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The Summer Swing
To many casual fans of the sport, tennis seems to exist for only a few dazzling fortnights a year, appearing for the drama of the Grand Slams, and then disappearing again once the trophies have been handed out. Those who follow tennis with a little more interest, of course, know that it has one of the most grueling calendars of any sport.
To many casual fans of the sport, tennis seems to exist for only a few dazzling fortnights a year, appearing for the drama of the Grand Slams, and then disappearing again once the trophies have been handed out.
In the women’s tour, there are eight weeks in November and December in which there is no event scheduled, whether Grand Slam, WTA Tour or Fed Cup. In the men’s game, there are only five weeks off (if doing power-yoga sessions in a sauna or running sprints up Gil Reyes’ ‘magic mountain’ in Nevada count as time off…)
While, of course, no sane player would even think of trying to enter an event every possible week, there is in practice still very little time to recuperate or simply to relax at home. Most in the top 100 enter at least twenty tournaments a year, which in effect means no more than a week or so ‘off’ at any one time between January and November.
It is this intensity, often interrupted only by injury, that has led many of the top players to stay away from the optional events taking place at this time of the year, in the North American hard court swing.
The Olympus U.S. Open Series
Beginning on the 18th of July in Atlanta for the men and the following week at Stanford for the women, the Olympus U.S. Open Series ties together ten tournaments – ranging from the new (this year will be the first for the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina, August 21st -27th) to the old (the first edition of what is now the Rogers Cup in Toronto/Montreal was held in 1881 for men and 1892 for women).
The expressed purpose of forming the U.S. Open Series in 2004 was to encourage players to enter more events in the hard court swing, and also to help promote some of the smaller tournaments to the television networks. Players accumulate points corresponding to how well they perform in the Series, which culminates at the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows. Those with the most points at the end of it can gain a significant additional cash bonus from the sponsors.
Despite this generous incentive, the top six male players (fourteen of the top twenty) are scheduled to enter only the compulsory events of the next two months – the Masters at Montreal and Cincinnati and the U.S. Open itself.
What is the cause of this apparent boycott by those at the very pinnacle of the sport? The obvious answer is that these are the players who have had the most success – and therefore the most matches – over the last few months, and who are therefore most in need of a break and least in need of entering ATP 250 and 500 events other than as a warm-up. This, however, doesn’t entirely stack up when one considers that the top women do participate largely in the smaller events of the U.S. Open Series. Indeed, only two of the WTA’s top ten (Li and Schiavone) are not currently committed to playing either Stanford, San Diego, or New Haven. The argument that perhaps the top men aren’t playing because these days the top men aren’t American also fails by the same comparison.
Perhaps the reason the crème de la crème of the WTA Tour are entering more of the U.S. Open Series is simply that these tournaments are worth more points to them. The winner of each of the Stanford, San Diego, and New Haven Premier events will gain 470 points, while only Washington of the men’s ‘optional’ events is worth an equivalent amount.
When Agassi and Sampras won the Washington and Indianapolis events in 1991, they were worth a lot more points.
It is interesting to note that, twenty years ago, the ‘smaller’ tournaments in the men’s North American hard court swing were worth a great deal more in the race for the number one spot than they are today. The combined points for the Washington and Indianapolis events in 1991 (202 for Washington, won that year by Agassi; 339 for Indianapolis, won by Sampras) were worth more than the 532 awarded to Boris Becker for winning the Australian Open. Indeed, the maximum number of points available in the hard court swing up to but not including the U.S. Open (1529 in six tournaments) was more than those from Wimbledon and Roland Garros combined (1332 for the two). The names of some of the summertime hard court winners that year – Sampras, Agassi, Edberg, Lendl, Stich – are indicative of the greater importance these events once had.
Despite the absence of a few big names from some of the tournaments, the U.S. Open Series still promises to showcase some very high quality tennis. But is that all we can expect?
Historically, these next couple of months have been decisive in the race for the prestigious year-end number one ranking. To find the most dramatic recent example, cast your minds back a few years to the summer of 2003. At the end of the grass court season that year, Andre Agassi was still world number one. Close on his heels was French Open winner Juan-Carlos Ferrero, followed by recent first-time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer. Andy Roddick was a fairly distant sixth.
Click photo: In 2003, Andy Roddick launched himself explosively to the top of the game, winning at Indianapolis, Montreal, Cincinnati and at the U.S. Open
Though most observers already saw the signs of greatness in the young American, few could have predicted the way he launched himself so explosively to the top of the game that summer. Winning at Indianapolis, Montreal, Cincinnati and at the U.S. Open, Roddick accumulated 2290 ranking points, more than Agassi, Federer and Ferrero combined, and leapt to the front of the race. Despite a valiant effort in the indoor season, neither Federer nor Ferrero was able to prevent Roddick from moving on to claim his first and only year-end number one position.
Could something similar happen this year? The answer, on the men’s side, is probably no. World number one Novak Djokovic is obviously the form player (given he’s only lost once this year, that’s something of an understatement), and has fewer points to defend in the hard court season than either Nadal or Federer. Pretty much anything is possible with those two, of course, but Djokovic is a looking very formidable right now, and is unlikely to lose his new ranking.
The hierarchy on the women’s side, however, might be set for a big change. Current world number one Caroline Wozniacki has 2675 points to defend before the end of the U.S. Open, while maiden Grand Slam champions Li Na and Petra Kvitova have 385 and 165 points respectively. Sharapova and Azarenka are also both likely to gain ground as possible contenders. By the middle of September, there could be several women with a real chance of finishing as world number one.
Current world number one Caroline Wozniacki has 2675 points to defend before the end of the U.S. Open, so a change at the top is not unlikely.
There are a few other likely movements to watch out for over the summer. Former U.S. Open champion Juan-Martin Del Potro would be a fairly safe bet to return to the top ten, after having been sidelined with injury for most of last year. Also reasonably likely would be American number one Mardy Fish winning (I’m not going to make another remark about him netting, hooking or reeling in a title – he gets that enough) one of the three events he’s set to enter as top seed.
Don’t be surprised also if one of the game’s up and coming players joins the likes of Del Potro, Roddick and others in announcing their presence by winning or going deep at one of the ATP 250 and 500 or WTA Premier events. Canadian Milos Raonic, victor at San Jose earlier this year, looked good for this until his recent injury, but he’s not the only one of whom great things are anticipated. Beyond those on the rise, it’s worthwhile remembering the lesson David Nalbandian taught us last year, that you should never count out the ‘veterans’ – players like Lleyton Hewitt, for instance, still feel like there’s space in their trophy cabinets they need to fill, while the Williams sisters are both back and hungry after long spells out of the game.
Rankings may shift like planetary alignments, new stars may flare their nascent light with unexpected triumphs, while fading giants might remind us of their brilliance one last time. Whatever happens, put on your sunglasses and SPF, sit down and enjoy, because this promises to be an exciting summer of tennis.
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Petra Kvitova: Using the Wrist on the Forehand
At the club level, the use of the wrist on forehand groundstrokes is one of the most controversial and misunderstood concepts. This is because the pros appear to flick or roll the wrist on almost every shot. But looks can be deceiving. Seen in slow motion, the wrist can definitely play a part, but as Dave Smith points out, the pros maintain the integrity of the racquet face throughout the stroke, especially within the contact phase and so should you.
Building a Dependable Overhead
The overhead is one of the least practiced shots in tennis, but if you want to be proficient at the net, it is a shot you have to master. Here, WTA touring Coach, Mark Gellard, along with WTA tour player, Melinda Czink, teach you proper footwork patterns and take you through a very basic overhead drill using a neurodevelopmental sequence consisting of shadowing exercises, fed ball drills, and finally a live ball drill.
ProStrokes 2.0 – Li Na's Forehand
Li Na, the first Chinese tennis player to win a Grand Slam, is a product of both the Chinese Sports Federation training and her own. Li Na sports very well groomed strokes.She plays a conventional game and her two-handed backhand is definitely “model form.” She hits her forehand with both power and spin, something that helped her win on clay at the French this year. Under coach Michael Mortensen, Li Na improved her ability to move forward and take advantage of her strong ground game; She has excellent volley technique and is able to cover the net as well as she covers the back court.
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