Tennis-X Previews, Notes: WTA Champs; ATP Vienna, St. Petersburg
by Staff | October 23rd, 2011, 7:27 pm

Wozniacki Looks for High Note at Season-ending WTA Championships

It was another year without a Grand Slam title for Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, and another year looking at the year-end No. 1 ranking in view after staying injury-free amidst an injury-decimated field of stars on the WTA Tour.
Absent from the season-ending championships are Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters, all vowing to return in 2012 but sidelined for most of 2011.

At the year-end TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships this week in Istanbul, Turkey, Wozniacki will compete in the Red Group with Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva and Aggie Radwanksa. The top two finishers from the round robin group will advance into the semifinals.

“It’s a tough group, but both groups are tough,” the Woz said. “It’s all great players. I’m going in there just hoping to play my best tennis and we’ll see what happens.”

Kvitova makes her first post-season WTA Championships appearance, as does Radwanska, not counting her two years as an alternate.

The White Group will be led by Maria Sharapova, who makes her fifth year-end championship appearance, beating Serena Williams in the 2004 final.

“I think we all know what to expect going into the groups,” Sharapova said. “It’s the Top 8 girls of the year. You’re going to get a tough group either way and tough opponents. It’s just a matter of being ready from the first match on.”

Also in the White Group are Victoria Azarenka (third appearance), French Open champ Li Na (first), and US Open champ Sam Stosur (2nd).

“Maria and Victoria I’ve never beaten before, so there’s a great challenge in itself,” Stosur said. “Obviously Li Na I’ve had success against, but every tournament is new. It’s going to be a tough week but I’m looking forward to it.”

Play begins Tuesday at the event, with the draw coming out on Monday.

Melzer 3-Peat, Muster Wildcard, DelPo Make ATP Vienna Interesting

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga makes his Vienna debut as the top seed, but all eyes will be on home-country favorite and two-time defending champion Jurgen “Tuna” Melzer at the Erste Bank Open on indoor hardcourt this week in Austria.

Also among the seeds are former US Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro, Radek “The Worm” Stepanek, Juan Ignacio Chela, Kevin “Mr.” Anderson, Nikolay Davydenko and Fabio Fognini.

Austrian 44-year-old and former No. 1 Thomas Muster took a wildcard, and says Vienna will likely be his last ATP-level tournament. He will meet fellow Austrian wildcard and 18-year-old Dominic Thiem in the first round.

“My second career has been the best I can manage with my body,” Muster told Die Presse newspaper of his comeback tour. “My second career has become a very tough job.”

Other early-round matches of interest are (1) Tsonga after a bye versus Robin Haase or Jarkko Nieminen, (8) Fognini vs. Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo, (6) Anderson vs. Austrian Andreas “Don’t be a” Hader-Maurer, and (3) Melzer after a bye versus James Blake or Guillermo “G-Lo” Garcia Lopez.

Other unseeded floaters include Xavier “X-Man” Malisse, Marcos Baghdatis and “Dr.” Ivo Karlovic.

Returning champions in the field are Melzer (2010-09) and Philipp Petzschner (2008).

Simon, Tipsarevic Hope for Masters Boost at St. Pete

Top seeds Gilles Simon and Janko Tipsarevic, the latter coming off a title run in Moscow, look to boost their chances of claiming one of the final ATP year-end championship spots this week with solid efforts at the St. Petersburg Open, held this week on indoor hardcourt in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Joining the pair among the seeds are Alexandr Dolgopolov, Marin Cilic, Russian hope and former champ Mikhail Youzhny, Marcel Granollers, Alex Bogomolov Jr., and Russian hope Dmitry Tursunov.

Wildcards into the main draw went to Latvian Ernests Gulbis, Israel’s Dudi Sela, and Russian Ivan Nedelko.

Tough openers of note include (5) Youzhny vs. the Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky, (6) Granollers vs. Igor Andreev, (7) Bogomolov vs. Russian Igor Kunitsyn, and a physically-tested (2) Tipsarevic vs. Olivier “The Roach” Rochus.

Former winners in the field are Mikhail Kukushkin (2010), Stakhovsky (2009), and Youzhny (2004).


RAFA ON RAFA SUCKING — Rafael Nadal has been getting his ass handed to him by Novak Djokovic this year. When Andy Murray joined the party by bageling the Spaniard late in the season it sent Nadal over the edge. Now he’s talking about himself in the third person. “I believe Rafa 2010 had something more special than Rafa 2011, especially in tough situations,” Nadal said. Instead of a lack of confidence, Nadal blamed losing fimnals of late on “very, very small things…It is hard to win big matches. I lost a lot of finals this year.” And while Murray says the level of men’s tennis has gone up this year, Nadal said his and Roger Federer’s have simply dropped. For 2012 Rafa says two things are in order: “First thing, I was in perfect conditions mentally all these years, but second thing because I always try to improve and play better and better. That’s the goal and that’s what I have to keep doing if I want to keep being here for a long time.” Can gluten-free be far off?

Roger Federer
is outside the Top 3 rankings for the first time since 2003…It is almost November, and the top three-ranked women on the WTA Rankings have not won a Slam title in 2011…The No. 6-8 spots remain open for the ATP Masters, with the first five sewn-up by 1 Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and defending champ David Ferrer…The US Open is in discussions with broadcasters for a possible Monday men’s final…Kim Clijsters says she will play an exo against Caroline Wozniacki before the end of the year, and Venus Williams has committed to play a December exo in Barbardos for a truckload of cash…John McEnroe won the Champions Series season-ending HSBC Tennis Cup in Buffalo, NY, beating Todd Martin 8-5 for his first victory since 2009. “Wow! To finally get a win on the series this year feels amazing,” the 52-year-old McEnroe told the AP. “I thought I had a chance tonight, and got off to a great start in the finals against Todd. The win certainly brings a big smile to my face.” In the semis McEnroe beat Jim Courier 6-3 and Martin defeated Michael Chang 6-2…Reportedly HBO has launched an investigation into the story that no broadcast network has wanted to touch — that former South African tennis star Bob Hewitt purportedly had a long history of sexual harassment against various underage tennis students of his. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is also coming out with a “special committee” to look into allegations by five women who have accused Hewitt of harassment and abuse when they were in their teens and he their coach. Hewitt gained fame particularly in doubles alongside partner Frew Macmillan. Hewitt’s son Turner has denied all the media allegations, and Hewitt himself has remained in hiding in South Africa…Chris Evert speaking to ABC: “When I was young I wanted to be a social worker. Also, I could see being a psychologist. I feel I have a good instinct about people.”…ATP Shanghai director Michael Luevano wants the player money dispute settled, speaking to the BBC: “They need a summit with the Grand Slam present, the ITF present, the WTA present and of course the ATP. Lock them in a room and throw away the key until they come out. The players are maybe coming across as being spoilt when I don’t think that is the case. It’s like voting for the pope. Stay there [in the meeting] and we’ll wait for the white smoke.”

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60 Comments for Tennis-X Previews, Notes: WTA Champs; ATP Vienna, St. Petersburg

blank Says:

“…The No. 6-8 spots remain open for the ATP Masters, with the first five sewn-up by 1 Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and defending champ David Ferrer…”

Ugh. Defending champ David Ferrer? Really? I guess I was asleep last year and must have missed it!

blank Says:

And what is this “ATP Masters” btw? Maybe David Ferrer did really win that one!

Kimberly Says:

Btw all colino6 played his first 8 and under round robin tournament today and won all 4 matches! A budding star!

Uggggh, I don’t like the part on rafa and has many factual errors. Rafa did the comparison of rafa 2010 and rafa 2011 before he lost to Murray.

blank Says:

That’s great Kimberly. America is waiting for the next Sampras…and may have to wait just a little over 10 yrs or so! :-)
Kidding aside,I hope he does really well and goes on to become a pro!

BT Says:

You should have waited until the rankings came out. Kvitova is now #3 making it only 1,2 and 4 who haven’t won a slam. Still… the underlying point remains valid. As much as I like women’s tennis the WTA sucked this year. Main highlight for me was Stosur winning the US Open :)

LOL Ferrer had a 0-3 result in the round robin last year, about as far from a defending champion as you can get!

Humble Rafa Says:

America is waiting for the next Sampras

What America will get is a foul mouthed, over paid under achiever who makes over 14 million dollars a year. Sampras was boring to watch unless you were American. MCenroe, Connors, Agassi, Courier, etc were interesting but Sampras had no personality. I couldn’t differentiate between a wall and Sampras for God’s sake.

Gentle Reminder from your Humble Highness: If you were not from SI or ESPN, Sampras won’t give you an iterview. For years, that was the case.

carlo Says:

Staff must have meant: defending champion, Federer. But I like staff’s humor. “Wozniaki looking for a high note.” That’s good. And Rafa talking about himself in 3rd person, lol. Hadn’t heard it! But what is,” “Don’t be a” Hader-Maurer?” ?? I don’t get it.

Anyway. Istanbul is in the NW a long ways from where the quake was in SE Turkey on the border of Iran. WTA final should be fine, unless of course, another quake happens, god forbid. Turkey has a history of earthquakes.

ATP WTF – looks like Berdych, Fish and Tsonga don’t have many points or at least in Fish’s case, have nothing to defend. I doubt if Monfils, Tipseravic or any others can get anything but an alternate place. I wonder if Fish can do better than Roddick’s 0-3 last year.

Colin Says:

On another thread, I remarked on Rafa referring to himself in the third person, and someone (forget who) pointed out that Nadal was answering a question, and the questioner had used the phrasing.
On the topic of earthquakes, it isn’t completely impossible the WTF could be affected! The last notable earth tremor in the UK was in 1884, and it was felt in London, though the epicentre was some distance away. There was a good deal of structural damage but, surprisingly, only one recorded death directly caused by the quake.

Kimberly Says:

Humble Rafa Says:
America is waiting for the next Sampras

What America will get is a foul mouthed, over paid under achiever who makes over 14 million dollars a year.

I hope you were not indicating that my darling sweet son colinO6, whose tournament success prompted Blank’s comment, will be a foul-mouthed overpaid underacheiver!

Colin Says:

Nobody named Colin could be other than a perfect gentleman. And anyone who argues with that is a #@%&!!!

Humble Rafa Says:

I was talking about the current generation of foul mouthed american “stars”…andy roddick, mardy fish, donald young, mike bryan,etc.

Does anyone know what happenned to the mike bryan case. He touched an umpire and was fined only $10,000 and he appealed. If he had killed him, the fine would have been 12,0000. LOL.

Kimmi Says:

more errors from this article

“Play begins Tuesday at the event, with the draw coming out on Monday”

You already told us the draw, remember? white group, red group! did you mean the schedule of play will come out of monday?

Kimmi Says:

“Austrian 44-year-old and former No. 1 Thomas Muster”

so muster was number 1, good to know. did he win a grand slam? WIKIPEDIA answered my question.

“Muster won the 1995 French Open and at his peak was known as “The King of Clay.”[1] In addition he won eight Masters 1000 series titles placing him sixth on the all time list. Muster is one of only three players to win Masters titles on 3 different surfaces (clay, carpet, and hard court).

Humble Rafa Says:

Speaking of foul mouthed brats, I forgot Ryan Harrison.

jane Says:

Kimmi, you’ve peaked my interest: “Muster is one of only three players to win Masters titles on 3 different surfaces (clay, carpet, and hard court).”

Who are the other two players? And are there Masters played on “carpet” anymore? And what is “carpet”, exactly (not the shag kind)?

Kimberly Says:

Ryan Harrison is a foul mouthed brat. But not isner, or fish?

Kimmi Says:

Interesting question jane. probably agassi is one of them. he won too many masters series titles (17) not to win on all surfaces. The 2011 calender does not show any carpet tournaments. They must have stopped them. when?

El Flaco Says:

I would bet Agassi has won masters titles on 3 surfaces.

Carpet is a temporary court covering. It could be placed on top of almost anything whether it be ice, wood or concrete. It is a softer surface than hard court so the bounce will be lower. It tends to play faster than hard court because of the lower bounce and smoother surface.

One of the tell tale signs that a match is on carpet is the sound of the ball bouncing and the players feet. There is almost a hollow sound like they are playing on wood or something.

The TMC in 2005 was played on carpet. Watch the 1st minute and listen to the ball bouncing and the players feet.

Daniel Says:

The Importance of being Colin!:)

jane Says:

Thanks El Flaco. Any idea who the three are, then? Muster, Fed and Agassi perhaps?

Kimmi, yes I had checked Paris and Shanghai just to make sure they were hard, as I had assumed.

El Flaco Says:

I checked the ATP site and both Agassi and Sampras won masters series events on hard, carpet and clay.

Kimberly Says:

i see wozniaki playing radwanska today. that match will put you to sleep!

Sharapova stosur definite error fest potential.

jane Says:

Makes sense. I am thinking carpet hasn’t been a masters surface for a while, maybe phased out before Fed was winning so much. I’d’ve thought he would be the other one as don’t typically think of Pete as a clay guy.

Kimberly Says:

I’d’ve thought he would be the other one as don’t typically think of Pete as a clay guy.


me neither, shocked as sometimes a masters can be harder to win than a GS especially on clay

El Flaco Says:

Sampras won in Rome one year. Incidentally Agassi only won 1 clay masters shield and that was also in Rome.

carlo Says:

The young man who defeated Muster.

He was super excited he got to practice with Federer. Best of luck, Dominik Thiem

Kimberly Says:

did i ever mention sharapova is a frustrating player to root for?

Kimmi Says:

Wish I had seen the matches!!

Sorry Kimberly but WOW for Stosur. She eventually gets her first win against sharpie!!! she lost 9 straight times to her before today..great job USO champ :)

ah,kvitova nearly gave me a heart attack. good thing i was not watching. she was 6-2 4-1 up against zvonareva before she decided to let vera right back in to 4 all..thanks god she manage to regroup before things got really ugly. She is good enough to win this tournament if she can get her head together. I love this girl, she has so much talent BUT…

Wozniacki always a fighter. too bad for radwanska but she hasnt beaten her friend since 2007..

BT Says:

Great win for Stosur over Sharapova. A change of strategy was definitely in order. I don’t think Stosur’s kick serve which really troubles players like Zvonereva is as effective against Sharapova as she is so tall and has good reach.

Sharapova really suffered with the unforced errors though. I’d stay Stosur will make the semis now as I don’t see Li bothering her at all. Azarenka may beat her but who knows.

Kimmi Says:

sharapova has not played since that match in tokyo where she injured her ankle. she could be rusty. to come back after injury and play with top players straight away must be tough.

jane Says:

Here is a link to an interesting article, imo, though it is very statistically-based. The writer looks at how increasingly important the return game has become on the men’s tour; it examines from roughly a decade or so of top players:

skeezerweezer Says:

^Nole @41% is an amazing stand out stat the books….

skeezerweezer Says:

For the books……

jane Says:

Just thought it was interesting how the writer seems to show that the game is evolving, how a player can’t presently be number one just having a great serve, or just having a great return game, but now they to need to have fairly high percentages in both. Whereas in the past, that wasn’t always the case.

margot Says:

Cheers for that jane, I found it very interesting. I always felt that Roger’s ROS was the worst of the top 4, but his serve, being much better, compensated for this. Am wondering if Andy is now No3, just… I know, because his hold stats have improved, or is it because Roger’s game has slightly declined.
BTW, Andy now holds the record for fastest forehand ever, 124 mph at Cincinatti this Summer against Fish. Time for Humble Rafa to eat humble pie.

jane Says:

margot, Murray just needs to keep his hold game up there. If he can do it, he can get to the very top by winning majors. His return game is one of the best ever, and his first serve is tough when it is firing. So just upping those precentages could make the difference. It is true Fed has declined, but if one looks at his stats, they are still excellent, particularly in serve category. It is return game that hurts him – when compared to the other guys at the top right now, all fabulous returners. That wasn’t always the case, as the stats show.

P.S. cheers back at ya… :)

grendel Says:

I don’t think those statistics show very much. At the best of times, figures like these are a blunt instrument. If you look at the figures for Federer, and how they relate to his ranking, just about nothing can be concluded. The figures for Djokovic are indeed striking, but that is not remotely surprising given the season he has had, and can be considered as something of a one-off.

As for Murray, it is just misleading to talk about the excellence of his return and serve as a pointer to his winning majors. The quality of his game has never been seriously in doubt. The problem has always been his mind, and I thought I saw an improvement recently, in winning 3 tourneys on the trot, including overwhelming Nadal. I am inclined to think I was getting a bit over-excited, as one can. Murray at his best is an exciting and formidable talent.

But the fact remains, the big boys weren’t there apart from Nadal – and Nadal was not remotely the formidable force he always is in a slam.

I hope Murray wins a slam or two, but there is no reason yet to suppose he will. It absolutely remains to be seen whether his mentality has fundamentally altered. At this stage in his career, for he is no spring chicken, that is a tall order. The mind is more resistant to change than just about anything else in a person’s makeup. Still, it’s not out of the question, of course.

jane Says:

I thought they showed what the author concluded: that to be number one right now, or the way the game has been trending, a player needs to have both a strong return and a strong hold/serve game. But that wasn’t always the case based on those stats: players in the past have gotten to number one because they were particularly strong in either serve (more common, Sampras, Roddick) or return (less common, Hewitt). That was his main point I thought. Anyhow … I found it interesting.

margot Says:

and jane, so did I :)
grendel, stop being such a grouch about Andy… please…

dari Says:

Haha margot
C’Mon grendel, let him be a spring chicken. He’s fit as a fiddle and so fast so strong. Maybe just late bloomer in the grand slam sense, positive spin

grendel Says:

the stats do not unequivocally show that. For instance, in 2009 they show Fed at #1, 90/24, and 2010 #2, 89/27. Furthermore, these kind of statistics are simply not equipped to demonstrate what their author hopes they do, (not that they are without interest). For instance, supposing Sampras, or his clone, was playing now, at the height of his powers – with the serve and ros more or less the same. Are we to say he would not be right up there, with Nadal and Djokovic? Seems implausible to me.These kind of very crude statistics cannot take into account different styles and approaches toward winning. Djokovic and Nadal are very aggressive all the time, more or less. Sampras was notorious for coasting, conserving energy, biding his time – on the return of serve, I mean. In short, choosing his moment to strike. I’d say Federer falls into that mould more than into the Djokovic/Nadal one.

margot and dari – yes, of course Murray may be a late bloomer. Let’s hope so. All I am saying is, optimism about his chances on the basis of his current game is kind of irrelevant since his game has long been good enough to win a major. The question is, has his mind adapted sufficiently? My contention is that, at best, we don’t know yet. The “at best” is not a dig at Murray, just a sober recognition that in this respect, change, deep change, is unfortunately rare – and there are good reasons for that.

margot –

jane Says:

The number 1 players in 98, 2000, 2003 all had fairly low return games, at 25,25,21. That is not the case now: look at the ros stats for the top three: 41, 35, 37. That’s a huge increase, and the writer notes the increasing importance of the ros game. Even when Hewitt managed to be number 1 more so on the merit of his excellent ros game, he wasn’t that high (33). Once Fed became dominant, he kept his serve and his ros games fairly high percentage-wise; between 04-07, for example ros was 30, 31, 32, and 29 in those years. So usually 30 and above. The writer seems to be right that once Fed’s ros game dropped a few percentages he also became less dominant. You can argue that it wasn’t a key factor, that it’s age, illness, etc, and certainly those are valid points, but in 08, 09, 10, 11 Fed’s ros is 27,24,27,27. That’s a consistent drop from his dominant years. The writer notes that 2009 was an anomally, and it was – in part, too, because Rafa lost at the FO early and didn’t play Wimbledon; Nole was having double fault yips and the Martin experiment; Muzza wasn’t yet as consistent as he’s become. Delpo was on the rise and was the toughest competition at that point. One could argue Fed’s serve was a key factor in his win at Wimbledon too (am thinking of the “serve off” in the final set). People have noted at this site that Fed’s serve has remained one of his most formidable weapons and has kept him near the top. But if his ros game was a few percentages higher, up there with Nole, Rafa and Muzza, it’s possible he could still be at the top. He might’ve been able to break Tsonga at Wimbledon for example? Anyhow, just some thoughts. I know you are generally a skeptic with regards to statistics and what they show grendel, so your take on the article is not unexpected. But I still find these sorts of things interesting, and they do show something. You should see the film “Moneyball.”

alison hodge Says:

jane im not usually one for reading stats as i dont really get the time,but i have to say i did have a look and found it quite interesting,it shows how the margins between winning and loosing here and there are very fine sometimes,and how a players level can drop or raise from year to year by making slight improvements to there game.

grendel Says:

it’s not that I am sceptical about statistics – on the contrary, they constitute a quite remarkable science and, furthermore, in some respects lie at the basis of physical reality – advanced physics is quite impossible without statistics. But, imo, you have to treat all such figures as are produced by your author with extreme care; they are crude – “crude” not in a pejorative sense but in the sense of crude oil, say, unrefined i.e. – and unanalysed.

You say 2009 was an exception. Maybe, but that is the point. It is not difficult to find exceptions. We can’t prove it, but I doubt very much Federer lost on account of his poor return of serve against Tsonga at Wimbledon – that wasn’t the main problem. And sometimes, Federer’s return is at least as good as Nadal’s or better – it is quite variable. And that doesn’t necessarily matter, as was clear with Sampras. Conversely, Fed’s serve was letting him down badly a few months ago. But the real problem with Federer has nothing to do with either serve – generally excellent – or return, these days not bad sometimes. It’s mental, that minute deterioration which inevitable comes with ageing. That’s been the problem, not ros. Of course, in this scenario, the return will suffer somewhat – along with everything else, in particular the forehand.

And incidentally, the figures your chap produces are unconvincing w.r.t.Fed even taken as they stand. When he was #1, in 04, 05, 06,07 (we’ll leave out 09 as a “special case” ) the ros figures are 30, 31, 32, 29. In 08 and 10, they are both 27. This is just not a strong case. A slight deterioration is suggested, as you would expect.

There are always alternative ways of looking at reality,interpreting its meaning and so on and there must be any number that neither of us have even thought of. But consider this: Nadal’s serve, whilst an awkward one, is essentially defensive – winners tend not to come from either server or returner. So, he definitely needs a high class return. Sampras’ serve was so overwhelmingly good, vastly superior to Djokovic’s or Nadal’s, and more potent even than Federer’s, that he didn’t need such a good return. Of course, Sampras’ return was respectable, not like Isner’s, eg. It just wasn’t spectacular – didn’t need to be to get the job done, and nor would it today I suggest(just an opinion). Something similar can be said on behalf of Federer, though not so forcefully. Nalbandian and Ferrer lack penetrating serves, so their returns had better be good – and they are. Dokovic’s return – these days – is a wonder, and as such does not easily fall into any category.

Naturally, if you are a great player, all your shots need to be high class, including the return. That does not mean that success hinges on the return. It is one of the factors.

jane Says:

But that 3-5% drop in Fed’s ros game over the last few years knocks him down in all the ros categories, and it could be a crucial difference. For example:

Return games won 2007 – 9th place
Return games won 2011 – 16th place

BPs converted 2007 – 26th
BPs converted 2011 – 37th

Return 1st serves 2007 – 5th
Return 1st serve 2011 – 9th

Return 2nd serve – 15th
Return 2nd serve – 21st

Now, contrast that with his serve games; you’ll note he’s actually improved considerably in the first serves won category.

Serve games won 2007 – 3rd
Serve games won 2011 – 3rd

1st serve points won 2007 – 24th
1st serve points won 2011 – 3rd

2nd serve points won 2007 – 1st
2ns serve points won 2011 – 2nd

This is something tangible that you can measure; it’s clear Fed’s serve is as good as it ever was, and that his return game has dropped off. To say it’s mental it less easy to judge, and I notice you say the same about Murray.

However, the writer makes a strong case that if Murray were to up his serve game just a few percentage points 3-5% in some categories, it could make a noticeable difference in his results. I am inclined to agree with the author.

skeezerweezer Says:

jane agree re; Feds return. Will go further than that and also say it is a major cause(return) for Feds low BP percentage.

grendel Says:

“This is something tangible that you can measure; it’s clear Fed’s serve is as good as it ever was, and that his return game has dropped off”

No, not quite. Because the opponents and the situations are not the same. You cannot tangibly measure something in terms of comparison unless you can hold some of your variables constant – and that’s just the problem. That’s not to say you can’t make interesting conjectures. Your tone is full of certainty, however.

“1st serve points won 2007 – 24th
1st serve points won 2011 – 3rd” That looks very impressive. But again, it absolutely leaves out of account any number of variables – type of matches, differing opponents, different emphasis on the serve especially (i.e.much more conscious reliance on it as other powers are seen to be waning).

For one thing is certainly true. The serve tends to be the last stroke to go, this has often been noted. And very likely it will be true of Federer. What does this have to do with the return of serve, any more than with the fluctuating fortunes of his great weapon, the forehand?

“To say it’s mental it less easy to judge, and I notice you say the same about Murray.” And so does almost everybody else. They are both very different cases, of course. Federer has lost a little bit in his powers of concentration,this has hurt him – badly, there is very little doubt about this – and, given how much tennis he has played over the years, it is not in the least surprising. As for Murray, it is simply bizarre not to acknowledge that in majors he has been severely handicapped by his poor mentality.

“the writer makes a strong case that if Murray were to up his serve game just a few percentage points 3-5% in some categories, it could make a noticeable difference in his results. I am inclined to agree with the author.” But who would quarrel with that, although the word “noticeable” is impossibly vague? It’s just a banal and obvious comment. Still, I do think there is room here for a genuine discussion here rather than just scoring points. It is in this sense. Murray’s relative lack of mental strength is quite apparent to most observers – relative, because we are talking only of the very biggest stages and in any case, compared to players like Gasquet and Verdasco, say, he’s strong.

Nevertheless, I think it is certainly arguable that were he to become more consistent on his first serve – and incidentally, just how is he to do this? his recent serving has been quite superb, it clearly does NOT need “upping” as such, it needs maintaining, and that seems to be primarily a mental difficulty – and were he to affect real improvements in the 2nd (plenty of scope here), then he might gather the kind of confidence which he desperately needs to make the breakthrough.

In other words, the “mental” aspects are here inextricably combined with the physical -i.e. technical part of his game. I think that is a perfectly reasonable supposition. We don’t know, of course. Confidence is a delicate commodity. That is why personally, I am inclined to wait and see as to what happens with Murray.

Leon Says:

Murray plays Basel!
Is it a war announcement?

dari Says:

Whoa Leon! big surprise. I wonder what his thoughts are behind this decision

Kimmi Says:

basel is becoming the best ATP 500 this year.

margot Says:

Leon: hopefully it’s a “confidence” announcement :)
grendel: Andy’s first serve percentage has been steadily improving lately. He’s working with Cahill some of the time, read somewhere Cahill puts tin cans on the extreme service lines and Andy tries to hit them! Anyway, Cahill’s main area of expertise is serve, so here’s hoping both first serve percentage will become more consistent and Andy’s second will improve.
Of course, Andy watchers will have seen notable improvement in fore hand since Wimbledon.
Of course, Andy “chokes” in finals, not a word I like but the reality. However, because he’s done so in the past is not an indicator that he’ll do so in the future. Also, he’s just had his best year, re slams.

grendel Says:

margot – “However, because he’s done so in the past is not an indicator that he’ll do so in the future” – true, which is why, in my opinion, caution is indicated.

About Federer’s serve: another thing those statistics do not take into account, and cannot do, is how the serving is distributed across matches (divided roughly into important and unimportant, say) and also within matches. For instance, it is my strong impression that Federer is these days not nearly so likely to serve big when he’s in trouble as he used to be.

Admittedly, that’s an impression and we can all deceive ourselves – for instance, you see something striking 2 or 3 times, and your mind somehow persuades you that it’s always like that. I may be guilty of that, but I doubt it. I remember being impressed in one of Murray’s recent matches by how he would serve big when in trouble, and wishing Federer could still do that. They do say that the nerves get worse as you get older.

margot Says:

grendel: lol re: “nerves get worse as you get older”
does that mean that Andy will conquer his nerves at exactly the moment when they will inevitably get worse again? Do not think I could stand it…
Agree with you re Andy managing to serve best when he needs it most, I’ve noticed that too. Was it 4 aces he served against Rafa at 0-40? Astonishing.

Kimberly Says:

clijsters used to choke in finals and now she doesn’t.

jane Says:

Re Fed’s ros game stats – sure, opponents change. But then why would his serve remain constant? Arguably he is facing some of the best returners the game has ever seen yet he remains right at the top w.r.t. service game stats. However, his ros stats have all dropped numerous spots. It can’t only be oponents. He is just marginally weaker at the return game than he used to be. Maybe he is slightly less aggressive overall, too. He seems to have always been a little more aggressive on first serve returns. Also, maybe his rivals don’t sit back when he hits the chip return to get a rally going. Instead they take the initiative and take control of the rally, so in this sense opponents could be a factor.

As for not hitting big serves in big moments, at the USO in that game in which he was serving for the match versus Nole, he hit at least 3 aces. And he hit a double fault, possibly because he was going for a lot on his second serve. His first serve points won suggests he still wins a lot of points either going for bog ones, or via placement change ups. No way he could be third in the tour otherwise.

jane Says:

margot, you might like this latest BR piece; it looks at ros on the various surfaces over a number of years. Murray is fabulous consistently.

grendel Says:

” why would his serve remain constant?” I don’t think it has altogether, for reasons given above. The game serving for match was a strange one – and the clincher was that cautious serve which let Djokovic back in. That was the biggie – and he failed. I don’t think he’d have done that years earlier. Otherwise, I have already addressed the question – the serve is often the last stroke to go, perhaps because it doesn’t involve running, but I don’t know. They say Sampras’ seve was still lethal when he was doing those exhos with Federer.

Being 3rd on the tour is not the point. Again, unqualified stats are hopeless to deal with this. A few critical moments against only a few players, that’s what we’re talking about.

Kimberley: the nerve thing, I’m not saying it is universal, my impression is that it is common. Clijsters is hardly old yet, you know. Her main chokes, if memory serves, were against Henin, there was a pretty special reason for that. And even on the comeback, she has had some peculiar results. But still, that’s Kim for you.

margot, yes that’d be funny. “Old” is in terms of leg work as Ben Pronin remarked some time ago. Murray’s got a long way to go…

margot Says:

Wow jane, thank you for that. Brilliant! Even more upsetting that Andy hasn’t won a slam yet…*crying*.

jane Says:

margot, he will. I am convinced. I remain convinced. Until he doesn’t I won’t be convinced otherwise. :)

grendel, was trying to point out that if your reasoning that his ros is not worse, or that the stats don’t prove it is because the stats don’t take into opponents, surely the same applies to the serve. His chief opponents now are arguably some of the best returners in the game ever, yet Fed’s serve remains at the top. This can’t be solely because it’s “the last shot to go”? I think it’s more than that. The stats show that Fed’s serve is still a lethal weapon – possibly even improved if you take into account the quality of ros game in the men’s tour right now – but his return game has slipped. As for that serve at 40-15? Nole hit an amazing return. Not a failure on Fed’s part, just a great return. The serve was out wide, Nole read it. It wasn’t short on power or badly placed. You might take into account that he was facing a guy with 44.4% ros record on hard courts, and who had nothing to lose, so to speak. Fed did nothing wrong. That’s how I saw it anyhow. The next serve, into the body, was brilliant by Fed, but again, Nole got that back when many, probably most, wouldn’t have, and Fed hit the cord when he ran in to get the short return. More bad luck than bad serving in that case. But I guess we all see and interpret things from our own perspectives, skewed, no doubt.

grendel Says:

” I was trying to point out that if your reasoning that his ros is not worse..”
But I have agreed that there is a small deterioration in the return, as you would expect in a an older player. Everything is going downhill very, very slowly with Federer. This is why people have this impression of something almost tragic going on – death in installments so to speak – although of course that is absurd. The serve is the last to go – and it is also showing signs of strain in some critical moments.

For example, the serve at 40-15. I have paid tribute to Djokovic’s brilliant return, it was not lucky as some have said except in the sense that, say, an ace is slightly lucky (otherwise, you could hit them all the time). But there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that Federer pulled back slightly on the serve on grounds of caution. The reason I have no doubt is my vivid memory of the moment Fed hit the serve – the actual moment – when I yelled in dismay, I could see what Federer had done, and accordingly I wasn’t as taken aback as some were by Djokovic’s terrific response. Djokovic is a great returner, but he is not a magician, and Federer handed him an opportunity, a small one, agreed, but that can be what matches hang on when involving the very best.

Another point: Fed’s serve is still one of the great serves in history. That is just not remotely true of Djokovic and Nadal or Murray for that matter (although I believe he has the capacity to become one of them). But was Federer better than Roddick at his best? Certainly more beautiful to watch, but more effective? Questionable. So again, not so surprising Fed’s serve can still be lethal in comparison with the field

And by the way, hitting the net cord is not bad luck – it’s bad play. That might sound harsh, but that’s how it is at the very top.

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