Three Takes on Wimbledon 2006
The Tale of the Tape
At any level of the game, whether recreational or professional, “You are only as good as your second serve.” And at the height of their games, both John McEnroe and Pete Sampras had incredible second serves – deceptive, accurate, and fearless. Somehow these details are obscured when we marvel at the pace of the big first serves and those who serve them (including Roddick), but when it comes down to crunch time, it is all about placing the ball heavily into the corners on the second serve when the chips are down. As Nadal progressed through the Wimbledon fortnight we all saw an improved serve, but in hindsight it was the second serve that told the story in the finals.
Federer was making a statement as he opened the match with a near perfect first set. 14 of 15 first serves, 6 break points and three breaks, and this against a man who had played nine consecutive sets without a break point against serve, and who had only dropped two service games in the previous six matches. But as the match wore on, they battled on nearly even terms, with second and third set tiebreakers, close enough that it could have been Roger in straight sets, or Nadal leading two sets to one.
The fourth set was about basic grass court tennis – all the games relatively close, but where Roger avoided break points on his own serve (early in the set) Nadal got into trouble twice and paid for it on both occasions. With two breaks in hand, Federer served for the championship at 5-1 and was broken, and I truly cannot ever remember a champion serving for a championship and having been broken, certainly that has not occurred during any of Federer’s previous title runs (nor did it ever occur with Sampras or Borg serving for the title). Federer regrouped on his second try and served out the match at 5-3, but this slight chink in the armor spoke volumes about Nadal’s effect on the Federer’s psyche.
That said the following stats truly tell the tale of the match.
Winning % on 1st Serve: Federer - 63 of 82 = 77%, Nadal - 64 of 94 = 68%
(Federer served fewer first serves, Nadal actually won one more point, but overall, this is just a swing of 9 percentage points)
Winning % on 2nd Serve: Federer - 21 of 37 = 57%, Nadal - 14 of 33 = 42%
(Federer is 15 percentage points more than Nadal)
Average 1st Serve Speed: Federer - 116 mph, Nadal - 113 mph
(Not much difference here)
Average 2nd Serve Speed: Federer - 101 mph, Nadal - 88 mph
(13 mph difference here)
McEnroe continued to remark about Nadal’s “learning curve” and how quickly he adapted his ground game to the demands of the grass court. And though his first serve was particularly impressive throughout the tournament, I am fairly sure his brain trust is now hard at work on the second serve – for more speed, accuracy, deception, and confidence to go for the corners on the big points. I am sure Roger is taking notice. In the meantime, are you working on your second serve delivery?
A Battle for Supremacy and a Place in History
For those who doubted Rafael Nadal’s ability to play on grass, this year's Wimbledon final must have certainly put those doubts to rest. Plain and simple Nadal can run and hit a tennis ball. Be it clay, grass, or hardcourt, the kid still runs and hits - lights out. Like Borg who proved the same point more than two decades ago, an extreme grip and more spin does not change that fact. His improved serve and adjusted court positioning have made him more than a legitimate threat on any surface. And don’t think Federer wasn’t keenly aware of this fact throughout the entire match.
On a court that looked like a parched desert in some forbidden war zone, the match assumed almost mythological proportions - two epic warriors vying for their place in history. The finals had an eerie, déjà vu start to it. Federer served with power and precision while Nadal struggled to find his form - shimmying like a high strung race horse in the starting blocks. After the bagel was digested Nadal got down to business and promptly handed Federer notice that he intended to serve up his familiar diet of punishing groundies and wide sweeping serves. Anyone who had seen the French final could not help but wonder if they were witnessing some time and space aberration.
Federer missed a couple of early chances to break back at 2-1 in the second and Nadal adamantly closed him out. Nadal crushed a first serve winner to open his serve at 4-3 while Federer shook his head in seeming acknowledgment, resignation, and disbelief at the turn of events. “This can’t be happening again” one could almost hear him mutter. Nadal held at love to go up 5-3, with hardly a whimper from Federer.
With Nadal serving for the set he faltered, and ironically, it was Federer’s will that saved him. However it was not his iron will but his decision to relinquish his conviction that saves him. As he went down in the French, determined to win on his own terms by slugging it out with Nadal toe to toe, so went the second set at Wimbledon. In the waning moments of the second set he finally gave up trying to hit out on his backhand wing, a strategy that many questioned at Roland Garros. Settling for a few deftly chipped backhands that Nadal mishandled on the forehand side, Federer slid rather whipped his way back to a life. The same formula turned to his advantage at 3 all in the tiebreaker.
In the third set both players protected their serves. In a scintillating tiebreak punctuated by numerous left handed fist pumps and shouts of “VAMOS!!” Nadal seized the breaker, the set, and the momentum. But after a break, Federer returned to the court in a relaxed calm. His serve was in perfect form, his forehand lashed the corners, and his backhand was a steady reply of measured control. Free from the concern of finding a backhand to match the power of Nadal, Federer seemed able to release the full potency of his dazzling arsenal. Federer roamed freely and generously around his backhand to unleash slashing forehand winners, which finally dismantled Nadal. Serving at 1-4. 30-40 Nadal, fearing that Federer may be running around his backhand return, decided to go up the middle on his second serve. The gamble proved fatal. Federer was seeing things so clearly at this point and he calmly and lethally disposed of it for the break.
Still Nadal would not go away quietly and after a momentary slip by Federer on serve and a valiant surge from Nadal, we were reminded by both players that winning this match was not to be taken for granted by anyone. Federer on his second attempt to serve out the match, managed to hold his form as Nadal finally succumbed to the assault.
In the final analysis it was Federer’s willingness to admit his own limitations that finally won him the day. At the French he was determined to match Nadal’s power with power. His backhand simply could not weather that beating and that conviction took the rest of his game down in the process. Whether the surface made the difference or not, this time Federer adjusted at the most critical time by being content to slice his backhand to set up his forehand. This seemed to steady his mind, his nerve, and his game. Still, victory was always in doubt and at the end Federer, along with the entire audience, seemed not to know whether to laugh, to cry, to shout or to rejoice. Clearly this battle is not over - and the outcome is still in doubt. One thing we do know is that Roger has won four Wimbledon titles in a row and his place in history is there for all to admire.
Federer’s Crystal Ball
On a surface that has been considered home-turf to a select number of players over the last three decades, Roger Federer joins the ranks of such greats as Boris Becker, Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras in making the lawns of the All England Club his home, having won his fourth consecutive Wimbledon title, this time over Rafael Nadal.
In almost all his matches, regardless of round or opponent, Federer maintains an inner calmness, a sense of confidence that is expressed without expression. It reflects what I call ‘crystal ball’ awareness, a purveyor of wisdom in which he alone is privy to. I mean, if you already know that you are going to win a match ahead of time, you would not go through the theatrics of anger, frustration, or fear during the match. Federer seems to play tennis as if he knows the outcome.
In the Wimbledon final against Nadal, Roger dominated on the faster surface early on, establishing an all-court game plan that left little doubt who was the better player. However, as the match progressed, you could see Nadal gaining a feel for the court, elevating his game to a level that paralleled Federer’s.
Unlike many players who favor one surface over another, Nadal seems to be gaining a feeling for grass, obviously moving through earlier rounds with little trouble. Like Federer, Nadal possesses a confident flair, a lack of panic, even when he was down two sets to none in the final.
The pair produced some scintillating tennis, points that featured drop shots and raw power, angles and aces, defense and offense. Anyone who has complained in the past that tennis was being played too fast and with little creativity, must retract such complaints after watching Wimbledon this year. The same could be said about the women’s final, one that featured drop shots, angles, and a mix of serve-and-volley with some laser-guided groundstrokes.
The ‘crystal ball’ concept I mentioned earlier is a mental philosophy that I use to encourage my own students to play within this calm sense portrayed by Nadal and Federer. The idea is to play tennis as if you have a magic crystal ball which has shown you your future…a future where you come out on top in any given match. If indeed one had such an object that could reveal the future, a player with such knowledge would not panic or show much emotion, positive or negative. They would already know ahead that they are going to win. Such a belief would allow a player to play tennis within a calm, relaxed mind set. And, that is exactly how I would describe both Nadal’s and Federer’s on-court demeanor. In fact, you can look at other past champions who expressed similar mental patterns: Borg, Sampras, Agassi, Edberg, and even players like Becker, Laver, and Ashe, all maintained a steely mind set, seldom exhibiting mental meltdowns.
Competitive and recreational players can learn from this technique. Too many players exhibit some element of panic when they find themselves falling behind in a match. However, if players maintain composure, maintain an aura of confidence, one that says, "Hey, it doesn’t matter I’m behind…I know I will win," these players will have the best chance to change the momentum of a match and turn a potential loss into a win. Sure, it won’t guarantee a win, but it does provide the vehicle to make such a come-from-behind win possible.
Stroke for stroke, I don’t think Federer had any more weaponry than Nadal. Experience was the deciding factor at Wimbledon. And even as Nadal had a 6 to 1 head-to-head advantage over Federer, Roger has 8 Slam Championships and 38 career singles titles compared to 2 Slams and 17 career singles titles for Nadal. Yet, I expect to see Nadal continue to improve and mature. At this point, he seems to have the best chance to push Federer and, perhaps replace him as #1 in the very near future.
I wonder if Roddick, Blake, Fish, and a few other America men and women could learn from this? Now, where did I put my crystal ball?
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.
Return of Serve- Preparation Phase
In this installment of his groundbreaking Cutting Edge video series, Heath Waters examines the fundamental commonalities of the best service returners in the world including Andre Agassi and Justine Henin-Hardenne. He then delineates the reference points you should achieve in order to build a world class service return of your own.
First Things First – Timing When to Move
Tennis, at its base, is a game of movement, a dance with the ball. But just as no two shots are identical, the tempo and types of steps will vary with each and every shot. The good dancers do this easily, they move quickly, or in many instances they hardly move at all. The art is in knowing when to move, when to wait, when to anticipate. The best players make this look easy. Jim McLennan explains.
T1 Super Slow-Mo™ Videos - Juan Carlos Ferrero
The 26 year old Spaniard has earned over 10 million dollars during his career. Nick named the "Mosquito" due to his speed and wiry, strong physique, Juan Carlos Ferrero was the 21st player to hold the World No. 1 ATP singles ranking in the open era. The 2003 French Open champion is currently ranked 27th. Check out his strokes in T1 Super Slow-Mo™ Video only on TennisOne.
Virtual Tennis Academy
Current professional tour coach, Heath Waters and wife, top 100 and former no. 33 in the world ranked tour player, Lindsay Lee-Waters, are proud to release the first predominantly all streaming video based e-learning tennis instructional website at www.virtualtennisacademy.com
Subscribers will receive personal video tennis instruction directly from Heath and Lindsay as well as mental coaching, sports performance training, and much, more from a hand chosen team of experts currently working with professional tennis players on tour. Now anyone in the world, no matter what level, can receive the same world class training the world's best tennis players receive right from the convenience of their own home.
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.
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement