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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 09:32 PM

AA I also have picked the Dulko woman

Posted by kchowcrazy - Go ReRe World #1!! 01/18/2010 at 09:32 PM

Oh my just woke up serena's thigh looks terrifying, but of course i can take comfort in the fact that its for dramatic effect and she has no injury whatsoever. The yellow looks amazing on her though!

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 09:32 PM

I am so, so very tired of hearing about Serena and the lineswoman at the USO. So very tired.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:32 PM

Serena is just disrespecting U-Rad's serve. Beautiful.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:33 PM

Btw, is any1 watching Cilic-Santoro? How is it?

Posted by Pat frm Philippines 01/18/2010 at 09:34 PM

hi guys...

serena on the house..

loved the outfit... simple... and classic.. loved the back details... simple... and classic...

loved the radwanskas though...

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:34 PM

Those big swings to be agressive with the FH return worked better for Ball at the beginning fo the match. Now, he's mostly mishitting those, mainly because he doesnt get to the ball on time.
In a pretty uneventful game, Verdasco holds at 30 to go up 6-5, closing it with a smash. Letting some anger out there, FeVer?
Ball serving to stay in the set again (and force the TB)

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 09:34 PM

40-40 on Ursula's serve as Serena hit swinging volley winner
A-40 Serena FH long after she makes a good return
40-40 Ursula nets FH as Agnieszka look on
40-A Serena BH winner after getting to a drop shot by Ursula
Serena breaks as she hit BH return winner DTL - deuce side

Serena to serve 4-1

Posted by Tiger Woods 01/18/2010 at 09:35 PM

It's lonely out here in Mississippi. The girls are stictly hands off and people sit in circles and talk about masturbation. It's weird. I feel really uncomfortable. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned I guess. WOE is me!.....your friend, TIGER

Posted by frances 01/18/2010 at 09:35 PM

hi everyone

AM-- if you are still around - will you be watching the Ausie open this year..

and did you see nadal play on his first match? how was he playing?


Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:35 PM

Sela won the third set. Down 1 set to 2.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:36 PM

tennisesq - I know, right? Almost as if they think they can shame Serena into breaking down, confessing her sins, and giving the "correct" response. Ain't gonna happen, folks.

Posted by FoT 01/18/2010 at 09:36 PM

Who the heck is this man Davydenko is playing? I've never heard of him before.

Anyway - my girl Serena is on! My 2nd man Stan Wawrinka is on; My 3rd man Blake is on! And I'm waiting for my #1 Man: ROGER to come on next. My ideal night would be for all these folks to win (preferably in straight sets so I won't have a stroke).

Posted by Arun 01/18/2010 at 09:36 PM

some nice rallies, Pspace. I like it.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:37 PM

whohoo! Sela wins the third set. All is not lost yet... Maybe Sergeyev won't have the fitness to last...
Come on, Dudi!

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:37 PM

tx, Arun. Will switch over after this set of Nando-Ball.

Posted by sblily (Wheeeeeeeee!!!) 01/18/2010 at 09:37 PM

Gah. Shut it, MJF. I swear, if I could I would shove...

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 09:38 PM

FF saga will be here for our listening pleasure as long as Serena plays if ESPN stays true to form, just wait till USO.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:38 PM

Frances Hi,yes I am watching live now on my couch lol.I will be going down to Melbourne in the 2nd of the AO.I saw Rafa play his match,ok he can still improve in areas.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 09:38 PM

FoT: It's first round, so if they don't all win in straight sets, THEY should be having the strokes. This is what I term the "sacrificial lamb" round.

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 09:38 PM

Fowler & MJF going off on FF again.

Posted by crazyone 01/18/2010 at 09:38 PM

Ball is getting tired now.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:39 PM

Sokol, I take it that Sela is your suicide pool pick, too? ;p

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:40 PM

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh Net cord played a role in that point in Carstens match

Posted by seaweed 01/18/2010 at 09:41 PM

pspace--i have santoro-cilic streaming. interesting first two sets, but cilic is dominating now

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:41 PM

Wing span of Carsten Ball there covered that volley

Posted by frances 01/18/2010 at 09:41 PM

thanks AM!!

oh so you are first class seat huh!! hhahahahha anyway just saw the highlights on youtube and the ausie luczak was playing pretty well..

im looking at the stats of the davtdenko match -- is he playing well? he seems to like playing it like a breeze...

oh AM i hope nadal will play well in this tourney.. ive missed him so much

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:41 PM

Davy wins the second set 6-0. I hope he can sustain this form.

Posted by Matt Zemek 01/18/2010 at 09:42 PM

Just a wee bit of nerves here with Ball-Verdasco.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:42 PM

great control Verdaco

Carsten you went the wrong way

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:43 PM

Ahhhhhhhhhhh Mishit with the smash Carsten,lucky chap

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:43 PM

Isner lost the 4th set. Going to the fifth set against Seppi.

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 09:43 PM

Nando seems to be unable to convert whenever I switch to the match.

Monfils twisted his ankle when he fell on the linesman's chair.

Posted by mellow yellow 01/18/2010 at 09:43 PM

Even though Serena is ahead in the match she doesn't look good at all. She has 12 winners so far but it doesn't seem like she's smacking the ball the way she normally does. She seems to be pushing it more.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:44 PM

"I take it that Sela is your suicide pool pick, too?"

yeap :-)
Go, Dudi!

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:44 PM

Verdasco wins the third set. Up 2 sets to 1.

Posted by Matt Zemek 01/18/2010 at 09:44 PM

What a razor-close escape for last year's Spanish semifinalist....

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:44 PM

Kolya shading a close match 6-1, 6-0.

Verdasco takes the third set on his umpteenth set-point as Ball finally runs out of big serves.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:44 PM

Down 15-30, Ball hit a great serve that looked like an ace. Chair umpire called a let, and in the next point, Verdasco dominated with the FH and gets 2 SPs.
That Ball proceeds to erase with a couple of big serves. Deuce.
The netcord gets involved for both guys, and FeVer ends up passing Ball. A 3rd SP.
Great kick 2nd serve (AM is very right about it), and Fer returns out. Deuce.
Ball comes to the net, hits a drop volley, FeVer gets to it, but his passing goes slightly wide. Ad Ball.
Ball goes for a FH winner, but sends it wide. Deuce.
Excellent extremely angled BH passing by Verdasco. There was almost no space for that. It's his 4th SP.
Ball changes racket.
And it works. Big serve, agressive BH, and OH. He semi-flubbed it, but it still went in. Deuce.
After a very good deep BH by Fer, Ball is much slower than he was at the beginning and sends the FH long. 5th SP.
And Verdasco breaks to take the 3rd set, 7-5, and he's up 2 sets to 1. Best part of it is that he wont have the chance to be broken right back.
Things are looking very good for Mr. Sauce now. Ball looks much more tired.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:44 PM

Verdasco takes the 3rd set

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:45 PM

seaweed, tx. Oh well, missed most of it. Hope the last two games are fun.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:46 PM

And, Vania and Cibulkova go to a second set tie break.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 09:46 PM

where are you all watching Verdasco ?
I really do not care about watching Serena dismantle a Radwanska sister

although , I like the dress on her - the color would look awful on me though

I cannot believe that Verdasco is having such a struggle - and ESPN is showing this beatdown
oh wait - yes , I can
and I agree , I am so sick of hearing about the meltdown at the US Open
move on

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:46 PM

Carsten has to learn how to "sustain levels of play" especially at this level and against a player like Verdasco

I cant see him doing much from here.

Posted by lollipop (Silver shorts > smurf?) 01/18/2010 at 09:46 PM

And finally, after a billion SP opportunities, FeVer takes the set. Should be smooth sailing from here on out.

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 09:47 PM

30-40 for Ursula hit FH winner set up by FH approach
40-40 Ursula FH long - Ursula challenges but to no avail
A-40 Ursula nets FH
40-40 Ursula BH winner
A-40 Ursula nets FH
40-40 Serena FH long
A-40 Serena BH winner behind Ursula
12 winners for Serena
40-40 Serena BH long
52% 1st serve for Serena
A-40 Serena FH winner
40-40 Ursula volley winner set up by BH approach shot
A-40 Ursula nets FH
Will Serena finally hold?
Serena consolidates as Ursula nets BH

Ursula serving to stay in set 1-5

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:47 PM

Right, Kindlmann has broken Kolya to go 1-0 up in the third set. The comeback is on! (if he can manage to hold serve for the first time in this match)

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 09:48 PM

LOL VC "The comeback is on!" Too funny!

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 09:48 PM

And she holds!

Kolya's scoreline looked lethal for 2 sets, then he gets broken. Probably just a hiccup.

Posted by seaweed 01/18/2010 at 09:48 PM

beth--verdasco streaming on espn360.com if your ISP provides it

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 09:48 PM

Kunitsyn d. Chucho

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:48 PM

Verdasco holds at 15 to start the 4th set. Ball going all-or-nothing with his shots now, and missing most of them.
As soon as FeVer gets a break in this set, i'm out. I'm gonn abe a zombi by the end of the week.

Posted by crazyone 01/18/2010 at 09:48 PM

VC: why are you such a Klindmann supporter?

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:49 PM

and Sela goes down the break in the forth, pfft

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 09:49 PM

great - Benneteau , my suicide pool pick - was bagelled in his first set
come on , man
eat an apricot bar - get some energy !

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:49 PM

Congrats to Kunitsyn!

Posted by crazyone 01/18/2010 at 09:49 PM

er, I think I just had a humor fail.

Man, I am so tense right now...(not about tennis). Fed had better have a smooth match.

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 09:49 PM

Julien Benneteau! grrrrrrrrrrr

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:51 PM

crazyone : Just joking. Found it odd that he hasn't managed to hold serve even once in two sets.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 09:51 PM

thanks , seaweed
sadly I cannot get ESPN 360 here

he was on the tennis channel through the end of the second set , but they cut away to show taped stuff
and of course, ESPN cannot be bothered to show a closely contested match , when a Williams sister is on court

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:51 PM

Alleeeeeeez Fabrice! LOL, make it last a few more games s'il vous plait.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:51 PM

Vania down 2-4 in the tiebreak.

Benneteau got bageled in the first set.

Posted by Mr. X 01/18/2010 at 09:52 PM

Aaaand there's the break. Verdasco goes up 2-0 in the 4th, Ball looks totally out of it, and i'm going to get some sleep, since i must wake up in about 4 hours.
Looks like Benneteau is gonna kill me, which will make him join Andreev in my dark list. Not that i'm gonna stay up to cheer for him or anything.
See you tomorrow, everyone.

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 09:52 PM

15-40 for Serena as Ursula nets BH
30-40 Serena FH return long
40-40 Ursula hit BH winner after getting short return
A-40 Serena nets BH
40-40 Ursula FH long
12 errors for both players
A-40 Serena nets BH
40-40 Ursula BH wide
A-40 Ursula BH long but Ursula challenges and succeeds
Ursula holds as Serena nets BH

Serena to serve for set 5-2

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:52 PM

Sela breaks back, he'll serve at 1-2. Come on, Dudi. SB'ing Dudi's match will take more of me than watching Dinara :-))

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:53 PM

Benneteau got bageled? Blake vs. Clement is interesting. I want Blake to come through, I think he's going to have a chance of upsetting JMDP for some reason. Should be a good match.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 09:53 PM

and Benneteau loses another game

good grief - I need to remember that suicide pool rule - never pick a french player

repeat after me - never pick a french player , never pick a french player

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:53 PM

And, Cilic wins. Congrats to his fans.

Posted by seaweed 01/18/2010 at 09:53 PM

beth--then try atdhe.net usually they would stream matches there, too, just not in english sometimes.

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 09:53 PM

An Irishman reaches the 2nd round.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:54 PM

Querrey won the second set after losing the first.

Posted by racquetman 01/18/2010 at 09:54 PM

Speaking of women's tennis...Horrible interview tonight on ESPN that Chris Mckendry had with Serena Williams. What a joke! It only reinforced the arrogance of Williams and the airheadedness of McKendry. The worst question McKendry asked in reference to Serena's obscene U. S. Open tirade had to be..."What do you think would have happened if you were a man?" To which in part Williams replied "a lot of guys have said a lot worse and not got fined half as much". OK, who and when? Serena's fortunate her penalty wan't more severe, it should have been.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:54 PM

If Nando loses this break, I swear I'll fly to Melbourne and throttle him.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 09:54 PM

Sorensen wins. Who's that? I should have picked him for SP. I wonder if someone did? :-)

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 09:54 PM

amazing - apricot bars won a game !
Allez , Julien !

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 09:55 PM

Wait...BP...I take that swear back.

Posted by toonie 01/18/2010 at 09:55 PM

beth: off to check nationality of sp picks.....german, italian,.....

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 09:56 PM

thanks , seaweed :)

ahh - Santoro - your comeback was short lived

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:56 PM

Oh... Ball hit a poor volley there. I think he was a bit late in approaching the net. Should have done better with it. BP wasted.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 09:57 PM

Vania lost the second set. On to the third.

Cilic wins in straight sets over Santoro.

Sela holds serve.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 09:57 PM

toonie - usually it is Paul Henri who wipes out entire legions of suicide pool players
but ,this year he is not available

I have also had bad luck with Donald Young - but that was my own stupidity for picking him in the first place

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:58 PM

Come on Carsten

Keep Hustling The Chick Magnet

he keep s giving you the Stare

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 09:59 PM

Great point there from Verdasco to save another BP...but he still seems angry about something. And he saves another one. And another one.

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 09:59 PM

The Magician's scoreline actually looks respectable for a fella that is retired.
I'm all in for more.
See you at Roland Garros!

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 09:59 PM

Carsten come on how many breaks do you want

break him

Cause I can catch a flight with Pspace to Melbourne earlier ok

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 10:00 PM

42/66 winners? Whoa.
Please tell me it's not all aces.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:00 PM

thanks , seaweed - I found the stream !

and I am kind of liking the green on Verdasco
It 's unique

this is different than what I saw in the photos of his kit
this is not that bad , really

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 10:00 PM

Ball keeps creating BPs and failing to convert. Good game this.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:01 PM

LOL, Ball is playing ridiculously good. And, he breaks. High PITA factor.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:02 PM

What is going on with Kolya?

and I see that Cibulkova leveled the match... Good for her..

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 10:02 PM

Yeah thanks Carsten you broke back

OK Pspace lets go

I have some shopping to do,I will drop you off at Melbourne Park ok

Posted by seaweed 01/18/2010 at 10:02 PM

the only reason i picked john isner was i was trying to avoid bandwagons. i just wish he'd come through so i can cheer for my next non-bandwagon alejandro falla.

Posted by toonie 01/18/2010 at 10:02 PM

beth: I use the tried and true method of picking by how cool a name sounds, Potito,Fabio,Flavia,Yanina etc. works for me!

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 10:03 PM

And he finally breaks. Verdasco's habit of not consolidating breaks is starting to get amusing.

Is Sebastian Grosjean still around? The SB says he lost to M. Ilhan (who I've never heard of either) in straight sets.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:03 PM

the announcers keep saying that Ball is going to be out of gas - everytime he is broken
and he comes right back
this is a good , competitive match

Verdasco is working way harder than he probably wanted in his first round

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:03 PM

AM, hehe, you can collect me in baggage along with Peter ;-).

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 10:03 PM

And a guy from Turkey also reaches the second round.

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 10:03 PM

What is PITA?

It sounds like there are more fans cheering for Monfils even though he is playing an Aussie.. But there tend to be some vocal young French fans at Oz if my memory of Zonger's run serves me correctly.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:03 PM

some guy from Turkey, Ilhan, beat Grosjean. weird day... Come on, Dudi!

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:04 PM

toonie - that is probably as good a method as any

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