Tokyo Australian Open Musings
Peter Burwash International
There are eight weeks in the year where I do a rain-dance in the hope that it will submerge the Tokyo Lawn Tennis Club courts. Four Slams, each one lasting two weeks makes eight weeks. The last two weeks, my rain-boogie worked and I got to watch quite a bit of the Australian Open.
Gonzalez attributes his recent success on his coach’s insistence that he replace his ripper topspin inconsistent backhand with a steady backspin.
I love to watch professional tennis. Even if I didn't, I would probably still follow as much of it as I could since I perceive it as an integral part of my job as a teaching professional - my conversations with students often seem to turn to the ATP and WTA Tours with students asking me for my opinions and impressions of particular players, the state of the game, or my using a professional to illustrate a stroke that we happen to be working on.
For those of you who missed most of the action Down-Under, the following is a fruit salad of tactical and technical observations and general musings of the tournament.
Backspin Is Back Big-Time
It’s official, the backspin backhand is back in a big way - amongst the men anyway. Time and again, and more so than I have seen in the last decade, the men are using backspin not just as a defensive/retrieval shot but also as a rallying shot. Gonzalez and Federer (who – it just so happens – were the two finalists) used it to best effect. In fact, Gonzalez attributes his recent success on his coach’s insistence that he replace his ripper topspin inconsistent backhand with a steady backspin.
Tactically, the shot is used one-dimensionally: cross-court to the opponent’s backhand. Players have realized that a good backspin that stays low does not have to be hit deep. Even a short backspin is a tough prospect for an opponent as long as it stays low. This will force the opponent to hit up on the ball which very often provides time for the other player to set up for a forehand.
One-Handed Vs Double-Handed
Furthermore, it seems that the one-handed aggressive backhand is making a comeback too. Just when I was thinking that the future might lay with the double-handed, it looks like the one-handed might still have some breath left in it. All four of the Masters' finalists at the end of last season had one-handers (Henin, Mauresmo, Federer, Blake), six of the top ten guys right now have a one-hander, three-quarters of the semi-finalists at the tournament were one-handed and the winner was one-handed.
All four of the Masters finalists at the end of last season had one-handed backhands.
So the future looks bright right now and I suspect we can expect a generation of players to come through in the next 10 of 15 years with one-handers. The advantages and disadvantages of both have been much debated and essentially, it’s a draw. So there is no rational on that basis for a youngster to choose one over the other. However, what does make a difference to an aspiring tennis-kid is what kind of backhand his hero uses. If he idolizes Federer, he will most likely strive to develop a one-handed whilst the opposite would be the case if he idolizes Roddick.
It follows that if the next five or ten years are to be dominated by top players with one-handers, the likeliness of a generation of youngsters having a one-handed backhand will increase exponentially.
A New Shot
A new kind of shot, previously categorized as “trick shot,” is emerging as an essential and standard component in the arsenal of professionals, especially amongst the women: the swinging topspin volley.
Even recently, it would have been blasphemous for anyone to put the words “swing” and “topspin” in the same sentence as “volley.” But, hey, we have to move with the times and this shot certainly works. And if it means that women will make a more regular – albeit rare – foray to the net, I’m all for it. Again and again, players like Sharapova, Williams, and Hingis were witnessed using it very effectively.
The swinging topspin volley is emerging as an essential and standard component in the arsenal of professionals, especially amongst the women.
It requires the player to stand a little further back from the Ideal Volley Position and to make contact above the net. The reasons why women like this shot are obvious and multiple: for one, it is more powerful and offensive than a backspin volley and is therefore more likely to be put away instantly without the danger of (heaven-forbid!) having to play another volley.
The second advantage is that, if the ball should come back as a lob (heaven-forbid), the fact that they are standing around the service line will help prevent them from having to run too far backwards and play a smash (heaven-forbid!).
The third is that, because they don’t have to go all the way to the net (heaven-forbid!) and leave the comfort of the baseline behind, they won’t feel like a duck out of water. The fourth is that they won't have to learn how to volley (heaven-forbid!).
Why-oh-why do they insist on approaching cross-court? Time and again, I witnessed some of the top guys approaching the net cross-court only to get passed down-the-line. The main protagonist of this was Roddick, with Blake, Murray, and a couple of others also guilty. Under normal circumstances, we all know approaching down-the-line is preferable. Occasionally, approaching cross-court might be justified if there is a clear opening or if an opponent has a flagrant weakness on that side. However, none of the current crop of top players got to the top with a “flagrant weakness,” and all have the ability to hit effectively down-the-line.
What I just don’t get is why Roddick and Company insist on doing it again and again only to get passed again and again. Doesn’t a little light go on in their craniums after the umpteenth time, saying “Hmmm, this obviously ain’t workin'. Let’s hit it down-the-line next time?!"
Are the top players really that oblivious to trends during a match? And even if that were the case, don’t they hire super-expensive tennis coaches to tell them right from wrong? Andy, hire me, I only charge US$70 an hour but you can pay me in Center Court tickets.
If you’ve never spoken to an Australian, than you’ve never heard “Blimey” which is a commonly used Aussie expression of positive surprise, a little bit like WOW! There were two memorable “Blimey” moments at this year’s tournament.
If you didn’t get the chance to see Federer's match with Roddick, click on the photo above to get a feeling of how good he was.
1. As the old saying goes: “there are three kinds of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what just happened.” The most outstanding Blimey moment (because it did seem like no more than a moment) was surely Federer’s demolition of Roddick in the semis. Federer made things happen, Roddick watched as it happened and when it was all over, they both wondered what just happened. Federer brought “I was in the Zone” to new levels.
I cannot say enough about that match. The general consensus amongst sporting commentators who have watched the greats over the past decades is that Federer’s performance on that night was quite possibly the all-time greatest demonstration of tennis. When I had spoken to Federer in summer 2005, shortly after he had absolutely embarrassed Roddick in the finals of Wimbledon in an astonishing performance, I had asked him if he thought he could ever play better than in that match. He smiled and said “Probably not.” Well, sorry Rog, you were wrong because you did. The scoreline of 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 does not do justice of the masterclass that Federer delivered. It was over before it started. If you get a chance to see a tape of it, do!
2. The other outstanding performance was delivered by Fernando Gonzalez in his semi-final match against Tommy Haas. From a raw statistical perspective, Gonzalez hit 42 winners and just 3 unforced errors in his 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 obliteration of Haas. That’s a ridiculously, astonishingly, incredibly amazing stat. Not even Federer was able to beat that with his 45 winners and 12 unforced errors in his match against Roddick.
So, as it turns out, both semi-finals were the most lop-sided in living memory. But it did not detract from the enjoyment of watching two players reveling in the best tennis they have ever played.
It goes without saying that Federer and Gonzalez were the most deserving and consistently good players through the length of the tournament and earned their way to the final. Federer ended up winning the Australian Open without dropping a set, the first time anyone has done that in any Grand Slam since Bjorn Borg in 1980.
Disappointment of the Tournament
My biggest disappointment was the state of the women’s game. Things just don’t seem to be progressing in the right direction. There was not one individual match that was remotely exciting or memorable. It just seems like all the ladies are happy to be clones of one another with a uniform style of banging ball after ball from the baseline with the winner being the one who can hit it the hardest or who can keep the ball in court. No imagination, no touch, no angles, no variations.
The final between Serena and Sharapova was probably one of the most one-sided final since
Steffi Graf’s trouncing of Arantxa back in 1994.
It was nice to see a couple of new faces creep their way into the quarters (in the form of Shahar Peer and Lucie Safarova), but they both turned out to be more clones. Even Hingis, who had based her former successes on outwitting opponents with spins, angles and the such, seems to have degraded her game to trying to out-power her opponents. I guess they all know what they need to do to win matches and feel that power is the way to do it but it does not make for a great spectacle and I’m afraid that women’s tennis will be the loser. To top it off, the final between Serena and Sharapova was probably one of the most one-sided finals I can remember since Steffi Graf’s trouncing of Arantxa back in 1994. Not a good year for the ladies unfortunately.
Furthermore, it doesn’t bode well for the women’s game that so many of them can take a number of years off and make a successful comeback a-la-Seles, Hingis, and Capriati. As exciting as it is for the fans to see former champions attempt comebacks, it shows that the women’s game just isn’t progressing if a former star can veg out for three years and then pick up a racquet again as if no time had passed. The ultimate insult for the women happened a couple of years ago when the half-a-century old Navratilova came back and beat a few of her daughter-old colleagues.
The men’s game on the other hand is more exciting than ever. Despite the absolute domination of Federer, there is such depth and width amongst the top men that, on any given day, anyone can beat anyone within the top 50. Couple that with great contrasts in styles of play as well as healthy variety of personalities and you have yourself a recipe for success. What’s also nice to see is that the top guys seem to get along on a personal basis with a great deal of respect amongst all of them.
Overall, it was a good Australian Open. It wasn’t outstanding. It was good. There were a couple of matches that I would have categorized as “classics,” such as the Nadal vs Murray 4th round encounter that went to five sets and swung in momentum more often than a pendulum.
This year won't go down as a vintage year because there were too may lop-sided matches and the women did not provide a great show. But the Australian Open has become an essential part of the tour now and the players and fans will be back for more next year.
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
Back to the Basics, Part 2
Though nearly all of us play tennis year round, and this includes both recreational, professional, and USTA league players, certainly April (or the last week in March) will introduce the next iteration of USTA adult competition. So to borrow the baseball analogy where teams assemble at this time of the year to refocus on fundamentals, Jim McLennan believes the same process can benefit you.
Creative Doubles Patterns
At the club level, most people play doubles, but the classic doubles game of two net rushers represents only one style of doubles. Many touring pros – especially in the WTA – often stay back at the baseline. Whatever your style, good doubles play almost always involves one of two things: setting up a winning shot, usually a volley, or consolidating position, offensively or defensively. Doug Eng explores a number of different tactics that can improve your chances of playing winning doubles.
T1 Super Slow-Mo™ Video - Jelena Jankovic
Jelena Jankovic has crashed the party, so to speak and this Serbian has all the tools to continue her ascent in the rankings. Topspin off both wings, two fisted backhand, Jelena plays well within the mold of the big hitting baseliners. 2005 was considered Jankovic's breakout season yet in 2006, she had a horrific start to, losing ten straight matches before righting herself. Since then she has accumulated wins over Mauresmo, Hingis, Vaidisova and has entered the top ten for the first time in her career. At only 21 years old, her future seems bright.
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.
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to email@example.com and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement