Tennis friends, this one was as good as it gets. I am exhausted from watching the gentlemen’s final. I pull for both guys. I only want the play to reach the highest level where neither player “gives it” to the other. But I do have my favorites, and the drama of the fifth set had me standing through much of the last few games. There were, certainly, many stories at Wimbledon this year, including Venus Williams, Marion Bartoli, Serena Williams, Andy Roddick, Richard Gasquet, and Novak Djokovic. Close close matches, lost opportunities, incredible shot making, unbelievable court coverage, and in so many instances the final set(s) had as much to do with heart as it had to do with the tennis.
As Venus moved through the draw, and gained confidence, she finished unbelievably, looking and playing unbeatable tennis.
On the women’s side, at first Serena Williams took center stage, with an unbelievable (though rain aided) comeback win over Daniela Hantuchova while her sister struggled gamely but with less fanfare. Justine Henin stopped Serena in the next round, but Big Sister kept on going, seemingly improving with each match. In the quarters Venus dispatched Svetlana Kuznetsova 64, 63. In the semi finals Venus outplayed the rapidly improving Ana Ivanovic 62, 64. Ana had overcome multiple match points against her to defeat Nicole Vaidisova in the previous round. And in the finals Venus captured her fourth Wimbledon crown with a 64, 61 win over Marion Bartoli.
Marion Bartoli's two handed play off both wings reminded me of the great Monica Seles.
And a word here about self-confidence – defined in the dictionary as expectation of success. That is, an orientation about positive outcomes of future events. Venus entered the tournament seeded 23rd, having compiled an uneven record so far this year. Watching her closely at the Bank of the West tournament in Stanford, I have noticed Venus can be error prone on the forehand and on the serve. Not exactly major technical problems, but just the tendency for either or both of these shots to break down at random or critical moments. But as she moved through the draw, and gained confidence from each match, she finished unbelievably, looking and playing unbeatable tennis. It is that “confidence thing.” The same could be said for Serena’s performance at the Australian Open, and equally of the unexpected third set drubbing of Justine Henin by the up and coming Marion Bartoli. And how nice to be reminded of the two handed play off both wings of Monica Seles.
And what of the gentlemen’s event? Novak Djokovic is now the real deal, and having now moved to number three in the world rankings. Calm, poised, deliberate and with, as John McEnroe noted, “a backhand so simple nothing can go wrong (more on that later). After a four set victory over Lleyton Hewitt and then an amazing five set win over Marcos Baghdatis, he had little left for his semifinal with Nadal.
Click Photo: In the French program players must be able to hit every shot and also be able to volley. Certainly that can be said of Gasquet in spades.
On the other half of the draw Andy Roddick and Richard Gasquet played a thrilling five set marathon. Toward the end of the third set Patrick McEnroe observed the slightest tendency for Roddick to play passively, appearing, as Patrick put it, “to play as though waiting for Richard to give him the match." But the opposite was true, where Gasquet drove winners from impossible positions off the forehand and backhand wings. In the end, he amassed an unheard of 93 winners in the match.
The Men's Final
As to the gentlemen’s final – what superb tennis. Nadal threaded the needle on so many passing shots, one particular winner while falling onto his backside. His accuracy and power in these situations was uncanny. Off the ground, it appeared Roger did more of the running; somehow countering Nadal’s attacking drives. Interestingly, in crosscourt exchanges, Nadal's forehand to Federer's backhand, when Roger broke that pattern with a down the line backhand, he paid dearly for the remainder of the rally. Roger chased balls from both corners as Nadal generally treated that down the line with a ferocious backhand crosscourt of his own.
Nadal was magnificent throughout the tournament, ...
But in the end, it was Federer with his hands raised in the air.
Roger’s serve kept him in the match, and was the key to the first and third set tiebreakers. The fifth set reminded me ever so slightly of their first set at the recent French Open. There Federer squandered many break opportunities, only to be broken on Nadal’s first opportunity after two successive return games where Roger failed to convert. Now in the fifth set it was Nadal who failed to make returns with Federer serving at 15-40 in the third and fifth games of the set, only to be broken in the fourth and then again in the sixth game. But to my mind tennis, up to this point in time, has never been played at such a high level – what a treat to watch.
Now for some opinions. Mac noted that the British Lawn Tennis Association credits the French association with the best player development program. Mac offered that in the French program players must be able to hit every shot and also be able to volley. Certainly that can be said of Gasquet in spades. Later in the broadcast Mac noted how “willing” Nadal is and has been to learn, and how much his net game has grown with deft angled winners and a nimble half volley that Mac called, “Sampras like.”
Well, I think this “ability to hit every shot” thing could be wonderfully applied to our friends Maria and Andy. Sharapova continues to get stronger and quicker about the court, but plays the one note backcourt game, without variety, without guile, and somehow without the knack to move forward. Secondly, when comparing the serve, Maria could go to Los Angeles and seek out Sampras’ serving coach. Remember, when Sampras was a kid, Pete Fisher hired a forehand coach, a backhand coach, and importantly, a serving coach. Each specialist worked only within the confines of their specialty. Unfortunately Maria’s coaches on the East and West Coast were and are groundstroke specialists, and I think that shows. Is it any wonder Maria’s shoulder hurts when comparing her muscular effortful finish with Pete’s loose whip like snap?
And now to Andy Roddick, and I study him all the time. Going back to the ability to hit all the shots, simply put, Andy needs a versatile one handed backhand. By versatile I mean where he could play crosscourt or up the line, and with underspin or topspin. Presently when he prepares for his effortful two hander (no similarity to Djokovic on this one), opponents shade to the crosscourt but know he may occasionally go down the line. However, when he goes for the one handed under spin, he goes crosscourt nearly every time. And for Gasquet to find 93 winners, how much of that was do to Andy’s predictability?
Secondly, I cannot understand why he approaches crosscourt. Further, I cannot understand why he volleys crosscourt in situations where he cannot put the ball away. Tim Henman was the master here, approaching up the line, and always volleying up the line when stretched or unable to win outright. Andy can still climb to the top of the mountain, but not with a one-handed chip and not with counter intuitive approaching and volleying skills. But Kid, I continue to pull for you.
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