(Editor’s note: the following is from an interview of Richard Vach for the Stiles Points website regarding the upcoming Wimbledon event.)
Q: Now that the clay court season is over, Rafael Nadal has to play the next two majors on surfaces (grass & hard court) that favor Roger Federer. What has Nadal done over the last year to improve his game on grass?
RV: The better question is, what has Wimbledon and the ATP done to improve Nadal’s game on grass and hardcourt? A lot. The grass is so slow nowadays in Wimbledon’s effort to product more rallies, it plays like a hardcourt. Some of the hardcourt events are so slow, they play like a fast claycourt. Nadal is right at home in the new “Let’s-slow-everything-down” scheme of things.
Pete Sampras would have a problem if he were playing Wimbledon these days — he’d see a lot more passing shots go by. That’s why Roger Federer plies much of his trade at Wimbledon from the backcourt, which is ruining the grasscourt game. I long for the days when Goran Ivanisevic and Mark Philippoussis served people off the court. Those were two guys with mediocre volleys who still came in all the time because when the lawns were slick, even crappy volleys worked wonders (see: Bjorn Borg). Players were encouraged to volley. Now the baseline is the only area on the grasscourt that gets worn, and the women’s game may as well be played on a claycourt. Now even Tim Henman says he can’t serve and volley at Wimbledon. Grasscourt play has been sanitized to the point where Tim Freaking Henman, the guy event organizers have wanted to see win all these years, says All England Club officials have screwed up the lawns and changed grasscourt tennis.
Nadal has lightning-quick hands and feet and a champion’s mentality, and that’s all he needs to beat Federer on grass or hardcourts. With today’s surface changes he can get away with a less-than-outstanding serve, and scamper around the baseline to win on the clay-like, high-bouncing slow lawns.
Q: After that embarrassing performance by the American at Roland Garros, what do you expect from the top United States men, Roddick, Blake, and Fish, at Wimbledon?
There is no reason why Roddick and crew won’t go deep at Wimbledon. As Roddick showed by his fourth Queen’s Club title in a row last week, his confidence is always high on the grass and he’s a pretty good bet to square off against Roger Federer in the final or semis. Blake is not great on grass but could go deep, same with Ginepri. Fish has no excuse not to go deep with his serve-and-volley skills. Grass is the surface for the wham-bam American-type game. On the women’s side, no reason not to put Venus and Serena Williams among the title favorites, but the U.S. women’s threat stops there.
Q: The Williams sisters seem to thrive on grass and Sharapova already has a Wimbledon title under her belt. However, on the ladies side, is this tournament Justine Henin’s to lose being that she never won at Wimbledon?
The world No. 1 Henin is not the favorite some think she is, though she is coming off a runner-up effort last year to Amelie Mauresmo. Depending whether the conditions are wet (as they have been in the run-up to Wimbledon) or dry this year, Henin will have a shot, but will have to deal with a lot of firepower to reach another final. So many of the top women just bang the ball off the forehand and backhand sides with little want for slice or volleying or dropshots or touch (Mauresmo was a refreshing departure last year), and that makes it a craps shoot on grass — hard to call. Were she to win Wimbledon this year after clinching her third straight Roland Garros title, she would enter the best-ever conversation since she still has a number of years ahead of her.
Q: On the gentleman’s side, can anything stop Federer at Wimbledon?
Injury maybe? Bronchitis? Mirka dumping him for Rafa? Two weeks of rain?
Federer lost a couple claycourt matches to low-ranked players during the beginning of the claycourt season as he was trying to mentally come to terms with breaking up with coach Tony Roche. Some outside influence or injury or bad clams or too-tight Nike underwear would have to come into play for Federer to exit Wimbledon without a title.
Q: I have read there will be no roof at Wimbledon this year as they continued to refurbish the holy ground of tennis. What is your opinion about refurbishing Wimbledon? How do you feel about the traditions, such as players wearing white?
When is that roof due, 2009? When did they start construction, 1984? No hurry All England Club Committee, try and finish it before you guys finish your term, or pass on. No, they do things slowly at Wimbledon, that’s part of the scene and tradition — there doesn’t seem to be many traditions that hold up today in tennis, besides fans getting violently drunk during US Open night matches, so thumbs up to Wimbledon tradition. Seeing players in white is a nice break from a lot of that ugly-ass Euro-wear (see: Tommy Robredo, who many times looks like he wears just whatever is clean) you see during the claycourt season. Note to European players: orange and black and blue and purple are colors, but aren’t necessarily meant to be worn together.
Yes, Wimbledon traditions such as all-white are wonderful I expect to most fans and players — except for Frenchman Gael “Force” Monfils, who for two weeks has to refrain from dressing like a red and black Air Jordan shoe. And if Roger walks out on court in another crazy-ass suit coat and tennis shorts at Wimbledon, more power to that — except maybe this year he should wear black socks with his tennis shoes to complete the today-I-forgot-to-wear-pants look.
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