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Notes from New York: US Open 2008
New York – It’s Monday morning in Queens, the tennis world awaiting for the first time in 21 years, a Monday men’s final. Certainly there will be plenty of commentary about all these events – including the USTA’s decision to not play the Nadal-Murray match at the same time as the Federer-Djokovic semi – but for now I’d like to circle around the outside and take a broader look at the event.
We will be hearing more from Gulbis and Cilic
in the future.
Having attended the U.S. Open for more than 30 years, I’ve long had more affinity for it than any other Grand Slam event. It’s also got a distinctive emotional flavor to it. Todd Martin once told me that the Australian Open was fantastic because players were starting the year with optimism. The U.S. Open, though, is the last chance for love, an event where players go about their business with exceptional urgency and the need to stay focused amid all the clutter, commotion and commerce that’s particularly indigenous to New York.
And yet either because or in spite of that, this year’s U.S. Open has only generated sprinkles of drama. Andy Roddick’s stirring four-set win over Ernests Gulbis, Federer’ five-setter versus Igor Andreev, Novak Djokovic’s five-setter with Tommy Robredo and a riveting four-setter versus Marin Cilic have been among the most engaging matches. We will be hearing more from Gulbis and Cilic.
The ascent of Murray into the top echelon has also been pleasing. His win over Nadal was a tactical masterpiece. Just a few examples: Murray returning deep, high, and down the middle of the court, hence negating Nadal’s ability to set the point in motion from a corner. Another wise Murray tactic was the way he wasn’t always worried about hitting balls short or with little pace. Though Nadal’s volleys have improved, on hardcourts his netrushing limitations are much more exposed than on clay or grass – surfaces where he can nimbly hit drop volleys. Not so viable on hardcourts.
On the American front, seeing Mardy Fish play with intelligence and aggression was quite pleasing. Under the tutelage of his coach, Craig Boynton, Fish is coming to see that a big game is not necessarily synonymous with power but more a function of establishing sound court position and forcing opponents to repeatedly come up with great shots. The way Fish played in dismantling his buddy James Blake and Frenchman Gael Monfils was exemplary, a pair of textbook studies in percentage attacking and disruptive tennis.
As for Roger Federer, I believe a microscope can be a terrible instrument. It’s easy to forget that even while Federer was number one in the world, he was also grubbing his way through matches not too differently from what he’s done this year on the way to the finals. The new factor, of course, is that he’s been toppled from his perch by Nadal and therefore undergoing extensive public scrutiny. I was shocked, for example, to read an article that recalled the days when Federer “toyed” with his opponents. To be sure, he beat them, but I doubt if he ever toyed with them.
On the Women's Side: Desolation Row
I wish I didn’t have to say this, but the women’s side has been massively devoid of engaging matches. Only the quarterfinal between Venus and Serena Williams and portions of the women’s final got my blood racing. Otherwise, I must invoke one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs: Desolation Row. But Serena’s 7-6, 7-6 win over her older sister was a remarkable mix of intensity, shotmaking, and guts under pressure. Having watched these two play dozens of scratchy matches over the years, it was impressive to see these two play many engaging points. Alas, Venus held a total of ten set points across the loss – two in the first, a staggering eight in the second, including a 6-3 lead in that concluding tiebreak.
Venus and Serena compete so infrequently but rise so well on big occasions.
It remains a headscratcher to see how Venus and Serena can compete so infrequently but rise so well on big occasions. My own predilection favors consistent diligence, but dare one dispute a duo that between them have won 16 Grand Slam singles titles? As I write this, I’m staggered by Serena’s competitive willpower – while also wondering what might have happened had Jankovic converted one of the four set points she held to level the match. Serena’s fitness had disintegrated by the stages of the second set. But in true champion style, she closed it out with a vengeance.
Return to 16 Seeds
But beyond that, the women’s and, to a lesser extent, the men’s fields have both been hurt by the deployment of 32 seeds. Time was when you could expect a high-seeded player to be tested by a dangerous floater ranked anywhere from, say, 17 to 25. Those days are gone, leading to a great many dreary early-round matches.
The introduction of 32 seeds was started in 2001 at Wimbledon to placate a flock of Spanish claycourters who felt their year-long achievements were discounted by the officials at Wimbledon (no other Slam is more willing to alter its seedings regardless of rankings). It subsequently spread like a virus and has done little to enhance the entertainment value of any Slam. Moreover, it’s aided the higher-ranked players, keeping them from too many early round tests; the rich get richer.
So my message to TennisOne readers: Protest the presence of 32 seeds at Grand Slam events. Go back to 16 – and you’ll have even more drama at this great tournament.
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The Backhand: You are Only as Strong as Your Weakest Link
There is an old saying that you are only as strong as your weakest link. Too often we see players who possess a very strong forehand and a fairly weak backhand. Many experts stress that the greatest gains in your game can be made by concentrating on your weaknesses because potentially, this is where you have the most room for improvement. WTA Coach, Ian Barstow, and tour player, Melinda Czink, show you how to strengthen your backhand using medicine ball training.
The Lost Art of the Neutral Ball
No matter what level you play at - whether you are a 3.0 adult playing in USTA leagues, or an aspiring professional looking to take your game to the next level - learning how to play smarter tennis will assist your progress exponentially. The central aspect of playing smart tennis is shot selection and in this article Coach Dan McCain discusses the most basic level of smart tennis, the neutral shot, which is the central focus of any smart player.
ProStrokes 2.0 - Roger Federer's Backhand
The consummate artist, Roger Federer moves gracefully, swings effortlessly, and employs other worldly shot selection. If you are searching for an underspin backhand, Federer is the perfect model. Modeling the topspin backhand, look to Federer; an effortless rhythmic disguised serve, copy Federer. And if you want more on the forehand without resorting to an extreme grip, again Roger Federer. The guy loves to play and we are the richer for it. Check out his strokes in the all new super slow-mo ProStrokes 2.0. Only on TennisOne. New this Issue, Roger Federer's backhand.
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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