Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Au Revoir, Paris
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Au Revoir, Paris 06/12/2007 - 3:10 PM

Greetings, everyone. I just dropped in to say Hi, I'm home,and getting in a grass-court frame of mind. I'll have a post on the Queens Club tournament from David Law, coming up later in the day (I have an appointment to make in 45 minutes, then I'll be back).

I talked with Pete Sampras a little earlier today. He watched the early part of the Roland Garros men's final, and told me:

It  looked tough playing Nadal, he's pretty aggressive, and he's one of those guys who grew up using the big racquet. Together with the new strings, it adds up to a very heavy ball he hits. That puts a lot of pressure on you, especially on holding serve. So if you're not right on top of things, you can find yourself in a pretty big hole, pretty fast. And before you know it, you're pressing, and that's never a comfortable position. Nadal is going to win that tournament a few more times, for sure. I still think Roger can win there (Paris). The guy grew up playing on clay, so that's not an issue. Oddly enough, I used to think that the place where Roger might struggle some is at Wimbledon, because he was never really an aggressive, attacking player, even though he had all the tools.

Pete's comment underscored something I didn't highlight on Sunday, The Mighty Fed's observation that Nadal, with his lefty shots and heavy spins, is not just a great opponent, but one with game different enough to make you uncomfortable (the comment is there in his presser transcript). That really rings true - just picturing Nadal's game in your mind ought to drive that point home, because he may have the most distinctive, individualistic game (stroke-production-wise) on the tour.

I'll be back later, everyone. Nice to be home!

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Posted by Sam 06/12/2007 at 09:51 PM

ndk: I agree with most of what you wrote, but I think a Wimbledon win would be a great way to bounce back from the RG loss. Each year he says his goals are to win Wimbledon and finish #1, so a win there would be more important to him than at the USO.

Posted by Robin Pratt 06/12/2007 at 09:55 PM


You have attracted the most astute tennis observers I have encountered in my 50+ years of following tennis. Thanks. Unfortunately, I am spending far too much time reading these comments and not writing my articles and books.

Skip 1515--you have a new fan. In particular, I love your comments on the lefty advantages.

With that in mind...

1. Nadal is lefthanded. Give me one thing to change in my game, and that's what I'd do. It's not outrageous to say that that's worth 1 point every two games, even at their level.

(Personally, and without rancor, I think they should all have to play each other and leave righties alone. Or, barring that, begin serving each game into what is now the ad court. That'd fix 'em.) OR PLAY NO-AD SO THAT THE RECEIVER CAN CHOOSE WHICH COURT. This would make it more fair to all. And speed up the 5 setters.

So, I am old, old school (66 years and counting) and long for the days of long ago in tennis (back to Trabert, Hoad, and Laver). I had trouble becoming a fan of Laver because he was lefty and Aussie but he won me over with his talent and character.

Nonetheless, as one who lost my 3 years in my college conference tourney to a lefty, I know lefties have more than a point every two games. The serving most break points in their ad court is an unbelievable advantage. When McEnroe beat Borg for the first time Bjorn lost to someone younger than himself in the WCT finals, John won 95% of his serves in ad court. Think about that--you simply will not lose when you can do that. As good as McEnroe was, Borg would not have quit if he could have been playing a righty.

So Federer not only has to face that Nadal curving serve to his backhand on most break points, his preferred low backhand slice crosscourt is to Nadal's forehand, not his backhand. Losing that option alone accounts for much of his inability to take over the net. And, as we know, Nadal is right-handed so his backhand is really a 2-handed forehand and much better than most other two handers (Roddick, Hewitt) except for Safin and Nalbandian.

So, we have two almost freakishly talented players with quite different styles dominating this era. We can compare the two as many of you have done quite well, but here is where I come down.

I know Federer's game would have translated into any time. If like in baseball, the pros had to "bat" with wood, Federer would be even farther ahead and would have won the French by now.

And, if Nadal were right handed, he would still be a load, but the close losses would turn around for Roger at least 3/4 of the time even on clay. [FYI The way Nadal played Indian Wells would have won most tourneys. It was the best I have ever seen him play. Yes, it was a slow hard court, but he just killed Roddick and would have if he were righty.]

Plus does anyone believe there would even be a Nadal if only wood rackets were being used? Incidentally, both Roger and Rafa benefit from the modern strings. They both mishit many balls and have them fall in due to the relative deadness of these Luxalon strings and they are strong enouugh to hit hard when they hit the sweet spot.

[Further ramblings. As much as I believe that Roger is the best all around talent ever, make no mistake about it--some of the past greats would have held their own playing under similar conditions. If you ever get a chance to see film of Hoad or Gonzales, consider their talent and athleticism. Segman would have kept up as well. And so would Sampras (both he and Federer play with close to a wood racket in terms of power).

Why do we not only have to slow down Wimbledon, but not speed up the French or other major clay tourneys? You can make a clay court play relatively fast and using the right balls, even serve and volley players would have a chance. It appears that tournament directors are really slanting every tournament in favor of retrievers like Canas. If I had to watch only players like Canas, I would just play and not watch tennis. I hate points where players have hit several fine shots and yet there is no positional advantage to either player. What's the point? The only reason that points in the French are watchable is how fast and strong the players have become.

Posted by jb 06/12/2007 at 09:55 PM

ndk - as a fellow Fed kad - i have to agree with you.

the standard Federer has set in the last few years has been incredible, the bar set impossibly high. And it doesn't help that his closest competition has been Rafa - who is an incredible talent also. the bar that these 2 have set is so freakin' high its easy to lose perspective on what a 'good' season is.

I've been wondering where/when the let down would be; and more so dreading the thought that he mite, like borg, just chuck it. I just want to be able to see him continue playing. I love watching him play, there are so few players that even approach his fluidness on the court. So if he's winning 5 tourney's a year instead of 11 - i'm ok with that, as long as he's still playing.

And hail, you can tell the standard he's set is too high - as i'm saying 5 titles a year is ok - and for most players a couple to 5 is a GOOD year!

Posted by GO ROGER 06/12/2007 at 09:55 PM

Is there any better info on Federer's injury?

Hate to think it might hinder his play & chances at Wimbledon - if it is indeed a groin injury they can be tricky & take quite a time to heal properly.

Also - his play has been off since Dubai - almost as if he is slightly "out of phase" somehow - if Matt (?) is correct it can be attributed to over fixation on RG and a subconscious lack of focus on the early spring tournaments.

Federer did mention earlier that he might be a "bit mentally tired" I believe after the 2nd Canas loss - he may be showing early signs of burn-out.

Wimbledon will not be easy for him.

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 09:58 PM

Federer can't keep winning all the non-clay slams. That he's done so for almost three years is almost beyond belief, and is clear evidence that nobody has ever played tennis like he does. I don't think he will burn out. Whether he gets injured or not is partly fortune, but he does have the aggression and movement and ability to end points quickly which would tend to help preserve his body. If he wins two per year, that will be an incredible achievement, and give him 20 slams before he's 30. It's a bit easier for him to play his way into the non-clay slams, because of his weapons, and the reality that winning three sets from him on those surfaces seems virtually impossible; but he will almost certainly falter now and then. I hate to think of the media frenzy which will erupt when he actually loses a non-clay slam. It will be so disgusting that we will hardly be able to believe it. As this event showed very clearly, the media is seething to drag Federer down, and they get pretty innovative in their desperate desires in this regard. The reality is that if Nadal had gotten injured or whatever for the past three seasons, (or had never been born) Federer would have 13 slams and a couple of grand slams, at the age of 25. This is a virtual certainty. I don't know why the media wants to find fault with him, but they clearly do.

Posted by ndk 06/12/2007 at 09:59 PM

Sam- good point about TMF's goals.. I agree with "go roger" that it won't be easy for TMF.
Jb- well said...

Posted by Flyer 06/12/2007 at 10:10 PM

I agree - Wimbledon will be difficult for Federer - the pressure applied by the press & fan chatter will only compound the inordinate pressure he will place on himself to win - he is extremely proud & the loss at RG will still bite.

This will be the most taxing part of the year for him - double the pressure of last year when he faced the same situation - only now there's the problem of not being able to either play in a tune-up event and entering Wimbledon with a tough win in his pocket to help bolster his confidence.

I for one will be a nervious wreck - knowing how important a win to equal Bjorg will be to him, I feverently hope to see him holding up that golden cup.

Posted by jb 06/12/2007 at 10:21 PM

Sam - don't get me wrong, I'm want Fed to take Wimby. I was one of the few that didn't want to swap wimby for the french.... Aside from it being my fav tourney - I think its even more important for Roger than Roland Garros would have been. Its HIS house, his turf. THAT loss would be painful in ways I don't want to even think about.

eesh. Its going to be a long 2 weeks at wimby, isn't it??!! (HOPEFULLY 2 weeks - don't want to BE jinxing Fed. I need to turn around 3 times and spit, or some such...)

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 10:26 PM

I'll say quickly, so as to maximize the chance that I will not offend many Nadal fans, that Bob is correct when he points out that this "improvement" meme is entirely unsupported by actual fact.

However, an interesting correlary to this observation is that it basically applies at the very top of the game. If the question is not "who has the ability to win multiple grand slams," but "does this player have a chance at making it into the top 10 for a twelve month period" then players do in fact "improve" past the age of 19 or 20. I would call this the "James Blake correlary to the Bob rule."

If you accept this, I think it has deep implications for junior developement programs in the United States. If the question is, "are we missing out on any future Sampras-level players" (which, if you think about it, is a fairly absurd question, but I digress) then sure, you need to identify them by age 14 or so because by age 19 they will need to demonstrate their ability to win slams.

However, if the question is, "are we missing out any any future James Blake level players" you've kind of got to ask yourself why "junior developement" is focused on such young ages. There should be far more focus on the 19, 20, 21, and 22 year olds and far less on the 12, 13, and 14 year olds.

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 10:29 PM

As for the speed of the surfaces, I am very skeptical of the slow-down speed-up stuff. What facts support these contentions? Is the type grass different at Wimbledon, or shorter or longer? How? Is the clay different at RG? In what respects? I think the weather affects these courts more than anything else, but if they are in fact different in their basic structure, then I've never seen any evidence of it. I hear commentators and others talking quite frequently about it, but they've never uttered a single fact to support their contentions. In golf we have the stint meter. Presumably they could use a stint meter at Wimbledon to measure certain aspects of the surface, but to my knowledge that's never occurred. Nor have they ever bounced balls to see if they bounce higher or lower from the same height. Nor have they specified that they are using a different type of grass, or ball (and indicating specifically what tests were run to establish this makes a difference), or letting it grow longer, or a different subsurface. In other words, we don't have a single grain of evidence to support these remarks, when in fact such evidence would certainly exist which they could show us. Why don't they show it to us? This is that idiotic and endless media chatter which one can only regard as wholly untrustworthy and probably a fabrication.

I sure hope they shut up about serve and volley. That's a game which disappeared long ago as standard winning strategy except for a very few players on grass, and these days it's not even the best strategy on grass as a consistent tactic. It's just a tool, to be used in the right situations and/or now and then to keep the other player guessing. The racquets and strings permit such speed and spin on the groundstokes these days that serve and volley is a losing game. Even Federer doesn't do it all that much.

Most of the players can't volley that well, especially on the female side, and yet they are the best players in the world. If serving and volleying more was a better strategy, then that's what they'd be doing. Players will do anything to win. They have tried everything for most of their lives, and the reality is that they have learned that it's not a winning strategy. Why the media can't seem to accept that very clear reality is beyond me. It's so clear that you'd need to be blind not to accept it. Even players like Amelie and Justine, who can really volley well, don't do it all that much. It gives them an advantage, but they use it with some care.

To expect Federer to adopt a serve and volley approach on the clay against Nadal is utterly absurd. Federer has won Wimbledon four years in a row without using that tactic as his main focus.

I can't count the number of times these TV chatterboxes drone on about a game which is 15 years in the past. At Wimbledon, it will be worse.

Posted by temes 06/12/2007 at 10:36 PM

Bob, I think it is the height of the grass, in millimeters, and also the density that make the difference in speed.

Posted by Scott 06/12/2007 at 10:42 PM

Kenneth wrote: "If at age 25 Nadal is still only an RG champion, then consider Nadal's talent wasted."

I am a Fed fan and would love to see Rafa win non-clay grand slams. I think their rivalry is the most fascinating thing in tennis right now. They are bothe great champions and great sportsman and if they are fighting tooth and claw for each grand slam, clay, grass, or hard, well, I for one will love it. That said -- I do not think that Rafa's talent will be wasted if he never wins a non- Roland Garros slam. When I look at his intensity, vigor and focus, I see a young man who is draining every drop from his talent. He's not wasting anything.

Posted by Bismarck 06/12/2007 at 10:43 PM

i am not sure if i understand this right... does anyone really think playing left-handed is a kind of "unfair" advantage?
i don´t get this. the scoring system is ages old, every player alive knows how it works and if you think it is that great to be a "lefty" - then play left-handed! i know there is no possibility to switch later, but why do we not see more lefties dominating if this alone is worth a gazillion of big points? and why is nadal the only right handed player playing as a lefty (as far as i know, moya and sharapova are left-handed playing right)?
if it is really such an advantage, then it was a smart decision from nadal (or his uncle) to switch, but why is this an unfair advantage? every player could have been brought up the same way, but they didn´t do it. and if nadal could only do it because he has two "talented" arms, then it is nothing "unfair" in my view.
maybe everyone should serve again underhand (what´s the proper english for this?) so karlovic has no "unfair" advantage over olivier rochus? ;) (and on your height you have no influence, playing as righty or leftie in comparison is more a matter of choice)

Posted by Scott 06/12/2007 at 10:46 PM

Bob --

I love your 9:32 pm post. Interesting perspective. I do not always agree with your analyses (often disagree) but your posts are always thought provoking and often counterintuitive. And I appreciate them much.

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/12/2007 at 10:46 PM

Robin Pratt, very nice comments.

Posted by Komborerai chapfika 06/12/2007 at 10:51 PM

I don't think Rafa's going to improve. He's there mentally, he may improve tactically, but his most obvious strengths - his speed, and ridiculous topspin won't improve, how can they? Also, I think tinkering with shots, flatening the FH etc will only throw him off kilter so I don't see him ever hitting flat FH bombs like Berdych. His serve impressed me very much recently.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 10:51 PM

Sorry Bob, have to take issue with the third line of your third paragraph. What I see in today's junior game is this (i) at about age 13 or 14 or so, kids become tall enough where attacking the net is a realistic possible strategy, (ii) in the wood racket era, you could actually attack the net against other 13-16 year olds (a four year "window" if you will) and have reasonable success, as the players you were attacking did not yet have the power themselves to do much about it.

Today, by age 14 or 15, boys and girls have the power to hit reasonable passing shots with topspin. Moreover, at age 12, the increased power in the rackets means that you can end points, not by attacking the net, but by hitting a winning groundstroke. If there is a window to try to learn if attacking the net is for you, its only about six months long now, if that.

Players are hardly "trying everything" which in your paragraph I read to mean as "experimenting with serve and volley or other attacking net play."

At this moment, I've watched thousands of points over the last couple of years. It is not as if any of the junior players, at all levels (from beginner to national) are attacking the net and getting passed. None of them are going anywhere near the net at any point in the match unless they are running after a dropshot.

As a fan of "evidence" you will see that this seems to raise a "chicken or egg" question. Is serve and volley dead because it won't work, or is it dead because no one is bothering to learn how to do it?

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 10:52 PM

Dunlop: I would agree with you. Blake, Canas, and many other players have risen to or close to the top five in their late 20's. I'm skeptical of the importance of that in terms of tennis promotion, though. Great players are born, not made. Federer and Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan and Annika and the rest of them were born with that talent.

The issue is, "How many potentially great players who are born with such talent never take up tennis?" We really don't know, but the current facts would indicate that in the US, such players take up different sports. There is no other reason why we have such a dearth of great tennis players. Nations which don't have the incredible abundance of sports that we do are dominating the high ranks of tennis. As a matter of numbers, that's clearly evidence that our young kids are not taking up tennis, since we certainly produce kids (and athletes) in much larger numbers than most of these nations, if not all of them. It's not our top-level programs, since they are the ones who are turning out many of these top players who happen to have taken up the game in the nation of their birth.

We really haven't turned out all that many great players. Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, and Sampras. All of those players emerged as kids long before we had extreme sports and before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

These days girls have basketball, soccer, baseball, the extreme sports, golf, and all kinds of stuff to turn even the very athletically inclined away from tennis at the early ages; even if you discount text messaging as a sport for girls. What did Evert have, and King?

That's not to say that we won't have another truly great player, but percentage-wise, we will not produce as many top players, and it's very possible that several boys and girls have been born in the past 20 years who would challenge for slams, but simply got interested in other sports at the early ages, in our football/basketball/baseball/golf/extreme sport society.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 10:56 PM

Bob, yes at to the kids factor. In particular, soccer which hardly drained away any kids in the 1960's (which is one reason why 77 of the 128 players in the main draw of the 1981 U.S. Open were American men), is draining away literally thousands of kids with national-junior-level tennis talent.

Yes, once the post-WWII europe and former Iron Curtain countries joined in there was going to be a change. But to my mind soccer is the biggest factor, and there is no going back.

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/12/2007 at 10:58 PM

I think the demise of serve-and-volley was due to the advent of the two-handed backhand serve return, and the success of Borg, and his emulation by a whole generation of players, which would then result in the baseline game being taught as Mr. Maxply has stated.

But hasn't tennis always had cycles of serve-and-volleyers? If the one-handed backhand style of Federer starts being taught more and more, then maybe the serve-and-volley school will have a resurgence.

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 11:01 PM

temes: That would certainly make a difference, but the reality is that they never mention any specific differences. I think the type of grass would be equally important, as on a golf green. So would the "softness" of the surface. You can control that to some degree by underneath moisture which doesn't make the surface slippery, or the bedding underneath the surface. What I want are facts. If in fact the grass is longer, or denser, or whatever, then I want them to tell me specifically what it was then and what it is now, and I'd also like some actual tests. What I don't want are "irrefutable" Carillo/McEnroe/whomever comments that the surface is "faster" or "slower". Their credibility is zero with me. They haven't played a singles match on Centre Court in many years. They also seem to totally ignore technology when they make these dramatic pronouncements. Technology has done more to speed up the game than anything, but also to blunt the serve/volley game. What is faster? Obviously the surface has nothing to do with serve speeds, which are calculated before the ball ever touches the surface. They should measure the speed of the ball coming off the bounce, and compare that to the speed x years ago. They should do a stint test, a bounce test; a density test. They however never do anything but chatter.

Posted by Bismarck 06/12/2007 at 11:04 PM

Dunlop Maxply:
but what is different in the usa compared to europe that football (soccer) has such a negative impact on your "tennis reservoir"? genuinely asking and interested because, football here is so much bigger than in the us and always has been? what do i miss here?

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 11:04 PM


Not to slander the efforts of tennis pros the world over, but at the higher levels of junior tennis I often laugh at the irony of the name "X tennis ACADEMY"

The word "Academy" implies study, and mastery. What really happens is more like an arms race. The first kid who can hit a reasonable topspin forehand kills everybody else until they learn to hit their own topspin forehands. Then, everybody learns to either run around or hit a decent one or two handed backhand. Not much attention is paid to serving at any point. Zero attention is paid to volleying becuase no one cares about doubles and there are only so many hours in a day and if you have to beat player X on the weekend is more important to tune up that topspin forehand.

Never in my thirty years of following tennis in the United States have more hours of professional coaching been allocated to junior players.

Never has the overall level of ability been worse.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 11:07 PM


Football has always been big everywhere but here. The phenomenal growth of football in the U.S. is unprecedented in the last 100 years of U.S. sporting history.

Where I live, the number of kids in town playing organized youth soccer in 1972 - 0. Today, over 300 kids in the under 8 division alone. In one league. In one town.

100 of those 300 would have given tennis a serious look in 1972, today, ten will do so.

Posted by Emmett 06/12/2007 at 11:11 PM

to Pierre des Joachims:

If the demise of serve and volley has to do with one player in particular, it's Ivan Lendl, not Bjorn Borg. Borg was eventually shown up by a serve and volleyer. That serve and volleyer was then shown up by Lendl. Lendl's game is the prototype for Federer, Nadal, Roddick, Gonzalez, Blake, Youzhny, Bagdatis, etc. The inside out forehand changed the baseline game from retrieving to attacking.

On the women's side, it's Steffi Graf, not Chris Evert. Graf was able to dominate aggressively from the back of the court. The way she was able to win so much compared with today was her ability to also dominate from the middle and front of the court. Nowadays, the women focus on the back, since it's more assured to win you a slam. How many women have forehands that determine whether they win or lose? Henin, Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Ivanovic, Williams x2, etc. Their backhand may be steadier a la Evert, but their forehand is where the match is decided.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 11:14 PM

Oh, and football/soccer is chipping away at all sports in the U.S. to some degree, but remember, (i) the toughest guy in the town is always going to be drawn towards american football, (ii) the tallest guy in the town is always going to be drawn towards basketball.

At one time in this country, if you thought your kid might not be the biggest or tallest it was baseball and then tennis, and tennis had its own appeal.

Now, soccer is available, and its far, far easier on the parents than raising a junior tennis player. Believe me on that one.

Posted by Bismarck 06/12/2007 at 11:17 PM

so it is bad at the moment because of a football "explosion"? still a bit confused.
i am suresome of the football playing kids in europe will never play tennis either? so should we not produce even less top players than the usa?
and you can play tennis and football and decide later what career to try? (i.e. nadal, decided with 12y. to quit football and concentrate on tennis, he couldhave given up tennis at that point too...)

sorry, already 5 am here, getting tired and losing my ability to think in english!

Posted by temes 06/12/2007 at 11:18 PM

I think serve and volley or continuos net rushing are simply dead because they are no longer an effective enough strategy. It's not that it won't work, it will, but not as well as the baseline play. This is because the player against you has too much power to pass you, and too often for it to be an intelligent strategy.

In rare cases, serve and volley can be a very good strategy, but the player would have to be extremely skilled at the net, plus he/she would need a killer serve, and also be quite tall physically, and this combination alone would be hard to achieve, and most likely in expense of your regular ground stroke play. It is not worth the risk to pursue this kind of strategy, because you might not be able to hit bomb serves, and also you might not obtain suberb net skills, to successfully use serve and volley. And with poorer ground stroke play, the baseliners would absolutely kill you.

So the best option is to train the regular baseline play, it is the easiest way, and powerful strokes always quarantee success for a talented player. But as Federer and Henin among others have proved, it is well worth it to add some versatily and sometimes come to the net.

So in my opinion, the most important things in todays tennis are fitness, powerful and effective ground strokes, and good serve. This is sure success recipe. But if you want to take your results to another level, you need to start to rush the net sometimes. But only exceptinally talented players can add the versatility effectively.

One reason for the departure of net game can also be that it is just more fun to hit groundies. Just my opinion though.

Posted by temes 06/12/2007 at 11:24 PM

Sorry OT, but anyone seen this yet? A little late though.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 11:24 PM


Let me put it another way. I don't know how many Spanish kids decided, unlike Nadal, to make soccer their sport in 1999 (when Nadal was 12). Let's assume it was something like, oh, 250 kids who were reasonably good at both choosing soccer, and 50 choosing tennis.

There is no reason to believe that in Spain this ratio was ever any different, in 1999, 2007, 1989, 1979, or whatever.

I can tell you this, in the United States the number of decent tennis playes who gave up tennis to play soccer in 1972 was NONE!. ZERO, NADA.

Today, we are approaching Spain like levels. Spain has been there all along.

Posted by Sam 06/12/2007 at 11:24 PM

Dunlop: Your 11:04 is a pretty sad commentary. Sounds like very shortsighted thinking.

Robin: Enjoyed your post. BTW, did you see the article on Hoad in the July issue of Tennis magazine? I think that you would enjoy it.

Posted by DMS 06/12/2007 at 11:27 PM

Why the need to end points quickly and decisively with a volley when the racquets, strings, surfaces, and fitness/strength of today's elite players allow them to end the point quick enough from the baseline, or with a powerful approach?

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 11:30 PM

Dunlop: You may be correct on the lack of "interest" in serve/volley at those ages. My tennis days are decades in the past; though there was nothing more exciting when I played than to hit an approach and come in, simply as a matter of excitment and male aggression.

What I see, though, is a groundstoke game from virtually all of the top players, including those players who are great at the net. These are players who have the best timing, the best movement, the best speed, the best hands (and/or combination); and as a matter of genetics they have always had them, as kids, as teenagers, and as adults. They are so good that it's kind of inconceivable to me that they wouldn't have done lots of experimentation with serve/volley and/or other net play quite a bit. And as you note, even the competitive "average" kids learn that passing shots and hard groundstokes are the way to win. That's the reality. They are the way to win, whether you are #10,000 or whether you are Roger or Justine who can really play some superb net tennis. We did see Max blow out James with serve and volley last year at Wimbledon, but we didn't see Max in the semis.

Net play is something a player is born with, just as everything else, too. Great groundstokes don't mean you have the quickness and hands to play at the net, even if you are a good doubles player. The combination of serving, approaches, reaction times, ability to change direction, speed, ability to change direction, and the "vision" to realize it's a good time to come in are not necessarily a talent of many of the top players in the world.

Justine would be an incredible doubles player. She showed that in Fed Cup, until she had to retire. Any great singles net player would be superb in doubles; but the reverse doesn't hold true. That she and Federer are pretty particular in their approaches, given their virtually unlimited talent on a tennis court; combined with the graceless net "play" we often see from many of the greatest players in the world, convinces me that we've long ago seen the days when a focus on net play is going to be what determines slam winners. I'm sure there are hundreds or thousands of players who are very good at the net, but the reality is that they can't win matches against the players who hit the big groundstokes, so we never see them, and I don't think we ever will.

Posted by temes 06/12/2007 at 11:35 PM

Bob, I don't think you even need suberb net skills to win in doubles, just look at the Williamses and their "countless" doubles and mixed grand slams titles.

Posted by Bismarck 06/12/2007 at 11:36 PM

okay, thank you. so you decline down to the european level. but maybe there is some good in it too? i always thought it adds something to a tennis player when he has some football experience too, kind of making his footwork better. but if they don´t pick up any tennis at all this doesn´t help of course.
another big overall plus is that it is never bad if the most important sport of the world (and so fun to watch) gets more attention in the usa. football and tennis what more does one need?
just hoping that the new popularity of football in america doesn´t mean we in europe are supposed to watch baseball, american football or basketball? ;)

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 11:39 PM


You can believe me or not. But there is no "experimentation" going on. To learn to serve and volley, you need to do it on first and second serves, every game, every situation, for at least 50 competitive tournament singles matches in a row.

At least. You need to build a competitive data base of how players try to pass you based upon the location and speed of your serve or first volley. You need to build a data base of how much you can do with a low volley. You need to build a data base of how much strength you need to drop a diving volley over the net.

And, most importantly, you need to learn to guage how fast you can hit your serve or approach shot and how close you can get to the net.

I know you are across the country, but I would bet you a round of drinks that Jim Courier never served and volleyed first and second servers in every game fifty matches in a row at any point in his career. Ditto Michael Chang (I know that one for sure). Ditto, for that matter, Andy Roddick.

Someone ought to ask them.

Really, I'll pay off on this bet. Its not just internet blather.

There are no factual examples of serve and volley players being forced back to the baseline by better baseliners.

There are simply examples of an entire generation of players who do not have the slightst idea how to approach the net for an entire match.

For goodness sakes, does Roddick look like he has the slightest idea of what is going on up there?

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/12/2007 at 11:41 PM

I agree with Temes about the most important things in todays tennis.

If someone had the best movement, serve, serve return, forehand, and backhand, I think they would be unbeatable at any level of tennis, men's or women's. Regardless of how well they or anyone else volleyed or played any of the more esoteric shots like slices etc.

And I am not saying I don't like to play serve-and-volley, or hit slice shots, or that I don't like to watch really good players play that way, because I love both. But if one player was the best in all those basic categories at one time, I don't see how any of the rest of it would matter.

Now feel free to tear apart this outlandish statement, thank you.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 11:42 PM


Football is an unbelievably great game. My second favorite after tennis, and very complimentary to tennis as well.

The fact that it is one factor (only one, by the way) that has killed off U.S. domination really does not bother me. Its just a fact.

You see now, the U.S. national teams are not complete laughing stocks, and will only get better, believe me. :)

All we need, no kidding aside, is a really good German national team coach.

Do you have any ins with Klinsi?

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 11:44 PM

temes: I agree, but there is no question that McEnroe's net skills really helped make him such a great doubles player. Same with Martina, King, and some others. These days doubles is a second-string sport, since the best singles net players don't play doubles, except for the odd event where they enter doubles to get a few extra matches in or to try to sharpen their volleys, but that rarely works. Put Justine with Amelie as a team and they'd win every slam in doubles pretty easily. Put Federer with Karlovic and you'd really see some entertaining stuff. The Bryan brothers would be helpless. Doubles is for the lesser players (though still world-class).

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/12/2007 at 11:48 PM

Bob, I disagree that the Bryan brothers would be "helpless" against Ivo and Federer; they play against guys with serves as good as Federer's all the time, and returns better than both of those guys.

Ivo and anyone might be a good doubles team, but how good is his return? I am an inaugural member of the Karlovic fan club, but as Clint Eastwood once said, a man's got to know his own limitations.

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 11:53 PM

Dunlop: Is that "lack of experimentation" true even with the world-class kids? I don't dispute your facts generally, but do find it hard to believe that when you have a clear world-class kid on your hands, you wouldn't seriously look at net play, and truly experiment with it. YOu already know you have a player who is going to be a great player just on the serve and grounstrokes. This is the kind of stuff I think the media should look into, instead of criticizing how world-class players play in a match. We really don't know how much the top 20 players tried to learn net skills.

Why are Justine, Amelie, and Roger so great at the net, particulary when they grew up on clay? They are amazing to watch. Did they really focus on that, moreso than other top players, or is is simply a matter of genetics? Obviously they spent a great deal of time on it; but as a matter of natural ability they probably displayed great net play as kids. I personally think these skills are far rarer than the innate ability to hit groundstokes.

Posted by Andrew 06/12/2007 at 11:57 PM

Well. I'm going to take the opposite side of the net from DM and Bob.

Players have two arcs to deal with: one being their physical ability (pretty well established that most men peak in their early/mid twenties, declining inexorably thereafter), and the rest of the package: the ability to execute shots, read opponents, draw on their experience, master their own emotions, etc. No earthly reason why these attributes should be declining from the early twenties onwards. So you have a tension (I think) between one force pulling down, and one pushing up. Which is the stronger depends on the individual.

I have to say that the idea that a top 5 player can't improve once they've reached a pretty high level seems a bit bizarre to me. A Gonzalez can learn to hit slice BHs and temper his tendency to hit nuclear FHs on every shot: a Nadal can move into FHs early and make the DTL FH a lethal attacking weapon, and add 5 mph to his serve; a Federer can make his clay court BH rock solid and improve his volleying technique.

Now, correlation and causation ain't the same thing, but I'd be prepared to take a wager that ATP ranking points and ability are at least correlated. Federer finished 2004 with three GSs and the YEC, but his ranking peak has come (to date) two years later. And I think the end 2006 edition was a better player than the end 2004 edition.

Posted by Bob 06/12/2007 at 11:57 PM

Pierre: I'm assuming that Federer and Karlovic play for a period of time as a team. Obviously that's important. The reality is that when a truly great singles net player has played doubles consistently, (s)he has really tended to dominate. We haven't seen that for many years, because the singles money and prestige is virtually everything, but King, Martina, and McEnroe were superb in doubles competition. McEnroe even won with Carillo. That match may have been one of the worst realities for the future of tennis broadcasting.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/12/2007 at 11:58 PM


You would not find it hard to believe if you looked into junior tennis because the reality is that there is quite a bit of pressure to win at increasingly young ages. Any pro who takes a top nationally ranked kid who has great groundstorkes and instructs that kid to experiment with some slice play and attacking the net once or twice a game is going to be fired by the parents of that kid after one match.

Fired so fast he or she would not even see it coming.

I mean come on, you saw McEnroe's shots, did anyone actually teach him to hit those?

I would bet that Justine and Federer simply had the artistic gift, and no one was going to dissuade them.

Posted by Bismarck 06/12/2007 at 11:58 PM

well, he already lives in your country, no? ;)
and he didn´t want to go on as our coach because of his life and family being mainly in the usa (that being the oficial version, don´t want to elaborate too much on this, because this is tennis world, no?).
regarding his coaching abilities i am kind of split. he is a great motivator, can focus a team very well i think, but tactically he needs someone at his side. ohhh this brings up all the memories of last year, what a grand time, world cup at home and nadal in the finals of wimby... big sigh. it does not get much better than that.
haven´t heard much of him lately, but he turned down the offer to train your squad ?
i am really surprised to hear that football is gaining substantial ground in the us. always thought it is as unpopular as for example baseball here (which the latter rightly so i have to add ;) )
re: your national team, well, as far as i know they only can get better... ;)
thanks for explaining your thoughts on tennis/football in us, my first impression was kind of "?" because of the much bigger standing football has here.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 12:03 AM

Hmmm Bob, you might be right...but still, it seems you automatically assume that a great singles player would make a great doubles player, if they know how to volley better than average. I think I disagree. I think doubles takes away all of the strenghts great single players have, only leaving them with volleys and serve. And I don't think Justine or Amelies volleys work any better in doubles than Stubbs' or Blacks or Martinas. It was quite funny when Amelie and Svetlana were completely destroyed in the Wimby final by the absolutely superior volley play of Black and Huber, so that as a last resort they tried to rely on their obviously world-class ground strokes by retrieving to the baseline, and obviously in doubles that was a disaster. So I don't think Justine and Amelie would automatically be a dominant pair.
Karlovic does have the serve, so I think next to a great volleyer it would be something incredible, lol.

With the Williamses, I think when they won all those doubles, they were at their prime, and simply overpowered all those girls with their serves and swinging volleys, lol. And they have an amazing reach. I mean, they were clearly the best doubles team back then.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 12:08 AM


We now come full circle to your initial point. I've seen Nadal's touch at net, it really is very, very good. He's only just turned twenty one, after all. Lendl, who by comparison had hands of stone worked on serve-and volley for years in an attempt to win Wimbledon. There's nothing stopping Nadal from doing it.

Federer stays back because no one comes in on him, not even Roddick. Ha! Why should he give anyone the opportunity to pass him?

When Federer played Sampras at Wimbledon, he came in all the time, because he could not just let Sampras come in, even though Sampras was old and on his way out.

If baseline play was so superior, you would have seen Federer toying with Sampras in that highlight reel just like you saw Federer toy with Roddick's attempts to attack the net.

That's not what you see. Faced with someone who knows what they are doing up there, Federer had only one option, get his butt into net first.

It was the same in last year's masterpiece final between Mauresmo and Henin.

Justine, in particular, has as much fundamental forehand and backhand talent as anyone. Yet, when faced with a competent net rusher playing well, in last year's case, Mauresmo, Justine had to come in more herself.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 12:08 AM

One thing about Venus and Serena, I think they are actually great volleyers, they can hit heavy and accurate volleys. They may not have the best touch, but with their approach shots and reach, they don't need it. Especially Venus should rush the net a lot more often, might make her (even more) formidable on grass.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 12:21 AM

Andrew: Gonzo is not a great player. He's in the Blake category. It's really apparent from tennis history that the truly great players' talents don't improve after they are about 21. Measuring "mental" and "tactical" improvements is really a matter of speculation. I don't dispute that Federer's matches with Nadal have helped him tactically, but they havent' helped him hit the winners to go along with those tactics at RG. Sure, Ana was awed by the occasion, but there is no certainty that Ana will make that many slam finals to get accustomed to the occasion. I hope she does, but we really don't know. She had a good draw.

I don't think Federer is a better player than when he blew out Hewitt in slam finals. He lost to Safin, but I think he was tired and slightly injured, and no matter how great he is, he's not going to be able to win every non-clay slam.

What irks me is that when Sampras or Agassi didn't win or even make a slam final, nobody in the media started criticizing them or saying "they should be discouraged", particularly when it was at the FO, when they never ran into a powerhouse remotely like Nadal, but when Federer has a win over the guy and loses in three straight FO's to him (in two finals), they are ready to close the door on his dominance generally. It simply makes no sense, and is quite discourteous to him as a person and player. If Sampras had ever even made a FO final they'd have been raising banners and talking about it for years as proof of his immortality. Why in the world Sampras can get blown out year after year at the FO and yet be a hero and Mr. Wimbledon, but Federer should be ashamed and discouraged, is totally beyond me.

I'm not guaranteeing that Nadal won't "improve" and win some slams off the clay. He however would be the exception to a very consistent reality in the history of tennis. He's so young that we will certainly see. I was so impressed with his Wimbledon last year that I was a bit startled afterward, and the reality is that he really had a great draw at Wimbledon. If he has to go through Berdych, Roddick, Karlovic, or several others (or a couple of them), and can do that, then I'll be more impressed. I do frankly think Nadal is better on the grass than on a hard court.

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/13/2007 at 12:23 AM

And to make one more unsolicited comment about ideal doubles teams:

Bob you are right, Federer and Ivo would be probably be a very good combination. I think you implied that the Bryans have obviously played a lot together, they of course are well-matched especially with one being a lefty with a very big serve.

You mentioned two players as your epitomes of doubles players, Martina and McEnroe, who both happen to be left-handed, so getting back to Robin Pratt's excellent point about the importance of being lefty; it looks like in doubles it is also very advantageous to have a lefty, my final example being Daniel Nestor who won this year's Roland Garros doubles, who also partnered with Sebastian Lareau to beat the Woodies in Australia for the 200 Olympic Gold medal, and who has to be one of Canada's most underappreciated sportsmen.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 12:31 AM

Dunlop, it's not like baseline play is by far superior to net play. It's only superior against serve-and volleyrs who use this tactic all the time, and continuosly rush the net. Tim Henman is pretty much as good of a serve and volleyer as they come, and he wasn't that good against baseliners. Players fiqure you out, if you rush the net point after point.
Only way serve and volleying works today is the "suprise" factor, or you need a great serve to give you an easy put away, but groundies are just as effective with those put aways though.
So, first and foremost you need the great groundies. They enable you to get to the net in a good position in the first place. But even with this stragedy the most important part is the set up for the net rush with your groundies, and it isn't always so easy to make a good set up. Against a good baseliner with great shots, even a small error in the set up leads to being passed mercilessly. This is why it isn't smart to rush the net like crazy all the time in every point, smarter strategy is to wait until you are able to set up you groundies well and then attack.
When you have two incredibly talented baseliners with incredible volleys like Federer and Sampras play against each other, you naturally see more net points.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 12:38 AM

Dunlop: Would Bolletari be fired, and guys of that level? They seem to get players pretty young, and one would think they would at least explore the net game in singles. I agree that it's genetic.

As for Nadal, he does have great hands. The issue is does he have the time to hit them with the pace and bounce on the grass, and on the hardcourts? Although he's the best defensive player on clay, he's also a great offensive player. His problem is that too many players are even more offensive off the clay. He simply doesn't have the time; he can't get all the serves back; he can't get to nearly as many balls. The entire scenario is a different dynamic.

I look forward to this year, since he's obviously playing at the very top of his game, so if he's going to get out of the clay ranks as a top player, it will happen this year. That's why I regard him as the big question mark; not Federer, who has done it for years.

Being left-handed does seem to be a bit of an advantage. Connors, McEnroe, Martina, and Nadal all are among the greats (Nadal will be at some point), and it's mainly on the ad court serve, in my view. I would expect the statistics to show these players saved more break points, percentage-wise, than the great right-handers, but I really don't know. The other advantage is simply being different. A lefty gets very accustomed to playing right-handed players; much moreso than a right-hander playing a lefty.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 12:39 AM


Its kind of a fun academic exercise. For starters, Henmen is a decent serve and volleyer who massively over-achieved due to the fact that for much of his career, he was lucky enough to play against guys who could not hit four passing shots in a row if their life depended on it.

Second, calling Sampras "a talented baseliner with incredible volleys" is kind of shading the definition of "talented baseliner" a bit, don't you think? I mean, if you include guys who came to net on thier first and second serves as baseliners, well, then there simply were never any serve and volleyers and I was just dreaming.

Go to the ATP web site when you have a couple of minutes to kill and find your way to the archives section. Look through the U.S. and Wimbledon draws working backwards from, oh, 1999 or so.

What you see is serve and volleyrs like Sampras, Rusedski, Rafter, Stich, Ivanesivich, Bjorkman, Edberg and others simply getting older.

No serve and volley players came along to replace them. Certainly not Roddick. Not Fish. Not Ginepri. Not Spadea. Not Blake. Not Querrey.

There was no titanic battle of styles where serve and volley lost. It was not played out on the tour. It was not played out on the international or national junior tour. Believe me, its not as if there was any coaching philosophical change.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 12:47 AM


Coaches of all levels get fired all the time. Sharapova dumped Landorp. Agassi fired Bollittieri in a very famous bust up. So did Seles. Roddick canned Gilbert.

You recall that Pete Sampras is famous for switching from a two to a one-handed backhand. That's not exactly a ridiculously hard thing to do if you play tennis every day.

I challenge the entire board to name one other top-ten player, heck, one top fifty player, who, at the request of a coach, changed any stroke in any significant way.

We'll be waiting a long time.

If you think players do not improve much after age 19, what would you say if I told you that nationally ranked, or heck, even sectionally ranked, junior players hardly make ANY technical changes to their games after age 14? The don't.

There is a video out there of Nadal hitting at age 11. He hits the ball exactly the same way he hits it now. Exactly.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 12:55 AM

Dunlop: I was speaking more of the young players at these academies, who haven't made millions so they can hire and fire who they please. As a parent, I'd be reluctant to fire one of these top-level guys who wanted to experiment with a net game, so long as it didn't affect the ability of my child to hit groundstokes.

I agree that players don't change much after middle teens. Apparently Justine was hitting these shots when she was 13 or something, and served for a match against Davenport when she wsa 15 or something. I do think that Federer (and Justine) sometimes try stuff in a particular sitation just to see if they can hit the shot, but they are not trying new skills, merely applying them to try to do something a bit spectacular. It's one reason I enjoy them so much. Periodically they will hit a shot out of nowhwere which just makes your jaw drop. You have no expectation of the point ending at that time, and suddenly it's over; and often with a simply ridiculous shot.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 12:58 AM

Well Dunlop, Federer certainly is a suberb baseliner, I think that's clear. And, well, Sampras may have been a serve and volley player, my bad. But I think he was good from the baseline, as well.
I think Sampras is an expetion of sorts, he has an amazing serve, amazing groundies, amazing athletic ability, amazing volleys...I think they are all connected to make him such a success...these kind of players don't born very often, and for most players, I think it is unrealistic to expect such effectiveness from serve and volleying, and they might get limitations to their ground stroke play(as they concetrate to learn serve and volley), and therefore won't be able to get into a good position at the net continuosly in returning games. And once again, strong baseline play proves to be more effective.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 01:01 AM

I note that Versus network has "Extreme cagefighting from Las Vegas" on at 1 AM. One can only wonder what would have happened if that had been available for Andre in his tender years.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 01:09 AM

Sampras was a serving machine. He had the best serve in the history of tennis, all things considered. Without it, he'd have not won many slams. He was a great player, but it was all set up by that serve. I never saw anything so dependable, no matter the moment or pressure.

When Edberg served well, he was incredible to watch. When he didn't, he was quite vulnerable. If Sampras ever had a bad serving day in a big match, I never saw it. Federer often has relatively mediocre serving days, by his stanards. That's when he gets in trouble and has tight matches, or loses them. His serve isn't nearly the consistent weapon which Pete's was.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 01:25 AM

Dunlop Maxply, I belive there were a coaching philosophical change. I mean, isn't it obvious? How could there not have been, since the players play a very different game now than before?

Posted by Samantha 06/13/2007 at 05:25 AM

The serve and volley game is really a dying art. I looked at Mirney(I know I spelled it wrong) vs Hewitt and he did this on most of his serves match and Hewitt just hit passing shots and beat him easily.Amelie and Justine still do it, but it's rare with them. Venus has a great net game because of her long wing span, but she rarely uses it. When she won in 05 she came to the net alot. In America, tennis isn't popular because there are so many bigger sports like soccer and football. Very few of the kids at my school like tennis and they don't know who Roger is. Also, during Gym when we are offered free time, none of the kids head for the tennis courts except me and a few other kids, and these kids are also from Europe. I think what this means is less tennis on tv. Go Justine!

Posted by Andrew 06/13/2007 at 07:36 AM

DM: re your 12:47am

"However, as aggressive baseliners are, he used to be prone to make a huge number of unforced errors and was less consistent. His new coach, Larry Stefanki, has helped him develop an extreme slice backhand which combined with his aggressive forehand has propelled his retrieving abilities to a new level and has given him much more consistency, resulting in less unforced errors. In addition, he can also approach the net by chipping and charging and has a wide array of passing shots including slice backhand passing shot, rarely used in modern tennis.

González's serve has also changed since he started working with Stefanki. His first serve used to be only a flat serve, but since late-2006 he has increasingly used a three-quarter of strength slice serve to move his opponents out of the court and increase his precision. The addition of an extreme slice backhand and a slice serve have made him a markedly better player as he has a wider array of choices to get him out of jams or move his opponents to set up his powerful forehand."

I don't think either you or Bob engaged with my thesis at 11:57pm. Notwithstanding my response on Gonzalez, suppose that I were to take the fundamentals of shot technique out of the equation: there's still multiple other ways a player can improve.

And Bob, the measure of Federer's improvement since 2004 isn't that he'd have to win every slam. His ATP ranking is a measure of his overall success in tournaments, which went up between 2004 and 2006, something which I assert is correlated with his continuing improvement as a player (to end 2006). His volleying in the 2007 AO Final was much better than it had been earlier in his career (say 2004 Wimbledon final against Roddick).

Posted by Evie 06/13/2007 at 07:36 AM


Your point about Mirnyi/Hewitt tally up pretty well with Slice-and-Dice's comment (06/12/2007 @ 3:55 PM) in the beginning about hit-or-miss and Russian roullete in the beginning.

Posted by Maplesugar 06/13/2007 at 07:54 AM

Bob wrote:

**McEnroe even won with Carillo. That match may have been one of the worst realities for the future of tennis broadcasting.**

I almost choked on my coffee, Bob...but thanks for a great laugh.

Posted by skip1515 06/13/2007 at 08:41 AM

1. Upthread, someone wondered how being lefthanded could be an "unfair" advantage. (Their quotes, not mine.) Bob has mentioned the swinging serve in the ad court and the advantage lefties enjoy by virtue of being a minority of players.

Specifically: you can win a game in any of 4 point scenarios – 40/love, 40/30, ad in, and 40/15. Of those four, three are served to the ad court, where a leftie has easier access to a righties backhand, a traditional weakness at virtually every level of the game.

Advantage lefties.

Unfair? Maybe, in that this advantage is institutionalized by the rules (which box the game begins in, and the scoring). Unfair, as in cheating? No.

Though you might feel differently after losing a close match to a lefty.

2. Regarding players volleying/not volleying, experimentation during the learning process, etc.: Sam and I traded a few emails last night, and I wrote him this,

"I really think the volleying today is of a different sort than before, and maybe a different quality, too. McEnroe was an exception in many ways, which is why I took the time (at work, bad boy!) to check a few Edberg videos as well.

Life at the net is very different than life at the baseline, and, to my mind, players today don't learn the difference, much less come to love the adrenalin-fueled existence inside the service line. It's all fast twitch muscles, quivering like a race horse in the gate 2 nanoseconds before the bell goes off.

Compared to pounding it out at the baseline, where life is quieter but by no means calm, coming to the net is betting it all on one spin of the wheel. You have more control than at craps, but it's still tends to be an all-or-nothing bet.

I don't think today's players ever learned that kind of tennis, and they certainly never learned that one point lost at the net is still just one point, no more or less than a point lost after a 27 ball rally. Losing those net points takes a different mentality, just like playing them does, and if you haven't learned it by the time you're one of the best in the world I don't know if you ever can.

Just ask Lendl."

3. Are courts slower today? There is no post-change scientific study to establish that, to my knowledge. But there are a) hard court tournaments that have said they relaid courts with intentionally slower surfaces (e.g., the Australian and IW), b) a ton o' pros who say as much and who, unlike Carillo et al, have been on the court playing tournment tennis, and c) the grounds crew at Wimbledon who have said they've changed the care of the courts to slow them down.

I suggest that anyone who thinks Wimbledon's courts haven't changed go back in time, check out the courts circa, oh, say 1976, see them again in '97, and then one more time in 2004. Add in some personal grass court time to hone your understanding (but not at Wimbledon, sadly), and like me you'll come away with firsthand evidence that the courts are different.

The courts are slower, the surface is even more perfectly smooth, and the balls bounce higher. The concept of balls skidding through means something very different today than it used to.

3. Dunlop, please give today's juniors more credit for coming to the net than just chasing drop shots. There's retrieving balls for the next point, and the post-match handshake. Jeez.

Posted by Evie 06/13/2007 at 08:59 AM


I am just responding to your comment about arcs since it got my mind's eye. I definitely am not knowledgeable enough about tennis to engage or argue with people's insights. I read because I learn and appreciate the quality of the writings, effort and points of view of people here.

You have so many player arcs, not really coinciding , a few higher, more brilliant. There are only so many ATP ranking points in the background. A players increasing points then might not be a direct correlation to increasing ability.

I do agree with you that improvement to the top players could still come past 20, especcially if it is to remove a weakness.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 10:20 AM

skip: Good post, though I do prefer facts about courts, rather than comments, no matter from whom, when we are talking about change, especially when we have such changes in racquet and string technology, and changes in top players.

Andrew: I'm not sure one can rely upon ranking points as anything more than a correlation which is very general. Federer is just as good now, even though he lost IW and Miami. Justine is just as good, even though she didn't play down under. There are injury factors, physical/mental fatigue factors, and sometimes pure fortune factors which can affect whether a player wins or loses. Federer had a match point against Safin when he lost the AO. He had two of them against Nadal in Rome. Justine had two against Serena in Miami, when an incredibly low-percentage net cord dropped over on one of them.

I simply don't see much "game" improvement from the great players, as the years go by, after 20 or so. I don't see hardly any, for that matter. I suppose we can look at statistics on certain things from past slams, such as serving percentage, and serve speeds (facts which have nothing much to do with the opponent), but even these facts are not independent of the opponent. If you have a second serve which can be attacked by a particular player, then you might slow down your first serve a bit, to get it in more.

These commentators keep talking about how Justine has "developed" a great forehand which she didn't have. Watch her matches from 2003 and you'll see the same killer forehand. She probably had it in 2001. I don't remember, but I'm pretty confident we'd see it.

What shots can Federer hit that he couldn't hit three or four years ago? I've not really seen any.

These players really can't change the strokes they had at age 18, nor are they interested in doing so, when they are the great players. Justine has changed her serve toss, but her serve speeds are pretty much the same, and also her percentages. Nor can a player control serve percentages, without slowing down the ball.

Even the great players have off days, serving and/or hitting their groundstrokes. Nadal has a very low-risk serve and groundstokes, but off the clay that means he doesn't have the weapons the higher-risk players have.

Samantha: I've discussed this "wingspan" stuff last year in some detail. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist as an advantage in net play, being more than offset by the speed, acceleration, ability to change direction, ability to hit the low ball, and ability to hit shots at the body that a smaller player has. Neither Venus nor Serena have ever been exceptional volleyers. They are okay, but it's their serves and hard groundstrokes which set up relatively easy volleys. Or did in the past. The modern game has lots of women who can deal with the power of their groundstrokes fairly well, and return of serve is much better now because of racquet technology and player depth. It's really Federer's return of serve which is essential to winning those Wimbledons.

We've had lots of taller players who do more serve and volley than shorter players, but that's because they can serve harder, not because they are better at the net. Height is an incredible advantage on the serve. Once the point is in play however, I'll take Justine over any player when it comes to coming in to end a point. Height is an advantage on reaching for a lob, but we almost never see a lob where height made any difference, and I've never seen any such points determine the outcome of a match. Six inches in height advantage means about 3 inches on each side. That's not much on a tennis court which is 324 inches wide, and in fact we almost never see a volley where 3" would make a difference getting to a passing shot when we watch actual play.

I do think that playing in big and other events gives the great players comfort and also knowledge about the other players, and how to use their skills to beat them; but that's not an improvement in their level of skill when it comes to hitting tennis balls.

Posted by Andrew 06/13/2007 at 10:32 AM

Evie: you've got a couple of very interesting questions wrapped up in your 8:59.

Great tennis players' career arcs have certain features that are similar, and others which differ wildly.

They all feature a decline at the back end where their physical ability to compete with faster 20 year olds goes. They also all show a dramatic "take off", usually over a period of 1-2 years, where their ATP ranking points (or equivalent) rockets from the 2000 or so mark to the 5000+ mark. Nadal had this phase in 2005: Federer in 2003/4. Djokovic may be in it right now.

It's what happens in between those two "bookends" that's really interesting. The extremes are Sampras and Agassi. Sampras zoomed up to the 7000+ mark in early 1995, and then began a slow "glide" until he retired in 2002. Agassi had multiple peaks and valleys.

Federer is unusual in that his peak, about 8300 points, occurred more than two years after he'd finished that "take off". Now, big question: was this (a) because he kept improving or (b) because his competition weakened? I suspect Bob and DM would be in the (b) camp (but they will, of course, answer for themselves). I see it as a mixture of (a) and (b).

Bob wrote at 12:21am "I don't dispute that Federer's matches with Nadal have helped him tactically, but they havent' helped him hit the winners to go along with those tactics at RG."

The only problem with this is that it focusses only on Federer, and doesn't take into account Nadal's continued improvement.

Suppose, for arguments sake, one would give Nadal a ranking of 80/100 at RG in 2005, and Federer 75/100. By 2007, Federer might have improved his game to 85/100, but if Nadal's made it to 90/100 the expected result might well be the same.

Posted by Evie 06/13/2007 at 11:09 AM

So maybe there is an arc of improvement as well. This does not mean that players are not improving, they are still improving all the time. And they do not really lose the gained abilities later in the arc. They are just not as readily used.

Posted by marty 06/13/2007 at 11:23 AM

Nadal gets some crazy spin action on the ball, and if you add the dry conditions in Paris to that, it makes the ball jump even higher. Federer missed many forehands because he has a hard time timing Nadal's shots on clay. Agassi commented after losing the finals of the Canadian open 2 years ago" His ball was really jumping up over my shoulder, I never faced such a heavy topspin before". On the other hand Federer's variety and power suits him well for grass. For that reason I believe Federe will continue to win Wimbledon and everything else, and lose to Nadal on clay.

Posted by Lydia 06/13/2007 at 11:25 AM

More like good riddance, Paris, no, not really, but sort've yes.

Posted by Evie 06/13/2007 at 11:38 AM


Very apt here for me, the picture you drew 'worth a thousand words". The most critical at this time to imagine I guess is Federer's, picturing the arc and where the slams and future records and milestones might be. I feel he will accomplish a lot still that may surpass what has been recorded so far.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 12:03 PM

Before the thread shuts down, and in defense of the "no improvement" position.

My understanding of Bob's original post, is that Bob is talking about the type of significant improvement that you see in junior tennis. One year a kid is 5 feet tall and can only hit a serve 90 mph, two years later the same kid has grown six inches and is a completely different player.

When you hear many Nadal fans, and frankly, fans of any 20 year old, they talk as if these pros are going to have different games when they are 24 as opposed to 20.

That is what Bob was responding to and what I agree with.

Gonzalez hitting more slice backhands may help him win more matches, but it is not a technical change, sorry, Andrew. "Improvement" obviously includes getting to the finals of a tournament when the year before you lost in the quarters, but there are plenty of reasons why that could occur, two opponents could have played worse.

Bob's point stands. When you are talking about the very best in the world, multiple grand slam winning players, there is absolutely no reason, and no evidence, to support ANY POSITION other than you had better enjoy that particular player while you can, because you are seeing them at their highest level now.

They are not going to "improve"

For example, I predict that Nadal is not going to go on a 300 match in a row clay court and hard court winning streak from ages 23-25. He's already at the top of his game. The question is can he make a few subtle refinements to improve his chances on faster courts, and, can he continue to hold it together in terms of concentration.

Improve? It will take an effort of huge proportions just to maintain his current level of success.

Posted by Beth 06/13/2007 at 12:07 PM

just read through the discussion of serve and volley and junior tennis. Even though I am no expert - and I believe the Bob and DM fit in that category- I will dare to add to 2 cents.
My kids both played junior tennis . They chose to change to other areas as their main focus competitively as they enjoyed others sports more - but they still play tennis. We live in an area known for its exceptional tennis talent and development. Palos Verdes - think Lansdorp, Austin, Sampras, Davenport. The high school my kids attend has tennis teams for both boys and girls that are year after year in state finals and produce nationally ranked juniors. I have seen a lot of junior tennis around here - DM is right - no one teaches serve and volley tennis anymore - particularly to girls. Some boys - if they play doubles for their high school teams - will practice it - but even they do not incorporate it into singles play . They will not just wake up one day - become pros and serve and volley . It does seem to be a lost art- at least from what I see.
I also have to agree with DM that the soccer boom in the US has taken a lot of kids away from tennis. Soccer never appealed to my kids - but there are so many teams in this area , both AYSO and club level , that we are running out of field space. He is right the biggest go to football, the tallest to basketball - and those quick , smaller kids who used to give tennis a try - now have soccer to go to - and soccer is just so much cheaper to learn.

Posted by KP 06/13/2007 at 12:16 PM

Its a fact that the grasscourts have changed. google it, I don't have time. also check out for archived player interviews. starting at '02 Wimbledon a number of player started saying that the bounce had changed at Wimbledon(Henman, Rusedski, Bjorkman) And last year Roddick went into it as well. This isn't the imagination of fans/commentators, the players confirm it, & the groundskeepers confirm that they started using a different type of grass in '02. also there were articles a few years ago confirming that wimbledon was opening the balls 2 weeks prior to the event, also contributing to the slowness there. henman blasted them for it & they stopped doing it.
people need to wake up, this has nothing to do with racquet technology, better returners, etc. watch the semis/finals from '01 & watch the semis/finals from '02. the grasscourt game completely changed in one year due to the surface being changed.
nadal would be useless on the grass in the 90s, Goran & Krajicek would ace him 30+ times & he'd probably just skip the grasscourt season altogether(like all the calycourters did back then-anyone notice that they now all now play it? wonder why...)

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 12:18 PM

Beth -- riding out of the Palos Verdes sunrise to save the argument :)

Posted by Sam 06/13/2007 at 12:37 PM

Pete addressed the change in grass courts in his July Tennis magazine article on Wimbledon. I don't think it was a coincidence that we went from a Goran/Rafter final in 2001 to a Hewitt/Nalbandian final the following year. I don't think this is the only reason, but it certainly seems like a key component.

Posted by Andrew 06/13/2007 at 12:43 PM

Bob, DM: I don't define "improvement" as a fundamental change in the way a tennis player plays the game - the junior to senior example.

I think of the fundamental problem in tennis as the ability to consistently hit the ball, throughout the match, to places which cause the greatest difficulty for the opponent you're playing against.

One reason a player can improve is stamina - he/she doesn't fade in the latter stages of a match, but plays strongly at the end. Agassi achieved this, Djokovic (for example) needs to do this.

A second reason is mental discipline. Sometimes you have to be content to hit the 85% ball in a rally five shots in a row, and wait for the opportunity to hit the 95% (or 100%) ball. Some players (Gonzalez, for example) learn this late - some never do.

Then there's mental toughness - the ability to withstand the ups and downs of a match, or a tournament, or a season, and play at a consistently good level - or to overcome the fact that you're not playing well at the moment, and keep trying, and maybe "swindle" the match (when you're playing below your best level but win through legitimate means).

Then there's incremental technique - take a moderate-to-good shot (Federer's volleys c2004) and make them top class (Federer c 2007).

None of these things result in a dramatic, visible transformation. Improving any of them means you're going to get more balls to go where you want them to go throughout a match. Improving all of them means a lot of balls will go where you want them to go.

That's what I mean by improvement.

Posted by Ray Stonada 06/13/2007 at 12:44 PM


About surface speed, you ask what facts there are to support the idea that surfaces have changed. Here you go:

Wimbledon changed from half rye to 100% rye grass after 2001, which every observer agrees slowed the court considerably.

2001 final: Rafter v. Ivanisevic.
2002 final: Hewitt v. Nalbandian.

The winners of Wimbledon from 1993-2001 were serve-and-volleyers Sampras, Kracijek, and Ivanisevic.

The winners from 2002-2006 were baseliners Hewitt and Federer.

Posted by Beth 06/13/2007 at 12:47 PM

DM- glad to help out:)

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 12:48 PM

Andrew, understood.

However, as often happens in these threads, the initial response is lost. My point was that there is a theme out there that just because a player is playing at level "X" at age 20, they will, of course, be at "2X" by age 24.

This, IMO, is based upon the fact that in other areas of our lives than elite sporting effort, we in fact do improve from age 20 to 25.

I know I did. :)

Posted by Andrew 06/13/2007 at 12:51 PM

DM: I aim to continue improving at 47. Notwithstanding the fact that nowadays the 40 year olds are faster than me, let alone the 30 year olds.

The 20 year olds? Fie on them.

Posted by Ray Stonada 06/13/2007 at 12:57 PM

DM, Bob and Andrew, this discussion has been very clarifying. I'm glad to understand what kind of improvements are possible, and which aren't.

A poster recently suggested that Federer just start hitting his shots with as much topspin as Nadal. I wasn't sure how to verbalize my belief that that isn't possible.

For myself, I used to complain that I was never getting any better in tennis. But I was, incrementally and in small ways. At least I like to think so. Maybe that's a mental improvement in itself.

Posted by Beth 06/13/2007 at 12:58 PM

DM and Andrew - like fine wine - I hope to improve with age-

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 01:03 PM

The nutty thing is that in Federer's case, that is almost not a ridiculous suggestion.

Of course, its not just Nadal's shots per se, its the way he has set up his whole game.

This whole "improvement" discussion sometimes ventures into un reality

Posted by Sherlock 06/13/2007 at 01:11 PM

Good points about Wimbledon slowing down. But in defense of Bob (wow, did I really say that?), is the fact that baseliners have won the last few years really compelling evidence? From 2002 on, how many guys are even in the draw that you would consider serve and volleyers? Did Goran and Patrick even play Wimby in 2002 after their 2001 final? I don't know, but my memory says no.

Posted by Suresh 06/13/2007 at 01:13 PM

Bob...agreed Sampras was a serving machine - as great as he was, his game flowed from his serve. Well , people might ask - who does not depend on his serve?

In Sampras' case though, he was able to deliver it consistently at crunch time and this is reflected in his match stats and career stats.

Posted by Beth 06/13/2007 at 01:14 PM

DM - while I understand that revamping a stroke is just not realistic at their level - I do think that they make some subtle changes -that do "improve " their games sometimes.
For example - Nadal's stronger serve- he certainly did not have that a few years ago - Of course, it will never be a huge weapon like Roddick's. But it is definitely better than it was. I guess though the added power could be attributed to his added size and strength that he did not have and not so much to a change in the motion per se.

Posted by marieJ 06/13/2007 at 01:19 PM

bob, back in business with andrew, skip, matt and DM... sounds like good old times ;)
i do believe that some of the improvements are minor in some of the men's game, i don't watch the woman so close to have a say !
you either maximize your strenghs you play with more agressivity with your fh or bh, service, see nadal or youzhny or you work on your weak side to add some consistency to that shot, see federer or roddick, but you just don't buy a new shot !
stefanski brought the slice to gonzo, but i'm sure gonzo knew how to hit a slice before working with stefanski, he just didn't believe it would add something to his game, so the part some coaches do bring is new approaches of strategy, different visions of how to play the game, i think gilbert is one of the best in that aspect, because he can figure out strategies for each oponent.
and he found some of them against rafa, that few players have tried including federer...
then it's all about confidence and self belief, it brings the best in anyones game.
the big difference between rafa and fed, is that roger has been trying out new things to add consistency to his bh, and it worked for him very well last year, winning more matches than ever against just anyone but nadal has been working on his strenghs and has figure out how to used his serve with more effectiviness...
winner ? both but i do believe that if roger had worked on his fh and serve he would have had more chances against rafa at RG, because that were the big letdowns on his game.
maybe we have to look at this the other way : how do you keep your game at the best level ?
i'll go for the strengh vs weakness.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 01:44 PM

I think it is impossible for players to change their strokes, or improve a bad stroke after a certain age. A little fine tuning is possible, for example, Sharapovas service motion has changed slighty after her Wimbledon win.
You can't change your game/strategy dramatically either, if you are born a power hitter you remain that way. Nadal certainly will play like he plays now till the end of his career. But you are able to make some changes, like Serena and Robby Ginepri have done, they are power hitters, they used to go for winners all the time, hit a lot of errors, but nowadays they clearly hit with more patience.

Posted by 06/13/2007 at 01:52 PM

"Almost single-handedly, Nadal has prevented Federer from making a complete mockery of the men's game."

that was from an article in espn. Well summarized on what Nadal means to the sport.

Posted by Sherlock 06/13/2007 at 01:52 PM

Good point, Temes.

I enjoyed your thoughts from yesterday too. I'm with you in that I don't see Nadal winning a bunch of non-clay slams before he's done. He'll be competitive, without a doubt. But Djoko, Murray, Berdych, who knows, maybe Monfils, Baggy, Del Potro?, all those guys will have lots to say about those slams in the future once Roger isn't so dominant. And Roger is still going to be dominant for quite a while. My prediction is that Nadal wins maybe 2 or 3 non-clay slams before he's done. I really can't see more than that.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 02:11 PM

Everyone on improvement: I've enjoyed the discussion, and as with many of the discussions here, I think the points have been refined and dealt with so we can make up our own mind.

I stand by my basic position, which is identical to Dunlop's. If you are going to be a truly great player, you had better show it while you are a teenager, and don't expect to get much better than that, in terms of talent. What is "show it"? Win a slam, or make a final and do well, or something like beat Sampras at Wimbledon. Anyone who watched that match (and a few others) knew we were watching a superstar. It was only a question of when.

This "improvement" stuff is driven by the media and fueled by the players themselves. What 20-21 year old tennis player in history hasn't had an honest belief that (s)he will improve? They retain this belief practically until they retire, but the reality is that they don't improve. The media picks up on this and uses it to generate endless discussions which have no support whatsoever in the history of tennis. If they regard something as "generating controversy/excitement", then they could care less about reality.

They do learn. Federer has learned what he needs to do to have his best chance to beat Nadal on the clay. Perhaps Justine learned that when competing for slams, she needed to use her forehand more, and her net skills. They also learn what it is like to have the weight of a slam final descend upon you. They learn lots of things, but by the time they are 20-21, they are fully grown and they aren't going to hit the tennis ball any better than they do. Why would they? This is the peak of an athlete's/person's physical stature. After this age, you start to die.

What is going to enable Djokovic or Nadal or Murray or anyone else hit a tennis ball better or harder or more accurately? The answer is nothing. They may "improve" the utilization of the skills they do have, but not the skills themselves.

Some sports are different. Cycling is a clear exception. Perhaps marathon runners. Not tennis however. It's a young person's game. Don't look to the 20 year olds to topple Federer or Justine or Serena. Look to the teenagers. It's always been the teenagers.

As for endurance and strength, this is also genetically driven. There is only so much you can do. By the time you are 20, unless you have totally ignored endurance and strength training, you are not going to gain much in this department. All of these top players have trainers and coaches and dietitians and have had them for years.

Sharapova is bigger now than when she was 17, but is she better? I don't think so. Her movement is not as good. Her skills and shotmaking are about the same. Her experience is much better. She will win a fww more slams, but I'm not sure how many more. She certainly showed her stuff by the time she was 17, so she obviously has potential, but she has weaknesses which she's never going to be able to do away with.

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/13/2007 at 02:12 PM

Bob, you stated that wingspan doesn't exist as an advantage in net play, and that a 6" advantage in height would only result in a 3" advantage in reach on either side.

People don't volley by standing still and sticking their arms out horizontally. They step and lean towards the ball. So an advantage in height and reach is magnified by:

1) longer arms to reach with
2)the longer first step possible because of longer legs
3) the longer lean into the ball, which will be a function of the height of the player and the angle of lean.

So a taller player actually has a much bigger reach advantage than you stated, and an extra reach of 6 inches or a foot can be a huge advantage in getting to a volley instead of being passed.

Add in to that the advantages of being able to reach higher to cut off overheads, and the ability to hit volleys and overheads harder due to the longer moment arm of longer limbs, and you can see why someone like Max Mirnyi is able to use his height to advantage at the net.

Posted by Andrea 06/13/2007 at 02:16 PM

Temes- I agree that you can't completely alternate your game after a certain point. No one really tries to go from being a baseliner to serve and volleyer. But I would still say that Andy Roddick's improvement is more than just "fine tuning". Same with Gonzo's progress. To win other slams, I don't think Rafa has to really do anything besides be more aggresive. He's got the margin for error, patience, mental strength, will, stamina, and speed. Those qualitites translate on any surface. Last year at Wimby he showed he can ditch the spins for flat, hard shots. It's just a matter of time.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 02:20 PM

"This is the peak(20-21 yrs) of an athlete's/person's physical stature. After this age, you start to die. "

Oh GOD Bob take it easy.

Posted by Pierre Des Joachims 06/13/2007 at 02:21 PM

Due to the same reach advantages, most soccer goalies are taller than their teammates.

Posted by daylily 06/13/2007 at 02:41 PM

man, the rhetoric here overfloweth sometimes.....

dm and bob, jeez, it's semantics ya'll.

Posted by Bob 06/13/2007 at 02:42 PM

PIerre: You are correct that perhaps an inch or two might sometimes be added, depending on the passing shot, but it's really beyond dispute that the smaller, lighter player can change directions, accelerate, and generally have better hand skills than the larger player, which in my view more than makes up for those few inches; and they can also deal with the low ball much better. We see it in every sport. Smaller players play guard in basketball, and are wide receivers in football, and running backs, and kick returners.

When you watch a match, nearly all the passing shots are far outside the reach of the person rushing the net. Usually at least a foot, and often several feet, and the volleys which are put away are almost always easily within the player's reach. We do see a stab now and then, but I'll take the player with the speed and reaction time (and good net skills) over the taller player on such plays, almost every time.

As for surfaces, how is the new AO surface going to compare with the old AO surface and the USO surface?

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 06/13/2007 at 02:47 PM

I have not measured this out, but anecdotally I will disagree with Bob on the height/going to net issue. The difference between a player 5'10" and 6'4 is six inches, probably at shoulder height. Add longer arms, which are, of course, attached to the shoulder, and you may have an advantage on a dive to one side of a foot.

One foot on each side is a huge advantage in tennis. Remember, in the just completed Hewitt Tsonga match the point advantage to Tsonga in one set was only 41/39.

Its not like you need to go from being passed on every ball to reaching every ball. If you reach one more ball per set that could be all it takes.

I agree with Bob that it is difficult, from simply watching matches, to come up with examples where height differential made a difference on a specific point.

But when I was playing, that one foot on each side difference was obvious.

Also, its not just size. Perhaps because he plays so much doubles, Max Mirnyi has the worst lateral net movement of anyone I've seen, with the exception of guys like Roddick who have essentially no lateral movement.

McEnroe, probably even now, covers more of the net laterally than Mirnyi does, because McEnroe is a master of stopping his forward momentum so he can move to the side. Edberg was great at this as well.

Posted by temes 06/13/2007 at 03:01 PM

Bob, how is it "beyond dispute" that smaller players have better hand skills? I mean, isn't that just completely untrue? Where did you come up with that one?

And I in general disagree with you, I think height and size is a huge advantage at the net, where you do not really need to change directions or accelerate, mainly just jump and reach. Great hand skills will help, but smaller players don't have better hand skills than large players, in this case size has absolutely no meaning.

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