agassi and excluding Andreev, Monfils, Djokovic makes little sense. Djokovic has one of the best currently and is only 20. If he has the same development as Federer and his forehand maintains consistency, definitely on that list.

So far, to be a great player, having the 3 most important shots that define who you are, you should have:

Serve: like Sampras’
Return: like Connors’ (in today’s game I would pick Agassi)
Forehand: like Federer’s

Here’s a clip of a standard Federer ballkill: