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12 posts categorized "Miami 2008"

On Court with Nick 03/31/2008 - 8:39 PM

Have you ever wanted to get inside the mind of a coach as his player battles away on court? Me too--and believe me, I've tried. It's not terribly easy to convince a coach to talk to you while he watches a match. In truth, there is no good reason--not a one--for a coach to do this. What could be gained by it? Still, I figured that at a tournament outside a major, the prospects for a little prying might improve, especially when we're talking about a player not featured inside the main stadium. Earlier today, Nick Bollettieri agreed to chat during the middle two thirds of a match featuring one of his young pupils, Sabine Lisicki, the 18-year-old German who put no. 5 seed Anna Chakvetadze to bed after midnight and returned to play Elena Dementieva at 3:30 p.m. today.Nick

Lisicki qualified for the Australian Open and defeated Dinara Safina in the first round before losing in the third round. She also dumped Lindsay Davenport in their first-round Fed Cup match; she later lost the key match of the tie to Ashley Harkleroad. Lisicki is a go-for-broke player. She can whack her first serve, but her consistency--let's just say she needs more of it. She double faulted 13 times against Dementieva, formerly the Queen of the DF, and had 41 unforced errors. She also ended the match with a double fault (this is not something most coaches will advise). For the record, Dementieva only had four double faults in this 6-3, 6-2 win.

Lisicki's father travels with her and her chief coach is Mauricio Hadad, a former pro from Colombia who cracked the top 80 and is now a full-time coach at Bollettieri's academy (Lisicki has been there for three years). Bollettieri works as an advisor to her and he sees great potential, as well as a significant flaw that needs immediate attention (that serve). Bollettieri, as you well know, is a colorful character with a distinct voice: It's raspy and it he delivers words like a boxer delivers jabs, in quick, measured blows that have a cumulative effect on you. His choice of words can be, well, colorful, too. (How many hours do you think young players at his academy waste impersonating him?) So from here I'll just let Bollettieri speak, with a few asides from me (in the form of questions and bits of narrative from the match). If you want to know what Bollettieri thinks about other players (and his picks for the rest of the tournament) visit him at

Lisicki was down a break in the first set when I arrived. "She's big, she's strong, she moves well…. Her downfall so far is the serve. Her weight goes forward too soon. In a match like this she is better off, if you are a little frightened, getting in more first serves."

Any effects from finishing so late last night?
"I don't even think that's a factor for a young player like this because she's so excited. All that, 'Gee now you've got to get up tomorrow,' that's b*******. That's the way the pro circuit is. That's part of being a professional. The less you talk about it [the better]. If you take someone like Lindsay, she had a baby recently, and I'm sure that physically that back is not what it should be." (Bollettieri's point was a quick turnaround could hurt Davenport, who lost today, a lot more.)

Lisicki hits a second serve long: "There's the double fault again. Somewhere along the line she'll have to get over this. And if she doesn't this will always come back to plague her."

She misses her next first serve long. "Too hard. Now she's got to go back to the second serve and she's in trouble again."

You've seen a lot of players not execute on the court like you know they can in practice. Does it drive you nuts sitting up here as that happens?
"It gets frustrating, but just for a second because I realize I can't do anything and frustration is not going to help the situation…. There it is again. Three double faults in this game and it's still deuce."

It's not an easy change at this age, is it?
"When you make a change, once you've done it for five, six, seven, eight years, it's got to be a do or a die with a student, with a support team, with a coach. I believe in this case it has to be done. She's got to make it. Either we make the grip a little bit more extreme and go over where you have to spin it." (Bollettieri repeatedly said that Lisicki doesn't have enough margin of error on her serve, not enough kick.)

How do you change it?
"I think the fault is not so much in the swing motion, but when she shifts the right foot back to the left foot, I think the weight comes forward too soon. So if the toss is off a little bit, the body is already committed."

Lisicki looks over at Hadad, who is sitting courtside, after falling behind by a break in the second set. "She needs to not look to the side. Once you get out there, you have to do it yourself."

Does she remind you of any other players you have coached?
"A little bit like Mary Pierce. She's a very hard worker."

Lisicki badly misses a first serve. "You can't miss a serve 30 feet long like that. You just can't do it."

Bollettieri probably won't have to give that last bit of advice twice.

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Fits and Starts 03/30/2008 - 11:38 PM

Hello from Miami, where the air is warm and humid and upsets are the norm. Novak Djokovic, the champion at Indian Wells last week, lost before I arrived on Sunday. So did last week's surprise finalist, Mardy Fish. When I checked into my hotel this afternoon, Ana Ivanovic, the other half of the Serbian duo that won the West last week, trailed everyone's favorite mother, Lindsay Davenport, 4-1. By the time I ditched my bags and caught a shuttle bus to the Crandon Park Tennis Center, Ivanovic was cooked, 6-4, 6-2.Serena

I haven't covered this event before, so when I arrived I was eager to stroll the grounds and watch a little tennis, even if it meant putting my ordinary routine--set up computer, struggle with internet connection, load tape recorder with batteries, say hello to long lost colleagues, try convince myself (and never succeed) that once I write the first sentence or two, I'll unleash paragraph after paragraph of good prose--on hold. I failed. A few rumbles of thunder arrived not long after I did. Soon Rafael Nadal and Nicolas Kiefer were stopping and starting their match, and complaining to a chair umpire who, to their minds, was indecisive (the weather was indecisive, but complaining to the skies won't do you any good--that's what chair umpires are for). The rain eventual halted play, but not before Flavia Pennetta (that last name sounds familiar…Italian, maybe?) forgot that Serena Williams was supposed to pummel her and won the first set 7-6(6) after trailing 5-2 (she also saved set point in the tiebreak).

Serena lost the first three games of the second set before she and Pennetta were sent off court on serve at 3-2 Pennetta.

***We interrupt this post on Serena Williams to alert you that Fernando Gonzalez, playing Guillermo Canas in the main stadium, which can be seen out the window to my left, just hit a ridiculous between the legs passing shot that earned an ovation from the crowd. He lost the game and trails one set to none.***

The rain delay helped Williams immensely. As she waited for the skies to clear, she spoke to her mother (who isn't here) on the phone and to her father, who is here (he watched courtside). She didn't reveal their specific instructions, but suffice to say, both parents said something along the lines of, "Don't make so many darn mistakes!" (Williams committed 44 unforced errors before the delay.) Williams mostly (not completely) cleaned up her game the rest of the match, which I watched (live tennis at last). She won 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-2. I don't believe her fitness is a problem like it was at the beginning of 2007, when she arrived at the Australian Open in terrible condition (we all know how that one turned out). Serena moved well; Pennetta moved better, but she's smaller and quicker around the court and I wouldn't expect otherwise. Oddly, I was concerned more by Serena's technique, which was inconsistent and awkward at times, especially on the forehand. Her serve looked fine by her average ground stroke lacked the pop of years past (she bludgeoned a good many balls, but not the majority of them, and so Pennetta kept hanging around).

Serena's mother, Oracene, it seems to me, is underappreciated. Oftentimes she's just portrayed as Venus and Serena's mom, as if she hasn't had much to do with their success in tennis. Richard Williams deservedly receives credit for that success, for bringing the game to his daughters and encouraging them to believe they could become champions. But Oracene is more than just one of the nicest moms on the tour (she has numerous traits that all tennis parents should emulate, such as cheering and clapping for your child's opponent when she hits a fabulous shot--that's class). One gets the sense that inside her lurks a disciplinarian that only her daughters see. I asked Serena if she would rather talk to her mom or her dad when she's just played a stinker of a set.

"Well, my dad is so positive," she said. "I could be hitting a thousand errors and he'll be like, 'You're playing great. You know, all you have to do is this.' Whereas my mom is more, 'You need to do this….' My mom's like more strict and tougher, but it's good." She added: "Believe it or not, my dad's the good cop, and my mom's the bad cop."

Everyone needs a bad cop now and then, even if it's by telephone. Maybe Oracene would talk to Gonzalez, he of the between the legs winner. There's a man who needs a good talking to (he just lost to Canas in straight sets, 7-6(6), 7-5). Up next, Anna Chakvetadze versus Sabine Lisicki (it's 11:12 p.m. and the winner plays Elena Dementieva tomorrow at "not before 3:30 p.m."). I'll pick Dementieva…

Any other players you think deserve an earful from Oracene? Debate below.

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