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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 Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:04 PM

Carrie, Pain In The A**

Posted by Matt Zemek 01/18/2010 at 10:05 PM

The good news for Mr. Isner: He's getting tough HOLDS.

Bad news? He's getting TOUGH holds.

Can he reduce the drama, serving up a break at 3-2 in the fifth?

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 10:05 PM

sokol : I already said it, the comeback is on! ;-) He's making Kolya work a bit more in this set though, apparently. Hanging on to that break advantage.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:05 PM

If Dudi breaks here, I would be so happy.

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 10:06 PM

Nice. ReRe breaks to start the 2nd.

Posted by seaweed 01/18/2010 at 10:06 PM

you're welcome, beth.

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:06 PM

"If Dudi breaks here, I would be so happy."

+1

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 10:06 PM

No worries Pspace

Extra baggage dosent Faze me in the least.

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 10:07 PM

Didn't Ilhan get to the second round at one of the grand slams last year? I seem to recall there being some press about him being the first Turkish player to win a gs match.

Posted by Texastennis 01/18/2010 at 10:07 PM

Another terrible game for Verdasco to lose the break there. Hitting those ground strokes so short. Good job he's being doing all that fitness with Reyes as he seems determined to draw it out....

Did you all see this on the Adidas team idea?
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/sports/tennis/17adidas.html

It makes you think about the depth of the men's game though - Ball has hit some very good shots and he's well outside the top 100.

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 01/18/2010 at 10:07 PM

I still laugh when I think of Vee blasting stupid P-mac when he was going on about FF gate. If I had a brother like J-mac the last thing I would do is talk about somebody's behavior. It's time to move on. I hate when the players wear yellow which matches the ball.

Posted by chicklet 01/18/2010 at 10:07 PM

If Verdasco is incapable of consolidating a break, he should just go ahead and lose now. Enjoy some vacation time.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 10:07 PM

Ball levels it at 2-2. Gutsy chap, our Carsten.

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

Do we have any pictures of this green outfit of Verdasco's? I finally have tennis on TSN and they showed talking heads in booth (3 minutes), 2 seconds of a Blake match and now commercials (lots of commercials).

Posted by Angel of the Surf (A Complete Bobblehead) 01/18/2010 at 10:08 PM

toonie I will never pick Mr Potato Head again he has killed me twice in SP.

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

"If Dudi breaks here, I would be so happy"

but he doesn't :-(

Come on, Dudi!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:09 PM

Ilhan isn't just "some Turkish guy." He's a 22 yr old who's been playing the challengers. I first noticed him mid-2009 and thought he was fairly decent. It's nice to see him here.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:09 PM

Oh goody. It's time for Roger.

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

Monfils is very popular with the crowd as he gets his win.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:10 PM

Congrats to La Monf.

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

Oops. Wrong page on the scoreboard. Another half hour for Fed.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:11 PM

Monfils wins in straights sets, and Dudi is about to go down a break.

Why doesn't he want to make me happy?

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:11 PM

toonie - not sure about photos of this kit of Verdasco's
The shorts are simple and basic white
The shirt is a "st patrick's day green " with a navy blue angular stripe design
not really that bad

and the color looks good on him

Samantha - worse than the yellow ball color , blue shorts are the worst . When the court is blue and the shorts are blue
it gives a very weird illusion of a head running around the court

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:11 PM

One more Dudi! One more!

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:12 PM

Dudiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii come onnnnnnnnnnnn!! Make Lauryn and sokol happy.

Posted by toonie 01/18/2010 at 10:13 PM

Angel: My Day 1 pick hasn't played yet so my Potito pick may be a moot point.

I just had 3 seconds of Serena tennis (not enough to see her dress) and back to commercials.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:13 PM

Yes!!!!!!!!!!! Hold serve!

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 10:13 PM

Feli is DESTROYING Pablo. Poor kid. :/

Why does Clement have so much trouble with Blake ?

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 10:13 PM

Cirstea is playing, and looking good.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:13 PM

*throws Happy confetti*

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:14 PM

he won, lauryn?

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:14 PM

can't beleive it. Dudi holds from being 0-40, this match is bad for my health :-)

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:15 PM

sokol...hang in there

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:16 PM

umm - Verdasco's shoes , however

green and white "saddle shoes " are just a bit over the top

and did someone here say that Serena was looking thinner when she was in Sydney
I am not sure I would say that - based on the view from the back of that dress she is wearing

She looks fit - and athletic - but thin is not a word I would use to describe her
not by any stretch of the imagination

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:16 PM

greenhopper: Because Blaker is a better player.

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 10:16 PM

OMFG Nando- can't you ever consolidate a break? This is painful and reminds me of JJ at her finest.

Posted by VC 01/18/2010 at 10:17 PM

Surely that miniscule tight black skirt must be inhibiting Sorana's mobility? Apparently not. She's up a break. Ah.. it's a good day for the FanBoys.

Posted by toonie 01/18/2010 at 10:17 PM

Finally some tennis, I like Serena's dress minus the white part, not sure I would want to emphasize that particular portion of my anatomy if I were her.

beth: blue shorts are very bad, remember Delpo, shudders...

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:17 PM

Sela just held serve after being down 0-40.

Sela is down 4-5 in the fourth set, on serve.

Hold again, Dudi! Make me happy!

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

john isner! what are you doing? arg.

Posted by Flyer 01/18/2010 at 10:18 PM

Come ON Ball - take the break and make this a match to remember!

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

15-40 for Serena as Ursula FH wide
Serena breaks as she hit BH winner set up by getting to drop shot

Serena to serve 6-2,4-1

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:19 PM

"hang in there"

thanks, carnap, I'm trying :-)

Dudi will serve to stay in the match... Come on, Dudi, I need some nerves for Dinara's matches :-))

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:19 PM

finally - Verdasco consolidates a break

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:19 PM

15-0 Dudi. Whatever you did, do it again.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:19 PM

VC, tx for the head's up. Ooooh Sorana!

Posted by Karen 01/18/2010 at 10:20 PM

beth I need to remember that rule as well regarding picking French players in the suicide pool. I have no idea what I was thinking. Oh Benneteau you idiot.
Sbilily - I could hug you for that take your ball and etc ... post

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:20 PM

"I need some nerves"= "I need some nerves left"

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 10:20 PM

Nice rhyming there, carnap.

This is best outfit I've seen Serena in. Defines her body structure very well.

Pablo turned it around! :p

Posted by chicklet 01/18/2010 at 10:20 PM

And verdasco holds! About f-ing time.
I think the pressure of last year's semifinals run is starting to weigh on him.

Posted by Matt Zemek 01/18/2010 at 10:20 PM

ONIONS FROM IZZY!

Stares down the barrel of 15-40 and rips off four straight points to hold for 5-3 in the fifth against Mr. Seppi.

Posted by chicklet 01/18/2010 at 10:21 PM

And verdasco holds! About f-ing time.
I think the pressure of last year's semifinals run is starting to weigh on him.

Posted by greenhopper 01/18/2010 at 10:21 PM

Oh, bless you Julien. Please hold here.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:21 PM

Alright, Dudi! Win this game.

(Evdiently, you prefer to be called Dudi. I learn from my mistakes)

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:22 PM

he holds!!!!! :-))))
Come on, break now, please, Dudi!

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:22 PM

toonie - yes , I remember the JMDPpee pants
those were awful

now that you point it out - the white on the bustline does accentuate Serena's bustline
but hey - if you 've got it ....
compared to some of her other ensembles - this one is quite tasteful

This match , however , is a crashing bore

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:22 PM

greenhopper: totes unintentional...typo

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:23 PM

Hmmm...there's a lot to like in Cirstea-Rogowska.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:23 PM

You know, Dudi, I think now would be excellent time to break. Sokol and I need to keep a few of our nerves for the 5th set (and Dinara).

Posted by tennisesq. 01/18/2010 at 10:24 PM

Goodness ReRe, do you need to go after every shot?

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:25 PM

R.I.P. Radwanska...what a shocker

Posted by toonie 01/18/2010 at 10:25 PM

beth: agree with the boring part, I think the seeds are in trouble if they play a first round nail biter, I wish they would show some other matches instead. However if I complain too much they go to commerical for 10 minutes.

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 10:25 PM

Hott Sauce grinds it out. Good on him

And Kanepi, my 1st round go to girl gets broken on her first game. Pfft!

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:26 PM

Ah...changeover. My favorite part of the match. She's wearing the same Ana yellow on top. Great color!

Posted by Flyer 01/18/2010 at 10:26 PM

Chickie cruising

Still in very sharp form

OK by me - as long as if he meets Roger - he goes DOWN in 3 with feathers flyin'

Sorry me Chickster - I'd be with ya for anyone but Rogi!

Posted by Carrie 01/18/2010 at 10:26 PM

Whew. That was not an easy win for Nando- well done to Ball.

And Davy zips through, 1, 0, 3

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:26 PM

lauryn/sokol: i don't have the dudi match, so let me know the score.

Posted by CL 01/18/2010 at 10:26 PM

beth - I agree about Serena - but if you looks at some of the pics from the exo, she did seem slimmer...maybe the cut of the dress...'cause the colors were pretty much the same. Maybe the HD cameras add pounds.

Davis Cup aside, I do not recall quite so much interest in a Dudi Sela match. ;-))

Posted by thebigapple 01/18/2010 at 10:26 PM

Radwanka's hair looks like an old straw broom. Braid, baby, braid.

Ok, Fed..do not cause me any undue distress. Play well, dude. I hope it warms up so your creaky arm does not threaten to fall off.

I trust Igor enjoyed a warm celebration with his lady last evening. Fed might need the help. He played Fed into a frazzle the last time they met.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:27 PM

Davy wins in straight sets. Isner wins in 5.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:27 PM

finally , Verdasco wins !
but , sadly on a double fault
shame for Ball to end the match that way - he played very well

Posted by Jenn 01/18/2010 at 10:27 PM

Hi VC - thanks for the Cirstea sighting (I don't have 360). She is my SP pick!

Predictably ESPN won't go away from the Serena match even though it is noncompetitive. But it will be over soon...
Little Radwanksa seems like a carbon copy of her sis, but maybe slightly less confidence when it counts. Aggie would have gotten a few more games here.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:28 PM

Who are you ogling, now, Pspace?

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:28 PM

Dudi, 5-6, 40-15

Posted by Angel of the Surf (A Complete Bobblehead) 01/18/2010 at 10:28 PM

Beth I also love FeVer's outfit but then again green is my favourite colour (sorry AM) also love Elena's green outfit.

Did not however like Shrieky's outfit.

Posted by Pspace (The Curse of Tommy Robredo) 01/18/2010 at 10:28 PM

carnap, what a question! Sorana! Of course.

Posted by ladyjulia 01/18/2010 at 10:29 PM

Is it Fed time?

No heart attacks please..rein in Andreev...the guy is going to have to keep up with his girlffiend, so will be extra motivated. I hope TMF shows up and not Roger.

Posted by seaweed 01/18/2010 at 10:29 PM

there we go, john. now, i only alejandro falla to win. :D

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 01/18/2010 at 10:29 PM

Ok, need to get some sleep. My prediction for the next two matches. Venus in three sets and Alla over Oudin in straight sets. Nite all.

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 10:29 PM

30-40 for Serena as Ursula BH wide
40-40 Ursula smash winner set up by FH approach
40-A Ursula nets FH
40-40 Serena nets BH
40-A Ursula BH wide
40-40 Ursula FH winner set up by FH approach
40-A Serena FH return too hot for Ursula
MP 4 for Serena
Serena wins the match as Ursula nets BH

Serena Williams defeated Ursula Radwanska 6-2,6-1

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

Dudi takes it to the tiebreak!

Posted by sokol 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

TB time in Dudi's match..............

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

Pspace; Of course : )

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

CL - you could be right
the dress is very form fitting
and between the lycra and the cameras
it may not be adding a pound or two

still - I would never use the words "thin" and " serena williams " in the same sentence

she is a size 10 woman in a size 2 world - to paraphrase her own quote

Posted by Lleytsie 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

marg

could you let me know which channels in here, play the other slam games from round 1

channel 7 plays OZ, but which other play the other slams comprehensively

do i need cable or special channels for that ?

Posted by Jenn 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

Greenhopper, I agree on Serena's outfit. This is as nice as she has looked in recent memory. Good color, and I like her hair a lot. She looks a bit heavier than at the US Open, but extra poundage never seems to bother Serena as far as her play.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

2 all in the tiebreak

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 10:30 PM

A new uplift to Melbourne Park was unvelied.Melbourne Park will add another roof making it the only Grand Slam with 3 roofs and will add another 21 courts.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:31 PM

DUDI!! Let's go.

Posted by Sherlock 01/18/2010 at 10:31 PM

"Hmmm...there's a lot to like in Cirstea-Rogowska."

He he. I love your consistency, Pspace. :)

Posted by Lleytsie 01/18/2010 at 10:31 PM

beth

hiiiiiiiiiiiii - and hugs ! and hugs to jake too (and we belong together in the coldplay hate)

PS: sad ma-sha lost

Posted by Master Ace 01/18/2010 at 10:31 PM

Good Night TWibe. Day job calls for me to get some rest.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:31 PM

Sergeyvev 3-2; Dudi serving.

Posted by izidane 01/18/2010 at 10:31 PM

Nicely done ReRe. Winners/UFEs 31/27, just enough for a 1st round.

Posted by beth 01/18/2010 at 10:32 PM

finally - Benneteau seems to have been roused from his slumber
he wins the second set
I may not be dead in the pool yet

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:32 PM

Sergeyev 3-3. Dudi serving.

Posted by Lauryn 01/18/2010 at 10:33 PM

Dudi 4-3; Sergeyev serving.

Posted by carnap - Jan. 25th - Burns' Supper 01/18/2010 at 10:33 PM

Steady as she goes, Dudi.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Summer in Oz Tennis 01/18/2010 at 10:33 PM

Leytsie if you have Fox pay tv they will start their coverage tommorrow.They usually start the same time as Channel 7.Fox always show outside court matches.Channel 7 being the major channel sponsor will always show centre court matches first.

Posted by Sherlock 01/18/2010 at 10:33 PM

Hi, CL. Thanks for cutting me some slack earlier. :)

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