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Australian Open: Happy But Hard
The unofficial nickname for the Australian Open is “The Happy Slam.” Along with that, consider it the Ringo Starr of tennis’ Fab Four: yes, it’s the least important, but certainly one of the sport’s Beatles, and in many ways, like Ringo, the most loveable.
In a prior column I addressed how from the player vantage point, the Australian Open occurs at the time of year when optimism, physical and mental health are at its zenith. But there’s another layer to this that says much about tennis’ distinctive role in Australian culture.
Jankovic and Nadal are the top seeds down under.
It’s this simple: In Australia, tennis is a legitimate, hardcore sport, every bit as significant as we in America regard football, baseball and basketball. The cathedral-like atmosphere of Wimbledon is enchanting and speaks to Great Britain’s loyalty to hierarchy and ritual. Roland Garros’ style and elegance fits in nicely in a nation of art directors. And the U.S. Open speaks volumes to America’s spirit of utilitarianism and commerce. Come to think of it, one area where the Australian Open could up its game is in the merchandise department. It is unquestionably the Slam with the lowest quality and quantity of engaging souvenirs.
Australians love sports plain and simple, true and spirited. Think of the Australian Open as a mix of a county fair with a hearty battle as part of the day. One way this manifests itself is that the Australian Open offers a nearly-limitless supply of grounds passes. A grounds pass won’t get you into one of the main stadiums, but it’s quite enjoyable to roam this massive venue to watch players practice and lesser names play on field courts. While I have been accosted by security guards at Wimbledon for walking too fast and coerced my share of U.S. Open ushers to let me take a vacant seat, Melbourne Park is heavily live and let live. It figures, for example, that a flock of busts honoring such prominent Australian champions as Lew Hoad, Rod Laver, John Newcombe and Margaret Court would be set adjacent to a beer garden.
The main stadium, Rod Laver Arena, offers superb sight lines from all corners. This is not an audience that’s getting more enthused about preening celebrities or talking on cell phones during matches, but one that pays keen attention, applauding, yelling ardently for each player, cheering for quality competition and ball-striking. Last year, for example, when a Saturday night match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis commenced just prior to midnight, the venue stayed darn full to the conclusion at nearly 5 a.m. – at which point thousands emptied into the streets of Melbourne in search of an early breakfast.
Rod Laver Arena
What’s also great about the Australian Open is its location right near downtown Melbourne. Certainly each Slam has its charm this way. The Wimbledon Village is lively. Roland Garros is housed inside a lovely massive park. And there are times when a bus or subway ride back to the U.S. Open is deceptively communal. But there’s also something very nice about being able to walk through a tennis venue, through a few leafy parks and stroll through the streets of Melbourne – a city far more subdued than Paris, London or New York. In some ways it’s reminiscent of San Francisco, a cosmopolitan spot with assorted cafes, bygone monuments from a Victorian time – but with warmer weather.
Weather, in fact, is often the biggest deal maker or breaker for players and fans alike. Temperatures can regularly exceed 90 degrees – and go even higher on the court. During the 1993 men’s singles final, the on-court temperature was a staggering 150. Naturally it was won by the very fit Jim Courier. Nearly a decade later, Martina Hingis held four championship points versus Jennifer Capriati, lost that second set in tie-breaker, took a break between sets to put massive ice bags on her shoulders – and completely disintegrated in the final set, losing it 6-2.
Last year's surprise finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Happy and friendly as Australia is, it’s still quite a rigorous Slam. The Plexicushion surface – ostensibly a hard court akin to those seen all over the U.S. – rewards all playing styles. And with the players presumably healthy and rested, the competition is spirited from the get-go. Upsets are common, as the top players at this early point have not yet necessarily emerged – and lower-ranked players are feeling positive. This explains, for example, why the Australian has often been the site for such one-off Slam stars as titlists Petr Korda (’98), Thomas Johansson (’02) and a slew of finalists who never advanced so far at another Slam – Marcelo Rios (’98), Thomas Enqvist (’99), Arnaud Clement (’01), Rainer Schuettler (’03), Marcos Baghdatis (’06) and Fernando Gonzalez (’07). We shall see what comes of last year’s surprise finalist, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. As Ringo said, “It don’t come easy.”
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Developing Serve & Return Skills For ½ Court Players
In his continuing series about developing 5-7 year old players using balls and courts scaled down to the size of children, Wayne Elderton moves on to the serve abd return development. All tennis points start with a serve and return. Players who learn how to initiate a point from the first shot can gain an advantage quickly. Even with starter players, the majority of points are won or lost on the first four shots of a point (Serve and first shot, and Return and first shot).
Serving Up the Mountain
Pat Dougherty, known as the "Serve Doctor," at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, introduces power producing concepts, models of leverage that can be incorporated into your service motion. The concept is simple - learning how to develop a powerful service motion is nothing more than learning to pitch in an upward direction. See how this simple analogy can add pop to your serve.
The Slice Backhand
Even in today’s tennis game, dominated by power tennis and heavy topspin off both wings, the slice or under-spin backhand can still be an effective weapon for any player when executed correctly. The slice backhand can be used in a variety of ways - as an offensive tool, a defensive maneuver, or even as a change of pace and spin that can surprise an opponent. Dan McCain
ProStrokes 2.0 - James Blake's Forehand
James Blake has become a solid top 10 performer but he has yet to come through at the slams. Sometimes accused (wrongly) of failing to win in the clutch, with at one point nine consecutive losses when matches went to the fifth set, he has of late turned that unfortunate statistic around. In 2008 his results were OK, few bad losses, but equally no stunning wins or tournament titles. Blake plays with a daring, go for broke style and no doubt, he is an exciting player to watch. Check out Blake's forehand in TennisOne ProStrokes 2.0.
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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