Looking Back at 2007 -- The Men's Game
Lessons For Us Too
Part One of this story addressed what happened with the women’s game in 2007 – and what I see is a powerful lesson to be learned by recreational adults, juniors, parents, and coaches.
The King -- Roger Federer
I’ll take up the same theme with a look at men’s tennis in 2007. For the fourth straight year, Roger Federer is the man. But while it’s hard to say this about someone who just earned three Grand Slam singles titles, I’ll venture he showed a few cracks last year. Besides losing twice each to Rafael Nadal, David Nalbandian and Guillermo Canas, Federer actually looked even worse in losing his second straight French Open final. He was also forced to work his way through some very rough patches in winning both Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
But yes, there’s a lot to be learned from Federer. First, though, a look at the main contenders.
Rafael Nadal had another brilliant but beguiling year. As usual, he threw his heart and soul into winning the French Open. To have won this event all three times he’s played it is remarkable. Not only does Nadal compete ferociously, but he continues to improve, mostly by looking to add more variety and power to his serve and come to net more. It’s unfortunate, though, that after so rigorously testing Federer in their five-set Wimbledon final that Nadal showed signs of fatigue in the balance of 2007. I hope he does a better job pacing and scheduling himself in the years to come.
One of the more interesting tidbits I learned about Novak Djokovic is that he was coached by a woman. Much like Jimmy Connors, who was taught by his mother, Djokovic has an exceptional base, a game initially built more on fundamentals than raw strength. But now, as he seeks to ascend, will he build even bigger weapons? As former pro David Wheaton recently pointed out to me, “To win Grand Slams you don’t want to get caught up in having to always play long matches. I wonder if Djokovic has the skills to really crank up his game.”
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic -- The Contenders
On the American front, Andy Roddick and James Blake each must be scratching his head at what happened in 2007. While certainly winning the Davis Cup will be a lifetime highlight for each, throughout much of the year, neither Roddick nor Blake quite lit up the court in the manner we’ve often expected from great Americans.
Roddick suffered a haunting loss to Richard Gasquet in the Wimbledon quaterfinals, losing to a younger man from two sets to love and 4-2. The good news, says Wheaton, is that Roddick has “a short memory. He’s able to rapidly put these losses behind him and keep moving ahead.” The tricky part is that I’m wondering if Roddick has enough skill to make the best possible charge at the top. I also wonder where things are at with Roddick and Jimmy Connors. Davis Cup has meant so much to Roddick – and so little to Connors. Does that kind of difference in attitude towards a major event infest Roddick’s head? Or does he continue to draw on Connors, with Jimbo ostensibly acting as senior advisor and Andy’s brother John handling the day-to-day duties. The good news, though, is that Roddick will take every step possible to ensure success. In a way, he tasted enough money and fame when he reached number one in ’03. Comfortable financially, Roddick will leave nothing on the table.
As for Blake, recently my TennisOne colleague Jim McLennan adroitly pointed out that in a strange way, Blake is a very mentally tough player given the low percentage nature of his game. But unquestionably Blake can captivate. It will be interesting to see if he can generate sustainable consistency throughout 2008.
A number of other explosive players are also vying for more. Firecracking Fernando Gonzalez has the forehand, flashy Richard Gasquet has the backhand, David Nalbandian has just about everything and while it’s hard to be smitten with any single shot Nikolay Davydenko hits, anyone who’s finished in the top five for three consecutive years obviously knows a lot about how to play this game. Ditto for another ascending grinder, David Ferrer, who in 2007 took over the title from Lleyton Hewitt and Michael Chang as the A-1 grubber.
What’s fascinating here is to see that while all of these players are disciples of contemporary baseline tennis, a closer look reveals various nuances in how they hit the ball, how they build points, and which shots they prefer to strike under pressure.
And what of the great Federer? Surely his coronation will continue over the next two years. Hardly anyone doubts he will soon enough break Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles. Imagine how incredible it would be if Federer won his 13th in Australia and could tie Sampras with a win at Roland Garros. I don’t see that happening, but to me, predictions hardly do anything to raise anyone’s consciousness, so, who knows?
In his exhibition, Sampras revealed a blueprint for someone who wishes to beat Federer.
What is known, though, was something very interesting from the Sampras-Federer exhibition series. While in no way am I opining that Sampras’ performance on those ultra-fast indoor courts would make him a full-fledged touring pro – and he’d concur – what I found intriguing is that Sampras revealed a blueprint for someone who wishes to beat Federer on any surface other than clay. Sampras’ message was simple: There will be no rallies. You will not jerk me around. Nor will you establish a comfortable tempo.
Coming in on his own serve, attacking Federer’s serve, Sampras showcased one aspect of this game that so many recreational players, juniors, coaches, and parents overlook: The name of the game is forcing the other guy to hit shots he doesn’t want. Federer knew this too as a child. He’s spoken much about how he studied the greats and pondered which shots he’d need to develop so he could beat them.
Of course, in Federer’s rare case, he kept building and building and now pretty much has every shot. But what I hope is that aspiring players are influenced properly by Federer. I was talking with a parent of a junior recently and she said, “But Federer’s so beautiful. How can you even come close to his form?” I countered: That’s not the best lesson you can learn from Federer. It’s not about beauty but about effectiveness, imagination, and guts. Sampras did it when he thought about how he must play to compete effectively versus Federer. Perhaps somewhere on this planet there’s a boy learning how to attack second serves and come to net.
In the case of Federer’s game, I’ve always felt that much of his genius is because he wins ugly pretty; that is, he gets opponents off-balance and then strikes. And he does so with technical elegance lacking, say in the case of the man who wrote the book on winning ugly, Brad Gilbert. But face it: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do something like hit two slice backhands and then drive the third. As I urged when waxing on Henin in part one, you don’t need to be a pro to think this way. To quote my other favorite “Emmo,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius advised to stay at home.”
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Rhythm and the Toss of the Serve
Much has been written about the ideal toss height. Some pros endorse a low toss, only as high as the contact point. The argument is that when the ball reaches its peak, it is easiest to hit since it is nearly stationary. Others suggest a toss about 18-24” above the contact point. Their argument is that as the ball accelerates down, it is easier to apply topspin and there is more time to load the legs and shoulders for power. However, since there are so many kinds of serves, is there really an ideal toss height? Doug Eng looks into the quest for the ideal toss.
The Competitive Mentality
Most battles, whether in sport or business, are won or lost in the mind before the event even takes place. The power of the imagination cannot be underestimated. If we imagine a poor outcome or failure as a way to protect ourselves from experiencing disappointment and to prepare ourselves to deal with failure, this self-protection often becomes a comfortable friend and in turn a powerful enemy of our dreams. It is difficult to win when we imagine failure. David Sammel
The Year That Was — The Best Of Vintage 2007
Tennis Writer, Paul Fein's annual tennis world retrospective of the year that was. This is his personal compilation of some of the best and worst matches, upsets, comebacks, quotes, critiques, confidentials, and questions for 2008. So as we get set for the start of another great year in tennis, here's a chance to reflect on what we love about this game and some of the things we might be able to do with out.
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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