Posts Tagged ‘Roger Federer’
Part 1 covered tips to correct foot faults through your footwork. However, your best service footwork intentions will be completely undone if you chase your toss. So Part 2 will cover tips to help make your toss a little less wonky.
Question: If someone’s toss is the reason for their foot fault troubles, what advice would you give them? What kind of things can they do in practice to help their toss?
Answer: If you’re having problems with your toss, make sure that you’re not:
1. Bending your elbow,
2. Breaking at the wrist,
3. Rolling the ball from your fingers with spin.
All of these things make it hard to control the ball. You want a straight arm ending in a trophy pose with good knee bend, and a clean release of the ball with no flicking action. Ideally, you should be able to read the printing on the ball. Federer is one of the best at it, and of course Serena because of her consistent delivery.
To test your consistency, stand at the baseline in “serve ready” position with your racquet on the ground in front of you with the strings positioned where a correct toss should land. Then, try to see how many times you can perform your toss and have it land on the strings.
All of these tips will help give you a simpler and more consistent toss for better serve control…and fewer foot faults.
(SFTF Note: My personal struggles with the service toss mostly relate to rolling the ball on my fingers as it gets tossed, sending it too far to the left, right, or forward. Marla suggested that I practice releasing the ball as if I was releasing a balloon, palm up with all fingers releasing at the same time (much as in the picture with Mike Bryan at right). It has helped immensely, allowed me to hit my serve more consistently from the same position above my left shoulder.
Another thing to remember, as with anything related to your strokes, is that you need to relax to help keep your shoulders level and to help keep tension out of your arm. If your shoulders go up, your toss will go astray. If your arm gets tight, you won’t be able to bend it behind you effectively. If you practice the tips above AND remember to relax and breathe when serving, you’ll be well on your way to a more consistent serve with better control, and fewer foot faults.)
Need help with your service footwork? Check out the tips in Part 1.
Got a tennis question? Send it via email or tweet for “Ask Marla”.
Marla Reid is a respected tennis pro/coach in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s coached nationally-ranked teams and players, and has over 15 years of experience at the NCAA Division I, II, and III levels. Marla owns and operates City Racquet Shop in San Francisco CA.
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Legendary Serena, the Bryans Reach 100, and Marin Breaks Through: Final Thoughts on a Turbulent US Open
There’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dive right into my (25) final thoughts on the year’s final Slam:
- By defeating Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday’s final, Serena Williams won her 6th US Open title, and her 18th Slam title overall. Additionally, by winning her third US Open title in as many years, Serena achieved a rare three-peat; a feat not seen since Chris Evert won four successive titles from 1975-78. With number 18 in hand, Serena joins an elite group alongside Evert and Martina Navratilova, one behind Helen Wills Moody’s 19, four behind Steffi Graf’s 22, and six behind Margaret Court’s 24. However, NONE of these numbers really matter much in the grand scheme of things. Reaching 18 gives Serena more than enough legitimacy for any G.O.A.T discussions. (For more Serena discussion, check out ‘Serena Williams – The Humanization of a Flawed Champion‘)
- For her part, Caroline capped her resurgent summer season with an extremely strong showing to reach her second US Open final. Her victory over Maria Sharapova was one of the best in memory, and she can leave New York knowing that she left everything on the court in pursuit of her first Slam. Will she be able to keep up the aggressive play in 2015? It’s unlikely. Though aggression was at the heart of her summer success, it’s just not in her comfort zone. Also, it was fueled by her off-court personal struggles, but that won’t always be the case. But even if she can keep the aggression in her game, that only gives her slightly better odds to go deep again at the big tourneys where, unfortunately, she’ll continue to be outhit.
- Marin Cilic, the newly-crowned US Open men’s champion, has long been considered a contender, but was never viewed as a threat…and with good reason. Prior to winning his maiden Slam title, the Croat had won several ATP 250-level events, but never a 500-level tournament or Masters Series 1000. This win could serve as a catalyst for Marin to “backfill” his tournament resume, as it did for Stan Wawrinka after he won the Australian; hopefully without the follow-up loss of focus.
- Kei Nishikori had an excellent tournament with huge wins over Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, and Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately, he fell short in the final when he needed to step up the most. The wear and tear of too much court time slowed him down, and prevented him from imposing his ground game as he had done so beautifully against Novak. Kei has a history of physical breakdowns in big events when his body is pushed to the limit, but not this time. He made it all the way through without a single thought of retirement in his earlier battles. I hope he can keep that up in 2015.
- 2014 Slam Results, Part 1: The 2014 Slam winners were Li Na/Stan Wawrinka (Australian Open), Maria Sharapova/Rafael Nadal (French Open), Petra Kvitova/Novak Djokovic (Wimbledon), and Serena Williams/Marin Cilic (US Open). Let’s break down what this possibly tells us about the future prospects for both tours, starting with the ladies…
- 2014 Slam Results, Part 2: For the women, the onslaught of WTA teen phenoms, formidable as they are, failed to make an impact at the highest level. Each of this year’s Slam winners is a tried-and-true veteran, and that’s no coincidence given the demands of the game. At this year’s US Open, Spaniard phenom Garbine Muguruza flamed out in the first round. Canadian Genie Bouchard, the most hyped of the younger generation, fell in the fourth round. Swiss teen Belinda Bencic fared the best of the bunch with a R16 upset of Jelena Jankovic. And that’s as good as it got. Just a thought: maybe the WTA should stop trying to push the younger players to stardom before they’re ready, marketing dollars be damned.
- 2014 Slam Results, Part 3: For the men, the significance of two champions outside of the “Big Four” cannot be overstated. Prior to 2014, the last guys outside of that group to win a Slam were Juan Martin Del Potro back in 2009 (US Open) and Marat Safin in 2005 (Australian Open). This year saw two outsiders win (Stan Wawrinka in Melbourne and Marin Cilic in New York). Will we see a further erosion of the old guard in 2015? I think so!
- The era of the “Big Four” is officially over. Let the debate begin.
- Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic ended his poor summer with a run to the semifinals where he was completely outplayed by Kei Nishikori. After his post-Wimbledon wedding and with the eminent birth of his first child, Novak is clearly distracted. He needs to have a serious sit-down with Roger on how to do the pro tennis thing with family in tow…
- Roger Federer had a great summer, and played well through most of his time in New York. He fell short against Cilic’s phenomenal onslaught, but shouldn’t be concerned about any lingering questions of age. Even though he still needs a little help from the draw and scheduling gods for his best chances at another Slam, he remains an unwavering fixture atop the men’s game. One need only look to Rafa Nadal’s absence to appreciate that fact.
- Though we all missed Rafa’s presence in New York, he seemed to be having a great time at home with his friends in Mallorca. I could be wrong, but it really didn’t look as if he missed this tennis thing all that much. We’ll find out soon enough when he plays his next event.
- If a quarterfinal showing qualifies as struggling, Andy Murray’s Slam “struggles” continued in New York. I guess that also means that Amelie Mauresmo’s struggles as his coach continued in New York. Why do I have a gut feeling that this partnership isn’t going to make it to the end of the year?
- Gael Monfils finally stepped up to the “big boy” table, put away his highlight reel mentality, and played the type of tennis that we all knew he was capable of in reaching his first US Open quarterfinals. I hope that trend will continue into the New Year.
- Disappointment, Part 1: Disappointing is the only word I can think of to describe performances by Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov at the Open. Both failed to back up their previous Slam showings in very uncharacteristic losses. I hope their teams were able to glean some positives from New York, because from where I sit, there were very few.
- Disappointment, Part 2: After semifinal showings in Melbourne and Paris, and the final in London, Genie Bouchard came into this summer as the hottest player on tour. It all quickly fell apart for her, however, with first-round losses in Montreal and Cincinnati, and a second-round loss in New Haven the week before the Open. Much has been made about Genie’s maturity, and her ability to handle the pressures that accompany elite-level tennis. Judging by her summer, as well as her subsequent withdrawal controversy from the Hong Kong tournament, she still has a ways to go.
- A few years ago, the “Super Coach” phenomena was merely an interesting novelty. After a strong showing in this year’s US Open men’s semifinals, it’s a novelty that’s likely here to stay. The semifinals saw Chang vs Becker and Edberg vs Ivanisevic. The victors, Chang and Ivanisevic, squared off in Monday’s final with Ivanisevic coming out on top. Anyone want to place bets on when we’ll see Sampras and Agassi sitting in player boxes?
- Broadcast Woes, Part 1: Cilic and Nishikori both played outstanding tennis to reach their first Grand Slam final. Unfortunately for CBS, the lack of a known quantity spelled doom for the oddly-placed Monday final ratings. As tweeted by Ben Rothenburg:
Women got a 4.0, more than double. RT @Ourand_SBJ: CBS’s US Open Men’s Championship drew a 1.9 overnight, down 32% from last year’s 2.8.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 9, 2014
This is not an indictment of Marin/Kei, but merely the reality of televised men’s tennis without Roger, Rafa, Novak, or even Andy.
- Broadcast Woes, Part 2: After a remarkable run that started in 1986, CBS aired its’ final US Open match on Monday with the men’s final. With no real allegiance to the CBS coverage, I hope the consolidated coverage on ESPN makes it easier to follow coverage in 2015 and beyond.
- Broadcast Woes, Part 3: The tennis powers-that-be surely can’t keep bemoaning the lack of support for tennis on TV when the coverage is so inconsistent and disjointed. I know that I’ve said this before, but how can anyone expect increased support from the casual tennis fan when even the diehard fans can’t easily find televised matches for the biggest US tournament of the year? Some matches were on DirecTV, some were on ESPN, some were on ESPN2, some were on Tennis Channel, and some were on CBS. Heck, some were even on ESPNNews. Even when ESPN and CBS partnered to air coverage of different events during simultaneous coverage, they would inevitably switch to the over courts and end up showing the same match for brief intervals. Honestly, it was a shit show! I realize that this is strong language, but it’s the only language I can think of to adequately describe the ridiculous situation at the heart of languishing fan support for tennis in the US.
- Broadcast Woes, Part 4: The last thing I’ll say about the broadcast issues at the Open is on the bias shown by commentators who assigned to matches with American players. Honestly, it was disgusting. It’s not that hard to show support for the home team without disregarding the other player on the court.
- Here’s a “Broadcast Thumbs-Up”! After listing in detail the broadcast issues of this year’s tournament, I should also note the “good stuff”. This includes Martina Navratilova’s on-air wedding proposal (and acceptance) to her longtime partner, Julia Lemigova. When same sex wedding proposals start becoming the norm, it’s safe to say that “We’ve come a long way, baby”.
- Steve Johnson retired from his first-round match after debilitating cramps in the August heat of a New York summer. That’s the simple version of the story. The actual version was that Steve started to cramp, and fought it as long as he could without any MTO (medical timeout) help while also enduring the forfeiture of code violation points. All this as he lay on the court in tears, racked with pain and visible muscle spasms. Fast-forward to Peng Shuai’s semifinal against Wozniacki, and the same situation was turned dramatically on its’ head when Peng – suffering from cramps – was allowed to delay play before being taken off court by medical personnel for evaluation and treatment.
My gut impulse is to call out the outrageous of penalizing one player while allowing the other player over ten minutes of tournament assistance to help them compete. I’ll temper that impulse by merely imploring the WTA, ATP, ITF, and Grand Slam committees to come up with clear and consistent rules regarding the distinction between and treatment of cramps versus heat illness.
- On a more positive note, the Bryan brothers won their only Slam title of the year at the US Open, but boy was it a doozy! By defeating the Spanish team of Granollers and Lopez in the men’s doubles final, Mike and Bob reached their mind-boggling 100th tournament title win as a team…and with no signs of stopping anytime soon. As Dick Enberg would say, “Oh my!”
- BTW, can we stop with the “death of American tennis” stories already while we still have Serena Williams and the Bryans producing top-level results? (And NO, Patrick McEnroe’s departure from USTA Player Development isn’t going to help.)
- Michaela Gordon, Noah Rubin, Francis Tiafoe, and Stefan Kozlov are NOT the saviors of American tennis. Can we all just let them develop in peace?
When I start kvetching like a curmudgeonly grandpa, it’s time to call it a day on my final thoughts. Even with a few bumps in the road, it was an ultimately satisfying tournament with a nice mix of the new, the old, and the historic. And to be honest, I’m hoping that I witness all of this on the other side next year if I get a chance to work as a tournament official. Fingers crossed. Lastly, I never got a chance to mention anything about my time at the Connecticut Open, so I’ll leave you with this: Run, don’t walk, to Orangeside Donuts for the best freakin’ donuts in New Haven.
There wasn’t much extra time for writing today, but I still wanted to throw my hat into the men’s quarterfinal ring. So here are my quarterfinal quick picks for what look to be some pretty terrific quarterfinal match-ups.
Novak Djokovic (SRB)  vs Andy Murray (GBR) 
H2H: Djokovic leads 12-8
I can’t believe that this is a quarterfinal match! After all, these two have contested 4 previous Slam finals with two won by Novak (Australia ’12, ’13) and two won by Andy (US Open ’11, Wimbledon ’13). Unfortunately for Andy, these were contested before his season-ending back surgery after last year’s US Open. He’s come a long way in his recovery, but is still not quite at the level needed to derail Novak.
Stan Wawrinka (SUI)  vs Kei Nishikori (JPN) 
H2H: Wawrinka leads 2-0
Kei played a great match to topple Milos Raonic in the R16, but was clearly running on fumes by the end. By contrast, Stan seems to be getting stronger and feistier with each round. With Kei on the verge of breaking down physically (again), I can’t see him beating Stan, or outlasting him in a protracted duel.
Tomas Berdych (CZE)  vs Marin Cilic (CRO) 
H2H: Berdych leads 5-3
This won’t be the most exciting match of the four, but it will most definitely feature big hitting from both men. Cilic hasn’t beaten Berdych on a hard court since 2011, and was fairly well-throttled in their last hard court meeting in the Rotterdam final (6-4, 6-2). On top of that, Cilic was pushed hard in his R16 4-hour (plus) marathon against Gilles Simon, while Berdych breezed past Dominic Thiem in just over 1.5 hours with the loss of 7 games. Bottom line: it doesn’t look good for the Croat.
Gael Monfils (FRA)  vs Roger Federer (SUI) 
H2H: Federer leads 7-2
Gael and Roger have the potential to be the most entertaining of the men’s quarterfinal matches. However, after a grueling win over Grigor Dimitrov, I can’t see Gael having the legs to withstand the oncoming Federer onslaught over the long haul. I’m sure there will be plenty of entertaining points, and a few jaw-dropping “Monfils Moments”. But Gael’s great run will end here.
- I’ve been waiting since early ’12 for Petra to step up and show the type of dominance that she showed this past fortnight in winning her second Wimbledon title. It was vintage Petra (strong serves, sharp angles, and blistering pace) without the also-vintage walkabouts that have accompanied her play the past couple of years. I’ll only mention her former boyfriend, Radek Stepanek, for the purpose of showing that, since their breakup, she’s regained focus, improved her fitness, and looks to be back on track for a well-deserved shot at the top of the WTA food chain. Petra Kvitova –
- Novak Djokovic – Even though I’d picked Novak to win the title in my pre-tournament preview, I had no idea his journey would be so fraught with angst and peril. Usually one of the cleanest players in the game, Novak struggled badly at times in the later rounds. If not for a missed overhead and a few ill-timed double faults from Roger, this could have been one more dispiriting Slam final. To his credit, he hung in there after Roger saved Championship point in the fourth set, and eventually came away with the title in five. And if you couldn’t tell by his tears, this one meant a lot to him. I’m still not sure Boris Becker had that much to do with it, but it makes great grist for the commentator mill.
- Genie Bouchard – A semifinalist in Melbourne and Paris, and a finalist in London, Genie Bouchard continued her meteoric rise up the rankings after yet another astounding run at Wimbledon. Her confidence could easily border on arrogance if it weren’t so well backed-up by gutsy and aggressive play. She’s all business on and off the court, looking only for the “W” in her quest to be the best. This attitude makes her a legitimate future No. 1, but also could be problematic. It was troubling to hear Genie say, “I’m not sure I deserved all the love you gave me today” on court after the match. Hopefully her coach, Nick Saviano, can help her be mindful next time that you shouldn’t discount the love of fans that are proud of you no matter the result. Be gracious, keep your head down, and get ready for the next opportunity; because I have no doubt that it WILL come.
- Roger Federer – I hate to say that the old guy’s still got it, but the old guy’s still got it! With his back troubles from last year in the rear view mirror, Roger played, more or less, like the Roger of old against an opponent who was slightly better on the day (186 total points for Novak versus 180 points for Roger). Even in defeat, I’d say this was sweet revenge for a guy who everyone was pushing out the door at the end of 2013. When healthy and comfortable with his equipment, Roger can still play like the Roger we remember. A lot still need to go right for him at the Slams in order to have a legit shot at the title, but it feels like a lot less than last year.
- Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock – PopSock, as the newly-crowned Wimbledon doubles champions have become known, bested the great Bryan brothers in a hard-fought 5-set battle to win the Gentlemen’s doubles in their first tournament together. Given the rigors of the ATP tour, this probably won’t become a weekly occurrence. But after years of lamenting the lack of younger singles players in doubles, how great was it to witness their shotmaking, energy and enthusiasm? My only hope is that someone on either of their team’s has copyrighted that great name.
- Bob and Mike Bryan – In one of the few successful “passing of the torch” moments at this year’s Wimbledon, the Bryans battled hard but often looked their age against a pair of guys who could almost be their sons. The Bryans are one of the greatest doubles teams ever, if not ‘the’ greatest, and have done an immense amount to legitimize doubles at the top of the tennis food chain. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine it’s gonna be easy for them to keep working this hard to overcome Father Time, injuries, family demands, and younger, stronger opponents like PopSock.
- Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani – On the heels of a disappointing final loss at the French Open, Vinci and Errani won the Ladies doubles title over Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, giving them a career Grand Slam in doubles. It’s well-deserved, and hopefully makes up for a disappointing singles showing.
- Nenad Zimonjic and Sam Stosur – With her miserable record on grass, any title on the green stuff is a good thing for Sam!
- Simona Halep – Simona may have lost the Wimbledon semifinal battle of emergent WTA stars in straight sets to Genie Bouchard, but I’m sure there are great things for her on the US Open horizon.
- I was critical of Serena at the time because I felt she should have foregone the drama and not played, especially when the tournament doctor says, “If you can’t see the ball then you shouldn’t play. But I’ve had a hard time listening to all of the ridiculous theories on the incident. One person I know even went so far as to say that he’s convinced she has a pill addiction because of her past medical issues. Come on people: STOP THE NONSENSE! Serena Williams – I had a feeling this would be a tough Wimbledon for Serena, but I don’t think any of us knew just how tough it would be. It started with her loss to Alize Cornet. Two days later, Serena appeared on court for a brief but notable bit of drama on Court 1 with her sister Venus before their first-round doubles. (They ultimately retired down 0-3 in the first set after 4 Serena double faults.)
- Venus Williams – Venus played a tough 3-set match against Petra Kvitova that was worthy of a final. It was a pleasure to see from a player we love who’s struggled mightily with fitness in the wake of her Sjogrens diagnosis. On a per match basis, she can still play phenomenal tennis. But that was only a third round match. Her ranking is such that she will likely have to play at least 3 or 4 of these types of matches if she ever hopes to reach a Slam final again. Though that’s probably never going to happen, we can (and should) still appreciate her best level at those few and far between moments when she’s able to bring it.
- Li Na – I just don’t know where to begin with Li Na. There are many who dismiss her disappointing results at the French and Wimbledon by saying that she’s best on the hard courts. To those apologists, I’d like to point out her loss to Serena in Miami and remind them that those results were NOT an aberration.
- Maria Sharapova – She may have come up high and dry again at SW19, but that’s okay. She’s got Grigor AND a French Open title to keep her company.
- Rafa Nadal – Rafa avoided another Lukas Rosol upset, but still lost in four sets to young Nick Kyrgios of Australia. I’m not necessarily surprised that Rafa was knocked out of the tournament. I am, however, surprised that Rafa lost in the middle rounds, not the early or later rounds. I hope he takes enough time off before the summer hard court season so that he can come back relatively fresh, physically and mentally.
- Andy Murray – Andy, please don’t blame your horrific play on Amelie Mauresmo’s coaching, or Ivan Lendl’s spring departure. This dispiriting loss to Grigor Dimitrov was all on you. It’s your duty as an elite player to surround figure out what you need to help propel yourself forward, not back.
- Milos Raonic – It’s been impressive to watch Milos work hard with his team to overcome his physical and technical deficits on court. It was also fairly sobering to watch how surgically he was cut down by Roger in a straight-sets semifinal loss. I hope that he was able to enjoy his first solid showing on a surface that’s so well-suited for his big serve game. Okay coach (Ivan) Ljubičić, help him figure out those next steps!
- Grigor Dimitrov – For years, Grigor has been burdened with expectations of greatness. From his Federer-esque single-handed backhand game (earning him the nickname “Baby Fed”) to his scampering defense, Dimitrov, along with Raonic, has been touted as one of the next wave of ‘Young Guns’. The big problem for Grigor was that his fitness, and shot selection, was never sufficient enough to withstand the grind of tough matches against the top guys… until now. Off-court conditioning has rendered his all-too-frequent bouts of cramping almost non-existent. On top of that, he’s a more mature player now and has a better handle on shot selection with all of his tools. Next time (because there will be a next time), I hope the nerves of the moment won’t be quite so cruel to his serving arm (double-faultitis).
- Marin Cilic and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova both lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual champions after some very fine play. I’ve always rooted for both but was disheartened to see people respond to positive tweets by bringing up their past drug suspensions. If someone has served their suspension, and fought their way back to a respectable ranking in order to have a chance at Slam success, give them their due. We all make mistakes, and all deserve to be forgiven if put in the work for redemption.
- Nick Kyrgios – This kid has a ton of talent and the physical stature/attitude to go with it. He came into Wimbledon with 3 Challenger titles under his belt and now a Slam quarterfinal for good measure. Though his mid-match exuberance can come across as brash he’s exciting and LOVES the competitive fight. I wonder if there’s a way that the USTA can lure him away from Australia without starting a war?
- Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov – Noah and Stefan, the all-American duo that contested the Wimbledon boy’s final, should help dispel rumors that all isn’t completely lost for American tennis…at least for a few more weeks.
- I have a few broadcast notes. The first is that the popularity of tennis, and potential ad revenues, will continue to be hurt if the average Joe can’t get adequate match coverage without special cable sports packages. And even if you have a few of those packages, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll see all available matches. Take it from me, a Sonic.Net ISP user and DirecTV viewer: not everyone has access to ESPN3!
- My second broadcast note harkens back to this piece on Sloane and Paul Annacone. I don’t want to single them out, however, because the conflicts of interest abounding in the commentary booth are almost too numerous to count at this point. I can accept conflicts of interests, but you’ve got to be more upfront about it to your viewers. Who’s getting paid by who makes all the difference in the world when you’re listening to “expert commentary”.
- Raise your hand if you’d like to see if Andy Roddick in the Centre Court commentary booth is better than Andy Roddick on Twitter!
- Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing commentators saying “How bitterly disappointed Player X will be” after missing a shot!
- Wimbledon schedulers – Was it really necessary to leave several notable matches on court so late that fireflies started to come out?
That’s all for now. Until next year
For much of this year, I’ve been tempted to write a piece titled, “The Big Four No More”. To be clear, this isn’t that piece. But if there’s anything that we’ve learned from the past couple of days at Wimbledon, it’s that the Big Four is in a weakened state from which it might not recover.
Let’s start with Rafa Nadal’s loss to Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16. Actually, let’s go back even further to Paris, and Rafa’s 9th French Open title. It was a great victory over a man, Novak Djokovic, who’d bested him in the last 4 finals they’d contested.
It was also troubling given the continuing back issues that have plagued Rafa since Australia. It affected his serve throughout the tournament, but flared badly late in the fourth set of that final. If not for Novak’s own weakened condition, he might possibly have fought back, forced, then won a deciding set with Rafa powerless to stop him.
I have a strong feeling that this might have been the last time that Rafa bites that trophy. Between his troublesome knees, now-troublesome back, and the ever-present fatigued look of concern, the wear and tear of his grinding style can no longer be denied. Rafa’s body is giving out.
Fast-forward to London, and the workman-like manner in which Rafa was forced to eke out wins in his early round matches. Now that book is out, so to speak, on how to beat Rafa (for those who can successfully execute the game plan), he has to work harder than ever to make it to the later rounds.
By the time he got to Kyrgios, there was no higher gear left in his game. What was on display was all that he had to give. We were all left waiting for a gear shift that Rafa was unable to muster. But let’s be honest: he’s been missing that gear for most of the season. After all, how can you find another gear when you’re maxed out?
Body issues aside, the more troubling aspect of this loss was the stubborn manner in which he refused to change his tactics against Kyrgios. The majority of my tweets from that match were pleas for Rafa to stop hitting to the Kyrgios’ backhand. But they were pleas that fell on deaf ears. With Federer-like resistance, Rafa kept hoping to break down a shot that burned him time and again.
Maybe it’s his age, his body, the fatigue, or maybe the cumulative effect of all with the additional pressure of the top ranking, but I get a sense that it’s hard for him, physically and mentally, to keep tweaking his game for improvements. Unfortunately, if he can’t keep changing to stay ahead of talented young guys like Kyrgios, his time at the top will end; sooner rather than later.
Andy Murray’s descent from the Big Four began long before his sad exit from Wimbledon after a quarterfinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov. (Sad is actually an understatement for a match that was so spectacularly awful from a 2-time Slam winner, defending Gentlemen’s champion, and Olympic gold medalist.)
Andy’s AELTC triumph last year was one of the greatest things to happen to him, but also one of the worst. The great part was immediately obvious. The worst began to manifest almost as soon as he hit the US hard court swing with early losses in Montreal and Cincinnati. It peaked at the US Open with early round struggles leading to a straight sets quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka.
His play throughout was spotty at best, and lacking focus. Though there was an understandable period of transition after winning his Wimbledon dream title, his level of play afterward, and equally poor attitude, were disappointing.
Exploratory surgery and time off for healing in the fall may have helped with back issues, but certainly didn’t with his game and attitude. His game continued to flounder in the early part of the ’14 season, and losses in winnable matches started to mount.
Losses are one thing, but regression to his pre-Champion days was another. Andy behaved poorly whenever his then-coach Ivan Lendl wasn’t around. He’d swear, bark at his box and, once again, endlessly reach for phantom injuries on his leg or back when matches got tight.
Each of the Big Four has played matches without their coach, and none have regressed to earlier stages in their career while doing so.
After his split with Lendl and a disappointing clay season, Andy looked ready for a credible defense of his Wimbledon title with confident victories in his first four matches. Moreover, he finally looked like he remembered what it meant to be a champion. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.
He was simply awful in his quarterfinal against Grigor. His reliable groundstrokes, both forehand and backhand, often ended halfway up the net. His incredible defense was “hit or miss”, mostly “miss”. His overheads and volleys were terrible. His focus was lacking, and his overall demeanor was defeatist, at best.
These disappointing displays from Andy are unacceptable. Membership in the “Big Four” requires better than these types of efforts from a player who shouldn’t need to be reminded of his championship credentials. Even Rafa, stubborn as he was in his loss to Kyrgios, remembered to show his championship mettle in defeat. He always does. The same is true of Roger, and generally of Novak as well. Andy needs to do the same.
Some might want to blame Andy’s early-season woes on Lendl’s departure, or his Wimbledon loss on Amelie Mauresmo’s failings as his new coach. Both would be wrong. Ivan surely didn’t give Andy any special tips to win those Slams, nor did Amelie advise him to play as horribly as he did against Grigor. Good coaching is necessary to any player’s success, but a champion’s will to succeed must come from within.
Andy has lost that will, and in so doing has lost his late-entry membership in the Big Four. Can that change for him? Depends on how much he wants to step up and act the part.
For now, Novak and Roger are safe. In spite of recent match focus struggles, Novak is still well in his prime. And as long as Roger’s body cooperates, he’s mentally ready to step up and compete with anyone.
How about Rafa? I’m worried about his body. Then again, I was worried about his body last summer after Cincinnati and he went on to win the US Open. So you never know. As far as Andy is concerned, it’s hard to know. That depends upon Andy, and if he can ever act like the champion that he is. To be honest though, I’m not hopeful.
I got 1 out of 2 correct with the women. Here’s hoping for a 2 out of 2 result with the men.
Novak Djokovic (SRB)  v Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 
H2H: Novak Djokovic leads 3-1
Novak has played surprisingly spotty tennis over the past week. While it’s true that his opponents played well to test his resolve, Novak hasn’t played the clean, focused tennis that one would expect. His level has been up and down, from brilliant to passable. The same could be said of his movement: from brilliant, to barely passable with a large smattering of grass stains and pain.
That said, I think Novak’s still got too much game to lose in this semifinal to Grigor. I applaud the immense work that the Bulgarian has put in to up his fitness levels in order to compete well at the Slams, as well as the mental work he’s done to organize his game into a unified weapon (as opposed to a collection of great tools). Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to get by Novak.
The problem with this match-up is that there’s no one part of Grigor’s game, outside of his serve, that can hurt Novak. His backhand is a thing of beauty, but he lacks the ability to strong arm it down the line like Wawrinka. And he can’t knife his slice enough, like Roger, to bother Novak “enough”.
Andy Murray, his quarterfinal victim, is every bit as good of a returner as Novak. So if he can serve as brilliantly as he did against Murray, it might be enough to get a toehold into Novak’s head and cause a Novak walkabout. However, that will only delay the inevitable Djokovic victory. Great tournament, Grigor, but it ends here.
Novak Djokovic in four sets
Roger Federer (SUI)  v Milos Raonic (CAN) 
H2H: Roger Federer leads 4-0
This is a tricky match to call. With his trusty new RF Pro Staff 16×19 by his side, Roger has played terrific tennis over the past two weeks. He’s serving well, hitting his forehand with authority, and working his usual repertoire of slices on the backhand side. He withstood a first set barrage from Stan to win in four sets, and is as close as he’s been to a Slam title since his last one in 2012. I’m just not sure that he’ll be able to do much against the Milos serve.
Milos Raonic is a more well-rounded version of players like John Isner, meaning that he can serve bombs to all corners of the box but also back it up with decent movement to his second shot…if one is needed. His return game is still not quite as strong as it could be, but that’s okay. His faith in his serve is unshakeable, and that’s all that matters.
Now that Milos is moving better on grass, he will be less susceptible to having his footwork exploited as Roger has done in the past. And if he can handle Roger’s “work” on the ball, he could very well put himself in a position to take the match outcome out of Roger’s hands.
Even so, I just don’t know if it’s smart to bet against a guy with 7 previous titles, and the immense heart one would expect from the GOAT. My gut says Roger, but my head says Milos. Which wins out?
In a nod to powerful steely youth over experience, Canadian momentum (congratulations Genie), and a backdrop of upsets, I’ll go with Milos for the win. For now I’ll say four sets but it could easily go five.
Milos Raonic in four sets