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Weapon of Choice 01/18/2010 - 5:17 PM

95853351 

Howdy, everyone.  Thanks for getting the Australian Open off to a great start - over 2,000 comments on a table-setting post. That's something to crow about. I expect more of the same tonight, and this will be your venue. I watched last night, of  course, and thought that Maria Sharapova's loss was a little sad - not because I have a particular soft spot for Sharapova, but because of what I'll call the Arias Syndrome. Those of you who remember Jimmy, one of Nick Bollettieri's first successful proteges, may already know what I mean.

Jimmy reached as high as No. 5 and was in the Top 10 for two years in the early '80s. He pre-figured the game to come with his huge forehand and emphasis on racket-head speed - no mean feat back in the day when most pros still played the standard-sized rackets and sought to control, rather than liberate, their swings. But the outburst of innovation that brought us mid-sized and larger rackets raced through the game like a prairie fire, and soon everyone was swinging from the heels, using large-head rackets, different new string combinations, and frames made from exotic materials.

I simplify, of course, but Jimmy felt (rightly, I believe) that he lost a big advantage when others could get comparable pace with more forgiving rackets and other technological aids. Technology leveled the playing field. Jimmy came along a few critical years too late, but late enough to show the way to the emerging gestalt. He got caught up in the gears of change.

I thought about Jimmy watching Sharapova last night, because I think she's in similar trouble. This time, though, the issue is less about gear and more the evolution of women's tennis (although I'm sure polyester strings have some role in this - can anyone shed light on that for us?). Some time in the last few years the women as a group figured out that they didn't have to work extra hard, and often with scant reward, to develop the same chief attack weapon the men use, the serve. They would focus instead on the return. Built-in limitations on power make owning a big serve an unattainable dream for most women, but the return, which feeds off the pace of the serve, can be transformed into a fearsome weapon even a woman with less than outstanding power can have.

Or, let's put it this way: Given reasonable mechanics, a player (man or woman) can work his tail off and realize perhaps a four or six percent gain in serving velocity and spin; bump that up to eight or ten percent if we include second serve quality and placement. Most players of either gender basically serve with what Godot gave 'em.

But the return - that can be improved more dramatically, partly because the returner isn't obliged to provide all the power, and thus face a self-determined ceiling. When you return, you're not just trying to get the most out of your shot; you're trying to get the most out of your opponent's shot (the serve) as well. This is a dangerous gambit among the men, because great serving can shut down great returning. But since very few women can serve an opponent off the court, the serve -- especially on the second ball -- is clay with which the returner can work.

This explains quite a few things about women's tennis, including the nearly comical way (from a narrow, traditional and gender-blind view) that service holds sometimes seems a more important stat than breaks of serve.The most dangerous shot in men's tennis remains the serve. Among the women (with a few choice exceptions, led by Serena Wiliams), the most dangerous shot is the return. Remember that big story that developed at the last U.S. Open, about why women had such miserable serving statistics? The answer is fear - fear of the return. It's as if the WTA rank-and-file realized, heck, why bang our heads against the wall, trying to become something beyond our grasp? Let's be something attainable - great returners.

And that's where Sharapova is in trouble, any time she can't serve at her absolute best. If she were, say, Justine Henin, she might be able to compensate for this vulnerability with other elements in her game. But given her limitations as an athlete, she has a declining ability to repel attacking returners.

There was a moment last night when Mary Jo Ferandez, Mary Carillo, Brad Gilbert and Pat McEnroe were discussing Sharapova's loss to Maria Kirilenko, and about three-quarters of the way through the analyses, McEnroe cut to the chase. Watching the match, he and Gilbert decided that Sharapova simply didn't move well enough when Kirilenko managed to pressure her. That, to me, was the key to the match. And more and more these days, when it comes to attacking, the service return is weapon of choice.

Thus, it was poignant when Sharapova, in a revealing moment of bitterness, said in her presser that she would be back to play on the second Saturday in Australia one day. She even added something like, "you just watch." More power to her if she can; she certainly works hard enough to maximize her potential. And she's an extremely determined and focused individual. But, like Arias, she may be a victim of history - caught in the gears of a churning, ever-moving game. 

-- Pete


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Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:23 PM

Shenay breaks back 2-3 with Shenay serving

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:23 PM

Han serve is Horrid,Sam has 3 b/points now and has broken straight back

Games on serve now

1 all

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:25 PM

Well hello inside our f/hand? come on Sam

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 07:25 PM

"You and me are the only ones who seem to like it"

I like it too :-)) Even though I like the blue with green more...

Posted by just a note 01/18/2010 at 07:25 PM

BTW, crazyone provided this link awhile ago and it shows TTC. Currently showing the Anna/Shenay match.

http://www.veetle.com/viewChannel.php?cid=4b1c080ee2173#

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:25 PM

VC,
That's right. I considered it just after i hit "Post". Maybe "du er den 2nd bedste":)
About the outfit, if someone tells me that Verdasco's one is worst than the Naranjito thing (Not to mention the hideous PINK shirt), i will just asume that i know less than nothing about fashion.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:26 PM

Sania looks much slimmer to me. I don't know whether that has translated to any improvement in her movement, which is the weakest part of her game.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 07:26 PM

CL
I was one of the maniacs who was on the ledge - during that '08 Igor battle. I was one shot away from totally losing it. But then that was '08. Fed has been on the up and up since then and it was nothing but whatever ever since for Igor. But then, Fed has a way of peeing off and doing walkabouts in the early rounds...

I don't know what to say about Blake's 2002 dreadlocks (was on TC interview before the coverage)!

Has anyone noticed that Sharpie is specifically singled out for shrieking (along with a few notable others) but not the williamses?

Who is showing AO at 7 est folks?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:26 PM

Stosur holds serve

Stosur 2-1

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:27 PM

Mr. X, what's the story behind Naranjito?

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 07:28 PM

btw, good luck to Sela and Dulko today! I hope they win :-)

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:28 PM

Ball holds to get to 1-1, after saving 4 BPs. The game started with Nando completely dominating the rallies with his FH, and making a good passing, but then he got a little too cute in some rallies, and Ball started being more agressive, attacking Fer's BH, serving well, and charging the net appropiately.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:28 PM

Oh jeez...I just saw Nando's "outfit." ROFLROFLROFLMAO!!!!

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 07:29 PM

Henin looked very sharp (caught the rerun this morning).
To Pete's point here...gosh her returns in that match!

Once you watch a Henin match (or Kim C or Serena these days)...you have no patience to watch anything else...like the drivel that's on display now (Ana vs. perry).

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:30 PM

Rafa's T-shirt in isolation is the only thing I like about his outfit. I think it's a bright and lively color which he can pull off. But what's wrong with wearing a simple pair of white or black shorts to go with it? And that translucent "amniotic sac" jacket is also a disaster. Right, I'll shut up about fashion now.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 07:31 PM

Poor Ana...that ball was out by a foot!

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:31 PM

Oops...my WTA SP pick Czink is not playing today...hmmmm...that sucks ;-). Prolly too late to change.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:31 PM

Sam breaks,seems to have settled in this match

Stosur 3-1

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:31 PM

Here it goes, Pspace, in the style of your famous Lestat post:
The mascot of the 1982 World Cup in Spain:
http://roberbodegas.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/naranjito500-573.gif
The tennis player:
http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/img/2010/01/Dep/nadalapaustralias.jpg

Fever holds at 15 to go up 2-1. Ball only worrying him when he can make a very agressive return. If not, Fer dominated the rallies with the FH from the beginning.

Posted by Codge 01/18/2010 at 07:31 PM

Ivanovic doesn't seem too comfortable in the dress.

Too many DF for Perry already. Clean game ladies!

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 07:32 PM

Berdych serves a bagel in the first set...

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:32 PM

Has Aussie Ana done her famous Triple Axel Fist Pumps yet?

Posted by phillykat 01/18/2010 at 07:33 PM

Skw, your point about Serena thinking "ace" is right on. Serena's serve is just so great, are there any others who could've pulled out the win she did vs Hantuchova at Wimby, basically arming her serve in once her leg cramp to end all cramps happened.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:33 PM

I think the pick is valid nonetheless, Pspace. Went to check it on TAT.

Ball holds at 15 to get to 2-2. Mostly with good unreturned serves, and he played serve and volley once there. He's obviously gonna try to avoid the rallies, at least when he's serving.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:33 PM

Stosur holds serve

Stosur 4-1

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 07:34 PM

Sooo, Sania blows 4 break points. This is going to be quick.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 07:34 PM

Davai, Katya and Nadia!

and Sela is down 1-4, shoot....
Come on, Dudi!

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:34 PM

C'mon Sania, get your act together. India's No. 1, du er den bedste and all that. Atleast get past one round in a GS for a change.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:34 PM

LOL, Mr. X. Naranjito it is.

Btw, the TAT forum still lists Czink as a possible selection...So am I ok? Master Ace?

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 07:34 PM

Thanks very much for the responses guys. Much appreciated.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:35 PM

With a bombastic FH winner DTL, Verdasco holds at love to go up 3-2. Ball's returns just did nothing to him in that game. Fer handling the slice return well (mind you, it's Ball's slice return)

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:35 PM

5-3 Ana...Shenay serving to stay in the set.

Posted by Jbradhunter iPhone edition 01/18/2010 at 07:35 PM

Ana doesn't even hit her forehand like she used to... Shebay basically donated the break back with key UFEs

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 07:35 PM

Gooo Makarova and Katie O'Brien (Never mind I picked her in my YCWJ team).
There has to be some early blood in the SP.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:36 PM

OK clue me in, who/what is Naranjito, and don't stone me for being so ignorant.

Posted by sans nom 01/18/2010 at 07:37 PM

Ivanovic must be the least deserving WTA GS winner still playing on tour. Her game is crap right now, I'm pretty sure junior tennis is better. Any links for juniors?

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:37 PM

Btw, how is Ana playing? Worth watching?

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 07:37 PM

TripleF - Matches are currently on TTC and ESPN360.

Hmmm, I'm not liking Ana's dress in action as much as expected, based on the pics. The color is great, though.

AM - Haven't yet seen the Triple Axel Wee Fist Pump, but I'm getting ready to switch to Sauce's match.

Posted by TennisFan2 01/18/2010 at 07:37 PM

What's with the clothing for this slam???

Any designers out there? Even if there isn't collectively we could come up with some better kits for these players. Ugh!

Posted by robbyfan 01/18/2010 at 07:37 PM

ana seems to be preoccupied with not getting a wedgie.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:38 PM

Pspace: You're a fanboy. You tell me if a long-legged, brunette beauty is worth watching.

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 07:38 PM

TripleF -- agreed about Maria S being singled out for shrieking. In fairness, this has been an issue in the women's game dating back to Seles. What's more, Sharapova and Azarenka are hardly alone as offending parties. The Williams, I think, get cut some slack because they don't seem to shriek every stroke. It seems more selective, and usually increases as their matches wear on.

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 07:38 PM

Did I ever say that TW folks are the best in the world. The quality of the veetle link is amazing. Thank you

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:38 PM

Sam breaks

Sam Stosur serving for the 1st set ,she leads 5-1

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:38 PM

Great volley by Ball to go up 30-15. The return was very good, but the volley was excellent.
And he charges the net once again, and gest anothe point. 40-15.
This time, he couldnt handle Verdasco's FH at the net. That's a very hard shot to answer.
But now, Ball wrong foots Verdasco with the FH, and he holds to get to 3-3.

Posted by FoT 01/18/2010 at 07:39 PM

Ball is hanging in there right now. But it's still early. I turned off the Perry/Ana matach because - well, neither girl is doing anything 'spectacular right now.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:39 PM

carnap, hehe, well Nando is in a good match so far. So, I'm not gonna switch if Ana's catching her toss. However, if she's dominating...

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:39 PM

Set to Ana...6-2

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:40 PM

Sbily Thanks anyway

I loved watching her at Brisbane

She had them Down Pat.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:40 PM

Pspace: My sunglasses are broken, so I can't watch Nando's green machine without stroking out.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:41 PM

Tell me how Carsten is going please

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:41 PM

Stosur 1st set 6-1

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:42 PM

There you go, carnap:
The mascot of the 1982 World Cup in Spain:
http://roberbodegas.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/naranjito500-573.gif
The tennis player:
http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/img/2010/01/Dep/nadalapaustralias.jpg

When Verdasco is serving, it looks like the only way Ball can win points is when he connects a very agressive 2nd serve return. He's nailed several of those so far, but once the point goes to a rally, Verdasco is far superior. He holds at 15 to go up 4-3.

Posted by FoT 01/18/2010 at 07:42 PM

Bell is hanging in there on serve. Had some chances on Verdasco's serve but both men are holding. It's interesting seeing 2 lefties battle it out.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:42 PM

AM: it's 4-3 Nando with Carsten serving to even it up

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:43 PM

AM, he's doing well. Holding serve...getting a few points on return. Unlikely that he'll be able to break, but if he can push it to TB...he'll have a chance.

Oh lordie...they just showed a quick clip of Ana on my stream. See ya later Nando.

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 07:43 PM

Wow, I didn't know Sauce drew Ball. Carsten could be capable of top ten/top twenty upset. Surprising? Yes. Shocking? No.

Posted by FoT 01/18/2010 at 07:44 PM

Berdych won the first set 6-0 but now he's behind in the 2nd set 0-2

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:44 PM

LOL Mr. X...got the 1982 mascot part right away, but I couldn't figure out to whom you were comparing him/it. Thanks.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:44 PM

Ana gets a 10 for her outfit. Do whatever you want with your toss...just stay on the court for a while ;-).

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:45 PM

FoT: Is Berdych playing Sania Mirza????

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:45 PM

Ana's service toss is still same old, same old. Catch her while you can in this tournament, as she's not going to go far, sadly.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:46 PM

Ball holds at 30 to get to 4-4. I think FeVer had a chance in that game, since he managed to get Ball into a baseline rally a couple of times, but he ended up losing both points on his errors. To be fair, one of them was forced. In the rest of the points, Ball forcing the actions with his serve and charging the net. It's working so far, even if he missed a couple of volleys there.

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 07:46 PM

What's common between Verdasco and Ball?
Other than the lefty thing, they both beat Tsonga. Or was it Gooch? Or both. Some tall server.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:47 PM

Commie just called her "Anarivanvovic"

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:48 PM

'hopper, it was Gooch. First round in DC. Ugh!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:48 PM

She's not comfortable in that tight, skimpy dress, is she?

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:48 PM

Convinced by Pspace and VC, i'm completely betraying Spain's No.2 to go check the lovely Ana. I'm weak, i know:)
Meanwhile, Verdasco holds easily once again to go up 5-4. The set seems to be heading to a TB.
Wait for me, Ana!

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:49 PM

Mr. X, good decision. Ana looks unfreakinbelievable. I need oxygen.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:49 PM

Are you suggesting she should take it off, carnap?:)

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:49 PM

I knew the "tight skimpy dress" would lure him in.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:50 PM

Thanks guys for the updates on Carsten's match,yes two lefties indeed


Sam got the early break in the 2nd set

Stosur 2-0

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:50 PM

Sania still a break down to Rezai at 5-4. Needs to break here to stay in it, but no signs of threatening her serve so far. C'mon, crack a couple of returns!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:50 PM

Mr.X: I'm suggesting you lift your mind from the guttah.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 07:51 PM

Sergeyev wins the first set... Come on, Sela!

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 07:51 PM

de los rios breaks the maid. 4-4 in the first.

Posted by phillykat 01/18/2010 at 07:51 PM

SB watching now because none of the matches seem really good.

surprised that Mirza is hanging tight to Rezai.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:51 PM

Sending over Cold Towels to the Fan Boys

I want them back ASAP after Aussie Ana's match ok

I am not running a Chinese Laundry

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:52 PM

I'm surprised. I thought Shenay would run away with this match. Didn't she used to be a pretty good player not so long ago?

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:52 PM

Meh. Rezai closes it out at love. She's out-ball-bashing Sania at the moment.

Posted by phillykat 01/18/2010 at 07:53 PM

did the female announcer just laugh when the male announcer said of Rezai, " striking outfit" ?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:53 PM

Han gets on the board

Stosur 2-1 2nd set

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 07:53 PM

Razzano lost the first set. Coco Vandeweghe lost the first set 0-6.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:53 PM

AM: It'll be over soon. Your "Aussie Ana" took the first set and is serving at 3-1 in the second as I type.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:53 PM

I blame the TV for corrupting my "innocent" mind, carnap:)
Boy, she sure looks smashing. Best dress so far. And best legs. And...well, you know what i mean:)
And now, she's broken (i think). Unfortunately, it's time for *that* ball toss.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 07:53 PM

"SB watching now because none of the matches seem really good."

me too :-)

Posted by Sweet 16 01/18/2010 at 07:54 PM

Pspace, meow right back atcha! ;) I like my new nom de plume, may it come to fruition, meow.

Still can't get over Maria of the looooong legs and loooooud screeching going out like that in the first round, gaaah. AM, what WAS up with that greenish thing on her, I nearly lost respect for Maria, it was... fuuuuugly!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:55 PM

Did Rezai borrow that horror from Bethany Mattek-Sands? How much do you wanna bet the knickers are faux leopard?

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:55 PM

Her dress is good, I agree. The color is a bit dull, but the fit is pretty good as far as I can tell. :-)

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:55 PM

Yep, sadly, there's not much left of this match. Ana is up 4-1 in the 2nd.
Nice volley there to close the game.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:55 PM

Well, we may have one more match of Ana! Thank you Tommy!

Posted by Codge 01/18/2010 at 07:55 PM

Rezai's kit is hideous but her FH is great. Handling Mirza well. Mirza has the best kit by far. Haven't seen Venus yet though.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 07:56 PM

sblily. Thanks.

Am a alone and very lonely in thinking Aravane Rezai is a major Oooomph!? I mean very good looking even in that tacky golden dress!

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 07:57 PM

what gives, is Tennis Channel not working? i have a blank screen here in nyc...grrr

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:57 PM

Now I want Sania to kill her. Mirza BTW looks very classy!

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:57 PM

C'mon now, 15-30...

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:57 PM

Carnap She got that "hookers dress" designed by a friend.She also looked like she just stepped out of Studio 54.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:58 PM

Tim: It's working for me.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 07:58 PM

And she breaks with a blazing CC BH! Keep it up, India's No. 1!

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 07:58 PM

Lluis Bruguera, Sergi Bruguera's father, watched tennis matches only looking at the side his son was playing in. I'm kinda doing the same thing in this match:)
Ooooh, nice point to end the game. Well, there's only one more left:(

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