Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - IW: Opening Day Diary
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IW: Opening Day Diary 03/09/2007 - 9:09 PM

2006_03_09_nadal The flight is over—16 hours total to get across the country, seven of them slumped in O’Hare Airport. But it was worth it just to feel warm California air again. It’s been a while. Here’s an hourly report after opening day in Indian Wells.

6:00 A.M.: Fully awake after a death-like sleep, I flip on CNN and see that people are already out killing each other in Florida. It seems a little early until I realize I’m on West Coast time. Is this what Californians wake up to every day?

8:00 A.M: A Holiday Inn breakfast with tennis fans; living in New York City, sometimes I forget they exist. They also happen to be the fittest crew of 70-year-olds I’ve ever seen. They’re ripped! (A little leathery, but still…)

10:00 A.M.: Practice, practice, practice: That’s what the early days at Indian Wells are about. The practice courts are mini-show courts here, with small concrete galleries around them and towering desert hills behind. They draw as many if not more fans than the first-round matches. If anything, the pros are even more impressive in practice. A guy walking past me today says, in wonder, “everything is on the sweet spot.” From Nalbandian to Petrova to Youzhny today, they hit cleanly, easily, on the screws every damn time. Even if they miss, it is almost never a mis-hit.

As I walk down to the courts, I’m passed by a herd of teenagers, all heading toward the first court. That’s where I see the familiar late-whip forehand of Rafael Nadal. In a white bandanna, he looks ready for business. And he is—from the very first warm-up ball, he’s hitting at top speed. I want to tell him to go easy before he throws his arm out.

Even in this informal setting, Nadal wastes no energy or movement. He’s in his own world, undistractable, just as he is during a match—the only difference is that the fist-pumps are reduced to little head nods of intensity or self-laceration. With a packed crowd right up close, there’s a big-match atmosphere to what should be just a routine hitting session. At close range, the athleticism of Nadal and his opponent, JC Ferrero, is a revelation; they’re both kind of exploding around the court. I almost feel sorry for Ferrero when they begin to play a set, until I realize that Nadal has forced Ferrero to raise his own game. JC, loose and relaxed and penetrating with his backhand, gets the better of many of the points.

How is an hour of this practice different from your hour of practice? Every shot counts, nothing is cursory, no time is wasted (except for the volleys; even the pros generally sleepwalk through those, which may tell you something). Next time you practice, try to make every last shot count—you might get better.

10: 30 A.M. Two courts away the atmosphere is decidedly less explosive. Andy Murray is warming up with Richard Gasquet, their coaches, Brad Gilbert and Richard Deblicker, standing with arms folded behind them. On both sides of the court, there’s a kind of father-son dynamic—the boys spend much of their time sulking and rebelling as their fathers try to tell them what’s good for them. The funny thing is that one plays out in English, the other in French, but they look identical.

Murray is taller and thicker in person, more athletic. But his hitting is not quite as impressive as some of the other pros in practice (for some reason, Nalbandian comes across as the world’s cleanest ball-striker in these sessions). Up close you see Murray takes the ball very late on his forehand, and he’s never really on his toes (that’s the opposite of Nadal). Murray has buzzed his hair, and it takes a while for the fans to recognize him. “Wait…that’s Andy Murray!” I hear about a dozen times. I think the shorn look suits him and makes him look jockier—is this the Gilbert influence, sort of like when he took the visor off Roddick’s head? Kamakshi and our colleague Sarah Unke disagree, though; they don’t think it’s a very good cut.

Anyway, Gilbert watches and doesn’t say much as Murray and Gasquet rally. He interjects occasionally: “Need some inspiration, gotta get some inspiration!” Then he looks at Gasquet and says to Murray, “He’s sucking wind over there.” Brad: Always looking for an edge.

Murray doesn’t respond. When he misses a backhand, he says, in that Scottish baritone that’s always a surprise coming out of his mouth, “Andy, yoock!” At one point he scrambles and comes up hobbling. He bends down to touch his knee and says, semi-panicked, “Brad, my knee just went out!” Gilbert comes over and says, “Really?” more in disbelief than worry, as if he’s seen this before. Murray shakes his head, curses, then starts walking. “It’s OK,” he ends up conceding. There’s no mention of the knee again.

From what I can tell, Gilbert is concerned with three things. Murray’s physicality and shot selection on his forehand, and his extension on his serve:

Murray’s playing defensively for the most part, but after one good first serve, he steps in and cracks a heavy-topspin crosscourt forehand for a clear winner. Gilbert exults. “That’s the forehand, very physical!” He makes a topspin motion with his hand, and I see him continue to stress that motion for the rest of the practice. After Murray’s best serve of the day, Gilbert says, “Nice. Good extension.” Later, Murray goes for a high forehand down-the-line winner and nets it. Brad comes out and says, “Maybe that’s not the shot right there, up above your neck.” The only problem is that Murray loudly says “Thanks!” to Gasquet in the middle of Gilbert’s speech, cutting him off. He’s tuning Dad out for the moment.

The session gets steadily more morose on the Murray side, as Gasquet serves him off the court. After one netted return, Murray curses and says dourly, “Into the net.” The next one he hits long and says, more dourly, “Into the fence.” He tosses his racquet to the ground and a woman next to me says, “Oh, so that’s Andy Murray. I recognize that racquet throw from San Jose.” By the end of the hour, Murray has begun to miss his backhand. He slouches a little lower after each, and after he nets one return says, “The best part of your game, down the toilet” as he walks to the other side of the court. There he misses another return and begins to walk back in the other direction, saying, more slowly and dourly, “The…best…part…of…your…game. Down…the…toilet.” Gilbert puffs his cheeks and blows out a sigh.

I’d tell you this is a bad attitude, except, sorry to say, I’ve been there.

11:45: Gael Monfils is beating Julian Benneteau handily in the third set when someone in the crowd yells, “Bring it home, Monfils.” I wonder what Monfils will make of this comment. “Huh, he wants me to bring something to my house?” After that, he collapses and loses five straight games for the match.

Seriously, Monfils is his own worst enemy. As Sarah Unke mentions to me, “He likes to go for it when he’s moving backward.” This, of course, is not how the game is taught. I would also add that Monfils had two match points and went for drop shots on both.

1:00: Court 6 is packed for the third-set tiebreaker between Lucie Safarova and Agnieswka (pronounced, I believe, “Aneeshka”) Radwanska. Safarova wins because she’s the bigger hitter, but sometimes you just get taken by a single shot of a player, the rest of her game be damned. For me, it’s that way with Radwanska’s two-handed backhand—when she gets into one, her contact is, in golf terms, dead solid perfect. It has its own sound. In the breaker alone, she blitzes one for a passing shot winner, hits a perfectly disguised drop shot with it, and then levels another for a crosscourt return winner. And still loses. Ah well, those are the shots I’ll remember, and a good enough reason to watch the match.

1:30: Juan Monaco and Nicolas Mahut are both fine players; their games are fun to watch—one has French flair, the other South American grind. But in the five minutes I’m out at their match, Monaco yells at a linesman and Mahut at a ball girl. I wonder what the casual fan thinks: “Spoiled tennis players,” most likely. But as I watch them fight through a three-setter, it occurs to me that it’s hard to ask them to be so intense and competitive, and then not also get testy. It doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it reminds me that tennis is lucky is to have guys who can balance competitiveness and class: Federer, Nadal, Ljubicic for the most part, Safin for the most part, Roddick for the most part (OK, maybe just Federer and Nadal). It’s tougher than it looks.

3:00: Which leads me to the two press conferences I attended today—Federer’s and Nadal’s. You couldn’t ask for much more from these guys. Nadal humble and smiling, nervously rubbing his arms; Federer casually commanding. Nadal was told that James Blake had recently shot a hole in one. He immediately raised his head and blurted, “A hole in one! Unbelievable!” He was then asked, “What was your greatest sports achievement outside of tennis?” Nadal smiled, threw his palms up, and finally said with a grin, “Not much!” The whole room broke up.

He was also told that Larry Stefanki had said that Fernando Gonzalez had the best forehand in the sport. Nadal’s answer: “Who? Who say that?” He went on to assert that he thinks his forehand is better than Gonzo’s, but not as good as Federer’s. Hey, the kid’s honest.

It came out in Federer’s presser that he had practiced with Pete Sampras for a couple days recently. When he was asked about it some more, Fed was ready with a line that sounded like he’d been practicing it. He said, with a smile, “[Sampras is] playing very good, but not good enough to beat me.”

Someone asked what the score had been. This time it sounded like he had agreed with Pete beforehand what the answer would be:

“Can’t tell you,” Federer said, grinning. “But it was good fun.”


 
47
Comments
 

Posted by zola 03/09/2007 at 09:45 PM

Steve,
This was great post. Thanks.
So, when was the last time you saw Nadal in person? Seeing him in practice, do you thonk he has changed his game at all?

Your take on Murray is interesting. Maybe he needs more experinece and he needs to calm down.

When I see fed's interviews, I always think he still has insecurities and has to reassure himself with phrases like this or subtle comments about his opponents. Sometimes I think he is too full of himself and then again, why shouldn't he be? On the plus side, he has this childish smile that gives away his excitement and shows his human side.

Posted by zola 03/09/2007 at 09:47 PM

for Fed fans, by childish I mean nice and cute!

Posted by Ray Stonada 03/09/2007 at 09:54 PM

Steve, exceptionally transporting writing. I just love that sense of being there, and also your attention to the details of the pros' hitting.

Once, and I mean once, I hit a serve in which by some miracle my knee bend, shoulder turn, elbow rotation, wrist snap, and toss were all in perfect sync. The ball just made a completely different sound, like this sort of deep-throated "pock!" It sounded like there was more sound in there than should have fit in the duration of the noise, if you see what I mean.

Where had I heard that sound before? Oh yeah. The day before, in the stands at Flushing Meadows, on every single ball that Tomas Berdych hit.

Posted by DH 03/09/2007 at 10:03 PM

Cheese, why couldn't Fed have just said it was good fun playing him and leave it there instead of them "Not playing well enough to beat me" Granted I haven't seen the transcript of the whole interview, nut did he really need to add on that part...

Posted by Ali C 03/09/2007 at 10:03 PM

"6:00 A.M.: Fully awake after a death-like sleep, I flip on CNN and see that people are already out killing each other in Florida. It seems a little early until I realize I’m on West Coast time. Is this what Californians wake up to every day?"

Yes. The world has (usually) passed us by while we sleep.

At least we're not in Hawaii, I suppose.

Posted by Allie 03/09/2007 at 10:21 PM

I think Fed added that last part as a dig at Sampras, since Sampras has been saying of late he could have been competitive with Fed...

Posted by Eddy 03/09/2007 at 10:29 PM

Ha, this is why I'm glad you're out in IW, Steve! And I agree with the getting testy thing. I guess the elite 8 players know that yelling at ball kids doesn't help.

Actually Allie and DH, I think Federer preferred to be funny rather than boring.

From last post:
I almost forgot what we're even arguing about Mici. But I do know Nadal deserves the no. 2, as he's earned it over the course of the last 12 months. If your point was that Nadal was never the no. 2 on hard court, then I can live with that; Rosangel's stats obviously agree with you.

Rosangel, unfortunate for the clay specialists. But reducing the number of Masters Series events would make each one more important for the players--though removing two of them for clay doesn't seem appropriate. I think if they're going to reduce the number of Masters Series events, at least one for clay needs to go, and perhaps one for hardcourt.
And unless I'm mistaken, there isn't even one for grass (Queens would be a good place).
Rosangel did you research those points or is there a site for that and the other surfaces as well?

Posted by Lisa 03/09/2007 at 10:50 PM

Geez, great post. Note to Lisa: use Steve's diary as a template!

Posted by nightinggale 03/09/2007 at 11:46 PM

I'd love to hear any Connors/Roddick practice reports please.

Posted by sportsfreak 03/09/2007 at 11:55 PM

That was an awesome diary Steve...excellent post....you are on hot streak my friend!

But one thing you missed out on big time was Gasquet's.....when you covered Murray-Gasquet's practice...you were bragging about Murray in like what three paragraphs?...and you didn't devote a sentence to how Gasquet's focus was.

Posted by dennis 03/10/2007 at 12:07 AM

steve,

you rocked this post. i felt like i was there at indian wells. and steve, you must find out what's going on with pete practicing with federer.

Posted by kingandre 03/10/2007 at 01:53 AM

steve,
awesome post.Specially the murray-gasquet practice session.I was in one of Carlos Moya' practice sessions and all he did for an hour was hit inside out forehands.It was pure delight to watch.Santoros practice sessions are of course at another level.I pity the guy who plays with him though during practice.Hardly can get any kind of rythm.

Posted by GSte 03/10/2007 at 02:36 AM

Great post Steve. I always love hearing the behind-the-scenes stories. I'm not surprised that Nalbandian was one of the cleaner hitters. It's interesting that you said that Murray seemed to completely lose his focus by the end of practice. Does he always do that, or was this just an off day?

Did you catch any of the Lucic/Chakvetadze match? I'm curious as to how well Lucic can do this year.

Finally-Monfils. What is going on with him?

Posted by tania 03/10/2007 at 03:27 AM

I agree with DH.Federer just could say that they practised well with Sampras.What kind of comment is this?He is not good enough to beat me!For god sake Sampras is 35 years old!!!Even when he beat Sampras in Wimbledon ,Sampras was not at his high level.And he keeps reminding us this all the time.
Sometimes Fed comments annoy me a lot.It looks like he has a lot of insecurities and needs reassurence all the time that he is great...
Come on!Give us a break!

Posted by CB 03/10/2007 at 04:11 AM

Steve- great recap

As one who has seen Rafa practice- interesting to see that the intense practice and shy yet nice right after practice continues..


He was focused, and then a shy but very nice kid when I saw him. He signed more autos than a lot of players.

Posted by chloe02 03/10/2007 at 07:55 AM

Steve, great post - really felt I was with you to soak up the atmosphere - please can we have loads more of the same??? I love watching the practice courts and stood spellbound watching Rafa last year for half an hour. The speed of the forehand plus the whip finish is impressive.
Do you think Brad Gilbert is going to put up with Murrary's moping - who'd be a coach.....?

Posted by sophie 03/10/2007 at 08:01 AM

"sportsfreak - But one thing you missed out on big time was Gasquet's.....when you covered Murray-Gasquet's practice...you were bragging about Murray in like what three paragraphs?...and you didn't devote a sentence to how Gasquet's focus was."

Agree. All we got was Gasquet served him off the court and a tiny reference that implied he was "rebellious" like Murray. Was there any interaction with Deblicker (whom I'm always hearing about from commentators and very well thought of? Did Gasquet make the most of his time on court?

Posted by kingandre 03/10/2007 at 08:21 AM

CB.I saw rafa practice on court this year in chennai.He had got his friend vidal with him and the two could not be pushed out of court for that one week.The intensity was very high and there was this practice match where koubek played nadal which according to me was one of the best sets of tennis that i have watched.Koubek outhit Nadal 6-4.Not surprisingly he went on to reach the finals that week.Tania i think federers comments were meant to be humourous.

Posted by skip1515 03/10/2007 at 08:57 AM

Thanks, Steve, this was very evocative, especially the bits at the practice courts.

Together with Ray's comment about his one-time serve, the overriding aural impression of tournament practice courts came through:

Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock water Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock Pock ...

Posted by Allie 03/10/2007 at 09:12 AM

Eddy, I agree, fed was trying to be funny, with a dig. And to those who think he's being arrogant: he was laughing and making a joke. Ease up.
And I forgot to add, Steve, fantastic report. Murray sounds like a typical teen, to be honest.

Posted by Mod Squad 03/10/2007 at 10:33 AM

Tania:

*I don't really think Federer was taking a shot at Sampras. I think he's just very competitive and never wants anyone to think someone beat him. He respectfully lefft out the scores. If he hadn't at least hinted at how things turned out, the media and others would have started speculating that Sampras must have beaten him.

*It's totally bogus to say that Sampras wasn't playing at his Sampras-like level when he played Federer at Wimbledon. Sampras was the defending champion and overwhelming favorite to win Wimbledon again. Sampras was playing so well that he made the final of the U.S. Open that summer and won the U.S. Open the following year. The depth at the top of men's tennis is always far too good for someone to keeping winning slams and making the finals if he has slipped.

Posted by story of Os 03/10/2007 at 10:46 AM

Great post Steve, there are so many things going on out there but just can't catch everything.
I was hoping that Gasquet will play Guga today but that won't happen. Guga is not fit mentally and physically yet so shouldn't be able to beat an up and coming Gasquet.
The same thing applies to Sampras and Federer, he is not going to beat Federer while in retirement. This is not WTA. We will never find out who is "better", the Sampras at his prime vs the current Federer although I do think that Federer will beat Sampras using today's equipment and on today's slower court surfaces. One factor that we seldom mention about champions is how they utilizes their potential and I have never seen anyone did it better than Wilander in his 1988 US Open final.
Oliver Rochus is playing Spadea today and he is another guy I want to watch but that are also Nadal and Clement, Acasuso vs Youzhny...
By the way, Dancevic won his 1st round match, go Canadian go.

Posted by Mod Squad 03/10/2007 at 11:14 AM

story of Os:

Your point about the equipment in Sampras vs. Federer doesn't fly simply because both players were playing with the same 1980s Wilson racquet when they met in 2001. It's not a leap to conclude that 25-year-old Sampras would be playing with the same Wilson racquet as 25-year-old Federer. So the racquet wouldn't matter.

Why do people think a faster court would help Sampras and not Federer? Federer's not a passive baseliner who needs all day to set up. He's not Nadal. Federer's results suggests that, like Sampras, prefers fast conditions. If a faster court would help Sampras's serve, it would help Federer's too. Sampras had a tough enough time returning Federer's serve on a so-called slow grass court. And good luck catching up to Federer's forehand on a very fast court.

Posted by anna 03/10/2007 at 11:36 AM

Andy Murray;phew, as a Brit myself I have to say he exemplifies the worst of British wingeing.He is so annoying;all his poor me facial expressions are so self-indulgent.A few weeks down the coal mines would soon sort him out.As for Fed he's being playful,trying to get the media going.He's just having so much fun.

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 03/10/2007 at 11:55 AM

skip, as usual, cracks me up.

Yep, there is nothing like that sound. I'll be hearing it in about 25 hours. Yes!

Posted by MS 03/10/2007 at 12:08 PM

Tania, guys -- don't be that fast to judge Roger Federer's comments on his practice session with Sampras. Sometimes you have to be there and see how one's face is and the tone of one's voice when certain things are said. That's why a lot of remarks blow out of proportion, some things in print look differently.

Of course Federer knows Sampras is 35 and that he is supposed to beat him. It's just sometimes he tries to be funny and joke a bit.

Very interesting on-site report, Steve

Posted by sportsfreak 03/10/2007 at 12:08 PM

sophie - guess we are on the same page with regards to Gasquet....I wish he was just more consistent....and I hope he is going to make a habit of winning matches against the big guys. interesting to see how he handles Roddick if both get to meet.

Posted by FoT 03/10/2007 at 12:30 PM

Steve! Fantastic! I was living your report as I read it. It made me seem like I was right there with you watching the practice sessions, etc. I hope you keep this up throughout the tournament. Again...great stuff!

Now for those getting on Roger (I swear, it seems like he can't say anything for being criticized)lol! I heard the interview and like others said, he was joking and laughing! Stop taking everything he say so seriously! He's having fun at these press conferences.

Also, it was interesting hearing about Murray. I don't hesitate to say that I personally don't like Murray's attitude, but I still have to remember that he's young. I hope he grows up to curtail his negative attitude but who knows. He can either turn out like Federer or Johnny Mac as far as attitudes go! lol! (I'm not talking about talent - I mean how they act on the court). Time will tell.

Steve, I can't wait for your future reports!

Posted by Kyoko 03/10/2007 at 12:31 PM

Oi! Nadal doesn't have that much class... he's a sour loser. Remember what he told Berdych when he lost at home?

And someone needs to tell Monfils to stop being a gardener! he's always back there in the flower pots! Does he have a coach or what?!!! He's gotta find a proper balance between defense and offense!

Posted by Ilovetennis 03/10/2007 at 12:43 PM

Gasquet's coach is Eric D and not Richard D.
Monfils just got a new coach,a old player by the name of Olivier Delaitre and he said that he was willing to work with the Monf man as long as Gael was willing to work hard and make some changes in his game,like working on his volleys and staying closer to the baseline.
Thing is Monfils,right now, is somewhat of a puzzle to everyone around him and until he decides that he has to dedicate himself to the game and not basketball he won't improve much;so much talent being wasted like Mauresmo said about him.

Posted by Ilovetennis 03/10/2007 at 12:47 PM

Gasquet's coach is Eric D and not Richard D.
Monfils just got a new coach,a old player by the name of Olivier Delaitre and he said that he was willing to work with the Monf man as long as Gael was willing to work hard and make some changes in his game,like working on his volleys and staying closer to the baseline.
Thing is Monfils,right now, is somewhat of a puzzle to everyone around him and until he decides that he has to dedicate himself to the game and not basketball he won't improve much;so much talent being wasted like Mauresmo said about him.

Posted by .johnstonb. 03/10/2007 at 12:49 PM

tania wrote: "I agree with DH.Federer just could say that they practised well with Sampras.What kind of comment is this?He is not good enough to beat me!For god sake Sampras is 35 years old!!!Even when he beat Sampras in Wimbledon ,Sampras was not at his high level.And he keeps reminding us this all the time. Sometimes Fed comments annoy me a lot.It looks like he has a lot of insecurities and needs reassurence all the time that he is great...Come on!Give us a break!"

ITA. Federer's arrogance is getting way out of control. His head is so big now that nobody else can fit on centre court.

Posted by Eddy 03/10/2007 at 01:08 PM

Uh oh, here come those Federer vs. Sampras speculations again.

Nice Dunlop Maxply. Catch some action! And maybe, just maybe, you'll still have time for us.

Kyoko, I'll agree that Nadal's comments to Berdych were, dare I say, stupid and that his sportmanship is sometimes in question. But I think Steve was saying that he doesn't do things like yelling at ball kids when a match is tight. And I'm still waiting for Monfils to show the results of the other youngsters. Seems like even Querrey could take him off the court at the moment. I agree, he needs to do something!

Posted by andrzej 03/10/2007 at 01:34 PM

Thank you for the post about Agnieszka. You got her name pronounced almost right :)

Posted by steve 03/10/2007 at 01:46 PM

zola, the only thing i noticed with nadal yesterday was him hitting the hell out of the ball on his forehand, flatter than usual. i suspect this is just how he practices. i'll watchhis match today.

ok, back into the sun. see you guys later. probably catch some youzhny-chucho

Posted by Andrew 03/10/2007 at 01:51 PM

Lovely, lovely stuff, Steve. You write:

"How is an hour of this practice different from your hour of practice? Every shot counts, nothing is cursory, no time is wasted (except for the volleys; even the pros generally sleepwalk through those, which may tell you something). Next time you practice, try to make every last shot count—you might get better."

I might just try that...

Posted by daylily 03/10/2007 at 03:26 PM

thanks so much, steve. the next best thing to being there.

Posted by cl 03/10/2007 at 03:31 PM

loved the news on the Gasquet Murray practice session, any more info on Gasquet? I think Gasquet's coach is called Eric Deblicker though!

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/10/2007 at 03:38 PM

Steve, as I watched Nadal hitting on the practice court in Cincinnati last August, from no more than 15-20 feet away, I could have sworn the ball would implode upon impact with his racquet, which would splinter into little composite shards. He hit it with a ferocity that seemed to say, "You again? Go back to where you came, and now!" It was incredible.

Posted by zola 03/10/2007 at 05:38 PM

kyoko,
Nadal told Berdych:" you are a bad man, very bad ". That was it and after Berdych mocked his jog on the court and sushed the spanish crowd with a gesture that is rude in spain. Even after that match he always praised Berdych as one of the young guns coming up.

He is a lot of class. Read some of his interviews.

Posted by Eddy 03/10/2007 at 06:31 PM

Ah, Slice-n-dice. I was just thinking about a few people MIA and you came up in my mind (you particularly because I wanted to read your blog). But I see that you haven't written new ones as of yet. And here's a few others that came to mind immediately:
-Pam, Jayasree, M-Life

I have never seen a pro practice, and I would love to!

Posted by Slice-n-dice 03/10/2007 at 11:50 PM

Eddy: yes, I'm afraid my blog has had to take a back seat of late (since the AO) due to a new job I started in January that is very challenging. I spend all day writing and editing sales proposals for a telecommunications industry leader, and it's so draining that I some nights I don't even have the energy to post here on Pete's blog. But please keep checking my blog out, as I promise I've got some good stuff still in me dying to get out. Also, I'll be going all three days to the U.S. vs. Spain Davis Cup tie in April, and I will have some reports from that much-anticipated event.

About watching the pros practice.... the first thing I notice is how comfortable and effortless they make tracking and getting into position to hit the ball ith everything they've got seem. It's uncanny, unnatural, almost surreal. The other thing that is quite amazing is how many balls they can drill at each other without missing. I've seen 50 ball exchanges on many occasions. It's quite common. Practice partners who have toured together for a long time (such as Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge when they were a tandem known as the Woodies) can sustain high-level rallies for minutes on end, striking well over 100 balls without misfiring.

But then, as soon as they get into a real match for ATP or WTA points, and suddenly they net the first ball off their racquet. Of course, this has something to do with the pressure of the moment, but everything to do with the pressure brought to bear by their opponent's shots.

Here;s something I was thinking about earlier today as I talked with my neighbors about the game we all love.... Ever notice that when we (i.e., normal mortals) break a string and have to go to a second stick that has "new" strings (I use quotes because while the strings have not been hit with yet, they might have been installed the night before or 3 weeks earlier), we usually need a good 5-10 minutes, and sometimes an entire set, to break them in and get used to the new rebound? Now, think how many tmes you've seen the top pros break a string, only to saunter over to their chair, remove the celophane from a new stick, then return to the baseline, get a new ball or three from the ball person and fire an ace up the T, clipping the line. It's sublime. And completely inexplicable, not to mention inconsistent with the first observation. Unless, somehow, a lack of pressure from self (as in a decrease in expectation) is the cause.

Posted by Suresh 03/11/2007 at 09:47 AM

I do not think Federer was not being arrogant when he made that comment after playing Sampras. As a post here said, the tone makes a difference which is not reflected on print.

As an aside, Federer , inspite of being the top ranked player receives compliments for his attitude and behavior from his fellow players. He still respects his fellow players and never indulges in trash talking .

There is also not much difference between the racquets that they played with. True Federer plays with a newer version that has more pop to it, but Sampras tried the same racquest before he played Ginepri in an exhibition match at Houston and he said that the racquet had more power but there was less control to it. Should we say then that Federer is able to exhibit greater control when playing with a racquet that inherently offers slightly less control?

It is not also not right that faster surfaces will give the edge to Sampras against Federer. If so, then the question arises - why inspite of surfaces having slowed down that there are 'more' players who serve the ball 'harder' ? So many players serve in the 130's (mph) these days. Federer has a better return than Sampras and the 'reaction time' has certainly not decreased when compared to that of the Sampras era.

While Sampras' career may be on the wane when he met Federer, by Sampras' own admission he did not play a bad match. At the same time Federer's game was still on the ascent. Yet, Federer outscored Sampras on all stats.

One more thing, Federer is one of the few or probably the only player in the open era to receive compliments for all facets of the game - like the serve, return of serve, forehand, backhand, offense, defense , volleys and the transition game from his fellow players. The stats bear this out - Federer is the leader or probably at the top when it comes to points won while returning the first serve.

Posted by Wonderfull 03/11/2007 at 10:53 AM

Both the Swiss Emperor and the Swiss Miss tend to make direct comments that seem arrogant...perhaps they try too much to sound funny or are just honest.

It could also be the subtleties of PR.

Posted by steve 03/11/2007 at 02:17 PM

i was at the press conference when fed made his sampras comment. my feeling is that federer is not "arrogant" in the negative way we think of the word, but neither is he "humble." i would describe him above all else as competitive. right before the sampras comment, he was asked about his best non-tennis athletic accomplishment. he went back to a soccer game when he was 12 when he one-upped his best friend by making two penalty kicks.

right after, he very consciously mentioned that sampras is not playing well enough to beat him. federer is proud of all of his athletic skills and a natural competitor in everything, even with sampras.

Posted by DH 03/11/2007 at 04:35 PM

Can you imagine how Sampras feels tho..Fed calls you up and asks you if he can come over and have a practice session with you. You say sure, I'll make the time..you guys practice, you get beaten and as far as you are concerned that's that. Then Fed has a press conference and says "Beat him at his own home" and "Not playing well enough to beat me".If I was Sampras I would think extra hard before letting Fed back through my door....

Posted by Lance 03/11/2007 at 08:36 PM

Do not forget that Sampras has made it clear that he "likes his chances" against FED in his prime. Sampras claims he would be coming in more than the current crop and FED as well.This would make all the difference in Sampras' logic. I think that statement in light of the Wimby loss to FED is indeed arrogant and debatably misguided. I see FED's quote as a way of letting Pete know he is not good enough to challenge him then and now. And of course it was funny. Steve can tell us if people were laughting when he said it, and indeed I imagine if Pete was sitting next to FED, he would have laughed as well. Also, if you watch the FED, Sampras Wimby match, it is clear Sampras was playing at a high level, FED just kept raising his game above Sampras. This answers the question for me.


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