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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Australian Open Wrap-Up




Djokovic captured the title this year.



The first Grand Slam of this year was all about one person, and one person only.  Novak Djokovic succeeded in finally reclaiming his Australian Open singles title, three years after capturing his first one Down Under.  This was a huge accomplishment in itself, but what was even more incredible was the way in which he ran through the draw, dropping only one set in the process to Ivan Dodig of Croatia.  This "Djokovic" was nothing like the man that won in 2008.  Then, Djokovic was a teenager, prone to unpredictable results, struggling with his serve, and succumbing to nerves.  This time around, the man from Serbia showed his mental fortitude and unbelievable defense throughout the fortnight.

And it's not as if Djokovic's title was a fluke.  He had to fight through constant threats such as Almagro, Berdych, Federer, and Murray.  He also wasn't a favorite coming in.  But Novak powered through these roadblocks without so much as a hiccup. This, in turn, led to his inspirational graduation out of the "One-Slam Wonder" club.

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Nadal's exit came to David Ferrer.
Rafael Nadal's quest to become the first man to hold all four majors at once since Rod Laver in 1969 ended in bitter disappointment this year, as he bowed out against the feisty David Ferrer in straight sets.  In a marathon 18+ minute second game, Nadal seemed to have injured his muscle (it was later confirmed to be a small hamstring tear).

From then on, he was nowhere near his best, letting Ferrer dictate the majority of the rallies.  He was out of sorts during the entire 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 beat-down.  Nadal was, as always, classy in defeat.  He congratulated Ferrer continuously in his press conference.  But the lingering question of Nadal's future hangs in the air: How long will it be before his body simply won't be able to support his physically taxing game any longer?

Roger Federer Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a forehand in his second round match against Gilles Simon of France during day three of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 19, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.
Federer's forehand let him down.
Roger Federer's Australian Open attempt was not unlike Rafa's.  He came in as a favorite.  And, more importantly, he was dismissed in straight sets.  But the major difference between these conflicting story lines was that Federer appeared to be playing his game.  While Nadal was clearly fighting the effects of a lingering virus and a tear to his hamstring, Federer came in with fine form.  After his U.S. Open semifinal loss to Djokovic, Federer looked nearly invincible for the remainder of last year.  He compiled a 16-2 record with losses only to Andy Murray in Shanghai and to Gael Monfils in Paris.  So no one could be faulted for expecting a final appearance from the Swiss Maestro.  However, things did not turn out to be so clear.  In a tough second round matchup against Gilles Simon of France, Federer became flat up two sets to none.  His forehand began to fall apart, and the match went five sets.  After the grueling match with the Frenchman, Federer's disinterest seemed to continue recurring in his game.  At times when playing Xavier "X man" Malisse, Federer appeared disinterested, making several disastrous errors.  When it really mattered, these little mistakes led to a loss to Djokovic.
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Soderling had his best Aussie Open to date.

Robin Soderling has never enjoyed relative success at the Australian Open.  Overall, it has been his worst Grand Slam.  This year around, however, everything seemed to be going for him.  He was the highest he'd ever been seeded in a Slam, at 4th, and his draw was considerably favorable.  In his first three  matches, he dominated.  He appeared to be the key person in disrupting the Federer-Nadal dream final.  In a tricky match against the talented Ukrainian, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Robin's serve, which had been his greatest asset the entire tournament, fell apart.  So did his chance to get to the quarterfinals.   He bowed out in five unusually quick sets.  

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Murray was an underdog.
Andy Murray came into the Australian Open without being on the radar.  All the talk was of Nadal's possible Grand Slam and Federer's strong play.  So much focus was put on this possible final that Andy Murray, the finalist exactly a year ago, was not the topic of conversation.  But he came in strong.  His serve was a weapon and his movement was exceptional.  He had straightforward matches at first with players that couldn't really challenge him, like Garcia-Lopez and Jurgen Melzer.  The fact is, Murray was dominating his matches until he came up against the 22-year-old upstart Dolgopolov.  Murray was truly in for a fight.  But he emerged victorious.  By the semifinals, the draw had opened up with Nadal's elimination.  And so, the light had again turned to Murray.  With this new pressure on his shoulders, Andy struggled with the force of Ferrer's play, and played much of the match from far behind the baseline.  He came within a point of being two sets down to love.  Somehow, he pulled out the victory 4-6, 7-6, 6-1, 7-6.  Once again though, his passive game showed through when he played the final.  Djokovic didn't give Andy even the slightest of openings, unlike his previous opponents.  His anger eventually got the best of him, and it was a highly unsatisfying performance.

And so, another Australian Open has come and gone.  Many twists and surprising results dotted the field.  Newcomers emerged, stars bowed out, and five-setters dominated the field. The tournament has left us all in eager anticipation for the next Grand Slam, Roland Garros.

Is it really another four months until then?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Young Guns: Milos Raonic


    
The start of any new season brings new faces, new stories, and new champions who burst onto the tennis scene.  This year, the new face, the new story, and the new champion is Milos Raonic.  The tennis world has been picked up and dropped on its head by this 20 year old hot shot from Canada.  At this same point last year, Raonic's ranking was almost 10 times lower than his current ranking of 37.  Raonic has progressed leaps and bounds, not only ranking-wise, but temperament-wise and fitness-wise.  Last year at the Rakuten Japan Open, Rafael Nadal narrowly defeated Raonic in a closely contested match.  Rafael Nadal said Raonic will be a future top ten player.  Nevertheless, over the course of a year, he has become a strong competitor, elegant mover, with a Sampras-esque coolness on the court, poised on the edge of the top 30.  

Raonic possesses all the necessary weapons a champion requires.  He is an outstandingly fit young man, wields a humongous flat forehand, and throws down absolute bombs on his serve.  Mardy Fish said that Raonic: "...has about the strongest legs of anyone I've seen."  He went through the qualifying and played four rounds at the Australian Open without running out of gas.  And if anyone thought that was a fluke, Raonic played 5 straight three setters  in one week from the San Jose Final to the Memphis final, 4 of which ended in a 7-6 or 7-5 set.

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Raonic serves during the 2011 Australian Open.
Raonic moves incredibly well for a 6'5" giant.  When forced onto the defensive, he powerfully scrambles with a Murray-like flair to dig out of holes with slices and loopy forehands.  He often dances around backhands moving quickly around a ball to unleash his powerful forehand.  Speaking of which, Raonic possesses one of the biggest, and most technically sound forehands in the game I've seen thus far.  A simple motion, he effortlessly plows through forehand after forehand, setting them up with his crisp footwork.  In yesterday's final against Andy Roddick, Raonic clocked a forehand at 117 mph, a difficult task on the fast indoor courts.  The secret of Raonic's forehand is his separation.  With fast footwork, he allows himself the max amount of time to separate his shoulders, and keep his racket high above the ball.  This yields lots of potential energy for Raonic to flatten out forehands dexterously without expending too much energy on each shot. 

For a base-liner, Raonic has excellent variety in his game, and is willing to try new things during matches.  This is a great sign from the youngster, a sign the tennis world saw from early on with Rafael Nadal en route to his legendary status.  

During his run in Memphis, Raonic often found himself rushing the net on big points closing out pressure situations if his serve didn't accomplish the task first.  Raonic's main weapon, and the one that everyone has heard about by now is the serve.  Raonic has one of the biggest serves in the game, blasting a 150 mph ace by Andy Roddick in the third set yesterday and thereby cementing his place as the second fastest server in the history of tennis behind the American.  However, it is not just his first serve which is so effective, it is his second serve that tells the tale of his success.  Raonic has no problem at all going for 120-130 mph second serves on pressure points to keep his opponents on their toes.  He has great variety on his serve, and can hit all of his spots with pace or spin.  His service games resemble that of his idol Pete Sampras, and the mighty Roger Federer.  Often caught down 0-30 or 0-40 due to highly aggresive play, Raonic comes up with absolute fire-crackers of serves to dig himself out of holes like the champions before him.    


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Raonic during the trophy presentation in San Jose.
Raonic has many great weapons in his arsenal, but some may ask, don't many of the young guns like Alexandr Dolgopolov and Robin Haase possess big offensive and defensive accouterments as well?  What differentiates Raonic from his rising peers is his impeccable composure, his ability to serve himself out of trouble with ease, and his humility and comfort with fame and success.  What strikes me most about Raonic is his infallible ability to stay inertly positive. 

Almost a mirror image of Sampras, he never mutters words under his breath or screams after the loss of a big point.  He has one face and one face only on during a match, and that face is focus.  Yes, he may lose focus for half a set or so (like all the second sets he lost in Memphis this week) but he always gathers himself for the major points in a match.  He is a very level headed young man, and seldom even shouts for joy after winning a match.  This trait is absolutely crucial for champions to develop, and Raonic has already mastered it.  He has proven it at a Grand Slam level with a win over top ten player Mikhail Youzhny, and again with two consecutive wins over Fernando Verdasco, in back-to-back weeks.

This same composure is what allows Raonic to consistently and competently serve himself out of trouble.  Raonic was consistently able to conjure up aces, or big plays to hold serve at key moments in sets.


The last thing about Raonic that thoroughly impressed me was his humility and comfort with fame and success in the last two months.  When asked about his recent success Raonic merely took it in stride and replied "It's coming nicely.  I'm acknowledging it all and taking as much as I can from it.  But I'm focusing on the next day and doing what I need to do for tomorrow's final.  It's amazing to be in two finals in a row.  After you get the results, everything comes with it, like the rankings.  But the thing I'm most proud of is my level." 

Clearly spoken like a humble and true champion, Raonic has no problem handling the fame and success and is looking to learn from his progress to create more success.  Although Raonic was on a hotstreak until yesterday, he joked with Roddick and congratulated the American on his 30th title during the trophy presentation and showed his acceptance speech prowess as well as tennis deftness yesterday.   

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Celebrating after a win.
I believe Raonic is going to be the next legend in the modern game.  This young Canadian has everything going for him and recognizes he still has some room for improvement.  Raonic will be the spokesperson of the next generation of tennis, just like Roger Federer is for this generation.  Who knows, maybe current rising star Alexandr Dolgopolov will be Raonic's main rival in the upcoming years.  The start of a new rivalry may begin in the second round of Acapulco this week.  Stay posted for more on the rising champion: Milos Raonic.











Monday, February 21, 2011

Dive by Andy Roddick on match point!

This winner by Andy Roddick left us all struggling for words.  It came dramatically on (what else?) match point to capture the Memphis title against the young sensation Milos Raonic.

Roddick called it the: "...best shot he ever hit".

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Muscular Endurance: Viable or Not?

Upon the completion of the fortnight Down Under, an interesting article caught my eye at http://atpworldtour.com/ (for reference: "For Great Court Coverage, Build Muscular Endurance").  As a fitness fanatic and avid tennis player, I was immediately interested.  The article posed Novak Djokovic as its poster-boy, and attributed his recent success to muscular endurance as the key factor in his defensively oriented game.

After finishing the article, I took it upon myself to do some research.  What I gathered was a definitive classification of the different types of muscle training.  Muscle training can be classified into three generally distinct groups:
  • Muscular Strength Training
  • Muscular Explosiveness Training
  • Muscular Endurance Training
Muscular endurance training is rare in tennis.  It is designated by the ability of a muscle to repeat the same motion over and over for a long period of time.  For a professional match, it can last for over five hours.  The simplest form of muscular endurance is a completion of the unit turn and bend that is necessary before every forehand and backhand.  A more advanced form of muscular endurance includes the capability to reproduce the same explosive bursts of energy to chase down balls and drop shots continuously throughout a long match.

On a general level, athletes tend to focus on muscular strength over other types of fitness.  Usually, it is caused by ignorance or by trying to build a stronger foundation.  Muscular explosiveness and muscular endurance training can only be effective after a athlete develops a strong base.  Specifically for tennis players, muscular explosiveness training constitutes one of the most, if not the most important sector of tennis.  At the professional level, however, the combination of the three forms of fitness tends to parallel success.

Most players focus solely on the muscular strength aspect of the game in an effort to keep up with the multitude of power on tour.  But top players understand the importance of muscular strength training and muscular explosiveness training, and implement both into regular workouts.

Gael Monfils Gael Monfils of France returns a shot to Rafael Nadal of Spain during day nine of the 2009 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2009 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.
Monfils returns a forehand against Nadal at the U.S. Open.
People often question what separates a top twenty player from a top five player.  Top  twenty players all have big weapons and promising talent.  But the players who can go the distance while maintaining a high standard of play day in and day out are the champions that dominate the game.  A great example of this was Rafael Nadal's 2009 U.S. Open match against Gael Monfils of France.  Both players are well-known for their incredible athleticism and are probably the most physically defined people on tour.  After a set of extreme rallies and unprecedented movement, Gael Monfils took the first set in a tiebreak.  Nadal may have run just as much as the Frenchmen, if not more, and still won the match.
Rafael Nadal displaying his muscular endurance.
Monfils, however, was the one who physically broke down.  The next three sets were a beat-down due to Monfils' inability to match Rafael Nadal's physicality.  So why didn't Nadal's game drop as Monfils' did?  The answer lies in muscular endurance training.  Rafael Nadal was able to outlast his opposition because he has maxed out his muscular endurance.  Top players like Roger Federer, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic all have the capability to play five sets through the seven rounds of a Grand Slam, and still become champions because of their muscular endurance.

You may be questioning how you can train your muscular endurance.  You may already be training without knowing it!  Exercising on the treadmill, elliptical, or stair-master are all perfect ways to increase your muscular endurance.  If you want great results on the court, doing exercises such as lunges and squats are very helpful (any exercise in reality can be used).  The important thing is doing high reps with smaller weights.  Keeping your shoulders and core strong is also key to diminishing the number of injuries you get while playing.  These high repetition workouts teach your muscles how to stay strong and last long on the court during those grueling matches!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Check Out These Training Blocks From Andy Murray!

Here is a great behind the scenes video of a professional at work.  Andy Murray is training at University of Miami where he has gone to train during the off season since 2009.  These are all exercises we can do on the court to develop muscle explosiveness.

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

Australian Open Disappointments



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Davydenko looked good coming in.
As with any big tournament, there were several players that failed to have results on their high standards.  Most noticeably of these, of course, was Nikolay Davydenko.  The quiet and attention-avoiding Russian came into the tournament with some hype--in Doha, he had dispatched Nadal with relative ease.  However, when he arrived at Melbourne Park, it looked as if all the momentum of the previous week had seeped away.  He was dispatched in the first round in four sets by the unconventional game of Florian Mayer.  So surprising was this upset that it has left all of us going back to the drawing board.

Another huge disappointment at this year's open was the always laid-back America, Sam Querrey.  Querrey has been criticized for being too lackadaisical in the past, and this time was no different.  The 18th-ranked player in the world hadn't been posting great results coming into the tournament and has been in something of a slump.  Nevertheless, it's still upsetting to see him lose first round to Lukasz Kubot of Poland, who should have been a relatively easy match-up for the big-serving American.

Roddick sliced his way to the round of 16.
Another American, Andy Roddick, never looked like a serious contender for the Aussie Open this year; he was always behind the baseline and his slice seemed to be his favored shot, even over his monstrous serve.  This took him through the Hajeks, the Kunitsyns, and even the Haases, but when he came up against his first seed, the in-form Wawrinka, Andy fell apart.  If Roddick wants to win a Grand Slam again, he'll have to change his strategy.  Maybe he will even have to revert to the style of play that won him his maiden U.S. Open title.  But this time around, it was just another mediocre Grand Slam exit.

Ernests Gulbis, the young Latvian who was throttling towards the cusp of the top ten as he reached the semifinals in Rome, has witnessed his career merge into one big choke.  He gives away matches, can't control his emotions, and possesses a completely unruly game.  Sadly, he has seemed to become a free round for people in Grand Slams.  This Australian Open fortnight, he was taken out in straight sets by Benjamin Becker, the big-serving but straightforward German. This adds to Ernests' dubious distinction of having lost in the first round of the last five majors in straight sets.  It's very sad to see talent such as his go to waste.  Hopefully he'll be able to pull himself out of the hole he's in now.  We hope he makes some key changes to his game so that he lives up to his magnificent potential.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Australian Open Wrap-Up









Djokovic captured the title this year.
The first Grand Slam of this year was all about one person, and one person only.  Novak Djokovic succeeded in finally reclaiming his Australian Open singles title, three years after capturing his first one Down Under.  This was a huge accomplishment in itself, but what was even more incredible was the way in which he ran through the draw, dropping only one set in the process to Ivan Dodig of Croatia.  This "Djokovic" was nothing like the man that won in 2008.  Then, Djokovic was a teenager, prone to unpredictable results, struggling with his serve, and succumbing to nerves.  This time around, the man from Serbia showed his mental fortitude and unbelievable defense throughout the fortnight.

And it's not as if Djokovic's title was a fluke.  He had to fight through constant threats such as Almagro, Berdych, Federer, and Murray.  He also wasn't a favorite coming in.  But Novak powered through these roadblocks without so much as a hiccup. This, in turn, led to his inspirational graduation out of the "One-Slam Wonder" club.

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Nadal's exit came to David Ferrer.
Rafael Nadal's quest to become the first man to hold all four majors at once since Rod Laver in 1969 ended in bitter disappointment this year, as he bowed out against the feisty David Ferrer in straight sets.  In a marathon 18+ minute second game, Nadal seemed to have injured his muscle (it was later confirmed to be a small hamstring tear).

From then on, he was nowhere near his best, letting Ferrer dictate the majority of the rallies.  He was out of sorts during the entire 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 beat-down.  Nadal was, as always, classy in defeat.  He congratulated Ferrer continuously in his press conference.  But the lingering question of Nadal's future hangs in the air: How long will it be before his body simply won't be able to support his physically taxing game any longer?

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Federer's forehand let him down.
Roger Federer's Australian Open attempt was not unlike Rafa's.  He came in as a favorite.  And, more importantly, he was dismissed in straight sets.  But the major difference between these conflicting story lines was that Federer appeared to be playing his game.  While Nadal was clearly fighting the effects of a lingering virus and a tear to his hamstring, Federer came in with fine form.  After his U.S. Open semifinal loss to Djokovic, Federer looked nearly invincible for the remainder of last year.  He compiled a 16-2 record with losses only to Andy Murray in Shanghai and to Gael Monfils in Paris.  So no one could be faulted for expecting a final appearance from the Swiss Maestro.  However, things did not turn out to be so clear.  In a tough second round matchup against Gilles Simon of France, Federer became flat up two sets to none.  His forehand began to fall apart, and the match went five sets.  After the grueling match with the Frenchman, Federer's disinterest seemed to continue recurring in his game.  At times when playing Xavier "X man" Malisse, Federer appeared disinterested, making several disastrous errors.  When it really mattered, these little mistakes led to a loss to Djokovic.
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Soderling had his best Aussie Open to date.

Robin Soderling has never enjoyed relative success at the Australian Open.  Overall, it has been his worst Grand Slam.  This year around, however, everything seemed to be going for him.  He was the highest he'd ever been seeded in a Slam, at 4th, and his draw was considerably favorable.  In his first three matches, he dominated.  He appeared to be the key person in disrupting the Federer-Nadal dream final.  In a tricky match against the talented Ukrainian, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Robin's serve, which had been his greatest asset the entire tournament, fell apart.  So did his chance to get to the quarterfinals.   He bowed out in five unusually quick sets.  

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Murray came in as an underdog.
Andy Murray came into the Australian Open without being on the radar.  All the talk was of Nadal's possible Grand Slam and Federer's strong play.  So much focus was put on this possible final that Andy Murray, the finalist exactly a year ago, was not the topic of conversation.  But he came in strong.  His serve was a weapon and his movement was exceptional.  He had straightforward matches at first with players that couldn't really challenge him, like Garcia-Lopez and Jurgen Melzer.  The fact is, Murray was dominating his matches until he came up against the 22-year-old upstart Dolgopolov.  Murray was truly in for a fight.  But he emerged victorious.  By the semifinals, the draw had opened up with Nadal's elimination.  And so, the light had again turned to Murray.  With this new pressure on his shoulders, Andy struggled with the force of Ferrer's play, and played much of the match from far behind the baseline.  He came within a point of being two sets down to love.  Somehow, he pulled out the victory 4-6, 7-6, 6-1, 7-6.  Once again though, his passive game showed through when he played the final.  Djokovic didn't give Andy even the slightest of openings, unlike his previous opponents.  His anger eventually got the best of him, and it was a highly unsatisfying performance.

Another Australian Open has come and gone.  Many twists and surprising results dotted the draw.  Newcomers emerged, stars bowed out, and five-setters dominated the field. The tournament has left us all in eager anticipation for the next Grand Slam, Roland Garros.

Is it really another four months until then?  Sigh...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ivan Dodig Bizarre Overrule

Here's one of the craziest match points any of us have seen.   Tell us what you think!

http://tinyurl.com/463ns62.

Monday, February 7, 2011

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