Living in a World of Clay
We live in a world dominated by clay court players. Just look at the Top 10 of the year-end 2008 ATP rankings. At least 7 of them grew up on clay. This is down from 8 at the end of 2007. In fact, as you look back at the ATP Top 10 year-end rankings since their inception in 1973, an astounding 83% grew up playing on the dirt. The message is unambiguous. Want champions? Make sure they train and play matches on clay.
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A New Grip on Life for Federer
Executed properly, the drop shot is a tennis connoisseur’s delight. Predicated on the effectiveness and fear created by sustained depth and pace, exquisite in its ability to befuddle opponents and either win the point outright or create an engaging opening, until recently no less a tennis genius than Roger Federer thought the drop shot a poor refuge, a choice of last resort deployed simply to bail out of a point rather than put in the hard work necessary to actually earn it. At some level, of course, Federer is right. In certain hands the drop shot is as seductive, addictive, and dangerous as crack cocaine.
But perhaps it was his embrace of this shot during Roland Garros that helped Federer win his first French Open – and in the process, complete the career Grand Slam, tie Pete Sampras’ mark of 14 singles majors and, quite likely, emphatically make the case for himself as the greatest tennis player in history (7-13 record versus Rafael Nadal be damned).
I asked my colleague and former pro, Justin Gimelstob why it was harder to execute a forehand drop shot than one off the backhand. His response, “The grip change is harder.”
Working at Roland Garros for Tennis Channel, I have the opportunity to gain tons of insights from a variety of analysts. As I watched highlights of Federer using his drop shot in several matches, I asked my colleague, Justin Gimelstob why it was harder to execute a forehand drop shot than one off the backhand.
“Grip change,” said Gimelstob. “The grip change is harder.”
And of course, without pushing a pun, it seemed as Roland Garros commenced that Federer was the one who had lost his grip. A thorough physical and mental breakdown in the fifth set of the Australian Open final, odd walkabouts throughout the spring – including a shattered racket – and even a win over a weary Rafael Nadal in the Madrid final did little to make me think that Federer would have the goods to snap up the one Slam that had eluded him.
To call Nadal the odds-on favorite at this year’s French Open was an understatement. But then – and this is the reason why sports can be so alluring – an odd thing happened.
When Robin Soderling took out Nadal in the round of 16, all the pressure shifted to Federer.
His name was Robin Soderling, that rare creature: an unlikable Swede. Not only is Soderling generally despised by his peers, he has a specifically hostile connection to Nadal, going back to a rain-delayed match the two played at Wimbledon two years ago that culminated in Soderling mimicking Nadal. And though Nadal won that match and in Rome earlier this spring blitzed Soderling 6-1, 6-0, an odd form of passivity overtook Nadal in their round of 16 match.
The Spaniard at heart is a happy warrior, a man who lives for the fight but can then embrace an opponent. But Soderling is a different beast, a man Nadal doesn’t like – which then turns the business of tennis into something far more personal. Armchair psychology aside, my feeling as this match unfolded and Soderling cracked winners was that Nadal was waiting more for Soderling to start missing rather than push the issue. Instead, it was Soderling who kept pressing, Nadal resorting to his old-style defense too much for his own good.
And of course, the benefactor was Federer. As Federer said at his post-finals press conference, “I knew the day Rafa won't be in the finals, I will be there and I will win. I always knew and that I believed in it. That's exactly what happened. It's funny. I didn't hope for it, but I believed in it.”
After Rafa, Soderling crushed Davydenko (right) then took out Gonzalez in an epic
But for significant patches of this Slam win, Federer’s belief wasn’t apparent in his play. Jose Acasuso served at 5-1 to go up two sets to love. Federer served down two sets to love and 3-4, 15-40 versus Tommy Haas, at 30-40 striking a clutch inside-out forehand he’ll never forget.
In the semis Juan Martin Del Potro muscled his way to a two sets to one lead before Federer took charge. What was clear in these matches – for better or worse – was that Federer is one of the world’s best claycourt players because of his sound defensive skills such as movement, balance, and ability to alter pace, spin and, with delight through this year’s French, deploy the drop shot. Never more than on clay is the contrast between Federer and Sampras more vivid. If the upside is that Federer now holds that precious trophy, the downside is the kind of passivity that can be attacked – easier said than done, of course.
To Soderling’s credit, he stayed right on course after beating Nadal. In a surprising result, he annihilated Nikolay Davydenko, the Russian looking more like a man from the ‘90s than someone who as recently as March had been ranked number five in the world. In the semis he blew a two sets to love lead versus Fernando Gonzalez only to get down 1-4, 15-30 in the fifth before making a superb comeback.
Despite struggling in the early rounds, without Rafa standing in his way, the final was business as usual for Federer.
But by the time Soderling took the court for the finals, all was different. There was his fellow Swede, six-time French champ Bjorn Borg, peering at him like some retired CEO of a multi-national. There was Andre Agassi, waiting to give out the trophy to the winner ten years after he’d completed the career Slam. And finally, of course, there was Federer, the cobwebs largely gone. For Federer, it was business as usual, his 18th Slam final – and the only one he’d lost had come versus Nadal. It was Soderling’s first, and hard to say even given this fine run if it would be his last.
Subtly, Federer did indeed make his share of changes, altering his tactics, looking for new ways to win points – methods that hopefully will surface at Wimbledon and beyond over the next five years of his career. He intends to compete at the 2012 London Olympics – an effort that by then will hardly make a dent one way on another on his remarkable resume.
In the short term, it’s a shame this wasn’t a final between Federer and Nadal. That surely was the dream matchup Federer dreamed of, where at last he could take vengeance and earn the one jewel missing in his massive crown. But in the long term – as in a month from now – it will scarcely matter. Tennis history is filled with cases of champions who benefited from the exit of a significant rival. Having each won one Slam this year, Federer and Nadal will hopefully chase each other all the way through to the US Open.
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Defining Your Own Game Style
All court player, serve-and-volleyer, aggressive baseliner, or counter-puncher – watching the French open, one can't help but notice the different playing styles of the pros and how they use a particular style to get the most out of their games. Players develop an identity while on court that influences their shot selection, how they go about setting up points, and what types of exchanges they want to get into with their opponents. In short, understanding your style of play and recognizing that of your opponent can help you win. So, what kind of player are you? Dan McCain
Two Types of Volleyers
At the club level, there are two types of volleyers, the finesse volleyer and the power volleyer. The finesse volleyer places the ball, keeps you off balance, and generally makes you feel uncomfortable on the court. The power volleyer, is the one we like to imitate most. He is always moving forward and looking to end the point with one stroke. Ken DeHart explains the mind-set and technique behind each of these playing styles.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Stanislas Wawrinka Backhand
Stanislas Wawrinka, he of the elegant one-handed backhand, and stalwart of the Swiss Davis Cup team. Stanislas has been consistently ranked in the top twenty the past few years and in 2009 he has a win over Roger Federer in Monte Carlo, he played Nadal neck and neck, losing 6-7, 6-7 in Miami, and went down by the same score to Djokovic in Palm Springs. But revel in his beautiful backhand. He makes a turn to the eastern backhand grip and takes big swings at the ball. This is not the one-handed backhand chip but more like topspin backhands of old (think Edberg and Becker). New this issue, Stanislas Wawrinka's backhand.
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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