Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rome: Gulby Shocks Fed

Gulby was up a break in the 3rd and could not convert his first 6 MPs against Federror with two of 'em being double faults until Federror finally broke back to even the match at 5-all. Then Gulby returned the favor to break back as Federror's 1st serve disappeared (46% in 3rd set). Finally, he served at the match at love to score an upset: 2-6 6-1 7-5. The journos now have an official new victim for their slump category: Fed, who hadn't lost before the QFs in 3 consecutive tourneys since 2002.

In his presser, Gulby admitted that his mental state was terrible on all those MPs:

I shit my pants a little bit, sorry for my language ... I couldn't put a serve in. I was shaking. I didn't know what to do. It was a terrible feeling.

Federer Gulbis
Aces 2 8
DF 3 2
1st Serve % 56% 74%
1st Serve % Pts Won 35/53 (66%) 46/65 (71%)
2nd Serve % Pts Won 18/41 (44%) 11/24 (46%)
Unforced Errors 38 39
Winners 20 33
Break Points Won 3/6 (50%) 4/10 (40%)
Total Service Points Won 53/94 (56%) 57/89 (64%)
Total Points Won 83/183 (46%) 98/183 (54%)

It's fairly clear from the point total that Gulby just outplayed Fed and that Fed's 1st serve percentage was not good enough to earn him enough free points. Fed knew that his poor serve form lost the match.

Here's to hoping that Fed really wakes up, buckle down by winning ugly, and then begin to kick ass like he's supposed to. And just to squash any craziness from FedKADs, this cannot be a nefarious plot by Fed to pace himself through the clay court season. It's an all too common pattern for Fed to go downhill mid-match.

At least, Fed is still playing dubs.

In other news, Muzz got past Seppi at 2 and 4.

The Djoker baked a double breadstick for Chardy

In WTA news, Nails baked also two breadsticks for soccer chic, Errani.

Fun question: what is everyone but Fed doing in this blog post?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stuttgart: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2010

Tourney site: here
Draw: here

Prominent absentees: Splits, Vee & ReeRee (what do you expect?), LenaD, Masha

Top Half: Sunshine might have bad hair days, might be a pusher, may be overcoming an ankle sprain, may look terrible in StellaMcCartney, but underneath that smile, she's one tough cookie. Don't underestimate the Dane. Look for a great quarterfinal match with her best friend Vika.

Sunshine is seeded to meet Sveta who tweeted that she loves cars. She is looking earn another Porsche to race on the autobahn. Nails faces a tough opener against a real grinder in Errani but don't expect her to prevail over Sam who loves to play on clay. Expect a great quarterfinal match between Sam & Sveta.

Bottom Half: Drama Queen looks like another girl who loves cars. But the diva will have a chance to find lots of excitement as she has potential opponents in Dulkbag, and then Whoopie or Allez Bitch. Unfortunately, red clay is Allez Bitch's favorite surface and is likely to prevail.

Baby Hippo is coming back from a lingering back injury, that she has had at least since least year's USO and caused her to go off the tour in Oz. Hopefully she isn't coming back too early (i.e. don't reinjure the back), and she should be just happy to be back putting her in a "nothing to lose position", which probably suits her better than being a slamless #1. Speaking of someone who doesn't need pressure, NaturAna is in the same quarter, but given her form of late she might have a tough time overcoming Agi.

Allez Bitch is due for winning a tourney. Yeah she injured her left pinky but it won't hurt her backhand or her toss. She did well here in her first career and now the tourney is on her favorite surface.

Semi: Sam d. Sunshine, Allez Bitch d. Baby Hippo

Final: Allez Bitch d. Sam

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rome: Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2010

Formerly known as the Italian Open. This year, the pros get to slide around in a new center court.

Tourney site: here
Draw: here

Prominent withdrawals: Gonzo, Playstation, ARod, Delpo

1st Quarter: I said it last time, but this time I think there's even more reason to look for Fed to be on a mission. In the last few weeks, he has been fairly overt in his eagerness for the clay court season so that he can defend his Roland Garros crown. That said he faces dangerous opening round opponent in Gulby or Bags. Other seeds in his quarter are Head Samurai, Ljubs and Cilic.

Sleepers: Bags, Nico

Semifinalist: Fed d. Nico (unless Fed suffers from a serious lack of concentration).

Courtesy of Picket Fence, the Logo found time to open Nike Town in Rome.

2nd Quarter: It would be very tough to bet against Rafa the Clay Monster and the seeding projects a Fedal semi. Other than Pico, Rafa could face exactly the kind of opponent who troubles him: big tall flat hitters in Berd and Sod. Still, Rafa looked indestructible in Monte Carlo. I'll just say it: Rafa will defend his Rome crown.

Sleepers: Kohli, Stan the Man, Igor A

Semifinalist: Rafa d. Sod

3rd Quarter: Muzz has been in a slump lately losing his last three matches to Kohli, Fish and Sod. Things don't look so good here on his least favorite surface (despite his counterpunching style) as he faces dirt ballers like Ferrer and JCF. Jo Willy has also shown improved form on the red stuff too.

Sleepers: De Bakker

Semifinalist: Jo Willy d. Ferrer

4th Quarter: The Djoker faces the challenge of getting back his serve in the thick of the season. Nando has been playing very "regular" (as the Spanish like to say) making the finals of Monte Caro and winning Barcelona. If Headbanger can get past Rusty, he could stop Nando. Tree showed that a tall American can slide taking the Djoker to five sets in Davis Cup.

Sleepers: Belluci, Rusty

Semifinalist: Nando d. Djoker

Semis: Nando d. Jo Willy, Nadal d. Fed

Finals: Nadal d. Nando

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Monte Carlo: Return of the King of Clay

King Rafa asserted his supremacy in force, baking a bagel and a breadstick for compatriot Nando. Rafa hasn't bit a trophy since Rome of last year. Despite whispers about his vulnerability the last few months, this comes as no surprise to those who have been watching his form the last few weeks.

His dominance was so utter that Nando had to thank God to win a point.

In WTA news, Sam overpower Casper with a bagel and three to become the muscled queen of HarTru for the second singles trophy of her career in Charleston. After winning 9 consecutive games, Casper had to take her frustrations out.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Paris on Fed's Mind

Fed posted this photo on his facebook page today.

He added this caption:

Back on the red clay, been practicing fitness and tennis and I am really excited
for the upcoming stretch of tournaments!

One journo tweeted:

@JamesLaRosa Federer posts on FB and in less than an hour has 10,000 likes and 1600 comments. Oh to have 3.4 million friends...

Just a bit of speculative psychology, but I would suspect that Fed was slightly bored with the hard court tennis in Indian Wells/Miami and quite eager to move on to clay. Of course FedKADs know he's been a bit of a goofball in practice and prone to try out shots that he would hardly ever use in a match.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Monte Carlo: Fried Muzzard

This was not a total surprise for this tennis fanatic as Kohly collected some Fried Muzzard 6-2 6-1, even though I didn't see the match.

Although Muzz hit 5 winners, he was uncharacteristically inconsistent with 26 unforced errors as he acknowledge

I played really, really badly. The court felt so small. I actually felt fine mentally. I felt like I had the nerves back. I was nervous before the match. I don't know, I just couldn't find the court. When it's like that, it's kind of difficult to play. I tried a few different things. But it didn't really make a whole lot of difference. I couldn't get the ball in the court.

Muzz has been on a slump since losing to Fed about 4 months ago in Oz, which is a bit of a mystery on a number of levels.

  • Is it much to expect a top 10 ATP pro to get over a tough loss? Sigh! Kids these days got to man up despite what gizzards like Bozo have to say.

  • Muzz moved to Spain when he was 15 to train on clay. It's not a foreign surface to him as it is for many Americans such as Blake, Querrey and Isner.

  • On clay, one might have thought that Muzz's counterpunching style would suit him well

To this last point, folks over at Essential Tennis point out that successful clay courters have become more aggressive.

Murray's big problem playing clay is the lack of a good kill shot [uh, you mean a forehand and/or a consistent 1st serve]. Murray relies on change of pace to win points, confusing his opponents into unexpected errors. But he's been on the tour a while, and players begin to pick up on your patterns and learn how to address them. Murray isn't the kind of player that looks to hit big shots, and clay is one of those surfaces that increasingly, you need to look to put away the ball.

The pro game has changed even on la terre battue: consistent aggression from the baseline wins! Just ask this fella who baked a breadstick and a bagel a la Dutch to Thiemo De Bakker.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Monte Carlo Rolex Master's 2010

ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo

Tourney Site: here
Draw: here

There is not much to say about this one now that it has become an "optional" Master's. Absentees are: Fed (rest), Delpo (wrist injury), Playstation (wrist injury), ARod (hanging with BDeck), Sod (knee injury). Rafa is attempting to go for his 6th consecutive title, and it's tough to bet against him on la terre battue. Djoker got the top seed and got to the finals last year. He should be looking to dispel the buzz that he's in a slump. Muzz has the right game style for clay, but he's been slumping lately and this is his least favorite surface. Cilic had a breakout Aussie but hasn't done much since. As usual one ought to watch out for clay courters whose rankings don't reflect the advantage they get on this surface: Ferrer, JCF, Pico, Nico, Nalby, TRob and Nando.

By the way, the ladies are playing in Charleston: Sunshine, JJ, Vika, Mono, Sam and Nads. But most of the top 10 is taking time off: the Williams (whaddaya expect?), Safina (back injury), Sveta (speeding in Moscow), Lena and Agi.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hacking the Ball: Tale of Two Backhands

This is the first in a thematic series about how a tennis nut (yours truly) tries to hack the ball instead of just being a fan. One of the interesting things about being a tennis nut (as opposed to other sports like American football) is that we're not just fans who passively enjoy the game. We play the game itself on a regular basis. As a consequence when some tennis commentators remark that a certain pro really should have zigged instead of zagged, I sigh "How little you know. Try doing it yourself." (For a brilliant comment with the same sentiments by Tigs, see here.)

I first picked up the game of tennis as thirteen year old by wanting to do what Borg and McEnroe did. After getting a wooden Wilson Jack Kramer Pro Staff, and checking out Vic Braden's Tennis for the Future from the local library for a month, I was hitting against the local backboard. Braden's instructional philosophy is fairly old school: he coaches students to model their game after Laver. Groundstrokes should be topspin with an Eastern grip, hit slice to charge the net, and pressure your opponent from the net. He was fairly progressive way back in the late 70s in his emphasis on slow motion video and scientifically studying a great stroke. So unbelievably, I learned to hack tennis from a book. I enjoyed the game but never played it regularly enough to be no better than an advanced beginner.

Like many, I took a fair bit of time off from playing tennis (15 years), before deciding to play it regularly again. Hitting balls was so much more fun than merely going to the gym. After coming back, I noticed that the game had changed significantly even at the level of tennis nuts who regularly hack at the park. It's much harder to be a netrusher, and baseline skills are at a premium. The one-handed backhand I learned as a child wasn't quite cutting it against high heavy topspin. On flat balls with tons of pace, I would meet the ball late and the ball would sail wide. So I switched to a two handed backhand. None other than Martina Navaratilova said this:

But really, if I were teaching someone to play today, I would teach the two-handed backhand and one-handed slice and one-handed volley. The two-hander is just a more secure ball.

This made a lot of sense to me (as it does to many observers of professional tennis), and I started to dabble with a two handed backhand. In the middle of one hitting session last summer where I just kept missing my one hander, I switched completely.

One thing that had changed significantly since I first picked up tennis (besides strings and the racquets) is You Tube. There are hours of video of professional players hitting balls, and an obssessive-compulsive nut like me has plenty of raw material to study. In developing my two hander, I understood that it was really a forehand with the non-dominant hand assisted by your dominant hand. Indeed when I did hit the two handed backhand, flatter shots would surprise my opponents. High balls to the backhand didn't provoke a moment of anxiety as I knew I could execute it.

But consistent execution was the problem. Too frequently my swing would be too big, and I'd hit a line drive through the fence. On approach shots I would still feel funny hitting with both hands holding the racquet. While anticipating the shot I felt like I was had to think about whether I wanted to hit a two hander, to slice it with one hand or to hit an inside-out forehand. Put me on the run, I'd revert to a slice or even my one hander. If my opponent took the net, I'd sometimes try to hit the pass or topspin lob with one hand.

At some point, it dawned on me that my footwork and my weight transfer needed much more attention. It's easy to hit the perfect stroke when the ball is hit directly into your strike zone. Notice how this man pivots off his front foot at 0:11, 0:50, 1:47 to his hip rotation to put more weight in the shot.

Watching the groundies of professional players, you'll notice the same pivot moves off of both wings, and using either foot. Out of curiosity, I wondered what a professional one hander does. Notice how the footwork and weight transfer of this fella who isn't too shabby.

At 0:10 in a neutral stance, he steps forward but with a very subtle front pivot. A very pronounced pivot in the closed position at 1:14.

After noticing the pivot, I tried it out with both backhands the next time I went to hit. Both of them became heavier shots with more pace and spin. However, I noticed with my one handed backhand that I was able to land a fairly consistent rally shot deep crosscourt, drive a flat ball in both directions when I wanted, and hit a sharp angle ball that landed in the corner of the service box. With the two handed backhand, I wondered how much I'd have to shorten my backswing. So I committed myself back to hitting the one hander.

My rally partner noticed I kept switching back and forth and asked me why I switched I was finally able to articulate my problem.

You know, for me, it isn't a physical problem. I can clearly hit both shots. It's mental. Probably in my heart of hearts, I'm a one-hander.

Besides the stroke mechanics I noticed a lot of my instincts are grooved to the one handed backhand:

  • How to position the distance of my body to the ball and which stance to take (closed or neutral)

  • How big of a swing to take

  • Reacting quickly to a body shot

  • Whether to go for a safe rally ball, hit a short sharp angle, drive cross court, or go down the line

  • Whether to chip an approach or to drive the topspin approach

None of these problems are fundamentally technical. They are mental, and undoubtedly developed due to hours of my hitting against a backboard like my parent's garage door (and breaking more than a few lights in the process). For someone who really owns a shot, you don't just know the basics. You know umpteen variations on the same theme and have a feel for what it takes to execute those variations. With the two hander, I knew it would take a few years to develop that instinctive feel. With the one hander, I already had the feel. I just needed to practice.

None of this is to say my one hander has become a weapon that my fellow hackers ought to fear. I still struggle with handling pace (usually over 70 mph), and with high kickers (usually at shoulder height). I've returned to the one hander and been putting in lots of sessions against a ball machine.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Soccer: Messi the Magician

Lots of man love here, as Barcelona's Messi scored a hat track in the first half and added another with two minutes in regulation to singlehandedly outscore Arsenal 4 to 1 in the Champions League quarterfinal.

I suspect the commentators in YouTube clip are speaking in Russian. Watch the little guy in the red and blow wearing #10. His magic begins at 1:11.

I'll admit I'm a noob at soccer. Never played it competitively as a kid and messed around with it in physical education. I cannot dribble a slalom to save my life. But this 5' 5" 22 year old fella exudes pure genius that even I can see. The hype on him is real. At the end of his career he really could be the greatest footballer of all time, and he's already in the company of greats such as Maradona, Zidane and Pele.

What do I see in this maestro? He has outstanding ball control, so that he really could beat three defenders on the dribble, and then thread the needle (first goal at 1:27). Like all great sportsman, he's always at the right place at the right time (2nd goal is a backdoor cut at 2:06). Although he is small in stature, he maximizes his strength as the premier finesse footballer in the world (3rd goal is the chip lob with his weaker right foot over the keeper on the breakaway at 2:50). Like any great champion, he demonstrates poise (4th gravy goal off a rebound and between the keeper's legs at 3:45). He makes unbelievably pitch-perfect passes. He exudes so much joy and love for the game. He makes the difficult look easy. Qualities that I've seen in other players I love to watch: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Roger Federer.

NOTE: Pardon this interruption to our regular program. Messi's feat deserved comment.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Miami: ARod Wins ...

A wedding anniversary gift for his supermodel wife, BDecks. It may not be paper, but it certainly can makes a great flower vase.

The outcome of the match was never in doubt once ARod broke serve once in each set: 7-5, 6-4. ARod admitted he had to use a different game plan against Big Berd, who hits flatter than Rafa.

Q. Do you feel you played two different matches against Nadal and Berdych?

ANDY RODDICK: Definitely.

Q. Up at the net a lot and only three times serve and volley in this match today.

ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, for sure. You know, against Rafa, when you get two feet under you and you’re not being bullied from the baseline, it’s time to take some cuts.

With Tomas I can get away with my slice a little bit more. I can get away with changing paces a little bit more without the angles of the court being utilized as much. He hits the ball straight through a little bit more, so I can kind of rely on legs a little bit more without the court growing this way and becoming tougher.

So, yeah, it’s definitely a different match.

The match was never entirely characterized by the surf n turf style both guys are known for (big serves and big forehands), as they exchanged several slice and dice rallies. Kudos to both fellas for having a great tournament.

Thank God the hard court season is over!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Miami: Mum Train Cleans Up!

Not much to say as plenty have commented on this match (here, here and here). To make a long story short, Mum Train pulled out a can of whoopass on Vee, who beat herself by committing 30 unforced errors. Vee barely escaped a double breadstick 62 61.

Best comment, though, comes from her luving sista, ReeRee, who tweeted this during the match.

serenajwilliams @venuseswilliams is such a champ if I were playing I would have cracked 5 rackets by now!! Wow she's to be admired and I can learn from her!!

Enuf said!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Miami: Battle of the Belgians, Part 24

The 24th meeting between Allez Bitch and Mum Train was a scrappy mud-fight. No there were no histrionics as both women are all business out on the court. Mum Train was up 3-0 in the second, until Allez Bitch remembered that she's clay court specialist and tried to counterpunch her way back. Allez Bitch put up a good fight before fading to Mum Train who had the match on her racquet for almost two and half hours. It took Mum Train 4 match points before she finally coverted to even their head to head record of 24 meetings: 62 67(3) 76(6). I tweeted that Mum Train would fail to convert on triple MP, because Mum Train had overhit all night on pressure points.

Stats wise, MumTrain could have played a cleaner match and closed it out in two, but her errors let Allez Bitch come back.

Henin Clijsters
Aces 2 1
DF 8 10
1st Serve % 59 63
1st Serve % Pts Won 39/69 (57%) 47/74 (65%)
2nd Serve % Pts Won 23/47 (49%) 18/43 (42%)
Winners 19 37
Unforced Errors 44 63
Break Points Won 5/11 (45%) 7/14 (50%)
Total Service Points Won 62/116 (53%) 65/117 (56%)
Total Points Won 114/233 (49%) 119/233 (51%)

It was not JuJu's night as it was obvious that her legs weren't quite there. She netted quite a few serves and overheads because she clearly could not get enough leg lift. After one long rally won by Mum Train on a winner after pulling JuJu off court, JuJu was clearly gassed.

As a certain dork from Switzerland once said, "Thank God the hard court season is over!" Time to move on to clay!

PS Vamos Rafa! It's your Masters tournament to win. You're overdue.