2007 Davis Cup — Lessons Learned
by TennisOne | December 16th, 2007, 12:18 am
  • 7 Comments

By Jim McLennan


Davis Cup is still fresh in my mind — from the drama, the extremely high level of play, the shot making, the fan involvement, to finally the recapture of this venerable cup after a 12 year drought.

I would like to concentrate on what I took away from the matches (and I witnessed it from the stands in Portland) as a teacher and player and how you might apply the lessons learned to your game.  Tennis is as much about tactics as technique. And more so about how certain tactics fit one’s style of play, and how those same tactics can expose an opponent’s tendencies and weaknesses. Roddick and Blake employed wildly different game plans, and those wonderful Bryan Brothers put on a veritable doubles clinic for the overmatched Russians, but there is much “between these tactical lines” that you and I can use on court.

Andy Roddick: Keep the Ball in Play

Roddick dispatched Dmitry Tursunov, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in the first match to give the U.S. an opening lead. Roddick’s unreturnable serve and consistent backcourt play drained most of the emotion from the match. He secured one early break in each of the first two sets, two breaks in the third set, and faced just one break point in the entire match. Roddick finished the 2007 Davis Cup campaign with an unblemished 6 and 0 singles record, and in many ways his style of play — unreturnable serves and error free defensive tennis from well behind the baseline — presented insurmountable problems for all his Davis Cup opponents.

Certainly, Jimmy Connors has been retained by the Roddick camp to instill a baseline-hugging, moving-forward, offensive style of play. And though they still work together, Connors was no where in sight during the Davis Cup, nor was Roddick’s interpretation of Jimbo’s style of play. But though he may still work on that game, he chose to play defense against Tursunov and did it exceptionally well. Whenever the rally exceeded three shots, Roddick, often playing 12, 15, or even 18 feet behind the baseline, was always the more consistent. Heavily under spun one handed backhands, spiny rather than driving forehands, all used in service of error free play.

Tursunov, a capable top 30 player, plays without the necessary skills to counter the Roddick game plan. First and foremost when returning serve, whether Tursunov or you and I, the receiver must get the ball back in play. Blocking, chipping, floating, do anything to make the return. Dmitry hits big shots and this worked against him on the return game. Secondly, when an opponent plays way back from the baseline, move forward, find sharp crosscourt angles, and or approach the net because it becomes exponentially more difficult to pass from that deep in the court. But Dmitry played a straight-ahead power game with little feel for angles, finesse, or volleys. And from Roddick’s winning point of view, there was no need for him to change his game plan. When winning �- continue to impose your tactics and style of play. When losing — change your tactics, change your style, change something or the end result will not be (nor was it) in doubt.

James Blake: Accept Risk and Withstand the Errors

The Blake Youzhny affair was a match of a far different color. Both men are big hitters and capable and nimble volleyers. And both made incredible shots from unbelievable positions, stunning the crowd with beautiful one handed topspin drives, and deadly forehands. As ever, the Blake forehand may be the most lethal shot in tennis, and his forehand return of serve, when timed correctly, is bigger I think than Agassi’s.

Youzhny did not serve particularly well, and escaped with some suspect second serves whenever James fell into his occasional spells of inexplicable inconsistent play. But as the match progressed, with both players truly neck and neck, James captured the fourth set tiebreaker; trailing 2-3 he delivered two unreturnable serves, followed by two steady return points, to finally finish the match with a forehand winner.

In James’ elated post match interview he commented on mental toughness and alluded to the persistent questions he received during the week about his ability to deliver in big situations. And, as he captured the first and second set, the overhead scoreboard showed that Blake had lost four matches over the years when ahead 2 sets to 0. But I disagree. Blake is mentally tough -� in fact very mentally tough; the truth is that Blake plays extremely high risk tennis. His flat ground strokes lack margin over the net. He is prone to go for the big shot rather than keep the ball in play. And often he plays down the line for no discernable reason, where the net is highest and the player has a shorter distance to work with. The story, or the question to be posed by the press, should be more about his feel for tactics and strategy rather than the state of his mind.

That said, when you or I encounter a high risk, aggressive player, the trick is to keep the ball in play, and favor crosscourt ground strokes. This countering style encourages the high risk opponent to play down the line. Further, under spin backhands tempt these big hitters into extremely difficult approaches. Youzhny, however, appeared to play equally big high risk tennis — pleasing to the audience but not exactly a countering strategy. If, on the other hand, you are the big-hitting, high-risk player looking to hit winners and force errors rather than simply waiting for the opponent’s mistakes, the secret is to accept the risks that go hand-in-hand with this style of play, and not dwell on missed opportunities. James did quite well on this score, and we saw the evidence in the fourth set tiebreaker.

Mike and Bob Bryan: Move Forward and Dominate

The Bryans, on paper, the world’s number one ranked team entered the match heavily favored. The wily Russian coach inserted Davydenko and Igor Andreev, each without any real doubles results on their professional resumes. That said, the first set showed a glimmer of the Russian tactics with Davydenko and Andreev playing mostly from the baseline, rarely venturing forward or playing competently when at the net. But with both teams holding serve and through to a first set tiebreaker.

In the breaker, the Bryans fell behind a mini-break with Davydenko serving at 3-2, at which point the Russian wheels fell off. Davydenko lost both points on serve, Andreev ended the tiebreaker with a double fault, and Davydenko proceeded to be broken once in the second set and twice in the third, as the Bryans ran out the match and captured the cup. 

Doubles Tactics

Get your first serves in, make all your returns, and dominate at the net. On this score the Bryans play picture perfect doubles. Both serve consistently, both return serve simply, favoring placement over brute power, but oh, at the net, these guys really dominate. As they pressed their advantage at the end of the first set, and then began to steamroll, I counted more than one dozen spikes. And though that may not be the normal term to describe volley winners, Bob and Mike move so darn close to the net that they often hit sharply down on the ball, almost like a volley ball spike. And their spike volleys and reflex overheads were unreturnable.

Normally when players crowd the net, they may be susceptible to the lob, and in fact there were two well placed topspin crosscourt lobs by the Russians. But two lob winners in no way overcome more than one dozen spike winners. When you get the chance, watch these guys and marvel at their explosive quickness, and make your own count of their spikes.

A Disclaimer

This Davis Cup team, and in particular, Andy and James, have labored under the unfortunate scenario to play in the shadow of our greatest generation. Pretty tough to follow in the Davis Cup and Grand Slam footsteps of Sampras, McEnroe, Agassi and Courier. But Andy and James consistently put it all on the line, and endure persistent criticism about aspects of their games that might be improved. And certainly this writer continues to be one of those “technical” critics. But I say, celebrate these guys. They love the game. They love captain Patrick McEnroe. And they have captured the Cup. Bravo! As to the Bryans, I expect they will eclipse all Davis Cup records by any twosome for most wins — these guys will be around for a long time.

Article courtesy TennisOne.com


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7 Comments for 2007 Davis Cup — Lessons Learned

Color me shocked and awed Says:

WOW. An actual decent, intelligent, unbiased commentary about ~gulp~ tennis. Americans winning the Davis Cup, no less. And it’s not written by that thumb sucking Federer fanboy Sean Randall either, hurrah!

This is great. Does Tennis-X plan to write or publish any more good tennis articles like this one in the future or was this a one off trade with TennisOne.com?


Von Says:

I second the previous post. The writer states “I was very impressed with Andy’s style of play.”Heavily under spun one handed backhands, spiny rather than driving forehands, all used in service of error free play…” As I watched Andy use those one-handed backhands, I remembered that he used to employ the use of his backhand in 2003, but then it suddenly seemed to dissipate. I heard one commentator say that Federer is the only player that use that style of backhand play and I thought to myself why is it that they always seem to give Federer credit for anything and everything. That style of play was used by Roddick for years, but only occasionally. I only hope that Andy would employ the use of the under-spun backhand more often because it was very effective.

It would be great if in the future we can look forward to reading more unbiased articles about our American Tennis players than those we have been subjected to read at the present time. Our American writers and commentators only appreciate one tennis player, Federer. Our players do not need to get on a court and get beaten by Federer, the writers and commentators are doing that for Federer. Andy, unfortunately, has taken the brunt of their uncalled for criticism. I am surprised that this young man still has his sense of humor and the desire to play. Give the guy some support!! Tom Sawyewr said that a compliment can go a long way, just do it.

The ESPN commentators, with the exception of Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver, are all pro-Federer. They used to criticize Sampras the same way. Drysdale and John McEnroe drool over Federer and Djokovic, I hope they don’t bomb out next year and leave JMc with egg on his face. At times they are so hard to take that I turn down the volume on my TV. Let’s hear it for our American team.


diane Says:

Good wrap up of the Davis Cup which I thought was very enjoyable to watch. Congratulations to the USA team on their well earned victory.


Ione Says:

Very good commentary.


Von Says:

There are a lot of articles and posts about awards written for the last two weeks,has anyone considered the Davis Cup Team and the many years they’ve toiled to bring the cup back home. Why is it that this Country, a world power, has so little appreciation for Tennis and the true meaning of the Davis Cup?

The countries that have won the Davis Cup in the interim 12 years that the USA didn’t, celebrated their athletes and their winning the Cup in grand style. I think that more should be done for the Davis Cup Team.

I waited to write this post. I did not want to be premature in my comments, but thus far nothing is being said or has been done regarding an award.


jane Says:

I agree: it is a shame that there has not been more recognition for this team’s win; it represents a lot of hard work and dedication on their part; they were truly united in their goal, which is what the competition is all about and which is what makes it so unique in the sport of tennis.

Although I live in Canada and not the USA, I strongly supported this team and was very disappointed to have to rely on You Tube and the Davis Cup website to follow the matches.

Thanks for a good summary and thoughtful article.


Von Says:

To say I am disheartened, is putting it mildly. Most of the awards are for other sports. What I don’t understand is the fact that there are football,baseball,golf and other athletes being recognized for their achievements. The names and faces change, but the awards are given to those sports yearly. It’s not every year that Davis Cup is won by the United States, and there should be an excepton concerning the awards when there is a Davis Cup win by the United States.

I am sure that there must be some kind of concession made for the Davis Cup USA wins. Most of the posting is about the lack of recognition being given to Tennis athletes. Somewhere Davis Cup has fallen through the cracks.

In 1995, when Pete Sampras won all of the 3 points for Davis Cup, he was extremely angry and disapointed that any sort of recognition was given to the 1995 Davis Cup Team win. One would think that someone in the US Tennis hierarchy or Davis Cup Committee would have learned from that situation, and perhaps even Pete himself would have become vocal and instrumental on the Davis Cup Committee to ensure that the DC athletes be given more recognition.

Furthermore, I think the USTA could do a better job when it comes to Davis Cup. Perhaps the USTA could and should, give this matter serious thought, and come up with an award for Davis Cup apart from the usual awards that are given by various magazines, etc. In other countries those guys would have graced every magazine cover, not to mention the endorsements, etc.

Those guys worked hard. Having to play on several different surfaces and facing different audiences in other countries, and at times facing adversity.

Hopefully, someone will be give this situation some thought and the next USA Davis Cuo win will be greeted with more enthusiasm and generosity. However, it is not too late to do something now.

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