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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 Karen 01/18/2010 at 09:00 PM

And then the interview by the winner was just painful.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:00 PM

"My future in suicide pool is looking very bleak indeed."

mine too...

Posted by Papo (Got Nadal?) 01/18/2010 at 09:00 PM

TV coverage changing from TTC to ESPN2.

Posted by evie 01/18/2010 at 09:00 PM

Why o why is Santoro still playing? Didn't we have a year-long retirement party with him?

Posted by crazyone 01/18/2010 at 09:01 PM

drop shot was a poor choice there.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:02 PM

Let the man play for life. He's earned it.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:02 PM

Verdasco's shots are looking better since that horrible game when he was trying to serve out the 2nd. In this last game, 2 FH winners and an ace to start the 3rd set holding at love. He's also getting some help from Ball, who's missing more now.

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 09:03 PM


Well I am still in SP thanks to Petrova. Not sure how I will do with my second day pick. Come on Benneteau dont fail me now

Posted by Texastennis 01/18/2010 at 09:03 PM

Verdasco opened the tiebreak very strong - gained control with some much better play and Ball deflated to give up the last points with errors.

What match is on ESPN now they've started? (We don't get tennis channel and daughter is watching Disney so I have to decide whether to push her off or goon watching on the computer....)

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 09:03 PM

I see ESPN replaced Hannah Storm w/ Chris McKendry.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:03 PM

Tanasugarn, whom I have vowed never to pick again in a Wimbledon suicide pool, won in straight sets over Karatantcheva.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 09:03 PM

Bottom half of the women's draw is absolutely brutal.

Posted by london 01/18/2010 at 09:04 PM

tanasugarn wins!!

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 09:05 PM

I read an account this morning over at Tennis Forum about the Sesis/Tammy match. I understand that there were some rowdy fans of Sesil's that were shouting racial slurs and spitting at Tammy. I have been scoreboard watching the match and Tammy just won in a tiebreak. Karma is a *itch

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:05 PM

Feli wins the first set 6-1 over Cuevas.

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 09:05 PM

Someone mentioned this yesterday, but this ESPN opening Slam music is starting to get in my blood. Love the brass.

Posted by Angel of the Surf (A Complete Bobblehead) 01/18/2010 at 09:05 PM

Well my SP picks from Day 1 haven't even hit the court yet so I have a long day waiting on results.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:06 PM

Ball holda at 30 to get to 1-1 in the 3rd, closing the game with an ace. Verdasco had trouble to return his 2nd serve in that game, which bounces very high. He sent a couple of 2nd serve returns out in the first 2 points of the game.

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 09:06 PM

That should be Sesil/Tammy match - oy vey

Posted by Matt Zemek 01/18/2010 at 09:07 PM

I'm betting that ESPN2 would term its move a "talent alignment" rather than a replacement. They probably think Storm can use the US Open as a tune-up for the NFL. McKendry, I think, was used for the non-US major tournaments in the past. I could be wrong. Storm is part of the morning SportsCenter franchise ESPN now values.

Just thoughts, not verified facts.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:07 PM

What? Cibukova is down a set to King? Come on, Dominika!

Posted by Texastennis 01/18/2010 at 09:07 PM

Verdasco's laces match his shirt. How odd. That's the kind of things girls who play in the u12s with my daughter do....

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:08 PM

mcakron- there's something so epic about the opening music, right? I love how familiar it feels.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:08 PM

Awesome. Instead of live tennis, ESPN is showing a taped interview with Serena talking about FootfaultGate. Pfft.

Posted by sod'sfriend 01/18/2010 at 09:09 PM

navratilova was talking way too much during the tennis channel showing of 1st 2 sets (almost) of ball-verdasco match.

hope espn2's commies dont talk as much.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:09 PM

FeVer holds at 15 to go up 2-1 in the 3rd, closing the game with an ace. He looks more confident now, and definitely fresher. Ball hasnt really done too much on this 3rd set so far.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:09 PM

Querrey's down 1-4? Good grief.

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

sblily: They're warming up right now.

Posted by Codge 01/18/2010 at 09:09 PM

"Well my SP picks from Day 1 haven't even hit the court yet so I have a long day waiting on results."

I know! I have Petrova thru, still waiting on Feli.

Angel -Which SP did you win again last year? I'm determined to win the ATP SP this year.

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 09:10 PM

Aussiemarg,
I saw the last set and a half and Samantha struggled to close out her match. If she was struggling today, she will not make the R16 at this pace.

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 09:10 PM

Serena's not helping herself in this interview regarding the footfault/ball shove incident.

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:11 PM

"Awesome. Instead of live tennis, ESPN is showing a taped interview with Serena talking about FootfaultGate. Pfft."

Why am I not surprised? I honestly would expect nothing more. the quintessence of the stupidity of the network was when they showed a serena-venus doubles match when a main men's match (don't remember who it was) was going on.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:11 PM

I wonder how Vania King will do after the rain delay.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:11 PM

Ball starts the gamw with a BH DS that surprised Verdasco. He comes to the net in the next 2 points and Verdasco cant pass him. And a big serve closes the game. Ball holds at love, and it's 2-2 in the 3rd set.

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 09:11 PM

Reyes is too worshipful of Agassi for my taste, just like his former manage Perry used to be, seems odd that friends are so subservient, its borderline creep in my view... there's never a sense of teasing or playfulness, its just endless complmiments on what a fine human being he is, etc etc...

and now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:11 PM

Nando really needs to figure out how to maintain some intensity. Wasted two points in that return game. 2-2.

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 09:11 PM

OK I think I may be watching the Serena match on livestream. I dont think I really want to listen to this old song all the time. I can now see why I have been in a pissy mood because I knew this was coming.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:11 PM

Cut to live shot of Serena warming up - her left thigh is heavily wrapped. :/

Commies still blathering about FFGate. Meh. Let it go, PMac. Wish Venus were in the studio to shut him down again.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:12 PM

Master Ace I agree.She will be lucky to get past rd 2 with the way she is playing

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:12 PM

Kolya is going for a bagel, serving for the set...
Davai!

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:12 PM

Ball is still hanging with Nando. gotta appreciate that he's not going away. that being said, FeVer totally needs to step it up.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:13 PM

*MY left. Serena's right thigh.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:13 PM

Good grief Channel 7 here are showing

"sounds of the game at the AO"

Mute Button here I come

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 09:14 PM

Serena isnt really sorry i think she felt entitled to do what she did, and thinks its bogus she got caught up in any controversy... plain and simple...

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 09:14 PM

Oh Pmac, and your brother was all full of joy for the officials. Pfft!!!

Meanwhile that heavy taping on Serena's thigh is scary.

Posted by TripleF(FedFanForever): Tears of joy in '10! 01/18/2010 at 09:14 PM

lollipop...and countless other tribes...

Please do not start me (us) on this. American TV gets nauseating when it comes to commercials and sponsorship monies and self-promotion. Nauseating. I was in Europe last year (and twice the last 3 years before) watching during Slams and the coverage was lovely.


To state and labor the fact that someone dared to show a LIVE match when LIVE match goes on...is like commending someone for wearing clean underwear. Ridiculous.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:14 PM

Verdasco holds at 30 to go up 3-2 in the 3rd. He raised his level towards the end of the 2nd set, and he's keeping it up. Int hat game, a great FH winner, an ace, and a good point to get Ball more tired, moving him all over the court till he missed.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:15 PM

Good grief. Serena's thigh is heavily wrapped.

Posted by phillykat 01/18/2010 at 09:16 PM

*oh, my* (homage to dick enberg)
that's a lot of tape on ReRe.

(fingers crossed, please play well Serena.)

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 09:16 PM

Oh ReRe. What's with the bandage?

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 09:17 PM

It's not hampering her movement at all. I'm still planning the requiem for Radwanska.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:18 PM

Vania just broke Cibulkova. Up one set and 4-3 in the second set.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:18 PM

Kolya was broken while serving fro the set? haw dare the other guy broke Kolya's serve? :-)

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:18 PM

I love Serena's dress, except for the bib. The yellow is fabulous on her.

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 09:18 PM

Verdasco up a break in the third 4-2. Let's see if Nando can hold.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:18 PM

Good BH slice passing by Verdasco that Ball cant answer. 0-15.
Ball sends a FH long. 0-30.
DF. 0-40. I think Ball is starting to get tired.
Ball saves the first one with a good serve. 15-40.
But he charges the net again, and he cant answer Fer's BH to his feet. Verdasco is quite goos in that shot, He does it often when playing doubles.
Verdasco breaks to go up 4-2 in the 3rd.

Posted by Tim (Year of Aussie Rogie ) 01/18/2010 at 09:18 PM

ugh 24 is on repeat here, an idiot runs CTU, no one believes Jack Bauer, etc etc etc...

well this will have to do unti Feddie takes court

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 09:18 PM

15-40 for Serena on Ursula's serve as Ursula nets FH
Serena breaks as she hit FH winner behind Ursula

Serena to serve 1-0

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:19 PM

TFFF- I agree with you. but I also understand that there are a lot of 'casual' tennis fans in america, who basically want to see the Americans play. Also, this footfaulting gate would probably seem pretty interesting to those type of fans, i guess. *shrugs*

anywho- Ball is down 0-30 in his service game. slight opening for Nando.

Posted by phillykat 01/18/2010 at 09:19 PM

fab CC winner to break for ReRe

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 09:19 PM

Come on Ree, keep it short and sweet.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:19 PM

oh, come on, Cibulkova!

Posted by Matt Zemek 01/18/2010 at 09:19 PM

FeVer fans in the United States:

http://atdhe.net/7933/watch-australian-open-verdasco-vs-ball

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:19 PM

Kindergarden stuff from Ball. Nando should have decapitated him.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:19 PM

Davy won the first set 6-1.

Cilic won the second set over Santoro at 7-5. He's up two sets.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 09:21 PM

Moved just fine. Bandage appears to be for dramatic effect as I suspected.

Posted by yello fuzzy 01/18/2010 at 09:21 PM

hiya twibers
Serena is moving well , even with that wrapped thigh

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:21 PM

I also suggest ESPN 360 if it is available for you: http://www.espn.go.com/broadband/espn360/index

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:21 PM

Koroleve wins in straight sets over Brands.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:21 PM

Oh Nando. You moron.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:22 PM

Excellent movement there from Serena.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:22 PM

Carsten just broke back

Go Carsten!!!!

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 09:22 PM

Sigh- Nando broken right back. Where is his form from Kooyong? Ball not fading after it looked like he might.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:22 PM

Forget wrapping, Serena's right leg look like it's taped ON. :( But on the positive side, it looks like she's in no mood for a drawn-out match. And she didn't have too much trouble chasing down that dropshot from beyond the baseline and hitting a winner.

*dials frazzle-meter down from "Mama Djokovic" to "Papa Nadal"*

Posted by crazyone 01/18/2010 at 09:22 PM

oh Nando, you crack me up. I thought Ball was pretty much done and dusted.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:22 PM

At 30 all, Verdasco hits a good serve, has a ball to his FH in the middle of the court, but for some reason decided to play a short one. Ball attacks with his own FH, controls the point and takes it. BP.
And Ball takes it, as FeVer gets too conservative and starts playing too short. Has he been talking to his "pal" Naranjito?
Ball to serve, down 3-4 in the 3rd, on serve.

Posted by Kwaku 01/18/2010 at 09:23 PM

TripleF: don't know about tennis, but if you want our advice on underwear, what we do here in Europe is throw it hard to the wall. If it falls down, we put it on again.

Posted by Texastennis 01/18/2010 at 09:23 PM

Carrie - exactly where is the Kooyong form? Horrible ground strokes in giving up that break - all bouncing around the service line. Get it deep! Feeling the pressure after that perhaps.

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:24 PM

is it just me, or does it look like Serena is not moving up with her thigh/leg so much when she serves?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:24 PM

I love Carstens Gear too

I love Carstens 2nd serve as well,he can use the s/volley as well

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:24 PM

Vania is up 5-3. Receiving to win the match over Cibulkova.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:25 PM

I just wonder why Verdasco is holding without any problem and then he becomes Mr. Idiot when he's serving to consolidate a break.
Now, at 0-15, he has a short ball to his BH. Hits it right at Ball, who of course thanks the gift, passes him, then improves his level again, serves better and hits a couple of good FH winners to hold and get to 4-4.
You had this set, FeVer. If you lose it, you should start kicking yourself.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:25 PM

LOL, Ball has a bounce in his step. I guess Nando wants some TB practice.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:26 PM

Seran to me in the final of Medibank wasnt able to Push Off at all.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:26 PM

Exo form means absolutely nothing. That's why I'd like a proper tournament before the AO.

Posted by mcakron 01/18/2010 at 09:26 PM

"Bandage appears to be for dramatic effect as I suspected."

Funny ...

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 09:27 PM

Still not reassuared with ReRe's movement, it's too early in the match.
The dress gets a thumbs up.

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 09:27 PM

Pspace,
Czink pick is still OK despite she will play tomorrow if you won Round 1. However, you still must pick a 2nd round winner(bottom half) on Day 3.

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:27 PM

AM- I've been impressed with how successful Carsten has been with the serve and volley approach. he's been great at net-- coming up with some nice short volleys with FeVEr standing way behind the baseline..

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:28 PM

Well after his Kooyong win,Verdasco declared he can win the AO.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:28 PM

And of course, he goes back to holding easily, in spite of the DF. This is almost laughable. Hey, Fer, maybe you should try to break now, considering you wont have the chance to be broken right back.
Ball to serve to stay in the set, at 4-5 down.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:29 PM

Oh, wow. Bambi's haircut -- UPGRADE.

I really, really hate that white patch on Serena's dress.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:29 PM

MA, tx. Phew...yes, I did indeed survive yesterday with Flavia.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:29 PM

"Well after his Kooyong win,Verdasco declared he can win the AO."
He has been known for talking a little too much at times.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:29 PM

Vania to serve for the match at 5-4.

Posted by Codge 01/18/2010 at 09:30 PM

ESPN should really to provide a pronunciation guide to the announcers.

Small courtesy to say someone's name correctly.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:30 PM

Lollipop Carsten plays doubles in the DC for us,he is good at the volley.Though his 2nd serve is great.Not a lot of players out there have a great 2nd serve.

Posted by Angel of the Surf (A Complete Bobblehead) 01/18/2010 at 09:31 PM

Codge Wimbledon.

I am waiting on Crazy Dani and Alona B. Today I have Gorgeous Gisela and Jeremy Chardy.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:31 PM

And now Ball has gone back to serving better, as he holds easily to get to 5-5. Will we have the 3rd TB of the match?

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 09:31 PM

OMG, how many times do they need to discuss the FF incident?

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