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The Boys of Summer
Ambivalence is my watchword for the summer tennis circuit, now known as the Olympus US Open Series. On the one hand, much of the tennis that’s played is spectacular. The players by now are well-seasoned, the hardcourts favor many playing styles and the ambition to make a go at the year’s final Slam is exceptional.
Don’t count on seeing these titans play more than two events in
North America this summer.
While that’s the good news, the bad news is that in many ways summer is a time of scattered focus. For the very best, such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, pragmatism carries the day. Don’t count on seeing these titans play more than two events in North America. For others such as Americans Andy Roddick, James Blake, Mardy Fish and Sam Querrey, it’s a feeding frenzy, a high-intensity quest to earn ranking points and get in just the right kind of shape for a run at the US Open. And then there are those such as Nikolay Davydenko, Tommy Haas, David Nalbandian and even, yes, still, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt – superb players who will waver in and out of these events due to injuries, distractions, and even garden-variety burnout.
There were times when the U.S. summer circuit compelled serious drama – and a coherent narrative of sorts. In the wake of getting crushed in the 1978 Wimbledon final by Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors vowed to chase his Swedish rival “to the ends of the earth” and waged jihad-like crusade that summer, capping it off with a win over Borg at that year’s US Open. Guillermo Vilas, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Andre Agassi all waged major summer campaigns in pursuit of Grand Slam glory.
Jimmy Connors vowed to chase his Swedish rival “to the ends of the earth”
But in large part, Lendl’s ultra-pragmatic focus on Slam results diminished the importance of the summer. Pete Sampras picked up Lendl’s baton. Never was this more vivid than in 1995. That summer Agassi tour his way through the summer season, winning 26 straight matches on his way to the US Open final. While Agassi earned four titles, Sampras won zero. But it was Sampras who had the last word that year in New York, eliminating Agassi in four sets.
Ivan Lendl’s ultra-pragmatic focus on Slam results diminished the importance of the summer.
The Lendl-Sampras model has thrown a chill into the summer, concurrently blunting and deregulating the competitive landscape at such fine events as the Canadian Open, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Meanwhile, smaller events such as Los Angeles and Washington sing for their supper in their quest to attract marquee players and create an engaging atmosphere for fans who are also fully aware how puny these tournaments have become. And don’t get me started on the Olympics, which have thrown a monkey wrench into the entire summer – an event that may be great for tennis’ worldwide development but is hardly of consequence in the narrative of the professional year.
So past this history-sociology lesson, what can we expect from the players this summer? To me, the real action in the men’s game is in the 3-20 range. Novak Djokovic, enduring a bit of a hiccup this summer, has a perfect game for hardcourt tennis and likely wants to reassert himself as worthy of elite status. Ditto with even more urgency for Roddick, who months ago announced he was skipping the Olympics and zeroing in on the North American hardcourt season.
While it’s true that his management firm owns the Washington event he’ll be playing in, Roddick’s overt ambitions are admirable. I think he’s aware that the Olympics is but a sideshow and at this stage of his career he needs as much top-notch match play as possible. It’s been five years since he won his first and only Slam title at the ’03 US Open. The world is quite aware of Roddick’s technical limitations – most notably on the backhand and in the transition game – so how Roddick manages his way through all this is to me the most interesting story of the summer.
It’s been five years since Roddick won his first and only Slam title at the ’03 US Open.
For as others go, Federer and Nadal will be in a holding pattern until the US Open. It’s of little concern how each plays in Toronto and Cincinnati. On the other hand, contenders such as Davydenko, David Ferrer, Nalbandian, Richard Gasquet, Nicolas Almagro, Radek Stepanek, Fernando Gonzalez can all make big waves this summer. Pondering each of these players, it’s refreshing to look at them with a sharp eye and realize that contemporary tennis is not as monochromatic as some would believe. Each of these players has a distinctive, engaging playing style. I have a personal soft spot for Stepanek’s disruptive attacking game, but there’s much to also commend about Davydenko’s counterpunching skill, Ferrer’s movement Gasquet’s backhand, Nalbandian’s all-court prowess and Gonzalez’ staggering power.
So again, the tennis itself will be engaging. What’s uncertain is how much any of that will matter at the U.S. Open. The balancing act between sharpening the competitive knife without dulling it as an extraordinarily inexact science.
(next: The Wild, Wild Women’s World)
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The Big Dipper
There are a few shots in tennis that can define a player as “having made it". That is to say, they have moved out of mediocre levels and into true "shot-making" levels of play. One such shot is the big dipping topspin forehand or backhand. Yes, this is the fast-dipping, high ball rotation topspin that can make opponents look foolish and can take a player like Rafael Nadal all the way to a Wimbledon championship. Dave Smith shows you how to hit it.
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Whether you agree it was the greatest match ever played or one great match among many, this year's Wimbledon final was riveting. Yet another of our TennisOne writers, Paul Fein, weighs in on this extraordinary match, analyzing it from a statistical vantage point. But even Paul admits, some things can’t be measured in numbers alone. No stat can adequately capture the breathtaking shot making throughout this classic event.
TennisOne Video Network HD Channel -- Richard Gasquet
Richard Gasquet's signature shot is the one-handed topspin backhand -- classic form from start to finish. He holds his racquet close to his body with the racquet head directly above his hand as he turns well away from the ball and we can clearly see both of his shoulder blades as he steps classically forward onto the right foot, swinging the racquet head well below his knee before accelerating up and into the hit. Left arm swings back nicely, ala Federer or Edberg, and the follow through is truly magnificent.
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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