Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - The Perfect Player
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The Perfect Player 03/14/2007 - 10:24 PM

I want to start things off here with a few thoughts on a player many of you like, Richard Gasquet, aka Baby Federer. He was on my short list of players to take a good, long look at here at the Pacific Life Open, and I have to confess: the more I see the less I like. I’m going to write some critical things about him now, so I want to add the disclaimer that I have no feelings about this kid, personally, except as a tennis player. A certain kind of human machine, if you will, that exists apart from the substance of his character. Hail, he seems like a nice enough kid, but he’s a disaster as a tennis player (remember, we’re talking about high-level tennis here). In a way, he’s my ideal anti-tennis player.Djoker

Gasquet is an extremely gifted player, but Baby Federer? Not in this lifetime, or any other. Not in any way, shape, or form. I’m amazed that so many of our Federer KADs think so highly of him, for he is everything The Mighty Fed is not: unmodulated, full of meretricious flourishes, lacking in heft, both in his game and, more importantly, as a competitor.

We saw that last night, when he performed the usual magic tricks with his racquet precisely until the first set, and ultimately, the match, hung in the balance. At that point, he retreated into Fish and Feli land, that strange territory where the inexplicable errors flow like the winners once did, and the derring-do morphs into no-can-do.

In another context, this is interesting stuff, and it’s always fun to have a Gasquet around: He plays like a daredevil, bewitching the crowd until his prop – the high-wire, the trapeze, the jump-ramp, take your pick – breaks under the stress. But today I’m here to talk about the theoretical Perfect Player, and I see him in the physical container of Novak Djokovic.

Now don’t get your shorts all in a bunch. TMF is the high water mark for tennis players, and likely to become the acknowledge GOAT, sooner rather than later. I won’t insult him, given the record he’s amassed, with comparisons to a raw kid who has yet to reach a major semifinal. There are things about the Djoker, though,that I think are incomparable (like his trunk rotation, but I’m getting ahead of myself), but again – the Perfect Player isn’t necessarily destined to be the greatest player, or the most successful.

I went out to take a close look at the Djoker today, in his match against Julian Benneteau, a Frenchman who’s been playing very well here by following a simple and often deadly formula – make few errors and force your opponent to win the match by making the shots that he knows he must in order to win. Then hope he'll go all Gasquet on you, instead of demonstrate that he's got the Wilanders.

I arrived at Stadium Court 2 six games (at 3-all) in, while most of the fans were watching Andy Murray bang on Nikolay Davydenko in the big house. I took a seat right  behind the north baseline, just three rows up from the wall behind the court, among a handful of big-bellied senior citizens, tanning their chicken-wing arms and backs on the green benches like a fleet of fat iguanas lounging on palm fronds. I turned off the cell phone and sat back to watch.

The first thing I jotted into my notebook, as Djokovic whacked a backhand that earned him a break of serve for 5-3, was “great trunk rotation, often punctuated by a guttural exhalation.” Trunk rotation is a big thing for me, has been every since I first aw the best practitioner, Miloslav Big Cat Mecir – a guy who did not appear to run (he was always just there, waiting for the ball) and who did not appear to swing a racquet hard enough to break an electric-eye beam.

But the ball came off Mecir’s strings with the pop of a champagne cork and unexpected pace. Djoker is just as clean, yet he takes a bigger cut at the ball and is less disposed to counterpunching than was Mecir. So he ends up hitting a heavier, more dangerous ball. But trunk rotation only rises to maximum efficiency with great timing, and that’s the Djoker’s other deep, subtle talent. The combination of timing and rotation yield maximum oomph without maximum swing speed. This is a pretty good definition of stroking efficiency.

 

Serving for the set, Djoker fell behind love-40, at which point he let out a visceral roar and, enraged, flung his cap to the court. This gesture appeared to end the curse, for he won the next two points with fierce, inside-out, forehand winners, each of them having every mark of a go-for-broke shot, but without the desperation. This is one cool kid. He got back to deuce with yet another big, IO forehand, but this time the ball also skipped of off the let cord.

“S***!,” Benneteau cried. Then, perhaps recalling that he’s French, he amended it to, “Merde!”

A group of shirtless college kids, with their baseball caps worn facing the wrong direction, as per current campus-correctness, wandered in and sat down to watch. Benneteau was playing well enough to force Djokovic’s hand, and each time the latter made an error – or hit a winner – he punctuated it with a war cry or a clenched fist. He’s an emotional guy, but somehow it never corrupts his stroke work, or finds expression as a poor decision, a hasty decision or a puzzling decision – which is the problem faced by guys like Gasquet.

Often, guys who play with a great deal of emotion are perfectionists; that was John McEnroe’s lifelong mantra, as well as the convenient, all-purpose excuse for his tantrums. Andy Murray and Djokovic, among others, are like that too, and their biggest enemy is the self-same perfectionism that has brought them this far. Their challenge is to keep that perfectionism from becoming a destructive force. Djokovic seems to have a handle on this, because his game doesn’t fluctuate a great deal. Those outbursts - they're just just lip service to the perfectionism he is keeping at bay.

And here’s something else. I noticed watching Gasquet that his feet are very busy, sometimes working like flippers as he hits the ball. I thought it telling that Djoker’s feet are active as well, yet it’s always a critical, split-second later than in a guy like Gasquet. That is, Djoker buys an extra, useful moment of stillness while his swing is still in progress, and that enables him to whack the kitten with a shade more power and accuracy.

Djoker broke Benneteau easily in the first game of set 2, and then crushed some gigunda serves to hold. The Djokovic serve is a thing of beauty, streamlined as a Brancusi sculpture, lethal as the strike of a cobra. It is a serve very much like that of Pete Sampras, although it probably is a shade slower. Djoker lines up with his feet nearly parallel to the baseline, his front, left foot so far ahead of his right that his calf appears to be bowed. As he begins his no-frills, leisurely toss, he shifts his weight slightly to his back foot – just enough to free up that distended left leg to respond to his deep knee bend, then act as a piston to pump his body up and forward. The motion is seamless, gathering force and speed that maxes out as he makes contact.

The racquet appears to swallow the ball before it spits it back out with explosive force, egg-shaped if Djokovic is going for the big kicker, distended like a yellow cartoon bullet if it’s a hard, flat one. Ka-boom! When Djoker blasted another one that helped him go up 2-0, it left Benneteau shaking his head, a man in sorry communion with his pending doom.

It was at this point that I jotted down that most famous line in the literature of rock music, Jon Landau’s pronouncement: I have seen rock and roll (tennis) future and it is Bruce Springsteen (Novak Djokovic).Djokerfed

The games began to flow quickly; Benneteau was losing blood fast and nothing he did would stem the tide. A lot of this was because of Djokovic’s ability to compete – to press the attack without relenting, or allowing his focus to dim. Perfect execution is a high wire act; let a sliver of doubt or distraction enter your consciousness and you fall off the string, although in tennis it may take a while to hit the ground. It’s an especially cruel sport that way.

On this day, though, the Djoker was not about to fall.  My next note is an aside written as Djokovic starts serving the fourth game: The PA announcer comes on and booms out: “. . . and then, Czech teen-age sensation Nicole Vaidisova, giving autographs over at the Tennis Warehouse tent!”

I swear, by the time I finished my note, Djoker was up 4-0. When Benneteau held for 1-4, I had the feeling that Djokovic was taking a breather. He then ran out the next two games and the match, 6-3, 6-1.

Did Benneteau play into Djokovic’s hands? It depends on how you look at it. The way I saw it, he held up the match, showed it to Djoker, and, in effect, said: If you can take it, it’s yours. And he took it.

I wandered away thinking I had just observed the Perfect Player, so I figured, what the hail, I may as well tell the guy. So the ATP hooked me up with Djokovic. Mainly, I was interested in learning in a little more detail how a guy with very little access to top tennis training, and the resources it requires, ended up owning a game that’s cleaner than a child’s plate on spaghetti night.

I sat down with Djoker in an empty office off the player’s lounge. In case you’re interested, he has an impressive, almost old school (1950s) look, enhanced by the erect carriage of a soldier. He has no hairstyle – just short, dark hair of even length all around. It's a Spartan look. What you may not see on television is that he has very finely made features that are as perfectly balanced as his game, although his eyes are a little close together. He’s friendly and direct. I told him that I wasn’t there to kiss his butt but I thought he was as close to the Perfect Player as I had ever seen, and asked if that was a matter of nature or nurture.

First, he laughed at my disclaimer. Then he said, “I can say in one hand that it is destiny. In Serbia, we never had a Top 15 player after Bobo (Slobodan Zivoinovic reached No. 19), so it was hard for me to develop and succeed. But it was a half-and-half thing between my talent and my first coach’s work, so I was very luck to have this coach.”

That mentor was a woman, Jelena Gencic, who had also worked with Monica Seles and at one point traveled with Goran Ivanisevic (I met her briefly).Djokovic says that Gencic gave him the “basic things” and watched over him like a hawk between the ages of 6 and 11, after which the family brain trust decided to allow him to go off to the former Yugoslav star Nikki Pilic’s tennis academy in Europe (as per Gencic’s advice), where he rubbed elbows with the likes of Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic. “It was difficult for my family to leave a child of 12 in another country, but after the first few days the uncle who took me to Munich, and I was left for myself. But it was a thing I needed to do.”

Djokovic originally played a one-handed backhand, but he described himself as a “skinny” kid who didn’t make enough power, and thus always found himself on the defensive. So he adopted the two-hander. Everything else, more or less, just continued to develop naturally. Pilic, who had helped Ivanisevic with his serve (“You know how he’s serving,” Djokovic asked, laughing), also fine-tuned the Djokovic delivery.

The only other thing that changed as Djokovic began to make his move in the pros was his forehand. He had good run in Paris in 2005, but after he retired during his match with Guillermo Coria (after winning the first set), Gencic pulled him aside. “She said, ‘You’re playing great, but when you have a chance to finish the point with my forehand you use too much spin. Make it flatter.'" He paused. “She’s great, I’m telling you. . .”

And of his mental toughness, Djokovic said: “I matured a lot. . .I am trying to hold my emotions as much as I can, but that’s just me. I like to scream on the court. I like to fight. I like to compete.”

And what did he think about this “Perfect Player” theory?

He laughed again. “I can’t say I’m the perfect tennis player. Nobody can be perfect and I think I have a lot to improve on (serve, making best use of his opportunities, attacking the net were the ones he cited).”

So perhaps he isn’t perfect, but he’s a spectacularly gifted player who’s not going to be undone by his perfectionism, either. And that’s as perfect as anyone has a right to ask.


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Posted by Lorraine 03/14/2007 at 10:57 PM

"tanning their chicken-wing arms and backs on the green benches like a fleet of fat iguanas lounging on palm fronds"

OK, I admit it. I spit my diet pepsi right out of my mouth on that one.

Fascinating post, Pete. You made me want to watch him more closely next time, and gave me good things to for.

*trundles off to find a rag to clean up thre dp...

Posted by Mod Squad 03/14/2007 at 10:57 PM

Pete:

Enjoyed your post. I think Djokovic has the kind of confidence that will put him in the top ten. But don't you think he has stamina problems, even more so than the other young guns? Nadal made him quit after only two sets at the French.

Posted by FoT 03/14/2007 at 10:57 PM

Pete, it's going to take me some time to get on the Djokovic bandwagon (maybe because of what I know happened when they played the Swiss DC)... But I have never been on the Gasquet bandwagon either. It takes more than a great back hand to be a great tennis player.

How do you think this young crop of players (Murray, Gasquet, Djokovic, Berdych, etc.) will be in - say - the next 2 years? I don't put Nadal in that group because he has won 2 grand slams while the others haven't had a break through. Personally, I hope they don't break through for another 5-7 years (during the Fed era) because I want Federer to continue to dominate! lol (yes, I'm selfish)...

Maybe it's Djokovic's father than turns me off from him more than anything. Is he around? I hope not! lol!

Posted by Tennis Court Oath 03/14/2007 at 11:02 PM

I guess the main questions are: how does Djokovic's court coverage compare with the very best? Is there potential for defense that rivals Federer's? And how much variety does he have?

Murray, whose strengths are less easily quantifiable, may well turn out to be the more successful player. He's an uncanny talent.

Posted by Ed McGrogan 03/14/2007 at 11:07 PM

Ah Pete, I think you wrote this just to elicit a response from me! As you know, Gasquet is one of my favourites, as evidenced my the domain name I chose for my site. I stayed up last night to watch the Roddick/Richie match and you're spot on with the assesment that he can lose it in the biggest of moments. But I still feel compelled to defend him for the same reason I've defended Nadal of late - they are still so young.

Gasquet has won four titles, and has two AMS finals to his name (losing to Federer both times). So I think, possible choker/mental case or not, these accomplishments shouldn't be discounted. I certainly wouldn't call him the anti-tennis player, if for no other reason that he's played well on all surfaces. This wide array of game, which I think Gasquet needs to hone in on what works and what doesn't, is why I'm so drawn to him. He's definiely erratic, there's no question. And in the biggest matches (two Roger losses at AMS; Hewitt fourth round at the '06 Open; last night), he's come up short. But instead of declaring him as such, I would still say give him some time.

Saying all of that, comparing him to Djokovic is a fine case study and definitely proves your points most effectively. Last year, I got to see both at the U.S. Open - Djokovic played Donald Young, while Gasquet tangled with Phillip Simmonds (here's the proof: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BDKXkF2ffU). I saw Gasquet because I wanted to see him two years running, but I wanted to see Djokovic/Young for the sheer potential of young talent that could emerge from that match. I could say in five years "I got to see them when..." Anyways, after looking shaky in the beginning, Novak cleaned house with Young in the second through fourth sets, and all of those impressive summer performances that I tracked online of his were validated by seeing him live. He's a hell of a player, and could pose a threat this week. And maybe he is more advanced technically and mentally than Richard.

But I still say, you need to give him some more time. I'd love to review these two in three years time.

As always, keep up the great work!

Posted by Sam 03/14/2007 at 11:08 PM

Pete: Interesting piece. At the same stage in his career as where Gasquet is now, don't you think Federer could have been described similarly?

Maybe I'm missing something, but when I watch Gasquet I see something special, and he has the sort of nuanced game that takes longer to mature. If he's still at the same stage in a few years, then I'll have more doubts about him ever winning a Slam. I don't see anything special with Djokovic yet, at least in his game. He does seem to have top ten caliber confidence, as Mod Squad mentioned.

Posted by Ed McGrogan 03/14/2007 at 11:11 PM

To see the YouTube vid on my last post...use this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BDKXkF2ffU

(the link incorporated the bracket & period)

Posted by Lisa 03/14/2007 at 11:18 PM

Okay, I'm gonna admit that Novak has an incredible game but perfect player? I can't quite get there on that one.

Posted by Lucy 03/14/2007 at 11:19 PM

Outstanding Pete. I knew you were a little iffy about Gasquet. Here's the thing: Fed fans like Gasquet because they're responding primarily to the artistic nature of his game, found similarly in TMF's game. We don't expect him to compete with the same cool intensity. That would be, well, scary.

And Djoko's game IS remarkably clean, which along with his plus-sized wilanders bodes well for his future in big matches. I wish he'd kept the OHBH though. D'oh.

Posted by Sam 03/14/2007 at 11:20 PM

Ed: Thanks for the YouTube link. Also glad to see another Gasquet fan around. You mentioned the match against Hewitt at the USO last year. While he did lose that one, he made a heck of a comeback from 2 sets down to force a close fifth set, and gave us some shots to remember at the end, while cramping badly.

Posted by codepoke 03/14/2007 at 11:22 PM

What a riot. I will watch when the chance arises.

Posted by jb 03/14/2007 at 11:26 PM

Interesting take on both Gasquet and the Djoker. Unfortunately, I've been somewhat coming around to the idea that Reeshard, beautiful as some of his shots are, may not get to the point where he can efficiently and consistently trot them out to win.

It could be that he takes another few years to mature mentally, to grow beyond the pressure that the French federation has him under. Or it could be that he doesn't quite ever quite get out from under the burden of expectation and stays hovering where he is.

The djoker caught a flicker of my interest last year and it was definately caught in Australia. (I had given him a year or so to grow up a bit and stop being a p-tz.)

After Oz, I'd say he's definately maturing and held his focus very well through that tourney. This is not a kid that goes walkabout during a match. I'll be looking for the charecteristics you noted next time I see him play - hopefully I'll catch him against ferrer. (work persists in interferring with my tennis watching..)

But I'd say definately a fun year coming up!

Posted by Ed McGrogan 03/14/2007 at 11:28 PM

Sam - check this out; point of the year:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPXwC0klF2Y

Posted by Sam 03/14/2007 at 11:37 PM

Thanks Ed! I LOVE that point.

Like the name of your site - will have to check it out.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/14/2007 at 11:51 PM

Pete, thanks for the nice insights into Djokovic's game. The first (and only) time I've watched him play I was impressed by that smooth power. Seems a mixture of old school -- with the slower racquet speed; and new school -- with the extreme shoulder and hip rotation, open stance, and semi-western grip. That trunk rotation you speak of, which begins with the shoulder turn and ends with the total hip release, is something I will now look at more closely. Federer's is also splendid, of course.

As for Gasquet, while his talent is undeniable, I have found that when the chips are on the table, his backhand is prone to folding. That's not a good sign. A player must be able to go to his go-to shot when it counts the most. A bit like Sharapova's serve, I suppose. It must become rock solid or that chink in the armor will be ruthlessly exploited.

What's your latest take on Baghdatis? I like him, but he seems perhaps a bit too carefree or something (is it mindlessness, lack of intention?) Of course, Murray probably has the best all-round weaponry, movement, and tactical mind. And his transition game is right up there with Federer's.

Posted by Andrew 03/14/2007 at 11:55 PM

Man - there are some great handles out there! Tennis Court Oath, bienvenue!

Lucy - I think you're nearly right about Gasquet and Federer fans. But Gasquet is, at best, cute. The young man hits some great shots, but you don't win by aesthetics.

I like the thought of Murray, Berdych, Nadal, Djokovic, Gasquet and Baghdatis competing at the top levels in two to three years time - perhaps with some ageing warriors like Federer and Roddick.

Posted by ex-momofan 03/15/2007 at 12:06 AM

"Ageing warriors"?! Ha!
If 27-30 is considered "ageing," what is "aged" or "ancient"? 36?
Gasquet suffers from FrenchPlayer-itis (also known as Mauresmoitis, Golovinitis, Leconteitis, etc, etc). The pressure of the FFT and in France itself is enormous. It certainly doesn't help that Gasquet has defeated Federer before and was christened as the next coming of Noah at the age of 11. Still, I see Murray or Djokovic as the next "Perfect Player." I am particularly partial to Murray, if only because he's so crafty. If he can keep BG in his corner (whom I feel is actually quite good for him, despite the hype and assorted other nonsense), I suspect he'll be the leading player of his generation on non-clay surfaces in a few (Federer-free) years.

Posted by 03/15/2007 at 12:14 AM

Could it be Gasquet has had it a lot easier and just isn't as hungry as Djoker?

I think Gasquet has some gorgeous strokes and is less annoying and easier to watch than Djoker, but Djoker has such a clean game and commanding presence ... and above all, chutzpa!

Posted by Tennis Court Oath 03/15/2007 at 12:21 AM

Thanks, Andrew, I'm astounded by the range of reference people have here. I ought to be a Gasquet fan, but competitiveness isn't easily learned. People cite the Hewitt match - the pertinent point is that Gasquet ended up losing it. Players who fight in a losing situation are a dime a dozen (Nalbandian, anyone?) ; what's harder is to fight when the match is even, or when one's ahead.

Posted by Andrew 03/15/2007 at 12:28 AM

ex-momofan: ancient is 47. Unless you're an ex tour player, that is.

Tennis Court Oath: are you a lefty or righty?

You're right about competitiveness. Most of us can't handle it. The biggest group of people who ever saw me play a (rugby) match was about 600, and I just couldn't handle it. I was 20. Funny how some of the guys we're talking about are that age or younger, and they're playing before thousands. I guess they learn to block it out. But there's still that inner set of voices...

Posted by GSte 03/15/2007 at 12:39 AM

Pete, I don't understand why you can't see the comparison between Gasquet and Federer. Federer wasn't always such a poster child for consistency or mental-toughness. It took Federer some time to become the player he is today. I feel that Gasquet could very well follow a similar path. When a player has the variety and amount of weapons that Gasquet has, sometimes it just takes time to put it all together on a consistent basis. Gasquet will improve and should crack the top 10 before the year's end. Top 5 later on.

As for Djokovic, I don't know if he's the perfect player, but he does have great groundstrokes and is a tough, confident competitor. He's improved his fitness from 2 years ago when Nadal embarrassed him at the FO, and he's going to start beating the top players very soon.

About Murray, he's got a unique game, but the same old question of consistency rears its head. We've seen him play very well and very poorly. He'll definitely be a top player, but I'm not sure if he'll be the best of his generation.

Posted by David Law 03/15/2007 at 12:49 AM

Hi Pete,

Fascinated by your account of Djokovic.

He's a charming young lad as well, isn't he? I spoke to him for the tennis podcast the other day and loved how outgoing he was. Quite playful, I thought.

I agree about his stroke production incidentally - he's how I would imagine a computer-generated tennis player to look.

Very different to Murray - I like the contrast between Murray's spins and dinks and Djoker's perfectly produced ground strokes.

Also, while Murray is rather cautious with the media, Djokovic is very straightforward.

I think they'll both be top ten by the year's end, possibly top five.

Apparently, they are good mates as well.

See you tomorrow.

David Law

Posted by Miguel Seabra 03/15/2007 at 01:05 AM

Look who just showed up: the Karlovic of the media room...

So, Dave, it's out of the question one day Djoko will ever represent Britain in the Davis Cup?

Posted by David Law 03/15/2007 at 01:09 AM

Cheers Miguel - I'm serving like King Karlo at the moment as well, so watch out in the Algarve!

Djokovic would struggle to get in our Davis Cup team at the moment.

John Lloyd has a 'selection headache'.

No, really.

Posted by Pete 03/15/2007 at 01:39 AM

Everbody: David Law is a top-drawer journalist and his BBC reports reach a mere, oh, 600 million people or something. David, would you please post some links for my readers, even if you just copy and paste in the URL?

Hi Mikey!!!!!!!!

Lucy, WM badge for yourself for showing up again.

On the Baby Fed issue: you know, it's not like I need to dump on the poor kid any more than I already have, but I don't really get this "beautiful" thing; I mean, maybe my aesthetics are too different or idiosyncratic. He seems to have all kinds of glitches (backhand takeback, overbusy feet, etc.)So I can't buy in. However, I'll be the first to admit that he has a very flashy game and comes up with some great shots. But those are not aesthetic issues to me.

Posted by David Law 03/15/2007 at 02:18 AM

Pete, I'm blushing! (no surprise from an Englishman there then ...).

Seriously, thanks a lot for those kind words (yes, the BBC World Service does reach 60 million listeners, but I appreciate the extra zero!), and particularly for the invitation to share my links with your readers.

In short, I'm involved in putting together what is, to my knowledge, the first official, professionally produced (to BBC radio standards), Tennis podcast - a 10-minute, bi-weekly tennis radio show that will feature top player interviews, some amusing segments to show off the personalities of the players, and every episode will feature the section 'Commissioner McEnroe' - we've given Jonny Mac the title he always says he wants, and every episode, in his new role, he will 'change' something in the game.

Episode one has been out there for ten days, featuring Commissioner McEnroe telling us how the Australian Open will hereby move to March, there will be an extra week of grass, and there will be a three-month off-season.

Also, since the podcast is sponsored by Artois (the company that brings us the Artois Championships at Queen's every year), there is an obvious concentration on that event's players. In Episode one, Pat Cash and Wayne Ferreira ran through the contenders for this year's title. Ferreira trashes Henman for abandoning his volley game!!

It made a brief appearance in the top 100 list of all sports podcasts on iTunes after just a week, so we're pretty happy.

To listen, either type in 'tennis' or 'tennis podcast' into the iTunes search window.

or go to the Artois Championships website: www.artoischampionships.com

Episode 2 will be out on Monday (19th March), and that's where you'll hear my interview with Djokovic (apparently his younger brothers are comers as well!!!).

There will also be Commissioner McEnroe installment two, where this week he wants to overhaul the scoring system!!

We have a feature on Hawk-Eye, which will make its debut at Queen's this year.

And finally, our new feature 'Doubles Zone', which believe me, is very, very funny. I couldn't believe the things that the doubles team we featured were saying about each other!

Future episodes will feature interviews with Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, Tim Henman, Fernando Gonzalez and Ivan Ljubicic.

Thanks again Pete for inviting me to share this with you all.

Best,

David Law

Posted by Jake 03/15/2007 at 05:19 AM

Djoko is undoubtedly a talent, but shouldn't we ait for a real opponent to play him before we start proclaiming him as the second coming. Has he even played a member of the top 10 at this tournament. I have already seen him enough to know he is talented enough to be a good 75% of the tour players. Benneteau is a solid player, lets not start building him up to make Djoko look more impressive to satisfy our thirst for a more compoetitive sport.

The truth is when Djoko has come up against the top seeds he has lost, especially in the important moments lost. TMF beat him pretty convincingly. I will need to see him have some wins against players from the top echelons of the game before i will submit to hyperbole.

Posted by Joe 03/15/2007 at 05:27 AM

I watched the Murray performance. Did anyone else find it strange that he was conservatively rallying with Davy, especially considering when he did lay down the hammer he usually won the point?

This seemed wierd to me. I almost get the impression that Murray is experimenting, today i'm going to play like this, today i'm going to play like that. There is near constant talk about this kids intelligence, but with those constant high balls to davy's bh , i almost falt like Murray was taunting him.

Maybe it was the best tactic to use when playing davydenko, and maybe when he plays Haas he will hev different tactics and a different Murray will show. Watching him i get the impression he has so much variety. There are like 5 or 6 different Murray's. I say bring back the one that played Nadal. He is far more entertaining.

Posted by Sophia 03/15/2007 at 06:11 AM

Djokovic is a great player destined for a lot of success, but he has a long way to go. You may have seen him at his best yesterday, but there are plenty of times he plays and falls well short and so I wouldn't call him the perfect player just yet. I also hope to see evidence soon that he has stopped faking injuries when he gets into trouble in big matches. That is just the opposite of the perfect tennis player in my opinion.

Gasquet is such a frustrating player to follow. He is absolutely bursting with talent, but he just can't use it properly! His record against top ten players is quite a shock considering the name he has made for himself - only two wins (Fedster and Blake) in around 20 matches.

Posted by kingandre 03/15/2007 at 06:25 AM

Why has Henman abandoned his net game.I havent got to see any of the action of late.Does he rally from the baseline then?Has to be,but then that wldnt be henman

Posted by Haidef Lorez 03/15/2007 at 07:10 AM

When listening to Gasquet in interviews he always explains things he's done like he was actually an outside observer and putting them in the context of his own development. A bit like if he had internalised all that's being constantly reminded to him (his precociousness, god-in-waiting status, etc...). His losses don't seem to bother him that much because he gives the impression that he believes it'll eventually turn all right in the end (which actually might). I wish there was a little less of this sense of entitlement to future glory, and more grittiness on the court - a Take-It-Now attitude displayed by many of his peers that don't hold the same promise.

On an esthetics note, nobody ever noticed his slouching shoulders? On some pictures, his head sticks out like a giraffes's!! Quite strange. Oh, since I'm on it I don't like the Djoker's forehand (effective but quite ugly in my opinion).

Posted by sophie 03/15/2007 at 07:10 AM

Hi Sophia - nice name :)

"I also hope to see evidence soon that he has stopped faking injuries when he gets into trouble in big matches."

You obviously haven't seen him for a while. Ever since Fed bashed him for it after the DC tie last Sept, he hasn't had one. After they met in Dubai Fed said they'd talked and there was no problem.

I like this kid. I started recording a few of his matches, as well as Murray, Gasquet, Berdych, Baghdatis and Monfils.

It makes for very interesting comparisons. I don't go along with BabyFed or BabySafin (Berdych) or baby anything. I agree with Pete in that Djoko shows signs of a complete game, a nice mix of offence and defence. He's prepared to battle it out. He has great potential and some killer shots. He is considerably more mature than Murray, may be that's the background history and independence. Murray's soft, Gasquet is soft, Djoko is hard, and I know who is the best assassin at this stage.

Posted by skip1515 03/15/2007 at 07:40 AM

Pete, perfect is as perfect does, and in this case your two examples fall a bit short.

I watched Djokovic play Fish at the US Open last year, and I saw Gasquet play Simon. Admittedly their two opponents are quite different, but I was underwhelmed with Djokovic's play and wowed by Gasquet's obvious talent.

Djokovic was bash bash, Not In?, bash bash. He won primarily because Fish played much the same way, but not quite as well (sic). I agree that Djokovic hits the ball with major league weight, and with a generally simple and clean motion.

Since then he shows signs of maturing as a player. "Playing within yourself" may be an overused phrase, but if he's going to succeed beyond the point of constantly being "promising" he'll have to own that kind of mental strength.

Gasquet shows more racquet talent, and that's what's so mesmerizing. And he does have a lightness of movement that suggests greatness, too. Whether he's actually faster around the court than Djokovic is debatable.

But perfect is as perfect does, and at this stage, Pete, I think the foundation of your observation is accurate: Djokovic shows a relish for combat, and Gasquet doesn't. Which of them will take the next step, posting consistent results that bring them solidly into the top 10, is the question. At this stage I think you'd have to go with the guy who's tougher mentally.

Posted by Danield 03/15/2007 at 07:51 AM

Ahhh, Pete. Darn ya.' You managed to remind me just how much I used to LOVE watching Mecir play. God, when he was "on," he flowed like water. It'd be great to see Djokovic bound to and stay in the Big League for a spell, too.

Posted by chloe02 03/15/2007 at 08:11 AM

Pete - thanks for some very interesting observations about Djokovic. I've not seen him play too much this year and I'm trying to think what was the issue he had with Fed, last year I think. Didn't TMF comment that he thought Djokovic was crying wolf with injuries during his matches? I'll have to go and look it up but I seem to remember a bit of bad blood between them.

Having just watched the re-run of Murray and Kolya the Obscure. OF: Why, oh why, does Davydenko have to look like a small town bank clerk from outer Siberia?? He's got the new clothes sponsor and then has to make sure he buttons up his shirt to look like some old dude. Irina, get him a makeover, please! Anyhoo...more importantly...Murray is a dangerous bad-ass who is going to give his opponents hell. I know he and Djokovic are friends and I would put more money on Murray making it higher up the tree esp when you check out the H2H of each player against top 10 opposition.

Posted by Tom 03/15/2007 at 08:12 AM

I disagree. I don't think he is the pefect player, i don't even think he is the best young gun. My belief is that Murray has far more variety than Djoko, sure Djoko is more naturally aggressive, but his eyes are nowhere near as good as Murray's.

I would say the differences between Murray an Djoko are Murray'eyes and anticipation. They are both hugely talented though, no doubt about that.

Thre perfect player, you kidding me? Even TMF isn't that. What chance does Djoko have? He is only 19, i'll not make any lasting judgement now about how mentally strong he is any time soon. But is the acid test of mental strength not to be down break point final set late in a slam or a masters event. The furthest Djoko has gotten was at the French in the semi's if i remember correctly.

Mental strength judgements surely require proof, not opinions. Seems level headed though. Murray is more naturally passionate, but he toned it down this week thus far. Murray seems less stable, but everything i have seen of him leads me to believe that he was made for the big moments. You can tell that just by looking back on his career thus far. His breakthrough at Queens club, then success at Wimbledon, The us open after puking (lots of mental strength needed there)when he was 2 sets to 1 down, both SAP titles... I get the star quality impression from Murray, Djoko...well he is talented, maybe just missing that magic ingrediant. But time is on his side. I just read that Djoko and Murray are good mates. Small world!

Posted by James 03/15/2007 at 08:15 AM

What is the deal with Mecir, it seems to me that he is the go to guy for comparisons. There must be other players from the past who are similar to the likes of Djokovic, Murray...

Posted by skip1515 03/15/2007 at 08:16 AM

An additional thought: Without meaning to be dismissive of folks who're at the top of their profession (I should only be the 14th best in the world at my job!), the names of those who populate the 11 thru 20 rankings are constantly in flux. A lot has changed in tennis in the past 40 years, but not that.

It's tempting to see someone's movement into that group as part of an upward trend that will automatically continue, bringing them into lengthy residence in the top 10, but statistically that's not the case.

Djokovic and Gasquet are knocking on the door, but it's still just a rap of knuckles. Let's wait to see if they walk through and stay awhile before anointing them.

Posted by skip1515 03/15/2007 at 08:20 AM

Located elsewhere in the draw: Murray's win over Davydenko was huge, I thought. Davydenko is just the kind of quicksand you could see Murray becoming trapped by, and it didn't happen.

A portent of things to come? The next round will give a clue. The way into the top 10 is paved with successive examples of good, solid wins (see post above).

Posted by Arit 03/15/2007 at 08:21 AM

Murray's soft! How did get that impression. I have never gotten that impression, just don't see it. I can see why Djokovic would be hard though growing up in serbia.

Posted by Serge 03/15/2007 at 08:24 AM

How may points does Djokovic have to defend running up to the French?

Posted by sophie 03/15/2007 at 08:57 AM

chloe02 - see my 7.10 a.m. post re Djoko/Fed.

Arit - Murray's soft - yes. Prefers patball tennis, loopy shots, softening up opponent, but infrequent use of killer shot. Takes too long to put opponent away, thrill of the chase syndrome. Like the crumpling in the 5th set against Nadal AO.

Djoko scents blood. Murray wonders what that smell is.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 08:58 AM

David Law: please provide a text version of your new Artois Championships podcasts, for those of us still living in the Stone Age.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 03/15/2007 at 09:09 AM

David Law also reports on site from every single Senior Tour event in Europe -- I advise him to click on the category 'Senior Tour' (the column on the right side) here at TennisWorld and check out the archives over there!

Posted by Gen X 03/15/2007 at 09:11 AM

I think Pete has a man-crush on the Djoker. It's gotta be because of the Value Mall haircut.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 09:22 AM

Gen X, that's too funny... youse crazy!

As for Pete's take on Djokovic, let's not all get carried away over-analyzing it. Pete made it very clear that his "perfcect player" label does not in any way, shape, or form (well, maybe in form) have anything to do with the player's results. It's all about the stroke mechanics and power production. And from that poerspective, I think he may have a legitimate argument. The dude hits a very firm, clean ball. Of course, tennis isn't a game that is won simply on the number of firm, clean balls one hits. For my part, when I look at the players who venture to the net to volley fro time to time, I think Murray has the best form up there. I was amazed as I watched him in Cincy nearly a year ago. He maintains the perfect wide, low stance; keeps his elbow tucked in and his hands out in front with the racquet head up to his nose level; and he pounces like a cat at every ball coming his way, using very soft hands and almost no racquet head movement to blunt the power, carve out an angle, or punch a hard, deep one.

Posted by malimeda 03/15/2007 at 09:29 AM

I understood a Perfect Player to mean a Complete Package, a Clean Game. As David Law said, a computer-generated player could be like Nole. The part of the package being, of course, tons of chutzpa and grit, something that cannot be learned or added subsequently (sorry, Richard Gasquet). What can be added is game maturity, and Nole is gradually getting there. Lots of potential, this one. Incidentally, could someone quote what exactly did Nole's father say to/about Federer to provoke such undying hatred among the Swiss-Mr's fandom, spilling over even to the son?

Posted by Sophia 03/15/2007 at 09:30 AM

Serge - he has about 95 ranking points to defend running up to the French, but then 250 points to defend at Roland Garros.

Sophie - I've watched Djokovic quite a lot, but at the same time haven't really paid full attention to him, as his injury time-outs in various events put me off a little. Perhaps he's stopped the dubious injury time-outs without me really noticing, so my comments were a little unfair. If he has stopped this habit then I'm pleased to hear it and I take back what I said. Thanks for pointing it out!

However, I have seen enough recently for me to know that I still don't think that he'll be a regular member of the top ten for a while. I'm sticking with that part of my previous message!! I think he's a great player, but I think he's got some work to do on features of his game and mindset before he really pushes into the world's elite, much like compatriot Ana Ivanovic.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 09:33 AM

Malimeda, you are correct. It's more than just stroke mechanics and power production, although those are key elements. "Game maturity" or tactical and situational maturity may be a good way to put the pther half.

Posted by Sophia 03/15/2007 at 09:36 AM

PS when I was talking about the injury controversy, I'd actually forgotten about it happening in Davis Cup and was in fact referring to other events! However it's very interesting to hear that he has made up with the Fedster Sophie - I had been wondering whether there was still any bitterness when they faced each other in Dubai last week.

Posted by sophie 03/15/2007 at 09:38 AM

"For my part, when I look at the players who venture to the net to volley fro time to time, I think Murray has the best form up there."

How much tennis do you watch? You sound like Sky Sports commentators, as they say Murray's returning, ccFH, drop shot, lob, anticipation, tennis mind, movement, speed around the court are the best in the business. And judging by the inaccuracies and ignorance of what they say, they haven't seen many matches.

Let's have a bit of perspective here.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 09:54 AM

Well, Sophie, aside from your tone being unacceptable.... I'll is say that I've watched plenty of tennis (going on 40 years), and have played for nearly as long (at a high amateur level), and have seen close-up and personal (from 15-20 feet away, and less) great volleyers like McEnroe, Roche, the Woodies, Paes, and others. I will state unequivocally that Murray's volleying form is exceptional. Now, that doesn't mean he uses it often enough, or that he doesn't miss them. I'm talking about his form, his technique.

From whence does YOUR great wisdom come?

Posted by Linex 03/15/2007 at 10:02 AM

Gasquet game is a pleasure to watch. His back hand is just sensational. His serve is good also. But yes it seems he lacks mental toughness and consistency and why not an extra-amount of weight in his shots. Even when he played Del Potro it seems that he was overpowered at some moments only that Del Potro shots went out when he lost that first set tiebreak.

I thought that Djokovic was a little annoying but after watching an interview that he gave to the ESPNDeportes reporter I realized that he is nice and has his owen charisma. Regarding his tennis, still not impressed by it, perhaps I need to watch him more to realize.

Posted by marieJ 03/15/2007 at 10:04 AM

with gasquet own words he admits he played a like a little boy in front of a pro... too much respect for the opponent.
and the FFT is not puting so much pressure on him when is away of a local tourney, he aslo admits he puts too much pressure on himself.
actually his tennis problems are mental, he has to go from not to lose to go to win attitude.
he's got the game, the fitness still on working but he lacks of grinta, desire sometimes, he beats himself first or he just allows his opponent to beat him... it's the same.
somtimes, he comes with the wrong tactics as well, trying some shots not worth for winning...
he needs a couple of good wins on upper ranked players to move forward and derseve to be called babyfed.
as for djoko, his clean and sharp game needs a little bit more variety in it, and his fitness is still an issue on clay and in long matches, yesturday he was lucky to have benneteau crasing out and he clearly running out of gas in the second set.
benneteau was looking for resting in the shadow between points, the heat conditions affected both players and djoko hang there a little better, but he was clearly affected too in the long rallies.
i was really impressed by him at RG when he took out gonzo in 5 sets on a rainy day with slow clay courts, his serve was impressive, like his flat fh and bh drop shot too...
i don't know how much he can keep it going on a week after week basis, let's say is consistency needed at the higher level.
but as many young guys who needed to leave their home to become protennis players, he has made allready great sacrifices, he's hungry for a payback.
the hunger, the will, the commitment to improve and to work hard i thinks he shares that with nadal and murray much more than gasquet, baggy and berdych as far as the latest results.
a djoko murray semi would be rocking as both players are on the edge of craking to the top ten, even if the numbers don't follow their game is allready at that level this week, maybe next week will be another story, it's going to be very interresting how they handle the back to back tounaments.

Posted by Sophia 03/15/2007 at 10:15 AM

Re Murray volleying - I often don't think he makes enough of the first volley and it can get him into trouble, but my goodness he has a good second and third volley! I think he has fantastic hands at the net. I agree that Sky can overrate some of his shots, but I think he deserves the praise he receives for his net game.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 03/15/2007 at 10:17 AM

Very interesting post. Funny Springsteen was mentioned as I am listening right now to "Kitty's Back" off the tremendous 1975 Hammersmith Odeon, London concert cd. Pick this one up, folks.

I haven't seen enough Djoko to comment on his game, so let me reflect on Pete's judgment regarding Gasquet:

So Pete watched him play and he played well, until he self-destructed, made too many errors, and lost the match. No, this never happens to top-20 tennis players.

Come on, we're making career judgments about this young kid's drive, determination, willingness to win, skill, etc., from one match? If you were watching Sharpie choke away the match a few days ago, you might say the same about her. Or, as GSTe mentioned, you might have reached the same judgment on TMF watching him play at Gasquet's age.

If it's true, as Pete mused some time ago, that Davydenko is the human backboard against which your game is judged, then Gasquet must be able to do something right, sometimes, as he beat Davy and also Fed on his way to a narrow loss to Nadal.

I think it's way too premature to make these types of pronouncements on Reeshard, although it makes for fun reading and debate. If he's in Alex Bogomolov-land in a few years, then yes, you gotta give Pete his due. But I'm hoping Gasquet's mind catches up to his elegant backhand and he proves us wrong.

Posted by Kate 03/15/2007 at 10:19 AM

Wow OK Richard Gasquet doesn't seem to have the "killer" instinct but us Torontonians are lucky enought to have a TMS (guys and gals rotate between us and Montreal) hey that could be a good idea to put to the WTA/ATP fighting over curbing the tennis year. Sorry I digress last year during the qualifying weekend a lot of the players come to practice, we had been watching Tim and Lleyton play and Richard comes along, a die hard French fan asks him to pose for a picture, he puts a hand on his hip, turns and grins and says "like this?" it was a very light hearted and fun moment. I sometimes wish the GS were like this more relaxed!

OK back to my mid-morning coffee! Nice piece Pete!

Posted by Sean 03/15/2007 at 10:23 AM

Sophie, are you out of your mind? "Djoko scents blood. Murray wonders what that smell is."

This is an incredible opinion. I could not disagree more. Murray has more options than Djokovic, this leads to different styles of points. He is more natural as a counterpuncher, however he has played aggressive tennis well also. He plays according to tactics decided by him and Gilbert going into any given match. The fact that he has such tools at his disposal means he can play to his opponents’ weaknesses. Look at his record this year, it is better than djokovic’s, also check the number of top seeds he has played.

Your point is ridiculous. I would suggest his variety enables him to play aggressively, while also allowing him to exploit his opponents’ vulnerabilities. Djokovic is talented an will be in the top 10, but when he comes up against another player of a similar level and style, yes there are some out there, he will have to find more ways to win points. This is why he lost to Youzhny in Rotterdam, he has talent, just not as many tools… Yet…

Posted by James 03/15/2007 at 10:26 AM

Has Djokovic played any seeds at all, ever?

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 10:27 AM

Thanks, Sophia. I actually do know what I'm talking about. And it's good to see SOMEONE else has drawn similar conclusions.....

Posted by marieJ 03/15/2007 at 10:49 AM

hello james, novak did not beat so many top seeds, robredo twice since he reach the top ten, gonzo #9 last year...
some more guys in the to 20 like nieminem and murry last year too.
this year nobody ranked above #43 apart robredo in roterdam.
he lost to youznhy and fed twice this year.
not a stellar performence, but took the best winning one tittle in adelaide.

Posted by rafa fan 03/15/2007 at 10:56 AM

S-n-d sophie's tone has been unacceptable before, and probably will be again. the other day she told me to "get a life". she does not care who she insults.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 11:09 AM

rafa fan -- thanks for the low-down on sophie. As I have neither the time nor the desire to argue woith rude people, I will simply ignore her from here out. Life's too short to tolerate bullies or boors.

Posted by James 03/15/2007 at 11:13 AM

I just don't see Djokovic's mental game the way almost everyone else seems to. Given his past, he seems like someone prone to gamesmanship and quitting, someone who doesn't have the "Wilanders" to tough things out. Remember, he quit the last couple of years at the French, took the controversial "injury timeouts" at the US Open, and so forth. If this is your "perfect player" due to trunk rotation, so be it. But give me Rafa Nadal's combination of awkward form and true grit, or Pete Sampras supposedly "weak" backhand and fearlessness on big points over the Djoker's perfect form, trash talk, injury timeouts and reitrements any day of the week. I wonder what Roger Federer or Alex Corretja think of this?

Posted by Rosangel 03/15/2007 at 11:14 AM

Points won in 2007 so far - Murray 610, Djokovic 510. Murray having titled in San Jose, and got to the final in Doha, and semis in Memphis.

BTW, some hypotheticals here. Even if both lose in the QFs they have both overtaken Berdych in the rankings this week. A further win for either would take him past Ancic as well. Reaching the final would allow either of them to take Nalbandian's current number ten slot. Murray winning the whole thing would get him to number nine; in Djokovic's case his ranking would either be nine or ten depending on whether Haas gets to the semis or not.

Posted by sophie 03/15/2007 at 11:19 AM

Slice-n-dice, now if you'd said Murray's volleying form was "exceptional" in your earlier post, I wouldn't have taken issue, but you said you thought he had the "best" form up there, so.......

Let's keep it light :) Same for you, Sean, we are all entitled to our opinion even if you think mine is ridiculous. What do you think of Pete's opinion of Djoko? Ridiculous?

Posted by Andrew 03/15/2007 at 11:22 AM

Guys - can we pull back a bit on the direct stuff? Not singling any individual out here, but lets keep the TW Site Rules in mind, in particular

"2 - Please treat your fellow posters with respect and abstain from harassing, baiting, or berating others".

Thanks.

Posted by rafa fan 03/15/2007 at 11:25 AM

MarieJ, I remember hearing that Djoko had some health problem around breathing/fitness, and he had a medical operation with that. Does anyone recall that? Sometimes, he seems to run a little short of breath still, for a young guy.

Posted by Rosangel 03/15/2007 at 11:32 AM

Regarding my numbers above (not competing for the post of TW's resident statistician, Andrew, honestly!), Murray and Djokovic have a friendly rivalry between themselves regarding who will first reach the Top Ten. Firm friends, and I think Djokovic is the younger by only a week, so I can see why this would be a competitive thing - and I'm sure it will add a little bit of extra motivation for both to continue to do well this week, that Top 10 carrot. Having lost to him in their only H2H, Murray would love to beat Djokovic into the Top 10.

Posted by marieJ 03/15/2007 at 11:33 AM

andrew, well said !
btw rosia has everybody's numbers lately ;)
djoko or murray must have big expectations now considering who's left, and i'm sure they believe they just can beat anyone playing their best stuff...
this tournament is pretty exciting, not because fed is out, but because the match ups left are exciting... who will come up to run for the tittle ???
andrew, how would you rate everyones chances, so far ? your the expert in this no ?
well, you need to like some of the guys left to keep really involved as a kad, but if you like the unexpected, IW is the perfect tourney, at least to me.

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 11:38 AM

sophie... okay, I'm willing to bend a bit. In fact, though, I do think Murray has the best volleying form of the singles players, excepting perhaps Federer, and yes it is exceptional. Again, that's not to say it's the most effective volley. I'd want to look at the doubles duos for those... like Bob or Mike Bryan, Bjorkman, Paes, etc.

Who would you place above him (singles player(s))?

Posted by marieJ 03/15/2007 at 11:41 AM

rafa fan; yes he had some surgery in his nose to help him to breathe with more ease, i think i was at the end of 2005 or begining of 2006...
but when it's very hott he still has problems, he pulled out of umag in the final this year for that reason, so...
improved but not perfect yet !

Posted by sophie 03/15/2007 at 11:45 AM

Thanks S-n-d :) Was thinking of returning to being a lurker.

Posted by Andrew 03/15/2007 at 11:47 AM

marieJ: I am still in a state of deep mourning, realizing from the order of play that had the state of the universe not completely broken down, I might have seen a Federer QF, SF and F this weekend. .

Anyhow:

Nadal: Chela 85%
Roddick: Ljubicic 75%
Djokovic: Ferrer 65%
Haas: Murray 60%

Posted by Ray Stonada 03/15/2007 at 11:48 AM

Guys, I leave the blog for a couple of days and all the ladies start hugging each other, then Pete falls in love with VertiDjoko. Something's going on!

I sympathize with Pete, though. I never wanted to admit to it fully because that would have made it too easy on Juan José (Djoko's first love), but when you watch the guy it's obvious he plays a very pure tennis. Djoko's rotation on the forehand is so fast he looks like a helicopter. His backhand has no hitches and he goes up the line without bunting. His serve is, as said, wonderfully efficient. Most importantly is the way he plays points - I didn't see that Fish match, but it sounds an anomaly to me. When I've seen him, he simply takes all the space up, makes the other player seem less relevant to the outcome.

To be honest, though, I've been expecting more results out of him than we've gotten so far. He's been playing great, but the tour is just that deep right now. So far this year, he won Adelaide, cruised through the AO to the fourth round and lost to Fed in straights, lost two straight matches to Youzhny 7-6 and 7-5 in the final sets, and took Federer to a final set before losing in Dubai. He's just itching to break out.

Ferrer is toast. Haas or Murray would be great matchups and I'm out here in LaLa licking my chops. But a note to VertiDjoko: ditch the Flow-Bee!

Posted by svelterogue 03/15/2007 at 11:52 AM

pete, thank you for this article.

i know many people in this forum don't like novak but i have liked him since i saw him at roland garros last year where he lost to rafa in the 4th round, i think it was. the "scandalous" things he said during his presser about he controlled the game did not throw me off my rafa kad chair... truth be told, novak had made me nervous all throughout the match. i did think he could have controlled the match better had he not been distracted by errors and what you have described his emotional outbursts.

i thought his shots were clean and dangerous, and it just happened that rafa was the more experienced clay court player, and, most tellingly, more calm in crisis moments.

it was a 4-setter if i recall, or it could have been 3... but i do know that i feared for rafa during that match.

i like novak, in spite of his audacity concerning roger. and i'm glad you wrote about him this way :)

thank you again pete

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 11:58 AM

hey sophie, not so fast, girl. Stay in the game... but let's all simply agree to watch how we phrase things. Prickly pears are no fun to touch!

Posted by Rosangel 03/15/2007 at 12:02 PM

Hi svelterogue! Djokovic retired from that RG match after losing the first two sets, but I do agree that his relative inexperience on clay versus Rafa's may have been a factor.

I'm not quite sure when it occurred, but at some point recently I realised that I do like Djokovic, both as a player and a personality. I also can't recall any recent injury time-outs from him. I thought he played great against Fed at the AO. I just thought all that talking himself up beforehand was his way of motivating himself, and the edge from that certainly made the match itself even more entertaining than it was.

There is a very nice article about Djokovic in this month's ACE magazine from the LTA. If I get time later I'll read through it again, and relay anything relevant.

Posted by Rosangel 03/15/2007 at 12:06 PM

Incidentally, on current points (615), Djokovic is the eighth best claycourt player in the world, jointly with Ljubicic:)

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 12:11 PM

Rosangel, your stats are a hoot. While I'm sure they are telling in some general sense, I'd be interested in knowing how each of the top-20 fair on the "big" points, including break points for, break points against, and 40-30 hold points. The ultimate test for true Wilanders, I might add, would be set points for, set points against, match points for and match points against. (as if you have nothing better to do, right?! :-D)

Posted by marsha 03/15/2007 at 12:11 PM

People forget that Federer was as flaky as Gasquet in his early years too.

>> I told him that I wasn’t there to kiss his butt

I am glad to hear that. You do enough butt kissing over "TMF" and his KAD fans.

Posted by marieJ 03/15/2007 at 12:11 PM

andrew mourning really ?? too bad... feeling like a rafa kad after a bad lost, i know the feeling ;)
fed should lose more often, so it wouldn't hurt that much ;)

ok i just found out that tommy did won a TMS : stuggart indoor back in 2001... ages ago !!!
so appart roddick and rafa, the only recent winners, there is going to be at least one good chance of a new runner up on one side...
and that's a bit exciting if one of the young guns can win their 1st MS event, it's will add more spice for the rest of the season, some non fed fans are saying it's boring no one can step in to give a real challenge for fed who owns everybody's numbers since 3 years apart rafa, i found very exciting that new guys are able to crack the top ten, no ?

Posted by SanjaVIC 03/15/2007 at 12:11 PM

Gasquet = Charlie Brown. I don't think he will find the confidence or the ability to get out of his own way to match his talent. I think of him as big potential upset material who crash and burn the next round. It's interesting to have a few of those types around.

Go Djokovic! I have to admit that everything I know about his game is from reading. I've never seen him play but I'm a sucker for the chutzpah and the monchichi hair. Not to mention that I own all the VIC's for better or for worse.

David Law - thank you for that information. The podcasts sound great, I can't wait to check them out.

Posted by Pete 03/15/2007 at 12:30 PM

Marsha - cheap shot of the week award to you, hope it makes you feel proud!

Todd - I've watched Gasquet (and Novak) plenty, just never with the kind of focus I like to bring when I know I'm going to figure out what I REALLY think. And while Reeshard has plenty of time, so does, ah, Robby Ginepri. It seems to me that great players get great and stay great pretty quickly and pretty early (which is not to say gasquet is out of time, but you know. . .)

Posted by Andrew 03/15/2007 at 12:32 PM

marieJ: last word on this, cause it's kind of OT. I'm not sure if I've mentined this yet on this board, but in November 2004 a colleague offered me a ticket, out of the blue, to see Federer vs Gaudio in the Houston YEC.

It meant playing hooky from work (where there was a panic on) but I said, "OK, let's do it." Understand that I was not, at that time, a Federer KAD.

So we get to our seats, the players start warming up, and they get to the serves. I have always had trouble with my service motion: I swear to God, I have never seen anyone hit a ball so beautifully.

They start the match, and three minutes in, the players are off court for rain. I hung around for another hour and a half, then headed back to work.

So I have seen one of the great players of our time play precisely six points, and warm up. Last month, I made the daring decision (for me) to break open the piggy bank, travel to IW, in the hope of seeing him play in the later stages of the tournament.

'twas not to be, helas.

There will be other days.

As for Federer losing more often: 3-5 times a year is OK by me. Just not at RG this year, and not-when-I'm-making-a-special-trip, if that's OK by the controllers of the universe.

Posted by zola 03/15/2007 at 12:32 PM

Pete,
How did Gasquet become the baby Federer in the first place? ( wasn't that so in the young guns issure of the tennis Mag?) Is he dethroned now?

I remember Djoko from his withdrawl at French open against Nadal, when he was one set down and then in his presser said that he had the match under control and he could win ! Brad Gilbert had a good laugh about it. He had another presser, where he said something about Federer and being No. 1. .
In Australian Open, he was fearless against Federer and I liked his attitude. But complete player? Is this based on timing and trunk rotation? How do you compare him with Murray?
what is his weapon?
well, your article sure made me watch him and Gasquet closer next time.

Posted by Pete 03/15/2007 at 12:36 PM

Oh, and here's something else:

I watched Fed win the Orange Bowl (with his Orange Hair) and have observed his early career. I see no substantial similarities between him and Gasquet, now or ever, beyond that they both have a great, conspicuous talent. Some G fans seem to suggest that the talent is deployed the same way and is maturing the same way but I just don't see that. I never saw Federer as "soft", "flaky" or too flashy before he won his first Slam, as I see G. The guy Gasquet most reminds me of is Johann Kriek a good but not great player form the McEnroe era.

Posted by Noobie 03/15/2007 at 12:36 PM

Whats a KAD? and whats TMF?

Posted by zola 03/15/2007 at 12:38 PM

Andrew,
I am not a FedKAD, but I second you on the beauty of his shotmaking. I saw some slow motion forehand, backhand, etc. on youtube and they are "beautiful".

Posted by CM 03/15/2007 at 12:39 PM

I think both Djokovic and Gasquet have nice games, but these guys (and Murray) are so young that it is hard to know where their careers will go. Fed was mucho talented when he was younger and was being touted but it took him a few years to realize it. And who knew (even him) how high he would go. I think Gasquet, Murray, and Djokovic all have the talent to be at the very top but we all know it takes more than that to be #1 and certainly to be a legend.

It's too soon to write off Gasquet and too early to say Djokovic is the perfect player - even in mechanics. I just don't believe you can be the 'perfect player' at 19. And honestly, no player can ever be considered mechanically perfect in all aspects of the game.

Anyway, I'm still warming up to all of them. I got a bad taste of Gasquet when he was defaulted at the US Open a few years back. And Murray has such a negative body language that I dislike watching him, really. Djokovic got on my bad side after his questionable sportsmanship against the Swiss DC team last year. HOWEVER, Gasquet has worked hard to turn around the NY incident and I appreciate his game. Murray is improving in his 'negative' attitude under the tutelage of Brad Gilbert. And Djokovic listened when Fed set him straight about his behavior and he's way better. So, he's probably first on my list of those three now.

Posted by Rosangel 03/15/2007 at 12:41 PM

Slice-n-dice: I'd love those stats too! How do I apply for a job as the ATP's resident statistician?!

I'm enjoying your comments on Murray, by the way. Watching his game develop as it has been doing recently is very interesting for me (I think I've watched all his matches this year so far). I learn so much in TW from comments made by people who have played the game at a much higher level than I ever have (I have played a bit recently, though!), and it really is enhancing my enjoyment of watching - learning new things all the time, even though I've been an avid tennis watcher for over 30 years. I'm in love with Murray's return of serve, as well as his volleying:)

Posted by SanjaVIC 03/15/2007 at 12:42 PM

Oh and Pete - thanks for throwing in a Bruce Springsteen reference especially one focusing on Djoko.

Funny enough - I came to that conclusion about Gasquet while watching his match (that he lost) against Ginepri two years ago at the US Open.

Many seem to hold up Federer's development arc as an example, I tend to think of it as an anomaly.

Posted by CM 03/15/2007 at 12:44 PM

Andrew...you have tickets to IW this weekend? And you bought them to see Fed? Oh man...that sucks! If I hadn't seen Roger play twice in Miami last year and win both...I might be second-guessing myself about being a bad-luck charm. I mean, Fed loses the day before I get to Cincy and then he loses when I'm watching him in IW last weekend. But, I saw him win his doubles and I saw him win in Miami...so I feel fairly certain that I was just unlucky a bit for IW and Cincy.

I'm sorry that your first attempt to see Fed has not worked out. Keep trying - he's sooooo worth it! TV does not do this man justice at all.

Posted by randyq 03/15/2007 at 12:51 PM

Richard really needs to get fitter by getting some muscles in the upper body and work on the serves(that killed him against Roddick.)
His forehand can get loopy and needs to be worked on too(3 bad forehand errors in the tb)
Had Richard blocked Roddick's serves(like Federer does against Roddick).

Roddick if you look at his game is predictable like Blake's game
1-they go to your backhand either serving or receiving.
then
2- then go for a huge forehand down the line or at the net but you see Federer blocking the serves back,giving them no pace;then goes for his own forehand getting the boys on the defensive.
examples
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uF_cyDb4Kns
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PzApmLdI5E&mode=related&search=

Posted by Andrew 03/15/2007 at 12:59 PM

CM: I have plane tickets, hotel rooms, a rental car and good stadium seats. I hope to see some great tennis, and visit with Pete, steggy, Ray, DM and any other great Tribe members who are there. One can mourn without despairing.

zola: I think I had something of a visceral reaction to seeing the guy in person. I had seen Sampras play on a grass court, and Roddick and Blake in other circumstances. Federer's balance and grace were almost otherworldly.

Pete's meditation on the differences between Gasquet and Djokovic is very interesting. My own sense, not having watched Djokovic as much or as closely as Pete has, is that Djokovic comes across as the "perfect player" as he might be designed by a computer for early 2000s men's tennis.

Similarly, we might listen to a piece of "perfect music" composed by a computer - it would have excellent melodic, harmonic and rhythmic attributes - but would it have soul?

The Tennis Turing Test - interesting concept.

Posted by Suresh 03/15/2007 at 01:03 PM

Interesting post Pete.

Gasquet's game is aesthetically pleasing to watch, maybe thats why Federer fans appreciate it. Then again,it takes more than that to win. Federer probably was at the same stage before 2003 as Gasquet is now. I would wait for two or three more years to see if he translates his talents to winning more tournaments.

I do feel however that both Gasquet and Djokovic could improve on their stamina. Baghdatis could also work on his fitness

As far as Henman is concerned, he was on record stating that the serve and volley style is a little more difficult to play these days. Most serve and volleyers are of the same view.

Pat Rafter found volleying tougher towards the end of his career( I think 1997) - he found that the groundstrokes had a little more spin and he attributed that more to the new strings than to the newer technology racquets.
Todd Martin in a recently aired on the tennis channel hosted by Chris Myers also was of the same view - that he had to be more patient before venturing to the net as the groundstrokes had more action.

Posted by rafa fan 03/15/2007 at 01:07 PM

Noobie -- there is an acronym guide up at the top right if you click on "new to TW?"

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/15/2007 at 01:08 PM

Rosangel, keep up your stat-finding ways, and Pete may just be the guy to land you that dream job with the ATP, WTA, ITF or, heaven forbid, USTA.

And yes, Murray's return is another thing o beauty. He's got that quick, powerful, long first step that Sampras had, though takes it on the rise on the BH side much better. And his soft hands help him to do what Federer does so well: absorb the power and put the ball somewhere the other guy isn't or doesn't want to be. On top odf that, he can flat-out smack it every once in a while. Put it all together, and you've got a guy other players should fear serving to, because he can keep them guessing with all his options and his consistency. Would that he could be so consistent on his own serve. That will come with time, and steely Wilanders, I believe.

Posted by zola 03/15/2007 at 01:12 PM

Andrew,
not another man crush!

(Pete-Djoko, Steve-Murray)....

Posted by Steve 03/15/2007 at 01:17 PM

i'll be curious to see how Murray copes when he plays HAAS. He will have to change his style again as Haas makes much fewer unforced errors and has a stronger serve than davy. Murray's return and serve will both be crucial.

Do any of you guys see Haas as a genuine slam challenger on present form? He decimated Roddick, and has been playing very, very well in recent weeks.

Nonetheless, i think this will be a step up for Murray. Also about Djoko, he has had quite an easy route through to the qf hasn't he.

I agree Djoko is a very talented player, just a bit one dimensional, not that there is anything wrong with that, i mean Roddick has made a career out of it!

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