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Atonement 03/22/2008 - 8:00 AM

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I suppose Mardy Fish finally got good and tired of all those headlines - Fish Lets One Get Away! Haas Nets Fish! Umpire Hooks Fish! - and decided it was high time to. . . Reel in A Big One (rimshot, please). So yesterday he took those naked ankles and that Jigunda serve and blasted David Nalbandian off the court at the Pacific Life Open. His reward is a semifinal with Roger Federer, which comes with a free blindfold and cigarette.

The theme woven through this match was atonement, at a variety of levels. You can start with that ever-reliable choking theme. You can count on Mardy Fish, the skeptics have long said, he'll always let you down. That rap is doubly cruel because the viral inability to close out matches is about the most frustrating and basically undeserved shortcoming a player can have. He's shoved stumbling down that boulevard of broken serves before he's seasoned enough to know it's a career cul de sac in which you just go around and around and around.

But here was Mardy Fish, a middle-aged 26 year old, tennis-wise, still swimming (I promise, no more!) in circles. But a funny thing happened here at Indian Wells. Fish took the first set from Lleyton Hewitt, had a good chance to break him early in the second, but failed to capitalize and ended up going to a third-set tiebreaker. Knots of reporters gathered around the monitors in the press room, anticipating a train wreck. Fish, after all, was an expert at blowing tiebreakers. But he surprised everyone by winning the tiebreaker and the match. Then,  he played another fine third-set 'breaker  yesterday to topple Nalbandian.

It was in many ways a riveting battle of blown opportunities and minor redemptions - for both players. Nalbandian looked like a tub of butter in that yellow shirt, and early on Fish sliced through him like a hot knife. He was playing a game that he had abandoned some time ago, a go-for-broke, gambling, aggressive game. Fish had two break points at 4-4 in the second set but squandered them, one with a pretty ugly backhand service return error. Eyes started rolling, and when Nalbandian won the second-set tiebreaker (his first mini-break was a Fish double fault), the critics started sharpening the long knives. Could Fish could come back to beat a player of Nalbandian's big-match experience in a three-setter? Get reel (okay, okay. . .)!

But by then, anyone paying attention could see that the pattern here was the lack of pattern. This was unlikely to be an open-and-shut case either way. Fish had two break points with Nalbandian serving at 3-4, but by then he was inoculated against dejection. Nalbandian broke to go up 6-5, and when Fish lost the first set of the next game it seemed his spirit was finally broken. But he recovered nicely and ended up breaking back, with some help from a Nalbandian break-point double fault. In the tiebreaker, Fish hit a devastating forehand, only this time it devastated his opponent. The service return winner gave him the mini-break and he closed the match out with a jump-shot overhead on the next point.

So let's get back some of these atonement motifs.

First off, there's that tiebreaker thing. After the Hewitt match, Fish admitted that he hadn't won a tiebreaker all year. Big deal, he'd only played four (although one of them, in a third-round Australian Open match against Jarkko Nieminen, kept Fish from a taking a two-set lead in a match that he eventually lost ).

But Fish was talking about tiebreakers in practice, too. Fish and his coach, Kelly Jones, laughed about that earlier in the week, and then they sat down and talked about it and arrived at an interesting conclusion: The conventional wisdom is that a tiebreaker is a roll of the dice, especially for a player like Fish, with his dangerous, powerful, anything goes kind of game. But  buying into that idea, instead of blocking it out, is an invitation to disaster.

As Fish said in his presser, "I was content getting to the tiebreakers and then saying, 'Okay, this is a crapshoot. It might go my way, it might not..' I would think, 'Okay, my work is done. I mean, I've gotten there, I've held serve. Oh, it's okay if you lose this set because you didn't ever lose serve. . .'"

I thought it an interesting and nuanced revelation. The solution, Fish and Jones decided, was for Mardy to remain aggressive, but within "margins", and to focus on making first serves and warding off any tendency to negativity. Given what Fish has done here, the "conversation" with Jones is a testament to the of wise coaching.  Fish hit two aces in the third-set tiebreaker against Nalbandian, plus a heavy service winer. Sometimes - in fact, most of the time - it really is the simple things.

Another atonement narrative emerged when Fish talked to us about his coaching situation. Jones had been his coach many years ago, guiding him to his highest singles ranking (no. 17) and his two best tournament results, a final at Cincinnati and a runner-up (silver medal) performance at the Athens Olympic Games of 2004.

Todd Martin worked for a time with Fish, and others weighed in as well. I'm assuming that most of them tried to shore up Fish's destructible forehand, harness his power, and inject some conspicuously absent consistency into his game. Fish ultimately realized that he needed that, as the saying goes, like a fish needs a bicycle. "I kind of got away from my ultimate game plan, which is to stay aggressive, serve and volley some, and try to take first-ball strikes and things like that. Not give anybody any rhythm, that's the key. I guess I'm back doing that now."

What Fish himself calls "hit and miss" tennis - his most effective tennis-  never looked so good to him, or us. But all that work he put in trying to fix what might be the strangest looking forehand since Stefan Edberg's was not in vain. At times, that forehand is still an adventure, but Fish has learned to embrace the stroke, warts and all. His riff on the forehand was pure ambrosia to the armchair sports psychologist in anyone. He admitted the shot comes and goes with confidence, and that no matter what people say about it, he feels confident with it. "I don't,  you know, necessarily care (what people, or the stat sheets, say)."

Fish explained that he's been hitting the forehand better than ever for no particular reason he can name; presumably, it's because he's no longer all tied up in knots over it. And recognizing that he's just not going to beat the Hewitts or Nalbandians of this world from the baseline has been liberating. Once you get comfortable with the idea that you're a guy who's either going to win on his own terms or crash-and-burn, the prospect of crashing and burning is not longer quite as harrowing.

Mardy Another subtle factor in Fish's reconciliation with the forehand has been the bite and snap of his backhand. He's hitting that shot awfully well, and says it "opens up" the forehand side for him. Basically, he's using his backhand to tease out returns that set up his forehand. The result is more forehand winners, and the feeling, Hey, I can do this! Forget about the way Fish's forehand looks; Edberg's also never appeared to change, but by the mid-point of his career it was a much better and more effective shot than most people knew.

This was an entertaining if uneven match, as well as a treasure trove for navel-gazing and the parsing of technical and emotional issues. I was struck by Fish's self knowledge and awareness. It leaves me thinking that his nominal resurgence is no fluke. It may sound crazy, but he's figured out his game in the way that only a guy with serious holes in his game can. And that suggests that he's taking his game to another level; of course, there are nearly infinite levels, measured in infintesimal increments, when you're a Top 50 pro to whom every match against a quality opponent is mid-term exam.

But keep in mind that Fish has absolutely no points to defend in the coming months. I have faith in him; I wouldn't be surprised if he's at the threshold of the top 10 by the end of Wimbledon (and I know I'll hear about it if he's not).

One other new factor in Fish's equation is trainer Rory Cordial, a former Division I NCAA quarterback at Oregon State, who's dragged Fish into the gym and worked on his troublesome knees and the tendinitis that he develops in his right bi-cep when he really cuts loose with his serve.

Fish now moves into the Death Zone of pro tennis, meeting Federer in the semis. The Mighty Fed got an unexpected day off today, as Tommy Haas withdrew from the tournament with a sinus infection.

When Fish was reminded that Federer would be well rested, he just grinned and said, "Hopefully, he'll be a little too well-rested."


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Posted by Aneirin 03/22/2008 at 04:44 AM

I can't believe I am first!

Posted by Marian 03/22/2008 at 04:46 AM

"He blasted David off the court at IW".

Did we watch the same match? It was boring and I hope he doesn't come near the top 20.

Any news on his arm?

Posted by Aneirin 03/22/2008 at 04:47 AM

More seriously, Fish played well, but David has a long story of losing matches on a tie breaker, to my despair !!! I can remember at least two times at the US Open when he has.

Good for Fish, but I hope he serves as a tuning exercise for Fed, he will need it against either Rafa or Djoker (and I HOPE it is Rafa).

Posted by Rosangel 03/22/2008 at 04:52 AM

You're up late, Pete? Or is this an oddity of timing? Come to think of it, the 8am on the timing of your blog would appear to be GMT and not EST. A typepad glitch?

Fish frying Federer would be one of the most extraordinary upsets I could think of.

Interesting insight about the tiebreak-think. I wonder how many other top pros have thought that way?

Posted by Kitty Mac 03/22/2008 at 05:07 AM

One day poor Mardy is going to get through a tournament without a million and one puns about his name. I blame his parents.

Posted by Or 03/22/2008 at 07:15 AM

Fish is an unusual last name, isn't it?

Mardy isn't exactly common, either.

Regardless, Mardy's run ends here. He just better be fit enough to push Roger a bit, to go from Mardy to either Nole or Rafa would be a huge leap.

Posted by Kwame Kimbo 03/22/2008 at 07:24 AM

If Tommy Haas has a match fixing contract with Roger, he should let us know. Anytime the whole tennis world gets excited about this two guys playing each other, Haas withdraws. Especially when he is playing so well.
Somebody explain this to me.

Posted by Princess of Darkness (aka Aussie Ange) 03/22/2008 at 07:57 AM

Woohoo internet at home. I know this should be on Deuce thread but I couldn't resist. I can't believe Mardy won. Was Glimbleslob commentating? Was he just beside himself? Hope it's a Rafa and Roger final with Rafa winning. Would like Kuzzy to win over ankles. Hope everyone is enjoying their Easter break and eating lots of chocolate.

My laptop is my new best friend. I need a lot more practice with the keyboard it keeps skipping.

Posted by crazyone 03/22/2008 at 08:22 AM

Go Googly Eyes! Hopefully Fish gives you a fair amount of practice today...there's no escaping a tough customer in the final. This is actually Djokovic's first real tough customer as well, Nadal has had to go through the toughest draw by far.

But I don't think having cupcakes for most of your draw is a good thing when you're going to face either one of the ATP's two most consistently best and hungriest players (other than TMF himself, of course, who has permanently redefined 'consistently good').

Posted by Amigo Diaz 03/22/2008 at 08:33 AM

There is always a room for improvement ...... upsets are not uncommon even in tennis. Just take winners as they appear huh.
Congrats......to all. Enjoy the lessons learned in every game....no alibi please. Carpe diem!

Posted by ptenisnet 03/22/2008 at 08:35 AM

"One day poor Mardy is going to get through a tournament without a million and one puns about his name. I blame his parents."

Are you kidding? The last word in his autobiography is going to be
Fin.

Posted by crazyone 03/22/2008 at 08:36 AM

I think yesterday's match was a matter of Fish playing aggressively and the C-game Nalbandian coming out to play (and almost pulling it off just like he did over Gulbis and Stepanek), but I was surprised that Nalbandian, whom I regard as one of the best returners in the game, couldn't really get a read on Fish's serve. Is he that good a server that someone who reads Federer's serves so well can't read his? Or maybe it's just that Nalbandian has played Federer 16 times on the ATP tour so he knows the serve well. I'd be very surprised if Federer gets aced 23 times today, and was surprised that Nalbandian was as well.

Posted by skip1515 03/22/2008 at 09:05 AM

Nice one, Pete. Every good player recognizes their strengths and weaknesses, and doesn't agonize over the latter nor over-rely on the former. They use what they have, as best they can, and get on with it come hell or high water.

Achieving that balance isn't as easy as writing about it, or trying to coach a player towards it. When they get there, whether permanently or (more commonly) temporarily, they find that both the strengths and weaknesses come up big for them in clutch moments because the player's relaxed about them.

So Fish finds serves he needs in the breaker now that he views the tiebreaker not as a goal, but as a foot in the door. Pushing through that door means continuing to do what got him there. Good for him. Here's hoping your prediction is right and there's a new ingredient to the mix of playing styles at the upper echelon of the mens' game.

Posted by Supersnark 03/22/2008 at 09:10 AM

are they gonna televise Fed's practice session today?

Posted by Christopher 03/22/2008 at 09:26 AM

"Nalbandian looked like a tub of butter in that yellow shirt, and early on Fish sliced through him like a hot knife. "

Now there is an image!

And full credit to ptenisnet too. That's funny stuff.

Interesting post, Pete. I think you're absolutely right that small mental adjustments, either purposeful or by chance, can sometimes make a huge difference in a player's game, especially at this level. Of course it can be a double-edged sword, but I hope things last for Fish for a while. It's always fun to see a different brand of tennis in the mix.

I don't see Roger having much trouble with him, but I've learned it's best not to make assumptions these days (and especially at Indian Wells).

Posted by Tom 03/22/2008 at 09:44 AM

God for Mardy Fish! It's nice to see an American have some good results. This will move him from 98th to at least 51st and will open up more opportunities.

Posted by Lisa 03/22/2008 at 09:53 AM

I love the blindfold and a cigarette line.
Roger will be rested, which is probably what he needs with mono, so he's not pushing his body so much. And, Roger has been tested. this is a guy with mono who's been playing world class tennis, not club tennis. Yes, it turns out that the tennis gods seem to flove Roger, so I guess we'll take it!


Again, think of the irony if Fish were to win the title!

Posted by rudy3 03/22/2008 at 10:12 AM

Pete, you slay me...
"Fish hit a devastating forehand, only this time it devastated his opponent."


"This was an entertaining if uneven match" Huh? You should read the CC thread on this one...the TWibe has spoken!

" I wouldn't be surprised if he's at the threshold of the top 10 by the end of Wimbledon" The clay season is coming up, no? Oh well...you are nothing if not bold.

Seriously, this piece was far more entertaining than that match was. I wish I had just read your take.

FoxSW will not be showing either semi today. Its ok, I'm used to it by now, done ranting about it.

Vamos Rafa!

Quoting Beth: The only way Fish wins today is if Fed's inner fashionista is so insulted by Mardy's appearance...he can't concentrate.

Posted by Zacozeke 03/22/2008 at 10:17 AM

I loved the line....fish is now entering the death zone of tennis....meeting TMF in semis...floved that line.
Also happy to see Kuze win yesterday....why do I hate sharapova

Posted by :D 03/22/2008 at 10:33 AM

Someone mentioned it a while back and the more I think about it the clearer it becomes. Players with some football background (foot-football, not hand-football) have better footwork and balance than those without it. Doing footwork drills helps, but no other sport develops the same intuitive dynamic footwork and balance. Watching a footballer like Messi play is mind-boggling, the way he accelerates, strafes, sidesteps, dribbles, shoots, all while maintaining his balance is awesome.

Posted by :D 03/22/2008 at 10:42 AM

messi: http://youtube.com/watch?v=KZnUr8lcqjo

Posted by fifteenlove 03/22/2008 at 10:43 AM

"early on Fish sliced through him like a hot knife. "

uh oh, pete. you better 'elevate your language' before someone complains that this is too violent for kids.. lol.

Posted by rudy3 03/22/2008 at 10:53 AM

Pete...just read your piece on ESPN...

Hey! Why you gotta diss my boy? No, really...today's match could take 4 hours, even if its only 2 sets.

Rafa's time on serve doesn't bother me, but Joker's annoys the heck out of me. Funny how that works.

Vamos Rafa!

Posted by marron 03/22/2008 at 11:14 AM

Good piece. Loved the 'naked ankles' line. For some reason, those naked ankles just scream out at me and I find it hard to watch the 'whole' Mardy play, just focus on his ankles. Sheesh!

And, yes, I read your piece on ESPN too, then I went back and watched Rafa's last match with Blake. I didn't see a whole lot of game-delaying ballbouncing, even before Rafa got that time violation. Meh.

ptenisnet - too funny!

Posted by Schwab 03/22/2008 at 11:32 AM

ATP semifinals for IW are scheduled as follows:

(3)Djokovic/(2)Nadal at 4:00 PM EST
(1)Federer/Fish at 6:00 EST or after the completion of Djokovic/Nadal (whichever comes later)

Fish has beaten some quality opposition in Mayer, Andreev. Davydenko, Hewitt, and Nalbandian. Is he Ed ATP hero of the week for making the semifinals? If Fish was to somehow win IW, he would have heavy expectations for the rest of the season. I am wondering how will Fish fare when the clay season starts in April with his new tactics.

However, the magical ride for Fish ends today.

Posted by Heidi 03/22/2008 at 11:34 AM

Good for Fish. I especially like the info about the tiebreaks -- interesting about that attitude shift from "eh, que sera, sera" to "keep things tipped my way." I'm frankly a little surprised that anyone playing at Fish's level ever kept the first idea, but I guess it goes to show that strategy is a continually growing part of your game.

Posted by Andrew 03/22/2008 at 11:35 AM

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that Fish played Nalbandian off the court, but he won many more points - 53%-47% - which is normally the hallmark of a two set win, or a comfortable third set.

Nalbandian didn't seem to get his teeth into the match. He really seemed to up his level when threatened, and took the BPs rather than have them handed to him (one poor return excepted). So I actually expected him to prevail at the death, like the cat with umpteen lives. So well done Fish for not letting that happen.

Posted by jb 03/22/2008 at 11:43 AM

Pete - very nice piece on Mardy. I know he doesn't have the prettiest game, but I've always got a soft spot for someone who comes back from injury and just keeps plugging away. He's been in a very long shadow from Andy, James, and even at times from Robbie. (Lets not even talk about Andre and Pete..) He's stayed buddies with those guys, supports the davis cup team, and just keeps on trying. i give him credit for that.

It does amaze me how much tennis is a mental game. Hearing Mardy give his surprisingly thoughtful analysis of the state of his game and seeing (well, hearing about at least) the results is fascinating. Top 10 by Wimby, I'm not so sure. Top 20 - mhm - that I could see... IF he keeps up this level. So, GO FISH!

I don't think Fed has an easy time of it today. He doesn't play Mardy that often and he definately needs match play. Both semis should be great fun to watch. (Loved the blindfold / cigarette image btw) Which reminds me - i gotta get out of here so i'm back in time!

ptenis. 'Fin'. hee!!!! brilliant. still giggling. i shall no doubt still be giggling on the way in town. suburbanites w/ their kids in tow will be giving me a wide berth on the T.... :)

Posted by Jerell 03/22/2008 at 12:03 PM

Blasted him off the court, and a tub of butter?

Man, you really do hate Nalbdandain don't you Pete, Lol?
I wonder, besides his inability in the past (and maybe still now) to get in the best shape, was it his bi-polar personality sometimes?

Posted by Paris 03/22/2008 at 12:13 PM

"His reward is a semifinal with Roger Federer, which comes with a free blindfold and cigarette."

That's a good one. I hope Mardy wins, I love these underdog stories. However Roger is crazy, so... best of luck Mardy!

Posted by Anne 03/22/2008 at 12:20 PM

"Did we watch the same match? It was boring and I hope he doesn't come near the top 20."

Their's more to tennis then blasting shots. It's people like you who think they know everything. When they know squat. I hope he does make it to the top ten and prove everyone wrong.

Posted by evie 03/22/2008 at 12:28 PM

I'm fairly new into following tennis at the level of watching all the ATP matches and knowing the top 20 players in more detail than I ever thought I would. However, it's still pretty shocking to me that a player who made it to #17 has never won a tournament. In fact, from what you describe, this former top 20 player only made it to the FINALS a single time in his career. It's amazing to me that players can maintain their motivation year after year in a grueling, relatively lonely, sport without the usual measures of success: Winning. Obviously there must be many other success points that these players focus on (down to the level of even considering getting to a tiebreak a success, as you describe here) that keeps them motivated. I also wonder, though, if these lower mental success bars actually prevent some players from breaking through to the more "standard" measures of success. If you're satisfied to get to the quarters or the semis, do you really have the motivation to win the whole thing?

Anyway, like I said, it's interesting to follow the sport this closely. I've always been a fan, but more at the level of watching the final few rounds at Wimbledon and USO -- which I know, for most people here is not really being a fan. It was touching to see how much the win meant to Fish yesterday. It's the kind of thing gives me a whole new perspective on the sport.

Posted by Tari 03/22/2008 at 12:34 PM

Nice post, evie. Interesting thoughts, there. Tennis Channel had a movie they would show once in a while called "The Journeymen". I really enjoyed this film because it gave some insight into some of the questions you have raised. I'm sure that the management of hopes does affect belief.

I didn't know that Mardy had only made one final. I happened to attend that match, and was rooting for him vs. Andy!

Posted by ptenisnet 03/22/2008 at 12:39 PM

Didnt Mardy also lose a final to blake last year?

Posted by Robin (Feedforward) 03/22/2008 at 12:45 PM

Pete, tremendous insights from the psychological perspective which continue to fascinate me. The way Mardy thought about tie breakers is so revealing.

I find it interesting to watch near upsets in almost all sports. So often, the underdog gets right to the brink of winning and then cannot pull it off. While sometimes their technical flaws are revealed, it is often stupid mistakes that do them in. It often seems like they simply don't believe they can do it. I have seen Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Nalbandian pull out matches that they had no business winning and do so many times. Yes, true champions step it up and players like Nadal and Djokovic seem to flip into a gear where they just will not miss and few players can continue to hit miracle shots against them. Federer seems to be able to hit big shots especially serves and make remarkable shots to turn around points. Evidently when Nalbandian is playing well he rarely misses and hits forcing shots from both sides.

So, we find Fish wandering in and out of the desert finally playing up to his potential again. I doubt he will make the top 10, but I do believe that he has the game to trouble anyone. Most people forget he can serve over 140 with real ease. His backhand can be amazing and he has good hands at the net. He will probably never be a good mover and you have written insightfully about his flawed backhand.

In the interest of self disclosure, I proudly believe that watching Federer is the best reason to be a tennis fan ever after 50 years of appreciating everyone from Trabert, Gonzales, Hoad, Laver, Ashe, McEnroe, Becker, Agassi, and Sampras. I would like to abolish the long putter, the designated hitter, and the two handed backhand. These are my old fashioned esthetic criteria.

That being said, I do understand the passion for Nadal. I don't care for his gamepr overacting, but he is a remarkable athlete with unparalleled hustle and a style and personality all his own. I also understand people who run to watch Blake, Haas, Safin, and Verdasco and the like. Gasquet can be amazing.

I have no idea why so many of you seem to be big fans of Nalbandian. Aside from his remarkable run in Madrid and Paris last fall, what has he ever done but bore or frustrate fans? He has pulled more matches out of his a__ against non-entities than any top player I have ever seen and then he usually runs out of rabbits [who but DN would win 7-6, 0-6, 7-6?]. You can admire boring games like Ferrer's, Davydenko's, and even Canas' because at least they get in shape. Can anyone tell me what the game would miss if Nalbandian retired to his hobbies in Argentina or Kuznetsova did not play anymore. Yes, I know I just threw in the latter, but with so many interesting young players on the WTA and veterans like the Williams sisters, and Mauresmo why the passion for the visual pollution of Svetlana's rhino legs and pudgy midrift? I cannot see why anyone tolerates any player who can win as much money as pros can today not being in shape. Overall the players are almost universally muscular and aerobically fit, that I just find those who are not offensive.

Posted by Schwab 03/22/2008 at 12:48 PM

Ptenisnet,
Correct. Mardy lost in the final to James at New Haven

Posted by evie 03/22/2008 at 12:50 PM

Tari -- thanks for the "Journeyman" tip. It sounds fabulous. I'll set up my Tivo to find it the next time it pops up on TC.

Posted by Sam 03/22/2008 at 12:52 PM

"Once you get comfortable with the idea that you're a guy who's either going to win on his own terms or crash-and-burn, the prospect of crashing and burning is not longer quite as harrowing."

Great line, Pete.

Robin: I'm with you regarding Nalbandian. I wasn't all that impressed with the all the "new Nalbandian" talk last fall, after he beat tired top players after having hardly played himself all year. Wake me up when he wins when it matters. He's never done that, aside from 2005 YEC.

Posted by CL 03/22/2008 at 12:58 PM

Hmm... well according to my Fracked Sports schedule, I get both semis - one live, (maybe) and the other taped. I'll believe it when I see it.

This was a very good article Pete... the fish puns are just about irresistible, and I see you didn't. As a gesture of respect for Mardy's great run at IW, I shall forswear them all. As soon as I finish laughing at Pt's "fin." But not a second later!

Posted by CL 03/22/2008 at 01:08 PM

Hmmm - Robin. Looks aren't every thing. So to speak. I'm not much of a Kuzzy fan... still less Nalby's. But though they may not LOOK fit, I have no doubt they are. Nalbandian would not have been able to grind out so many long 5 setters and Kuzzy would fade quickly after chasing down the power hitter's power. McEnroe was skinny as a stork with Jiffy Pop hair and Aranxa(sp) Sanchez Vicario was a fire hydrant in a headband. Both did more than 'okay' and both added a lot to the sport.

I do agree about your overall point about Nalbandian. My fear, as I wrote yesterday, is that he will 'show-up' just enough to spoil the GS chances of those who DO put in the work and the grind and the consistent results.

Posted by CL 03/22/2008 at 01:11 PM

Hmmm... I seem to be saying "Hmmm" a lot. Not to be confused with Camelot or Spamalot.

Posted by anna 03/22/2008 at 01:28 PM

Bring on the entertainment.So far the comments on this board were more entertaining than the Fish-Dave match !!
I get so distracted by wanting to undress and re-dress Mardy in ankle socks and nice trim shirt and shorts that I never actually see his shots.
I actually think its Roger who needs the blindfold and cigarette.
I can see it; he sits in a deckchair smoking nonchalantly,getting up every now and then,after saying 'excuse me for a minute' and swots a shot back,then ambles back to his deckchair.Only thing that spoils the picture is that he doesn't know how to smoke and chokes on the cigarette.
Hopefully the lines people are not wearing blindfolds today.Although the Lubicic match was very funny with all the wierd 'is he challenging or am I' ,and 'who if anyone called that last line',I'd like to see Roger not distracted too much.I think Mardy's socks or lack of them will be challenge enough.

Posted by Sherlock 03/22/2008 at 01:33 PM

Robin, I really liked most of your post. But I think we need to be careful, considering we don't actually KNOW what kind of shape Nalby is in, to start ripping him for NOT being in shape. As CL said, he's not staying in all these long matches if he's not in some kind of shape. I get the sense with Nalby that it's more of a matter of not taking matches like yesterday seriously enough.

As for, "why the passion for the visual pollution of Svetlana's rhino legs and pudgy midrift?"....visual pollution? Are you serious? That's just a stupid statement, and I don't care if I get moderated for it. Get a grip.

Posted by Christopher 03/22/2008 at 01:50 PM

Tari,

Glad you mentioned "Journeyman." I blindly put it on my Netflix queue some time ago and now I'm looking forward to it a bit more.

Robin,

I'm not a huge fan of Nalbandian or Kuznetsova either, but I think you're a bit off. People are interesting Nalbandian because of the obvious talent (as Fed himself has noted many times) and ability to hit beautiful shots. There is something tragic there, as with Gasquet and Safin, that the talent isn't being put to better use, but that doesn't mean he can't be fun to watch and a genuine challenge to other more consistently better players.

As for "visual pollution of Svetlana's rhino legs," if you're interested in tennis more for the aesthetics of the players' bodies, I hear that there are some fine DVDs of Anna K. out there for you (and, I believe, some calenders). I haven't, however, seen evidence that Kuznetsova is anything other than an outstanding athlete who happens to carry a few extra pounds. They didn't seem to keep her from running down everything in sight against Maria yesterday. Bartoli definitely plays better when she's a bit chunky looking and perhaps Kuznetsova is the same. More importantly, her job is not to impress you with her legs, but to win with her tennis. She seems to do the latter better than almost any woman on the planet right now. I personally can't stand her style of play, but we really should give her more credit than to just insult her appearance.

Posted by Marian 03/22/2008 at 01:55 PM

Nalbandian served badly for two sets and played the same for one, so, what do you expect? Also didn't start running after balls, till late in the game...But to his credit he was slimer and still is a master of the game. I hope he comes back at top!

Fish on the other hand served very well and hit harder.

Posted by Backhand blaster 03/22/2008 at 02:00 PM

Forehand aside, Mardy's weakness has always been his weakness. For a professional athlete he is too much a soft body. There is no way he could look the way he does and work out regularly. It just isn't possible. He is the anti-Nadal. And he has paid the price for his lack of fitness by suffering multiple injuries. If I was his coach, I would make him shave daily, make him wear socks and teach him how to do a sit up. Tennis is a mental game, but when you are in shape your body does what you tell it, and when you are not fit your body tells you. Mardy has always had a top 20 game, but his fitness is barely top 500.

Posted by randomtester 03/22/2008 at 02:02 PM

Awww.... no Roger vs Tommy? I was so looking forward to the facing off between Roger's Funhouse and the Haas of Pain. When was the last time these 2 competed?

Posted by randomtester 03/22/2008 at 02:11 PM

I can't believe Tommy would withdraw because of a sinus infection. But I guess I can't blame him for wanting to keep his body as healthy as it can be for the long run, and it doesn't hurt that Roger gets an extra day of rest against Fish since he's still recovering from mono.

I guess my haiku about this marquee matchup will be saved for another day

Tommy's Haas of Pain
Will go against the Fun House
Rollercoaster time!!!

Posted by fifteenlove 03/22/2008 at 02:14 PM

robin, dude, "visual pollution" is way harsh. and "rhino legs" is just insulting.

although in his defense, it's also the image of the women's game here that can be brought into question. they're supposed to be ATHLETES. granted, not everyone can be trim and fit like henin/jelena, muscular like serena/schiavone, or willowy-modelesque like hantuchova/venus/maria, and certainly no one (or.. at least, i think.) is asking them to look like anna-K, but come on. as professional tennis players, athletes, sportsmen; as ambassadors of their sport and watched by millions around the world, perhaps they should do their best to at least somewhat uphold an image.

of course, quality of the play and real skills are the ones that really matter, however, i just don't think image is far down the list of importance.

just my 2cents.

Posted by fifteenlove 03/22/2008 at 02:17 PM

oh, i'm not concurring with robin about kuz. i'm just saying that when people criticise some players, to me there is some validity.

Posted by Ruth 03/22/2008 at 02:21 PM

While I would prefer all players to look like the stereotypical picture of the muscular athlete, I tend to base my determination of whether a tennis player is fit on his/her ability to run after balls that others might let go, to sustain longer than average rallies, and to be able to breathe normally after the typical number of shots played in a match before a winner or error.

Since Kuznetsova and Nalbandian are able to do all of those things, I find the suggestion that Kuzy and Nalby are not fit -- because of how they or parts of their bodies might "look" -- as ridiculous and unrealistic as the suggestion that Serena was not fit at AO 2007.

Posted by Jenn 03/22/2008 at 02:22 PM

This was a great piece. I almost skipped it because I find Fish to be boring and I have never enjoyed watching him, but I'm very glad I read it. I love hearing about the psychological aspects of the game and what players are doing beyond the pure technical aspects to try to improve their game. Very few journalists - even full time tennis writers - will give us this kind of insight.

It would be cool if Fish could pull off the huge upset today. Undoubtedly it would be the biggest win of his career.

Posted by :D 03/22/2008 at 02:25 PM

Nalbie bashers - I like Nalbandian because he can play a composed, attacking style of tennis on a fast hard court. Play it so well, that he can beat Federer - on a fast court - where Federer's strengths are brought to the fore. Ppl can call him boring, but here's proof to the opposite: http://youtube.com/watch?v=SjL7JASDfQA

Yes, he disappoints regularly, but at times he's played some of the best tennis I've ever seen.

Posted by randomtester 03/22/2008 at 02:27 PM

Nah-uh Jenn, it would not be "cool" for Fish to pull of the huge upset today. Undoubtedly it will be the biggest win of his career, but personally I'd like to see either Nadal or Djokovic try their hand against the Fun House.

Posted by linex 03/22/2008 at 02:29 PM

I was so disappointed after that semi between fish and nalbi. I knew beforehand that this could happen. Fish is the typical player that Nalbandian deoes not totally respects so he thought he could turn around the match in any moment, which he almost did ... He played without focus. After that early break in the first set the only thing he needed to do was to focus on his first serve which he did not do during the whole match. He served terribly. He did not do not even one return winner which is a tradition for him. ETC ETC. in the end Fish deserved the victory, he played to almost the top of his potential while David brought his C + game. Sometimes the C is enough for him but not in a quarterfinal of a AMS what did he expect? I think that Roger will easily handle fish. Rafa v. Nole will be exciting. I am cheering for RAfa all the way. I hope we can see a Rafa v. Roger final.

Posted by The Original French(ie) 03/22/2008 at 02:31 PM

Mardy Fish has won 2 ATP titles: 2006 Houston, 2003 Stockholm.
I think he is a top 40/50 sort of contender which doesn't say much considering the current field.

Still, he is a dead ringer for Bill Murray in Caddyshack, so just for that I'll give him a pass for the no-socks policy and wish him well as he climbs back the rankings !!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWJLWERyvkk

Posted by randomtester 03/22/2008 at 02:33 PM

Nalby is like the beta version of Tsonga (or is it the other way around?) in my opinion. He isn't boring to watch so long as you're not rooting for him. a Nalbandian - Safin match I can appriciate just because of the pureness of their strokes. But the supporters of those 2 would really be stressed out. (kinda like rf.com on a Grand Slam final.)

*why is it that even when my browser states that I'm "logged on" I still see my name on the posts in black and not blue?

Posted by ptenisnet 03/22/2008 at 02:46 PM

randomtester
You turn blue when you fill in either the email field or the url field. It indicates the presence of a link. Not the state of logged in or not.

Posted by Sam 03/22/2008 at 02:46 PM

To follow up on my previous post, I think it's fine to be a fan of Nalbandian's (if you like his playing style, etc.), but for to think like he belongs up there with the top players given his dearth of stellar results is the part that bothers me. He hasn't even reached a Slam final in nearly 6 years. He may be talented, but the results are not commesurate with his talent.

linex: Recently, someone (I believe it was you) mentioned that despite encouragement from Jaite and others, Nalbandian was not taking his training regimen that seriously. Do you have any other details on that?

Posted by Nigel 03/22/2008 at 02:51 PM

Speaking of no points to defend in the coming months... a certain Mr Murray has zip to defend from Miami until the US Open. He'll be at least number 4 in the world when he walks out at Flushing Meadow.

Posted by randomtester 03/22/2008 at 02:56 PM

ptenisnet, this wasn't the case before. In the past I've "turned blue" after I log in, even when I don't supply an e-mail or url. I thought that the log in feature provides us with secure "identities" so that one would know that a post under "randomtester" was really one that I wrote. TypeKey must've changed its system.

Posted by CL 03/22/2008 at 03:01 PM

Nigel - Assuming he gets past the 3rd or 4th round of a few tournaments. He probably will, but that knee does seem...... dodgy.

Posted by linex 03/22/2008 at 03:03 PM

SAm,

Regarding Nalbandian training regime: I read it in an argentine blog named fuebuena.com.ar It was a poster who said that he had inside information and knew from good sources that Nalbi got too much distracted with his events with celebrities, hobbies and other stuff and that once he upped his ranking again he started with his usual routine which is not training too intensively. Nevertheless he has been playing tournaments lately like BA and Acapulco, now IW, so I guess if he plays Miami he should be in form. It was funny because I was watching the acapulco final with my dad, and when the fist set started and Nalbadian seemed so slow in his movements and reactions, we both said this guy was having fun last night in the Acapulco summer, he looks half asleep ...

I was surprised that DAvid said in his presser that he played a good match ... Really? A dangerous assesment ...

Posted by ptenisnet 03/22/2008 at 03:06 PM

test

Posted by ptenisnet 03/22/2008 at 03:07 PM

randomtester. i was wrong. but it seems to work for me the way you described it.

Posted by luvten 03/22/2008 at 03:08 PM

My athletic teenage/son will only wear no show/barely show socks. He (friends, too) "wouldn't be caught dead" in socks covering hisankles.
Mardy is hip:)

Posted by tom 03/22/2008 at 03:24 PM

I thought the game between fish and nalbandian was entertaining. Fish really took charge of most the match and he played with a lot of confidence.It is good to see an American in the semis of a major tournamnet.
He may not be the best or most exciting player out there, but he is sure playing at the top of his game. He seems to be capable of of being a top twenty player (if he can keep it up?) Fish has done better than any other American in this tournamnet!

Posted by tom 03/22/2008 at 03:26 PM

I think the socks look a little different, but who cares. It is the tennis that excites/interestd me.

Posted by Sherlock 03/22/2008 at 03:30 PM

Luvten, I hear ya. My 14-year old just started wearing the Mardy socks out of the clear blue sky. I can't stand 'em, but of course, I can't say that. :) So there must be a bit of a cool factor there. Somewhere. Somehow.

Posted by randomtester 03/22/2008 at 03:48 PM

ptenisnet, might this be a subtle little warning from TypeKey/TennisWorld? "See randomtester, this is what happens when you don't log-in for long periods at a time"

People change, (I caught a Mrs. Santa "hatetirade?!" yesterday, but as far back as I remembe she has always been nice... right?) you now have no-names bashing Women's sports just because they don't like to watch them, the Tribe has all new people I don't recognize, and the ones I was hoping to catch don't seem to be here anymore, on top of that my name stays perennially black... :(

Posted by Sam 03/22/2008 at 03:58 PM

Thanks linex.

Regarding the short socks, they may look strange, but I starting wearning short socks (not as short as Fish's) about 5 years ago - see the mini-crew ones on this page - http://www.thorlo.com/tennis-socks.php - and I find them to be very comfortable for tennis and in hot weather.

Posted by tennis 03/22/2008 at 04:01 PM

I guess the short socks just make men's legs look skinnier, but they are comfotable.

Posted by david 03/22/2008 at 04:06 PM

the SUN network is running the nadal/djokovic live, for those interested

Posted by Sam 03/22/2008 at 04:14 PM

Sherlock: It's part of his rebellious stage. ;-)
I'm waiting for Beth to let me have it about the short socks!

Posted by mrsnole 03/22/2008 at 04:17 PM

fish is a great player with a great heart. we've seen him play and he is always entertaining. it's so great to see someone who has had health problems in the past work hard and get better!

great article pete! we hope fish can crack the top 20 too!

Posted by tn 03/22/2008 at 04:26 PM

This is regards to the comment made about kuz's rhino legs.
She is a very muscular, fit woman. She is capable of running down balls and has a lot of endurance. Just because she does not look like some of the other female athletes does not mean she if fat! That is silly. WE ALL CAN LOSE A FEW POUNDS!
I do think it is imortant to look somewhat decent. You are being watched by thousands of people, but i think she looks fine. We do not want to ENCOURAGE women to try and be STICK THIN, especially if it is not their body type. There is a fine line between having an eating dosorder and not having one. Although I am sure she is a very confidant women and does not really care what people think about her legs.

Posted by go fish! 03/22/2008 at 04:32 PM

I thought :D remarks about soccer players and their footwork were great points. Americans do not seem to have footwork as good as players who have played soccer. Thier footwork is amazing to watch!! I think tennis players in the states should consider playing soccer as a good cross training technique. I think it would be very helpful

Posted by Robin (Feedforward) 03/22/2008 at 04:55 PM

Look I have been playing tennis much longer than most of you have been alive. So what? Well, I started playing when tennis had a reputation as a wimpy sport. I never had to defend my first major sport of basketball as a real sport, but tennis, that was another story in the 1950's.

Thus, I have always had a personality glitch about the rep and appearance of my favorite sport. Yes, tennis always had exceptional athletes like Sedgman, Gonzales, and Hoad, but when your sport appears only twice a year on television (the semis and finals of the US Nationals and going off in mid-match point if the allotted time had elapsed), you find yourself wanting whatever exposure it had to be not only athletic but visually appealing. And, to each his own, but if all we had on television were matches between Nalbandian and Canas or Kutznetzova and Bartoli, I would take up wood working. I make an exception for Santoro because of his unique creativity.

I think that players without obvious rolls around their waist is not too much to ask. As for my cruel comments about Kutznetzova, you should hear what she is called at my club. I cannot imagine a single young woman taking up tennis to be like her. True, she is an exceptional athlete and so is Nalbandian and both are excellent ball strikers, but I don't care.

Before IW came on a few minutes ago, I was watching Tiger go for his sixth in a row. A few holes ahead of him was Tim Clark, a wimp of a guy who putts with the long pendulum putter. On the one hand, you have Tiger who has it all going on and then within a stroke or two is a guy who could not bench press 80 pounds and who putts like a 90 year old. Golf made an aging Sam Snead quit putting like croquet because of the esthetics, and now they let young full bodied players essentially plumb bob instead of hitting the ball. Ask Arnold Palmer (a real man) what he thinks of the long or belly putter.

Among my other curmudgeonly foibles is the abiding belief that tennis would be better off if men (at least) were not allowed two handed backhands. While I take to heart Pete's recent advice to learn how to run around our forehands like the pros, I grew up when it took a talented athlete to hit a backhand and only wimps or little kids used two hands. No, Nadal, Djokovic, Tsonga, and Safin et al, are anything but wimps, but I still think that it takes more talent to hit a world class one handed backhand. And, in keeping with my point, the tennis would be much more interesting if we did not have so many metronome points such as Hewitt hitting mirror image backhands with Baghdatis point after point.

Posted by Robin (Feedforward) 03/22/2008 at 05:27 PM

Another couple of comments.

Anyone remember how Lindsay Davenport looked at 16? She almost beat Martina with sheer ball striking ability but realized she had to get in shape and had her best years after she lost 25-30 pounds. Now even after having a baby last year, she looks more trim than Svetlana or Marioli.

Remember the chunky Martina who morphed herself into a paragon of fitness. Even at age 50 she looked fitter than Svetlana. She also forced a cute Chris Evert to become a toned athlete.

The wondrous looking Ana Ivanovic looks AND PLAYS even better now that her baby fat has gone (not my words but seen on this site).

And, I lost track of how many posters here mocked Federer for having the slightest hint of a missing six pack, Roger who has never been more than a couple of ounces of fat on him. Not sure who it was but I bet some of you who are outraged by my critical comments about David and Svetlana were among those who brought up his physique challenges. I suspect that Nalbandian would love to have Federer's waistline.

Posted by tn 03/22/2008 at 05:30 PM

Robin, I am sure you look just wonderul in your tennis atire and people who see how good you look decide they now want to play the sport like you. If young women/men decide to pick up the sport because of what they look like, they may not become very food tennis players. And I do not think people care what "club players" have to say about anything related to tennis.
Players should try to look their best, but they are not perfect either. I guarantee sure Kuz works on her fitness a lot or she would not be a top player able to withstand the difficulties of reaching the later rounds of most tournamnets. It also looks like she has a naturally beffier body.

Posted by tn 03/22/2008 at 05:31 PM

spelling error... food=good

Posted by tn 03/22/2008 at 05:37 PM

I agree, federer looks great and seems to be very fit. I do not know who would disagree with that? And yes, many players have decided it would be a better idea to become more fit, and it did wonders for their career. But, you can not compare the body of Davenport to Kuz's. Kuz may need to drop a couple of pounds, but she is NOT unfit or lazy. I woder what you thought when you saw Serena play the Aussie open the year she won it? She may have looked UNFIT to you, but her body wa capable of taking her to the finals and winning.

Posted by Andrew Miller 03/22/2008 at 06:14 PM

I saw the highlights from Fish-Nalby - looked like Fish was playing well!

I think this is another all-star posting from Master Bodo. I wish there were a web-tennis award, because Bodo is as close to Michael Jordan in tennis writing as we get. I put Master Bodo and Scott Price as the top tennis writers of this century. I like Ms. Ford also and Tignor is an excellent strategy guru, but I still put Bodo and Price at the top of the top 10.

Posted by Andrew Miller 03/22/2008 at 06:14 PM

I saw the highlights from Fish-Nalby - looked like Fish was playing well!

I think this is another all-star posting from Master Bodo. I wish there were a web-tennis award, because Bodo is as close to Michael Jordan in tennis writing as we get. I put Master Bodo and Scott Price as the top tennis writers of this century. I like Ms. Ford also and Tignor is an excellent strategy guru, but I still put Bodo and Price at the top of the top 10.

Posted by soni 03/22/2008 at 07:07 PM

Wow...

Fish leading 6-3, 5-1 against Federer...

Cool

Posted by Soni 03/22/2008 at 07:08 PM

damn Fed won 4 points in a rowto save 2 match points

Posted by soni 03/22/2008 at 07:13 PM

WOW..........

Fish beats Roger Federer 6-3, 6-2

Posted by la boheme 03/22/2008 at 07:17 PM

I expect the moon to come out tomorrow morning - nothing is right with the world!

Posted by soni 03/22/2008 at 07:25 PM

LOL.........

federer wont have any injury excuses now.....

beaten fair and square...

I somehow feel Novak djokovic's win over fed has led to other player's belief tat they can win against the likes of Fed nd nadal

Makes tennis interesting....

Posted by etheralx23crisis 03/22/2008 at 07:42 PM

i think this really shuts federer up for once and gratz to fish he really deserves it from where he is coming from at ranking 98 he has been working hard to get this far and for a straight sets win over federer i think thats the best prize he can get

Posted by etheralx23crisis 03/22/2008 at 07:42 PM

i think this really shuts federer up for once and gratz to fish he really deserves it from where he is coming from at ranking 98 he has been working hard to get this far and for a straight sets win over federer i think thats the best prize he can get.

Posted by etheralx23crisis 03/22/2008 at 07:43 PM

i think this really shuts federer up for once and gratz to fish he really deserves it from where he is coming from at ranking 98 he has been working hard to get this far and for a straight sets win over federer i think thats the best prize he can get.

Posted by Simon 03/22/2008 at 08:10 PM

Go Fish!!!!! Send Djoker home!!!!

Posted by AMIGO 03/22/2008 at 08:16 PM

La Boheme, Fish is a clear winner. Alright, just open your eyes for the moon is shining brightly indeed. No doubt about the win. I go for Djokovic though ha ha ha.

Posted by Jacque 03/22/2008 at 08:24 PM

I am so proud of Mardy! What a great week for him.

Go get Nole!

Posted by drop(per) 03/22/2008 at 09:00 PM

"a little too well rested"

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 03/22/2008 at 09:05 PM

Expertly conceived and written, Pete (puns and all). I am happy for Mardy, as he just seems like one of the most "regular" guys on the tour. It was apparent, watching him on the sidelines at last years Davis Cup Quarterfinal in Winston-Salem, that he's also one of the more fun-loving and well-liked guys.

About the tiebreak... as a reformed serve-and-volleyer myself (hey, at 50, it's tough to come in on everything against these young ball-busters), I've always thought that the best way to approach a tiebreak is with controlled, yet relentless, aggression. With the nerves that ordinarily accompany the breaker, I've always figured it best to apply as much continuous pressure on my opponent as I could muster without lapsing into reckless abandonment.

Glad to hear you giving Stefan Edberg (one of my top-three all-time favorite male players) some credit on reining in his forehand as his career progressed. Though it wasn't the most orthodox stroke, it could be effective. As you pointed out, confidence is the biggest factor in hitting well any stroke that isn't precisely tuned.

Posted by Tennis Scores 03/22/2008 at 09:24 PM

impressive...that's true Fed has no excuses and seemingly no gameplan or changeup.
Go Fish take out the Djoke.

Posted by JillfromNY 03/22/2008 at 09:59 PM

Congrats to Mardy on the biggest win of his career! Excited for him. Hope he plays well tomorrow! Nadal and Fed losing is a good thing for men's tennis. It's nice to see some new faces.

Posted by Sherlock 03/23/2008 at 12:14 AM

"As for my cruel comments about Kutznetzova, you should hear what she is called at my club. I cannot imagine a single young woman taking up tennis to be like her."

Robin, I've changed my mind. I was steamed this morning upon reading your post. But I've come to realize that I just feel sorry for you. You called another human "visual pollution". It boggles my mind. And after you get slammed for it, you don't bother to apologize or tone down your comments. Rather, you say, "you should hear what she is called at my club". Oh, ok. That makes it perfectly acceptable then.

I hope thousands of young women see Sveta and want to be just like her. Hard working, classy, respectful, with a seemingly wonderful perspective on tennis and her life.

I'd be proud as can be to have my kids grow up to be like her. As opposed to have them grow up to be bitter and utterly classless, getting on internet blogs to slam people they don't know, and calling them names like "visual pollution". Yeah, now THAT's a role model for young people.

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