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Did Garcia-Lopez Prove our Point?
At the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships two weeks ago, I watched a very intriguing practice session between Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Mathias Bachinger. While sitting on the bleachers next to the practice court, I was getting as excited as a child on his way to get ice cream. Both players were hitting the ball so technically perfect and with such ease and power that my jaw literally fell to the floor. But what was even more astounding was that each player was ranked barely inside the top 100.
How could this be possible? Each player has an arsenal of top 10 tennis strokes, but an ATP World Tour ranking of 93 and 94. After a lengthy conversation with my good friend and fellow tennis professional, Allan Van Nostrand, I wrote an article entitled "The Talent Flaw," where we decided to look at what separates those who are very talented and consistently successful, from those who are very talented and only sometimes successful. Through my discourse with Allan, we agreed that there is not one specific recipe for developing top 10 players. We also came to the conclusion that players who rely on their talent alone tend to lack in other facets of the game. These types of players are flawed. Or, more specifically suffer from the “Talent Flaw.”
What a difference a couple of weeks can make. On February 27th, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez lost in straight sets to the 67th ranked player in the world, Xavier Malisse, in the first round of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships. Only twelve days later, he was able to defeat the number 4 player in the world, Andy Murray, in straight sets at Indian Wells. What happened in such a short period of time to achieve this fantastic result? And, why can’t players just “flip a switch” and perform better whenever they want to?
I hope some of you got a chance to watch the match live like I did, or perhaps the replay Sunday morning and were able to notice the magnificence in Garcia-Lopez that initially caught my eye. In my honest opinion, Murray did not play poorly. Garcia-Lopez simply outplayed him. He showed the same incredible mixture of power and control that was on display at the Delray Beach practice courts. But most importantly, he kept it together mentally.
I have seen similar matches go the other way. So often the lower-ranked player will dominate during the first set, only to unravel in the second because they are unable to maintain the same high level of play as the pressure mounts. It happens all the time, but great players are always able to weather the storm. Agassi was the master of weathering the storm. Opponents would get so pumped up to play him and bring their "A-Game" early in the match, but Agassi, like the great champion he was, would keep his cool knowing his opponent would not be able to maintain that high level of play. And more often than not, he was right – his opponents would eventually self-destruct. Next time you take a look at a draw sheet, check out the score difference between the first and second set of Djokovic's, Nadal's, and Federer's early round matches when playing much lower-ranked players. You will see that pattern repeat itself.
The truth is that I was torn during the entire match because Andy Murray's coach, Ivan Lendl, is a close friend of mine. Plus, I had just spoken to him on the phone only a few hours before the match. I really wanted Andy to win to help him on his quest to become more consistently successful. But on the other hand, a win by Garcia-Lopez would prove my essential point, that there is very little separation in ability between a top 10 player and a player ranked inside the top 100.
From the get-go, Garcia-Lopez came out matching Murray stroke-for-stroke; winning most of the long rallies and hanging on to produce the only break of serve, taking the first set 6-4. But on this day at least, Garcia-Lopez did not fall into the trap by letting his foot of the gas. Instead he showed even more mental toughness by breaking Murray's serve in the first game of the second set.
Both announcers were waiting for Garcia-Lopez's wheels to fall off, especially when Murray had a few break points early in the second set and in the closing moments of the match. To be honest I did too. A friend of mine, tennis professional Tom Allsopp, also thought that there was no chance that Garcia-Lopez could keep that up such a high level of play. Needless to say we were all wrong, and Garcia-Lopez finished out the match by holding his serve “at love.” In the final moments, Garcia-Lopez displayed the variables needed to be a true top ten player, and avoided showing any signs of the common curse – being afraid to win.
Andy Murray is a great player but Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic rarely lose to low ranked players.
So, did he capture lightning in a bottle for that one night only? Or, would he be able to repeat it over and over? History was not on his side.
The next round did in fact reveal who Garcia-Lopez really is and showed us that raw talent can only take you so far.
Unfortunately reality reared its ugly head during his next match against the 72nd ranked player, the up-and-coming, Ryan Harrison. Garcia-Lopez started the match on fire, breaking Harrison in the opening game and had a chance at a double-break in the third game. In short, he began the match by playing in the same fashion he exhibited against Murray – as if to prove the Murray win was no fluke.
Unfortunately his stellar play was short-lived. This may be attributed in part to Harrison’s aggressive style of play. But I feel it was mostly due to the many unforced errors he committed, even on simple, routine shots. Missing sitters and easy shots can weigh on a player’s focus and confidence. How many times do you see Federer or Nadal miss an easy put-away?
The magic was gone; I could see it, and I am sure Garcia-Lopez could feel it. He had opportunities to win the first set, but never took advantage of them. He had a game point to hold serve at 4-3, and sent a routine forehand long, only to get broken two points later and effectively let Harrison back in the set. It was clear he had lost command of his game, or should I say, the game he had against Murray. His confidence was gone and there was no way he was going to get it back, at least on that particular night.
Click photo: Ryan Harrison is a talented young player and a Federer or a Nadal would never take him lightly.
Clearly Garcia-Lopez has the raw talent, but talent is just one of the many attributes needed to be a consistent top ten player. His mindset entering the two matches was so completely different. Against Murray, there was no pressure on him; no expectations; he had nothing to lose; he was relaxed and composed. But against Harrison, he got a first hand look at what every top ten player faces day in and day out: the pressure of being the favorite. Every time a top ten player steps on the court, he is facing an underdog who also has dreams of reaching the top ten player. Garcia-Lopez entered the match with a much different psychological perspective than in his match against Murray. Rather than having the fight and desire to knock off the more accomplished player as he did with Murray, he seemed to have the mindset that everything should be given to him because he was the favorite and that he didn’t really need to work hard in order to get a win over Harrison.
Garcia-Lopez eventually cracked under this pressure. He couldn't back up his“A+ Performance” with another “A+ Performance” the way the game's best do so consistently. Clear winners two nights earlier turned into unforced errors under pressure and he simply lost the belief in his own capability and with it a certain command over his own skill-set. When a player does not feel “it” and does not 100% believe it, most likely, is not going to be his day.
Make no mistake, Garcia-Lopez was still able to show some flashes of brilliance during the second set, but in the end he could not recapture the magic of the Murray match. Great players, as Allan and I talked about, are masters of keeping their games at the same high-level of play every day, every time they step on a tennis court.
So what did Garcia-Lopez show us? To be honest, his performances have not really given us a whole lot of new information. He mostly just seemed to confirm what we had already believed. First, that any player inside the top 100 has the raw talent and ability to take out a top ten player on any given day. But, it takes more than just raw talent and ability to be consistently successful.
So, this brings us back to what we asked earlier. Why was Garcia-Lopez able to be so great one day, and only half as great two days later? How does a player who has all the natural talent and ability anyone could ever ask for break himself from the “talent flaw?” That certainly is the million-dollar question isn’t it? I suppose that it is time for another brainstorming session with Allan…
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The Drive in the Modern Game
Players like Federer and Djokovic are hitting the ball flatter and harder than ever before. It's often said that these players hit through the ball and really penetrate the court with their groundstrokes. Here, Doug King takes a closer look at this concept of driving the ball, the balance between forward motion and the amount of spin necessary to bring the ball back down into the court, and what that means in the modern game of tennis.
The Forehand Groundstroke and the Lag
Christophe Delavaut takes a close look at the forehand groundstroke and all its aspects including the unit turn, dropping the racquet into the slot, the double bend position, and the rhythm of the stroke. But more specifically, Christophe focuses on the "lag," the way the wrist impacts this stroke and helps to produce the kind of effortless power we see among the pros.
ProStrokes 2.0 — Alisa Kleybanova, Forehand
This Jovial and talented Russian girl first joined the tour at 2003 at the age of fourteen, and won the first ITF tournament she entered. But it was in 2010 that she really began to have an impact, reaching her highest WTA world ranking at No. 20 in February of 2011. Alisa has won two WTA tournaments and eleven on the ITF tour. However, on July 14, 2011 it was revealed that Alisa had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. After undergoing treatment for almost eight months, Alisa announced that she has successfully completed her treatment and has started training in Florida. She will launch her comeback at the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami as a wildcard into the main draw.
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