Where to hit the Drop Shot
Now that we've discussed when to hit the drop shot, this next installment in our video series for techniques used to play on clay discusses where to hit the drop shot. Did you know that there are two basic target areas to aim for when hitting the drop shot? Learn more about where those target areas are and continue developing your drop shot. Har-Tru - Developing Champions Around The World.
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Who Will Win the US Open?
“Prediction is extremely difficult. Especially about the future.” – Niels Bohr, Danish physicist
The once predictable sport of tennis took a major jolt this year. Back in January many experts confidently predicted either Rafael Nadal, winner of three majors in 2010, would dominate again or he and longtime arch rival Roger Federer would continue to divide the spoils of victory. After all, they had captured 21 of the previous 23 Grand Slam titles.
Instead, Novak Djokovic dethroned the duopoly. The Djoker, once known for his hilarious player imitations, got serious and took the Australian and Wimbledon titles and streaked to an amazing 57-2 record, marred only by a semifinal loss to Federer at the French Open which Nadal won and a recent loss to Murray at Cincinnati.
But can the 24-year-old Serb sustain his phenomenal play at the US Open? Will Nadal, who has lost all five matches to Djokovic this season, find a way to reverse the trend and defend his title? Does five-time US champion Federer, now 30 and declining, have another major title in him? Can perennial No. 4 Andy Murray handle his nerves and finally play his best when it matters most? Or will the Open produce a surprise champion such as Juan Martin del Potro in 2009?
Rob Koenig, a former South African Davis Cupper and now a perceptive commentator for Tennis Channel, analyzes these and other crucial questions, predicts the winner, and separates the contenders from the pretenders.
I pick Novak Djokovic because there is no reason he won’t win it. The numbers he’s posting this season are outrageous—he’s 5-0 against Nadal, 3-1 against Federer and 2-1 against Murray this year, and he’s beaten them on the biggest stages. So Djokovic has a high-quality 57-2 record going into the US Open. He’s my clear favorite, but if he doesn’t win the US Open, it will be because of the heat or fatigue. If he has to play a couple of matches back to back in really oppressive conditions in the middle of the day, that could hurt him later in the tournament, and you also have to consider how much Montreal and Cincinnati took out of him.
"I predict it will be a Djokovic-Murray final." – Rob Koenig.
His schedule was favorable when he won the Australian this year, and like Australia, the heat and wind can be major factors in New York. But so often players can get fortunate and get scheduled at night and even if you start matches in the late afternoon, the slightly cooler conditions can make a big difference in your post-match recovery. I predict it will be a Djokovic-Murray final.
Djokovic’s turnaround during the last 15 months has been amazing considering how much he was struggling with his serve during Indian Wells and Miami last year. Then I wondered: Is this guy ever going to be a contender again? Twelve months later his serve was better than ever, he’s going for big second serves on break points down—he loves that slider up the middle—sometimes over 110 miles an hour. And it’s paying dividends. Overall, he’s going for his shots better than ever. His backhand and his defensive skills have always been excellent. What’s really important is the way he’s managing his forehand now. He never goes for unnecessary, low-percentage forehands, and when the time is right to pull the trigger and go for a big shot, his shot selection is outstanding.
Djokovic’s gluten-free diet, designed by Dr. Igor Cetojevid, a nutritionist who has been traveling with him since July 2010, has also made a big difference in his health—his physique is absolutely sculpted—and his results. Finally, when you win as many matches as Novak has, it really takes your confidence to a very high level. It’s great to see a tennis player, like Novak, fine-tune all these technical and dietary aspects to take him to the highest possible level.
After Rafael Nadal was dethroned in the four-set Wimbledon final by Djokovic, he said: “My experience says this level is not forever.” Nadal is right because sooner or later Djokovic will have dips in his play. And if you wanted someone to play for your life, Nadal is the guy I’d pick. He knows that if Djokovic’s level drops just slightly, he’s going to be banging down that door to get him.
I’d never count Nadal out. Technically, Nadal is not as gifted as some of the other guys, but his attitude is the best I’ve ever seen. Jimmy Connors is the only other player I’ve ever seen who was able to sustain that high level of competitive fire as long as Nadal has.
"Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, and Murray, 'the quad squad,' I see them all reaching the semifinals,"
As defending champion, Nadal knows what it takes to win at the US Open, and if the wind is howling, he can play well in those conditions. I remember in the Indian Wells final two years ago the weather was horrendous and he beat Murray 6-1, 6-2. Also, Nadal will be out to get some revenge against Djokovic after basically being dominated in every final he’s contested with Novak! I’m a little concerned with Nadal’s form coming into the Open with an unexpected loss to Ivan Dodig in Montreal and a comfortable loss to Mardy Fish in Cincinnati. Rafa isn’t looking as confident as he was 12 months ago.
I like to call Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray “the quad squad” because of the way they’ve dominated over the past few seasons, and they’re playing really well, so especially on a hard court, I see them all reaching the semifinals.
Roger Federer is definitely not over the hill, but he’s also not the Federer of his 2003-2009 prime. He hasn’t been in a Grand Slam final since winning the 2010 Australian, which shows the other guys aren’t intimidated by Roger anymore. And he’s also starting to lose to other players, like Soderling, Berdych, and Tsonga, that he shouldn’t lose to. He lost to Tsonga at Wimbledon after being two sets ahead, which is the first time in his career at a major [in 178 matches] that has happened.
Click photo: Federer likes to use his forehand to set up points as he does here, but sometimes, when matches get tight, the forehand lets him down.
But Federer is experienced, he’s won the title five times, and he loves playing in New York. The quicker the courts are, the more he’s going to like it. Occasionally his backhand serve returns let him down a bit, but the big problem is his forehand. When matches get tight, we’ve seen him shanking forehands, mis-hitting them 10 feet beyond the baseline. He refuses to back down with his forehand; he likes to be aggressive. You can understand his mentality because his forehand has served him so well throughout his career. But now he has to rein in that forehand a little bit when it’s wild. He has to play the percentages better.
Recently his coach, Paul Annacone, said they are going to focus more on strategy. That’s interesting because Roger has never had to worry about strategy during his career. His thinking has always been: my best is better than anything my opponent has to offer. But that’s no longer the case. The problem is that nowadays more opponents are dictating points against him and he’s being forced to hit forehands on the back foot and on the run. So he’s making more forced errors, and he just has to be a bit more sensible with his shot selection.
I fancy Andy Murray’s chances better against either Nadal or Djokovic if they play in the semis rather than in the final, given his recent history, because of the great pressure a final brings. Murray has beaten Nadal, Djokovic and Federer often enough, including upsetting Djokovic in the Cincinnati final. But he’s had his problems with them in the finals of big tournaments.
Winning most recently in Cincinnati will be a big “shot in the arm” for Andy, and he’ll take a lot of confidence into the Open as a result. After his first match loss in Montreal to Kevin Anderson, it’s been a good rebound for the Scot.
Click photo: There's no doubt Murray's second serve is weak compared to the other players in the top 10.
But these days, more so than ever, you have to win Grand Slam events. You have to be the aggressor and go out there and win it. You can’t hope that other guys will make errors on big points and lose them. Murray has been guilty of that in his three Grand Slam finals. He’s admitted that.
But I saw a lot of positive signs for Murray in the Wimbledon semifinals against Nadal. He was really pulling the trigger and going for his shots. It was such a pity that at 2-1 in the second set he missed a forehand barely long because then we saw a massive shift in momentum that changed the outcome of the match.
Andy Murray is a smart guy, and he knows what needs to be done. I think he’s angry at the way he’s played [in major finals]. And rather than having it become a burden on his shoulders, I predict he’s going to rise to the occasion. Nadal has said Murray will win not just one major but perhaps a couple. I’m certain of that, and Murray will win it sooner rather than later.
There’s no doubt his second serve is weak compared to the other players in the top 10. At Wimbledon, the moment Murray’s first serve percentage dropped below 60 percent, he started to struggle, and when it fell below 50 percent, he was doomed against the top players. Another weakness is that Andy almost always hits his forehand off the back foot. That means the ball is traveling an extra half meter to get to you, which allows the better players to recover [their position], they get back into rallies and eventually grind down your weakness. Murray can hit his forehand aggressively crosscourt, but when he tries that down the line, he often makes errors.
Juan Martin del Potro
When Juan Martin del Potro is at his best, he’s a high-quality player and should be among the top 5 [ranked] players in the world. He’s on a par, if not better than Murray, results-wise at Grand Slam events. Delpo has everything. Anytime someone can beat Federer and Nadal to win his first major, as he did at the 2009 US Open, you really have someone special.
After Del Potro’s wrist surgery and long recovery, he said his love for the game has grown even more, which can only be a good thing. However, he did not get a lot of matches under his belt this summer, and that’s going to hurt him. I don’t think he’s back to his best yet, but it would be foolish to count out a guy who beat both Nadal and Federer to win his first Grand Slam final at the first time of asking.
And that said, if you’re one of the top seeds, you certainly don’t want to see Delpo in your section of the draw.
Gael Monfils frustrates me. He has so much athletic talent, but I wish he’d use it more in an offensive manner rather than in a defensive manner. He’s ranked No. 7, and as well as he’s playing at the moment, I just can’t see him going far. He’s too fragile mentally. And I always worry about injuries with Gael. We know he has the strokes and he’s a great athlete, but he just doesn’t have the mental fortitude you need to win seven matches in a row.
Being tough mentally is a skill that is honed over the years. Even if he starts playing more aggressively, I wonder: can he play that way in a Grand Slam final? The tendency is, under pressure, to go back to what you’ve been doing over the course of your career. Look at how aggressively Francesca Schiavone played in her first Grand Slam final when she took it to Samantha Stosur and won. I certainly don’t think Monfils could do that in a Grand Slam final. I’m only penciling him in to make the quarters based on what I’ve seen this summer.
Click photo: Monfils may be the best athlete on the tour, but Koenig says he’s too fragile mentally to win seven matches in a row. Ferrer is mentally tough, but lacks the firepower to be a serious threat at Grand Slam events.
David Ferrer is very tough mentally. He’s one of my favorite players. I think the greatest compliment you can give a player is that he’s fulfilled his potential, and David has done that in spades. Anytime he goes on the court he gives 110 percent. But he lacks the firepower for five sets over the course of seven matches, and he doesn’t get that many free points on his first serve.
Ferrer has to work so hard that it takes its toll over the course of two weeks. He can do it for three or four matches in a row and maybe even five or six if he’s playing great. But the conditions in New York can get hot, and that takes a lot out of you. Ferrer just lacks that firepower the other top contenders, including Soderling, have. So I don’t see him getting past the quarterfinals. He’s missed a lot of tennis this summer and looked rusty in Cincinnati but I wouldn’t mind being wrong.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the ultimate inspirational and emotional player, and he certainly has to be inspired and enthused by his great comeback victory over Federer at Wimbledon. But I was very disappointed how he responded against Djokovic in the next match. He beat Federer again at Montreal. I’ve always been a huge fan of J-W. But it just seems when he comes up against the top 4 players, they’re so good at breaking down and exploiting his backhand. It’s really a weak chink in his armor. On an off day, there are a bunch of guys in the top 50 he can lose to, such as Alex Bogomolov in Cincinnati. So I think he’ll reach the quarters at best. He’s very unpredictable.
Mardy Fish is a likely semifinalist. He’s played great all-court tennis throughout the US Open Series, and upset Nadal decisively [6-3, 6-4] in Cincinnati. He has a lot of matches under his belt and he’s preparing well and he has a lot of confidence. He loves playing in the States. He’s also enjoying his time in the spotlight now as the No. 1-ranked American. That’s another shot big bonus for him. He’s going to be able to exploit the faster hard court surface, too. This summer he’s already won Atlanta and gained the final in Los Angeles and Montreal and played superbly in Cincinnati. He has a lot of strengths—a big serve, strong backhand, plus an improved forehand and better fitness than ever.
While both were 25-year-old lefthanders, the similarity ended there. Defending champion Connors blasted flat groundstrokes, especially with his deadly two-handed backhand, contrasting sharply with the handsome Argentine’s heavy topspin style. Vilas, the introspective French Open champion who wrote poetry, had beaten 41 straight clay-court opponents, but Connors hit through the gusting winds and overpowered him 6-2 in the opening set.
Gilles Simon is one of the guys outside the top 10 who could cause upsets. He’s recovered from some injuries, and he’s playing well now. He won Hamburg. I remember when he beat Nadal in Madrid, his own backyard, in one of the best matches I’ve ever seen, and he’s played some rock-solid tennis this U.S. summer. Alexandr Dolgopolov, the surprise Australian Open quarterfinalist, is another guy to look out for. Dolgopolov is an exceptional athlete, and he’s fearless—he’s teeing off on all his shots—which the top players never like. Ernests Gulbis, who just won in Los Angeles, beating Fish in the final, is another upset threat. And let’s not forget David Nalbandian. When he’s playing well, he’s probably the second or third most talented player out there, when it comes to striking a tennis ball. If he’s in good shape and has a lot of matches under his belt going into the Open, you can never count him out.
The Young Guns
Bernard Tomic’s game is ideal for grass because he hits the ball so flat. I certainly don’t think his groundstrokes have been as penetrating or effective on hard courts as they were on grass at Wimbledon where he made the quarters. As a result, we haven’t seen anything special from him this summer on the hard courts. He has one of the better backhand slices for a two-handed player. His flat serve held up at Wimbledon, but I can’t see him doing as well at the Open this year. It’s fantastic, though, that Pat Rafter is helping him now.
Click photo: Ryan Harrison is one of the young guns who could make some noise at the Open. He has an outstanding serve.
I like Ryan Harrison a lot. Harrison is cruising through the early rounds of tournaments now, albeit in weaker fields. His serve is outstanding, it’s technically perfect. His second serve is one of the best in the business. If he can serve and volley some of the time, that strategy will serve him well, and he will respond very well to the New York fans. They’ll embrace his feisty attitude.
Milos Raonic, a player I rate highly, unfortunately has not recovered from an injury in time to play the Open, which is a pity.
Grigor Dimitrov is an interesting work in progress and an immense talent, but I’m concerned about his backhand. It’s a shot he doesn’t defend well with, and it needs a lot of work. Aussie coach Peter McNamara has been very good for him because McNamara is from the old Harry Hopman school of hard work and no nonsense. But thus far Harrison and Raonic and Tomic have worked harder than Dimitrov.
Of these four young guys, I think Harrison has the best chance of having a breakthrough tournament at Flushing Meadows.
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Prep Like the Pros
Walking around the practice courts at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Michael McDowell was struck by just how different the game of tennis is when played at the highest levels. Some of this difference is the function of finely honed skill, which have taken thousands of hours to cultivate. Another part simply involves preparation; that is, getting to the court and being ready to play your best game. McDowell shows you what the pros are doing to get ready and most likely, you are not.
The Kick Serve
Pat Dougherty, the "Serve Doctor" at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida tackles what in the modern game has become one of the most important strokes, the kick serve. So much of the game today is built around what you get done with the serve and building combinations right off the serve and a solid kick serve can open up the court and allow things to develop. Check out Pat's spin, so to speak, on this important weapon..
ProStrokes 2.0 – Gael Monfils Serve & Net Game
This 24 year old Frenchman turned pro in 2004, and is currently ranked 7th – an all-time high. A mainstay amongst a strong French contingent, Monfils has won over $5 million in prize money but holds a mere 3 career singles titles although he has been a finalist 11 times. This former number 1 junior is perhaps the most athletically gifted player on the entire tour, but Gael is still looking for a breakout event. In July of 2008 Monfils hired Roger Rasheed, the Australian coach who shepherded much of Lleyton Hewitt’s career. Rasheed has said, “He is not even close to where I want him to be. In two years time he will be a beast." And to that end Monfils has admitted he wants to become tougher. Time will tell. New this issue, Monfils' Serve & Net Game.
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