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

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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 Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 07:58 PM

Girls dont do Gold Lame in the morning

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

nice *backhand* winner from Sania to take the break.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 07:59 PM

I like Martina Nav's commentary. There's something real and genuine about her tone and presentation. And she comes across very honest.

Posted by vetmama 01/18/2010 at 07:59 PM

Siggy!
Somehow we can't miss your sweet syntax...

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 07:59 PM

Ana's playing well too....at least relative to opponent. Nice net approaches, variety and such like. In addition to the obvious.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 07:59 PM

AM: They wore classier kits than that at Studio 54. She looks like she stepped out of a doorway on 8th Avenue & 42nd Street.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:00 PM

Pspace Is Aussie Golfer Adam Scott in the stands

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:00 PM

""Is Aussie Golfer Adam Scott in the stands""

Hehe...who cares?

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 08:01 PM

bizarre must have been my DVR, i turned it off and now I have a green Mr Hot Sauce at 2-2 in a breaker!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:01 PM

Ana up two breaks in the second set...5-1

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:01 PM

Carnap hey its been a while since I visited Studio 54,let me tell you

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:02 PM

Yes! Perry breaks! One more game at least.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:02 PM

"Ana Rivanovic still up a break"

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:02 PM

Stosur and Han 2 games all 2nd set

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 08:02 PM

Mahesh Booo is watching Mirza..
I like Mahesh...compared to that punk Paes.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:02 PM

Damn... Rezai breaks right back. Pfft.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:02 PM

LOL Pspace

Posted by vetmama 01/18/2010 at 08:03 PM

Hey, Ball is playing Hott Sauce really close...6 all in the TB?

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 08:03 PM

"Is Aussie Golfer Adam Scott in the stands"
Adam who?

And Ana gets broken when trying to serve out the match. That was a nice gesture, Ana:)
Seriously, Perry played several good points in that game.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:03 PM

Ana receiving for the match.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:04 PM

Pspace I do,so check it out ok??

Posted by mellow yellow 01/18/2010 at 08:05 PM

Ball takes the first set over Verdasco. Wow.

Posted by crazyone 01/18/2010 at 08:05 PM

Carsten's hitting like Nando!

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 08:05 PM

Ball takes the first set, 7-6(4).

Posted by vetmama 01/18/2010 at 08:05 PM

Oooo, Sauce lost the first set.
He'll have better staying power, though, unless this only goes 3 sets.

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 08:05 PM

Hmm, Carsten takes the first set

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 08:06 PM

Tim (year of the aussie rogie)...how are you man?

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:06 PM

AM, hehe, they haven't showed her box or I don't remember.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:06 PM

Sania is making Rezai's serve look like Ivanisevic's... can't get a return in play.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:07 PM

OMG :X

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 08:07 PM

wow. i've gotta say, i'm impressed with Ball! Love the way he's playing..good for him :)
ok nando..time to start hitting monster forehands, kapeesh?

Posted by mellow yellow 01/18/2010 at 08:07 PM

some match stats: Ball has 26 winners to Verdasco's 8. +10 W/UE. But Verdasco won 41 points in the set to Ball's 40.

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 08:07 PM

Thing about Ball is if he can improve some consistency on his groundies and RoS he'd be a dangerous out for about any player on the tour. Anyway, nice to see a true S&V player out there ... even thriving a bit.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:07 PM

Shenay still in it. "Ana Rivanovic serving for the match at 5-3."

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 08:07 PM

WTF, Dasco?
What, they showed your ex on the screen and you are kicking yourself?

And Perry takes one more game! Yeah!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

Mr. X: His ex is looking hotttt

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

Shenay Perry has a really nice game. Dont think I have ever seen her play before. Nice to look at.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

*has fan-boy moment*

Posted by vetmama 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

"nice to see a true S&V player out there"

Mcakron, don't say that too loud.
You don't want to get NP started.

Posted by Sweet 16 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

Vetmama! Meow and arrrrffff right back atcha! ;)

How HAVE you been, may I venture to ask? It's sooo nice, coming back and seeing "old" faces (meow!) I actually recognize! And speaking of tennis (ahem!), am keeping my fingers crossed for our dear Roger, but you know... Father Time and all, I fear his time is up soon, so I plan on saaaavoring every little moment, if you know what I mean! **fan girl gush over for now, apologies to all**

Posted by FoT 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

Stosur was doing really well in the first. Now she's down a break in the 2nd so this match may go 3 sets. I wanted a nice FAST match on this court so I could see Serena and Roger!!!!!

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

I must say, I do like ana's dress. the yellow looks great against her skintone.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

Is it me or do the cameramen lovingly linger a bit extra on Ana's every movement? ... not that I'm complaining.

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 08:08 PM

one thing for sure Martina Nav doesn't have any ulterior motives when she's commentating on matches, unlike most of the other women, who I think are too concerned about promoting the WTA no matter how bad the tennis is ...

i think they all want to be liked by all their peers instead of doing their job for the viewers...

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:09 PM

Pspace Sending a pair of Binoculars

Hurry up and Spy

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:09 PM

Pspace: QUIT THAT!!!! You'll go blind!

Posted by vetmama 01/18/2010 at 08:10 PM

siggy, LOL

Make sure you wear your drool bib later this evening when our boy takes the court.:)

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:10 PM

Yay for Carsten taking the 1st set off the Chick Magnet!!!!!!!

Aussie,Aussie,Aussie,Oi,Oi,Oi,


Crap Han broke Sam

Han 4-2 2nd set

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 08:11 PM

hi tripleF, im great but slightly irritated that Stosur is suddenly decided she's gonna go 3 sets, argh! how's the Fed brigade tonight? toughie first round, I hope he's got his at least B plus game from the start, Im in NO mood for frazzling tonight... and I dont have a drop of booze in the house, so..

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:11 PM

wow...Ana is totally blowing her huge lead. She's about to lose her second break.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 08:11 PM

Petrova is up a set and a break
Davai!

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:11 PM

Wow! Ana serves two bombs to save BPs!

Posted by ericinphilly 01/18/2010 at 08:11 PM

evening all!! waiting for serena to play. so far not much going on..was hoping sania could win..behind in the second tho pfft.
hoping for a good nite, a.e serena and venus winning

Posted by vetmama 01/18/2010 at 08:11 PM

How funny!

TW has male and female hormones in an uproar. Just how I like it.:)

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:12 PM

sokol: She heard about Sharapova.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:12 PM

Sam breaks,this is a see sawring match

Stosur 3-4 and to serve

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:13 PM

Ana seems intent on giving her FanBoy club full value. Keep it up. Just don't lose. Sania has a BP to level the 2nd... C'mon.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:14 PM

Ana takes it 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and five minutes. Congrats!

Commies to Shenay.

Posted by Sweet 16 01/18/2010 at 08:14 PM

Dear Vetmaman, my bib's already on, it's been itching for some action, bring it on! ;)

PSpace, Mr. (sans Mrs.) X, Carnap et al, fanboys move over, you all have nothing on fan girls, I tell ya! ;)

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:15 PM

Any Triple Axel Fist Pumps yet,from Aussie Ana??

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:15 PM

Blah.. Rezai holds for 4-2 and Ana manages to stumble across the line. Well done.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:15 PM

LOL Sweet 16

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:15 PM

And, the lovely, beautiful, gorgeous, smokin', asthma-inducing Aussie Ana wins. Oof. Two more rounds babe...and you're going up my list.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:16 PM

I'm not a fanboy. I just enjoy stirring the pot.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:17 PM

LOL,siggy. *meow* again. Bring it on.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 08:17 PM

There's something about the way she walks...
I mean, she cant toss a tennis ball to save her life, and is DFting all over the place, but you cant look better doing that:)
And Ana wins. Boy, she's so nice. She even made sure that last game was a long one. That is a lovely smile, by the way. She even gave her visor to a fan.
OK, Aussie Ana advances and we'll get to se her one more time, which is very good.
Now, back to Aussie Fer, who apparently is scrweing around in his 1st round match.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:17 PM

Siggy is that you? Sweet Sixteen

Ok what gives

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 08:17 PM

"She heard about Sharapova."

lol
but never mind about "up a break" part, she gave it back...

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 08:17 PM

Tim (he who stood every minute of the way by his Red Rogie for his 14th)
Doing well maan. I have a very good Cabernet (an expensive New Year gift actually) earmarked for Fed's first slam opener. I just uncorked it. I am pacing now. I don't want to finish it before the match...but I don't guarantee that. No, I am no mood for frazzling today. My girlfriend is giving one of those hear-you-go-another-Fed-slam-match and this-dude-is-nuts look! You on EST?

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:18 PM

...And Sania goes 5-2 down as well. Still, India's No. 1, du er den bedste, etc., I guess.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:18 PM

Kan to serve for the 2nd set

Boring!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:19 PM

Somebody toss a bucket of ice water on Mr. X before he falls into a coma.

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 08:19 PM

do we have to see this Agassi story AGAIN? lol

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:20 PM

"India's teenaged tennis sensation" is how she was first touted. OK, so three outta four ain't bad.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 08:21 PM

Yeah, what Papace said. We aint going nowhere!:)

For some reason i can guess, FeVer seems to be taking some pace off his shots, specially the FH, which he can hit much harder than that. Ball is going for it, when he gets the chance, and that has earned him a BP. Fer saves it with an unreturned kick serve. He's using many of those and very few bombs, apparently.

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 08:21 PM

Triple FFF, pass the bottle darnit, Im dry as a bone here!

and yes, my Red Rogie did take 3 years to work, but work it did!

still the best day ever, Fed winning the flippin French! guess I shouldnt frazzle too much about first rounders anymore, right?

yeah, right! frazzle rock here I come...

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 08:21 PM

Aw. Argh. Uwh.
They are doing the Verdasco PR all over again. Gil R has bigger boobs than all WTA put together, I tell you that. Yeah, yea, dude, it was a great semis last year, but what have you done ever since? Nuff' already.

Posted by Sweet 16 (Siggy dreaming) 01/18/2010 at 08:23 PM

Dear AM, I'm chanelling (chanel-ing will do, too! ;)) Sweet 16, OK? ;)

Gosh, Mr. X, that was, umm, positively Neruda-ish, I'm re-thinking the fangirl stuff, I've got nothing on you....

Dunno about you all, I was a bit shocked at the way Sharapova went out, so I'm not taking anything for granted, maybe I should rename self Sweet 23?

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:23 PM

LOL, carnap. You had to be in India to really see the hype. She showed a lot of promise in 2005, beat Kuzzy in Dubai, gave her everything she could handle at Wimby, then made the R16 at the USO losing to Sharapova. Since then, it's been downhill. Absolutely zero improvements in her game.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 08:23 PM

Did i just type "Papace"? I'm obviously still confused:)

Well, FeVer apparently has decided to play some decent shots to hold and get to 2-2 in the second, including an ace and a brilliant FH I-O winner.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:23 PM

Anybody know Han?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:24 PM

Han takes the 2nd set 6-3

Sam wake up!! you are playing a qualifer.You have just Lost your way in the 2nd set

Posted by london 01/18/2010 at 08:24 PM

what in carnations is samantha doing out there??

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 08:24 PM

Go Ana. Am I the only one who is creeped out by Gil Reyes?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:25 PM

Whats the score in the Chick Magnets Match pls

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 08:25 PM

Mr. X, yeah, I'm light-headed as well. Papace works. Woof.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:25 PM

VC: Did she ever win anything other than that one tourney at Hyderabad?

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:25 PM

Atleast the Maid is winning. Good on her.

Posted by CL 01/18/2010 at 08:26 PM

Good grief- Rezai may look like someone who slept in their smoking jacket.... and then wore it on court...but she sure can HIT the ball.

TripleT - holding all good thoughts.

Tim - TC ok here...via Direct TV.... which I flove at this time of year. ESPN is doing an endless Verdasco/Gil Reyes puff profile while...at THE SAME TIME, Sauce is actually in a real time spot of bother against Carston Ball. ESPN isbrainless beyond belief.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:26 PM

2 all on serve AM

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 08:27 PM

Siggy Aka Sweet Sixteen,mmmm.I didnt have good memeories of that age

Have fun though.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 01/18/2010 at 08:27 PM

Ana wins in the fashion stakes so far. And now I've lost control of the TV to my husband, damn it!

Posted by phillykat 01/18/2010 at 08:27 PM

LaMonf warming up.
this should be at least verrry entertaining.
(lets hhope so, i've been bored crazy so far. sneaking watches of "The Unit" to stay up.)

Posted by TennisFan2 01/18/2010 at 08:28 PM

CL - agreed. Can't they save the puff pieces for rain delays?!?!?!

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 08:28 PM

carnap : No. Maybe in doubles.

I always thought that semi was a bit overrated as well. *ducks to avoid the Nadal fans*

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 08:29 PM

DeLos Rios's hair looks like an explosion in a mattress factory. Either that, or Monfils walked onto the wrong court.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 08:29 PM

Actually, it may have been a mix of Neruda and Shakespeare:)
I'll accept your surrender, by the way.

Gee, this Ball guy sure knows how to volley, and he's difficult to pass at the net, being that big.
Succesful challenge by Verdasco brings the game to deuce.
Ace. Ad Ball.
2nd serve ace wide. Classic lefty serve.
Ball holds to go up 3-2 in the second. This is getting dangerous, Nando. Ball certainly is looking like a tough 1st round opponent. Maybe making it long would help to make Ball's serve less effective.

Posted by TennisFan2 01/18/2010 at 08:29 PM

Is Diso drinking "Gil Juice" as part of they Addidas program?

Posted by crazyone 01/18/2010 at 08:29 PM

Ball is playing a superb match so far. I could see him winning this.

Posted by Codge 01/18/2010 at 08:30 PM

"Am I the only one who is creeped out by Gil Reyes?" In what fashion?

Good on Han. Stosur's serving took a dive in that 2nd set. Clean it up.

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