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See sample of Novak Djokovic Forehand in ProStrokes 2.0 Slow-Motion in this week's edition.
Aces and Faults at the 2008 U.S. Open
“Champions are people who want to leave their sport better off than when they started.” - Arthur Ashe
As impressive as Roger Federer the champion is, Roger Federer the man is equally meritorious. After outclassing much-improved Andy Murray in the U.S. Open final 6-2, 7-5, 6-2, Federer said, “Tennis is in a great place right now. We have incredible athletes out there and a lot of fair play.”
Roger Federer is not only a great champion but a great sportsman as well.
From Bill Tilden and Suzanne Lenglen in the 1920s to Federer and Serena Williams this century, tennis has always boasted terrific athletes. The 27-year-old Swiss maestro glides and sprints around the court and creates strokes of genius that wow even fellow pros and almost defy the laws of physics. The bullish speed and violent spins of Rafael Nadal, the precise and fluid technique of Novak Djokovic, the all-court power and touch of Murray, and the offensive and defensive versatility of fiercely determined Serena prove that the evolution of tennis playing styles and strategies require and reward all of these beautiful attributes.
The Mighty Fed was the only champion who received a standing ovation when he was introduced with a large group of former stars on opening night at the U.S. Open. His popularity derives not only from his outstanding sportsmanship − he’s received the ATP’s Edberg Sportsmanship Award four times − and his “regular guy” persona in the locker room, but also for his concern for fair play and the betterment of the sport. That is noteworthy as well as praiseworthy because in recent decades quite a few champions, such as Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, Monica Seles and Steffi Graf, never were involved in tennis politics. Along with Nadal and Djokovic, Federer was elected to the ATP Player Council after he watched the ATP blunder with a round-robin format experiment and other dubious proposals and policies. He criticized on-court coaching, scoring system reforms and Player Challenges for being misguided and unfair.
Click photo: Federer is the only player to have captured five straight Grand Slam titles at two different majors.
The Chase Review
So it was ironic that during the U.S. Open final, Federer benefited from a gross injustice that received far too little attention. After a nervous and disastrous opening set and then falling behind 2-0 in the second set, Murray suddenly started turning the match around, winning 11 of the next 12 points. He broke Federer’s serve at love and then easily held his own serve with three winners to tie it at 2-2. In the pivotal fifth game, a tense Federer made three straight errors to fall behind love-40. A Federer forehand that skidded on the baseline forced a Murray error for 15-40 but
Murray still had two more break point chances.
Unfortunately, for him and even more for our sport, what happened next has happened countless times since Player Challenges became the means to implement Hawk-Eye electronic line-calling technology. In the middle of a 14-shot rally, Federer sliced a backhand that floated beyond the baseline and elicited gasps and moans from spectators who thought the ball was out. Murray, hustling to return Federer’s well-placed shots, wasn’t able to challenge the line call at that time and eventually lost the protracted point when Federer ripped a powerful forehand. Seeking justice belatedly, Murray immediately looked at the linesperson and touched the spot behind the baseline where he felt sure the ball landed. The chair umpire had failed to overrule the mistaken linesperson.
When the TV Chase Review (instant replay) showed the ball landed about an inch out, highly respected CBS analyst Mary Carillo said: “This is my problem with the [Player] Challenge system. The guy earned the game already. He should be serving [the next game now]. This could change the whole match.”
How important was Murray being cheated out of a second straight service break and losing the considerable momentum he had generated? If not for that cruel and crucial bad call, would Murray have won the second set and perhaps even the U.S. Open final? We’ll never know. But, after the match, Federer acknowledged, “That [turning point] was the key. After that, I began to play freely.”
Why can’t balls just electronically be called in or out?
When broadcasting colleague and former mixed doubles partner John McEnroe asked Carillo for a solution, she explained: “There shouldn’t be a Challenge system! Why should a player have to make his own calls? Why can’t it just electronically be called in or out? That is the whole point of this thing [Hawk-Eye].”
Indeed, the raison d’etre of sports officiating is fairness by means of the impartial application of the rules. For tennis line-calling, fairness means accuracy, getting it right. Tilden, an imperious superstar, insisted that a linesperson’s error often decided a match as much as a player’s performance. He even worked as a linesman himself on occasion. One can easily imagine Tilden’s frustration in a sport where extremely close line calls abound and human vision often errs on balls traveling 100 mph or more and seen from a considerable distance and a bad angle due to the parallax factor. (Furthermore, researcher Vic Braden did a study for the United States Tennis Association, shooting at 10,000 frames per second, and concluded: “As the ball is
only on the court for approximately 3 milliseconds, the human eye is not able to see the actual landing spot.”)
Serena Williams regained the No. 1 ranking a whopping five years and a month after she last owned it but will she maintain her dedication in 2009?
But that was then, and this is now when, as the bromide goes, “If we can put a man on the moon, we can …” The solution, as Carillo suggested, is simple. Keep Hawk-Eye, instant replay,
and the indispensable linespeople. Get rid of unfair and gimmicky Player Challenges. Armed with a court-side computer monitor displaying Hawk-Eye’s results, the chair umpire should immediately overrule errors by linespeople, clicking a button and instantly putting Hawk-Eye’s image of the correct call on the stadium video board.
When a line call is correct but a player
protests − in the traditional manner − the umpire also displays Hawk-Eye on the stadium video board. If tennis fans yearn for even more Hawk-Eye, tournaments should display it whenever balls land within 3 (or 4 or 5) inches of the outer edge of the lines.
Used wisely as a means for accurate line-calling, Hawk-Eye will improve our sport. Misused alongside Player Challenges so far, it has given tennis a black eye.
Several of the most important U.S. Open statistics belong to Serena Williams, who regained the No. 1 ranking a whopping five years and a month after she last owned it, an Open Era record. In seven matches, Serena belted 170 winners and didn’t lose a set. Against Venus in their compelling 7-6, 7-6 quarterfinal, Little Sis staved off 10 set points, a tribute to her ferocious competitiveness and determination to avenge her loss to Big Sis in the Wimbledon final.
In the final Serena knew she had to sustain her attack with powerful shots and end points with putaways against No. 2 Jelena Jankovic, a cagey, tireless counter-puncher with splendid strokes. Winning 28 of 34 points when she approached net did exactly that for Serena who boosted her career record in Grand Slam finals to a gaudy 9-3. A less-known number is 6 a.m., the time when energized and slimmer Serena says she sometimes woke up this year because she was so eager to practice.
Chris Evert reached the semifinals or better in an amazing 33 straight major events.
But will she maintain that dedication in 2009? “It doesn’t stop here,” insisted Serena, who turns 27 in late September. “I feel like I have a new career. I feel so young. I feel like there’s so much more I can do yet.”
For Federer, stats are often records. At Flushing Meadows, he extended his consecutive appearances in Grand Slam semi-finals to 18, which is eight ahead of Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver, in a second-place tie. If you think that record is amazing for high-level consistency, Chris Evert reached the semifinals or better in 33 straight major events.
Federer’s most stunning record − which may never be broken − is capturing five straight Grand Slam titles at two different majors: Wimbledon (2003-07) and the U.S. Open (2004-08). Like Serena, Federer salvaged his season at Flushing Meadows and regained his mojo. After whacking 36 winners in the final, Federer said, “I felt great. I felt like I was invincible for a while again.” When TV broadcaster Dick Enberg reminded him that 13 was an unlucky number, Federer countered, “One thing’s for sure. I’m not going to stop at 13. That would be terrible.”
His sights are set on tying and then breaking Pete Sampras’s hallowed record of 14 career Slam titles. How much Djokovic, Murray and young guns Juan Martin del Potro, Marin Cilic and
Ernest Gulbis improve and handle big-match pressure may well determine Federer’s legacy even more than his own play. That is because Federer’s record in Grand Slam finals in which he has not faced Nadal is a perfect 11-0.
Click photo: Andy Murray seems to float effortlessly around the court but he'll have to stay aggressive if he wants to get the best of Federer.
Murray’s quest to be the best rests on his ability to stay aggressive with his shots, position
and strategy. Returning first serves from 10 or more feet behind the baseline worked against a tired Nadal in the semis but backfired against opportunistic and fleet Federer who pounced on and pounded Murray returns that were short, soft and in the middle of the court. Against Nadal, offensive-minded Murray approached net 44 times and won a solid 70 percent of the points. But against Federer, strangely passive Murray approached net only 11 times, winning seven points.
Other telling stats should also concern Murray who likes to show off his biceps to the crowd after big victories. While his fastest serve against Federer whizzed 133 mph, the 6’3” Scot’s average first serve speed was a disappointing 108 mph, and his average second serve speed a woeful and attackable 82 mph. When Murray watches the tape of the final, he’ll notice that his service toss was far too low, and that flaw also contributed to his mediocre first serve percentage (56).
How effective is No. 3-ranked Djokovic’s service return? Plenty effective! Andy Roddick, the world’s fastest server (a record 155 mph), lost his serve only three times in his four U.S. Open victories. Then Djokovic broke the veteran American’s serve three times in Roddick’s opening four service games in the Serb’s four-set quarterfinal win. Believe it or not, No. 2 Jankovic, who rose to No. 1 for a week in August, has lost all five matches against top-5 ranked opponents this year. On the plus side, Jankovic is the only woman to advance to the semifinals or better at three Slam events this year.
Identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan turned in the most dominating U.S. Open performance by capturing the men’s doubles crown without dropping a set in six matches and while losing an average of only 3.5 games a set. It was their second Open, sixth Slam, and 49th overall title. Their most telling stats: they won all four tiebreakers they played and 80.3 percent (204 0f 254) of their first serve points, including a spectacular 87.2 percent (68 of 78) in the combined semis and finals.
Unseeded American junior, Coco Vandeweghe, captured the title without dropping a set.
Boys and Girls
Americans have some reason for optimism in the post-Venus and Serena era. In the U.S. Open girls’ singles event, unseeded Asia Muhammad crushed 14th-seeded Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-1 and then won another match. Gail Brodsky, who upset 15th-seeded Linda Berlinecke, and Madison Brengle, both unseeded, reached the quarters. Second-seeded Melanie Oudin beat Muhammad and Brengle to gain the semis. Best of all, unseeded Coco Vandeweghe, a tall power hitter, captured the title without dropping a set.
American boys also impressed. Unseeded Rhyne Williams upset fifth-seeded Cesar Ramirez and ninth-seeded and compatriot Ryan Harrison to reach the quarters where he extended No. 1-seeded Tsung-Hua Yang to 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, while Chase Buchanan slaughtered tenth-seeded Juan Vazquez-Valenzuela 6-1, 6-0 en route to the quarters. Most surprising, qualifier Devin Britton, who actually serves and volleys, upset second-seeded Bernard Tomic, a highly touted Australian,
3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and then knocked out compatriot and 13th seed Bradley Klahn and 11th-seeded
Cedrik-Marcel Stebe to gain the final. There Britton bowed to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, whom U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe predicts “could be the next Roger Federer.”
Click here to visit Paul Fein's website: www.tennisconfidential.com.
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Getting a Grip on Good Contact: The Anatomy of a Catch
While most of us are captured by the speed at which the pros swing and move, perhaps the most significant difference between the pros and the club player is their ability to meet the ball squarely, securely, and accurately time after time. Doug King calls this the “Catch” in the stroke and breaks down this process to reveal some surprising ways that you can play more like the pros.
Keep it and Simple and Win
The advice is endless: bring your racquet back this way, follow through that way, use a big loop, a semi-loop, roll your wrist, lock your wrist, open stance, closed stance. There are more theories about hitting a tennis ball than there are flavors at Ben and Jerry’s. Hitting a tennis ball is just not that complicated. In fact, Greg Moran sums it up for you with what he like to call the four R’s.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Novak Djokovic's Forehand
Novak Djokovic is the world’s solid number # 3. This year he has won the Australian Open, the silver medal at the Bejiing Olympics, and the Masters Series at Indian Wells. Djokovic is the prototypical “modern” professional. Tremendous fitness, excellent court coverage, semi western forehand, two fisted backhand and an adequate serve. Djokovic has two wins vs four losses against Nadal this year and has two losses and one win against Federer. But he is head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the pack. Check out his strokes in the all new super slow-mo ProStrokes 2.0. Only on TennisOne.
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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