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27 Players Worth Talking About
For the pros, the dawn of a new tennis year is a time of great optimism. With Europe and North America in the throes of winter, Australia is sunny, warm and, best of all, alive with possibilities. January, after all, is a time when it's possible for everyone to have a tremendous year. Why not?
So as 2009 gets underway, let's consider where it's at for a number of players. Here are some thoughts on ten men and 17 women who particularly strike my fancy:
Rafael Nadal: After a massively-successful but clearly exhausting 2008, is he rested? In an odd way, Nadal's strength – long-term fitness and desire – is blunted in January by the fact that everyone else is well-rested too. Still, he's now number one, so let's see how he jumps out in Australia. Recall that last year he made it to the semis without the loss of a set – and was then dispatched by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in one of the most incredible displays of 2008
Click photo to go to website: The clear number one last year but can he stay on top?
- Roger Federer: Out to equal Pete Sampras' mark of 14 Slams, but perhaps even more eager to reclaim his status as the world's best. While Federer's U.S. Open run proved the resiliency of his on-court brilliance, the microscopic spirit of inquiry that's now surrounding him – coupled with Federer's impeccable, UN diplomat-like speaking skills – figures to create all sorts of conjecture. In other words, the less someone knows about the game itself, the more energy will be devoted to dissecting Federer's comments. My personal plan: I will ignore most of what he says and instead pay attention more to what he's saying with his racquet. I'm particularly attuned to his backhand (more variety?) and willingness to come to net more.
Andy Murray: A first-round loser in Melbourne a year ago to Tsonga, Murray's ascending sharply. Physical fitness made him mentally tougher last year, delightfully enhancing his versatile game. Eager to see more how it pans out in Melbourne and beyond.
- Novak Djokovic: It's not often that a defending champion must squeeze his way onto the marquee, but let's face it: 2008 was a strange year. Through May, with victories in Australia, Indian Wells and Rome, Djokovic was the year's best player, his crisp drives and keen body balance exemplary on all surfaces. Then came stumbles, salvaged at the end by his win at the Tennis Masters Cup. My question: Can Djokovic enhance his game and learn to come to net more? Or is he going to remain far more comfortable grinding away and taxing his body?
- Andy Roddick: Bringing on new coach Larry Stefanki yet another sign that Roddick is unwilling to take the easy way out. Serve remains potent, while rest of his game predicated on grinding, scrambling, and tenacity. Yet another crossroads year.
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic, Ernests Gulbis: Five engaging talents who made various splashes in '08. Now comes the true challenge – generating sustained excellence.
- The big vacuum: Rarely has the top spot been so up for grabs.
Jelena Jankovic: Technically, yes, she's ranked number one in the world. And she has spoken publicly about her desire to at last snag a Slam. I can't lie and say that certainly she has the game to do so, as the likes of the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, and Ana Ivanovic each have bigger weapons. But looking back at Jankovic I also see an enduring tenacity, a persistent quality that could indeed set the stage for her breakthrough. Were that to happen, we'd no doubt hear some incredibly engaging comments.
Click photo to go to website: In the quirky WTA rating system Jankovic finished number one but without a slam win to her credit.
- Serena Williams: In each of the last three odd-numbered years, she's conquered Australia with her trademark mix of swagger and shot making. Her U.S. Open win brought her back to the number one ranking for the first time in five years – a record gap. But then came a terrible autumn and, of late, yet another injury. In Serena's case, though, denial is a great asset. If not brilliant week in and week out, on high stakes occasion she can convince herself to play great tennis as well as any player of recent times.
Venus Williams: Compared to her sister, significantly more subdued. But Venus too is someone who occupies her own bubble of confidence, making improvements in her own way, suffering through losses and injuries but also earning her share of glory through diligence and shot making.
Click photo to go to website: Many thought Serena the true number one but she plays a very limited schedule.
- Maria Sharapova: Splendid in Melbourne a year ago when she won the title, but then the bulk of '08 was less than stellar, signaled officially when she pulled the curtain on the year in August. Has she recovered from her shoulder injury? Sharapova's relentless focus can nearly be taken for granted, so let's inspect the movement and hope she continues to show a few signs of the versatility that earned her the title those 12 long months ago.
- Ana Ivanovic: Very similar arc to Sharapova. After winning the French Open and taking the world number one ranking, her '08 record was a snappy 27-6. Then, a steep drop: 11-9. Yes, there was a right thumb injury, a baffling ailment that made it hard for her to practice. Clearly this derailed her confidence. Now comes the chance to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
- The Russians are coming, but what have they left? Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, Ana Chakvetadze, Nadia Petrova. I'll confess that these Russians vex me in a big way. Their work ethic is superb, but I just wish there'd been a little more time spent on such topics as drop shots, volleys and, most of all, positive body language. My sense at times is that the Russians have been taught (issued?) these bashing, grinding games and then resent that playing style's very authoritarian, dogmatic qualities.
In the spirit of nuance, I'll add how much I was impressed by Safina in '08. To me, seeing her progress so well at Roland Garros, as well as win major titles in Berlin and Montreal, made her more of a significant force last year than Jankovic. And yes, Kuznetsova is a bit more versatile than most – and hopefully more of that will surface now that she's working with Russian ex-pro Olga Morozova. And Petrova – once my hope as the greatest all-court Russian – might enjoy the existential twilight of her career. My best also for Chakvetadze, a faux Hingis counter puncher who, I hope, can shake off the toll of the late '07 robbery of her home. But as I've said before, too often I feel sad that a nation with such a rich literature would yield tennis players who mostly know composition.
- Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Alize Cornet: The future's looking bright. Radwanska currently is the one with the most tools in place, but Wozniacki is my personal favorite, particularly when she lets herself play all-court tennis rather than trying to bludgeon her way to victory.
- Nicole Vaidisova, Tatiana Golovin: Shut me up and let's post some better results. Surely each is still too young to be headed south.
Beyond specific players, my sense of the game is that this could be the beginning of a
rich period. After all, physical fitness is the contemporary given. So if everyone must possess that asset, what truly is the source of differentiation? Persistence, yes. But also, perhaps, as more players emerge from more countries, we could well witness exciting new personalities – and, better yet, an increasingly wider range of playing styles.
No, I don't expect to see a serve-volley renaissance for some time, but to see the craftsmanship of a Murray, the speed and power of Cilic and Gulbis and the impressive counterpunching of Jankovic provides a smidge of validation for tennis' eternal engagement as an individual sport.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Launch Your Serve Better
Perhaps the most critical component of the service motion is the launch position. The launch position occurs as the racquet drops farthest behind the back with the elbow high and the back arched. The legs straighten into a powerful upwards drive yet the racquet remains in the slot behind the back. This delayed action catapults the racquet up and into the ball. In this article, Doug Eng examines the salient features of the launch position and how it is critical for a powerful serve.
Put Together Your Playbook
As you work on your tennis and move up the NTRP ladder, you're going to reach a level of play where the majority of your points are no longer handed to you. Still it might surprise you but the majority of tennis matches at the 3.5 level and below are a race to see which player or team can miss enough shots to lose the match first. Players at the 4.0 levels and above do not hand their opponents free points and one big shot will seldom break them down. To win against the big boys and girls requires patience, discipline and a game plan. Greg Moran
The Year That Was — Best Of Vintage 2008
Paul Fein's retrospective on 2008 in the world of tennis. The year brought us two new number ones, exciting young players on the rise, veterans toppled, and one notable who just walked off into the sunset. So here it is, the best and the worst of 2008 as seen through the eyes of one of tennis' more interesting commentators — some of the great moments of the year and some others we'd just as soon forget.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Jelena Jankovic's Forehand
Jelena Jankovic has reached the pinnacle of the women's game – currently number 1 in the Sony Ericsson WTA tour rankings, and also 1st in the Tour Race. Jelena holds nine tour singles titles but has yet to capture a Slam title. She is remarkably fit and plays an aggressive counter punching baseline game. But her matches are overly long, and she has been prone to injury if not injurious theatrics. To step up and gain a stranglehold on the number one ranking, she will have to take a page from Serena's book, and build a weapon on the serve – anything for “free points.”
The Etcheberry Experience DVD
For more than twenty years Pat Etcheberry has been providing athletes from around the world with the winning edge. We call this the Etcheberry Experience, and players with an Etcheberry experience have hoisted Championship Trophies at over one hundred major championships, including 28 Australian Opens, 18 Wimbledons, 22 UP Opens, 22 French Opens and 15 Olympic medals.
And now it's your turn! This is your chance to experience the same drills, exercises and words of tennis wisdom that Pat gave to Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and others, that helped launch them on their incredible careers. For the first time, Pat Etcheberry shares his training secrets in a series of DVDs for players of all ages, their coaches, and trainers.
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