Can anyone challenge Federer in 2005
It's hard to imagine Federer winning three Grand Slams for the second year in a row – a feat no man in tennis history has ever accomplished.
Testimony to Federer's current greatness is that suitable contenders are viewed in pairs more than solo acts. His ideal rival would blend Lleyton Hewitt's tenacity with Marat Safin's weapons. Or how about Andy Roddick's serve with Tim Henman's volleys? Andre Agassi's ground game and David Nalbandian's craftiness? The shotmaking of Tommy Haas with the consistency of Guillermo Coria?
Perhaps his best rivals are in the past and the future – the historic achievements of Pete Sampras and the eventual emergence of a player we might not even know about.
Will other Americans besides Andy Roddick rise into the elite?
Two years ago there was a quartet of players just behind Roddick rising up the ranks – James Blake, Mardy Fish, Robby Ginepri and Taylor Dent, all of who were top 50 players by the end of 2003.
But 2004 was far less productive for each one of them. Was it a hiccup on the way up, or a sign that this group has just about reached its peak? Each knows that 2005 is a crunchtime year. Each is quite kind and thoughtful in articulating his desire to merely keep improving and let the results come as they will. But tennis is a ruthless ladder of competitors constantly rising and falling. Even if a subpar 2005 won't force them out of the pro game, surely each would like to generate such significant results as a tournament victory, a semifinal appearance at a Tennis Masters event or a Grand Slam quarterfinal. A quick rundown on what each needs to get there:
James Blake, Taylor Dent, Mardy Fish, and Robby Ginepri (not shown) all had less productive years in 2004.
- Fish: relentless butt-kicking from new coach Todd Martin when it comes to following a fitness regime – and keen tenacity match after match
- Ginepri: a smidge more buffing and polishing around the edges of his attacking baseline game – a bit more patience and the occasional spirit of enterprise to keep his opponents off-balance
What can we expect from Andy Roddick's new coach
- Dent: fitness – lose weight so he can serve-volley his way through long matches and outdoor tournaments.
Having spent an arduous seven years in the Todd Martin camp drawing on every possible resource, expect Dean Goldfine to work very hard with Roddick on and off the court. But while Roddick's ex-coach, Brad Gilbert, is rarely known for crediting or bringing other experts into his classroom, and is at heart a specialist in tennis tactics, Dean Goldfine is far more inclusive. It wouldn't surprise me to learn of Goldine chatting occasionally with the likes of longstanding guru Jose Higueras and bringing those ideas to Roddick.
As for Roddick, do note that this guy has finished the last two years ranked one and two in the world. Let's see if he's able to add more wrinkles to his game such as intermittent net play and continue working out the kinks in his backhand.
Is this Andre Agassi's last year?
Andre Agassi is the greatest pure ballstriker in the history of tennis.
It's never fun to predict a retirement. But with Agassi turning 35 in April, there's unquestionably a cinematic symmetry to his life. Add to that the rumors of him taking one last ride on Davis Cup and it's easy to imagine him bagging it right after the '05 U.S. Open.
But Agassi never been one to do the expected. He underachieved when young, overachieved when old, went from flash to substance and through his foundation has learned how to channel Hollywood glitz into genuine social good.
So who can tell? But this I will say: enjoy every minute of him while you can. He is the greatest pure ballstriker in tennis history. There has been no better forehand-backhand combo.
What other trends will emerge in 2005 in the men's game?
- The quality of doubles as played by the likes of Todd Woodbridge (who is to volley skills what Agassi is to groundstrokes), Jonas Bjorkman, the Bryan Brothers, Mark Knowles-Daniel Nestor will continue to dazzle those ardent spectators who make time to watch it. That said, major networks like ESPN will continue to neglect this rich display of the sport's skills. Bless The Tennis Channel for airing a reasonable amount of doubles matches.
- Two players with their eyes on the top 20: Thomas Berdych and Rafael Nadel.
- Which TH will fare better in '05 – Tommy Haas or Tim Henman? I'll go with Haas.
- Thankfully, Roger Federer's skill has blunted talk of changing the size and materials used in racquets.
- Jimmy Connors, part-time coach for British juniors, one week broadcaster for the BBC during Wimbledon , will generate acres of publicity in London this summer. Connors might even be seen courtside at Wimbledon watching top junior Andrew Murray. But will he be willing to trek north and sit through some foggy junior event in Birmingham? Questionable.
- Now that his second attempt at a talk show has been cancelled, John McEnroe will step up his passive-aggressive effort to become commissioner of tennis. As I've said before, he's one of our best talkers – and unquestionably one of our worst listeners. Is that the kind of leader you want?
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- Somewhere out there, on a court we don't know, with a coach we don't know, a player we don't know is working on a vicious mix of slice approach shots. This player might well be ten years old, but if he indeed emerges, by 2015 we could be singing his songs. He's probably not from America.
Joel Drucker, TennisOne writer-at-large
(Click link to purchase Joel Drucker's book, Jimmy Connors Saved My Life: A Personal Biography, at amazon.com.
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