Musings on the US Open, the State of American Tennis, and Roger Federer
There was a lot more to the US Open than simply the American men this year, but those guys gave us a lot both to see and to think about. Taylor Dent is ranked 24th, with a match record in 2005 of 30 wins and 18 losses. Robbie Ginepri is ranked 20th with 29 wins and 18 losses. And James Blake is ranked
28th with 29 wins and 19 losses. And I think we are poised to see a lot more from these three guys. But there are hurdles for each. They all have had big wins this season – Dent over Safin and Hewitt, Blake over Nadal, and Ginepri over Coria, Safin, and Roddick. But it is there records that worry me, top twenty in the world is a real feat – but they have all sustained quite a few losses this year, and that speaks both to the depth of the men's field and equally to their challenges.
|Each of these guys (Blake, Ginepri, and Dent) gave us a lot to see
at this years US Open.
If one boils the game down to serve and return, the Ricoh match facts give us a picture of the top ten players in many categories, but among these nine categories, we find Dent and Ginepri only once each. And for any one of them to ascend center stage, here is where they need to make improvements. Let's take a closer look.
Nadal, as you might imagine, leads in nearly all the return of serve categories. Nadal is first in points won returning first serve at 37%, (Federer is 7th winning 35%), he is 3rd and Federer is 5th converting 46% of their break points, and Nadal leads all players winning 57% of the points when returning the opponents second serve. In return games won, Nadal is first at 38% and Federer 9th at 31%. Well either Blake, Dent, or Ginepri need to work on their return games, if so, they may just migrate into these standings. In any event, it appears to be quite difficult to win points when serving to Nadal or Federer.
Within the serving categories, both Ginepri and Dent finally make an appearance. Roddick leads in aces with 774, Federer leads winning 60% of the points on his second serve (remember the saying – “You are only as good as your second serve.”) and in this category Ginepri is 6th winning 55% of these points. On service games won Roddick leads at 92%, on first serve points won and Dent is 5th at 79%.
Andy Roddick rebounded from the US Open with his clutch five set win over Oliver Rochus to clinch the recent Davis Cup against Belgium. Always a fighter, always supporting the American team, he is our “Go To” guy. And we couldn't have a better role model for our aspiring youth. That said, I wish Andy could step just the slightest distance away from the endorsement picture, and fly under that radar as it were. I was totally uncomfortable with the Mojo advertisement, for whereas I found it thoroughly entertaining, at the same time, I doubt how an athlete can stand even the slightest distraction when competing for the big prize. Perhaps the money was the ultimate seduction, but his game is not at all prepossessing enough to even suggest he is infallible. For from where I sit it, is not at all about his Mojo, but rather his suspect backhand, his awkward court positioning, and a forehand that may be big but is not at all as accurate as his peers. He shows us he is ambitious and willing to work, now, Andy, lets see you assemble a game.
The Roddick forehand is big but is it as accurate as his peers?
James Blake had a magnificent Open, and what a story. Overcoming health issues, a broken neck, losing his father to stomach cancer and then when he beats Rafael Nadal on center court, with the biggest of smiles he tells the audience, and especially the kids out there, “If you have a dream it is all about the work.” Well, in the semis against Agassi, I couldn't ever decide who to root for. Agassi was on the ropes but Blake was unable to close in the third, and then serving at 5-4 in the fifth James stumbled yet again. Agassi was a formidable test, the match came down to only inches on a few shots here and there, and he comes to the next level when he closes the big one. Massive forehand, just incredible court movement without the hint of defense; his is a class act with every move and gesture. Good for you James!
Robbie Ginepri won a super series event in Indianapolis and then arrived at Flushing Meadow full of confidence. Agassi narrowly beat him in five sets in the quarterfinals, but it appears Robbie has found his game. Muscular, standing in rather than behind the baseline (take note of this Andy), his attacking style doesn't have the same margins as Agassi, but I suspect we will see more from him. He had outstanding wins in New York over Coria at 7-5 in the fifth and over Gasquet at 6-0 in the fifth. This year he has notched wins over Roddick, Blake, Haas and Safin.
At thirty five, Andre Agassi still had more to give than Blake or Ginepri.
And Taylor Dent has been pushing just as well. He played Lleyton Hewitt down to the wire losing 7-5 in the fifth, but has notched impressive wins this year over Safin, Hewitt, Ginepri, and Nalbandian. This big serve and volleyer continues to mature, for the nuances of this game differ from the style and strategy of the backcourt grinders.
Of these three, I like Dent's chances the best. Watching Taylor beat Marat Safin in Indian Wells, it appears that absent Tim Henman, the guys are just not getting enough practice returning and passing, so that Dent brings a game they seldom see. Further, remembering how Sampras could smother an opponent with constant net rushing behind his serve, I think Taylor can learn to do the same. But those of you who read these columns certainly must note how often I go out on a limb, and here I have done it yet again. Can't help myself.
Andre Agassi – he won me over many years ago in the semifinals of the Australian Open beating Sampras in five sets, having lost the fourth set at love in the tiebreaker. His charisma, his honesty, and his considerable personal charm illuminate the entire professional tour. Agassi is the spokesman, he is the CEO, the Chairman of the Board. He will be poised, if he so desires, to remake the ATP or perhaps any other aspect of the game of tennis if and when he ever stops playing. But darn it, with the slightest adjustment in his serve (and it is never too late) I think he could just have the tiniest additional edge. Look closely at the instant after contact on the serve, you see the wrist flexed in a snapping forward and down manner, where at a similar moment with Pete or Roger the wrist is not at all flexed but rather the forearm is more turned. I am never sure Andre gets the free points on his serve in the biggest moments. In this latter motion there is slightly more pop (as forearm rotation has more range of motion than wrist flexion) and equally much more disguise.
Can anyone beat Federer on hard courts?
Finally, Roger is yet again on center stage. Somehow his average game is so darn good, opponents are struggling to stay even as Federer simply idles. Nalbandian is up 4-2 in the second set, he mangles two successive underspin backhands from inside the baseline and before you know it Roger wins 10 of the next 11 games. Lleyton is playing him close, sort of, and then falls at love in the pivotal third set tiebreaker. And finally, in the finals Roger appears strangely subdued, under spinning the backhand and all the time McEnroe is wondering either when he will step in or to this point why he hasn't. Then magically in the third set tiebreaker he topspins two backhand service return winners, snatches the tiebreaker 7-1 and cruises in the fourth set. He is beatable, but rarely. Somehow the opponent knows they must play “perfect tennis.” And that in itself may be the biggest source of pressure. Knowing on every point they must thread the needle, never able to relax, never really getting a rhythm. He controls the tempo, he controls the geometry, and he is the hammer to his opponents nail – always the actor never the receiver.
Can anyone beat Federer on hard courts? Safin did it at the Australian Open, perhaps with the assist of a match point tweener. But when someone can challenge him on hard courts (and I know I stuck my neck out that Nadal might be getting close) it will occur when that player can return serve as simply as he does, when that player can patrol the baseline with as much skill as when moving forward, and play with a mental resilience we haven't really seen in some time. Boy I love this game.
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(Click link to purchase Jim's McLennan's Secrets of World Class Footwork Video.)
ProStrokes Gallery: David Nalbandian - Forehand
This Argentinean has had many stellar performances. Nalbandian wins on versatility, on a balanced game, on excellent movement, and primarily on shot selection and smarts. Rather than a big forehand or blistering serve, he is known for excellent court position and a counter punchers knack. Simple grips, simple strokes, there is much to admire here.
Dent and Federer – Contrasting Service Deliveries
Taylor Dent is throwback to the style of Patrick Rafter or Stefan Edberg. He chips and charges, he serves and volleys, concluding nearly every point at the net. It's a game rarely seen on the tour these days and it is certainly effective. But Jim McLennan sees a number of ways he can improve and he compares the dent serve to Roger Federer's. See what you think.
Basics to Build On
Certain mechanics should be built into a player's muscle memory. They include hitting out in front, making the ball rise (so it clears the net), hitting through the ball, and controlling the backswing. Novice and intermediate players should pay attention to these basics as they explore more complex things, like balance and timing, power hitting, and concentration. Rolf Clark
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