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Learning from Roger Federer’s Demeanour

By Ritesh Gupta

The ball went up in the air and the way it swirled in the cold windy conditions, it looked as if the server completely lost the connection with the ball for that split second. He decided not to connect and chose to have a re-go at it. Nothing unusual till this point, especially considering the playing conditions. But what stood out was the way all of this was taken in his stride by the server, without even a semblance of uneasiness. In fact, what he did before returning to his service stance, exemplified what the man, who happened to be Roger Federer, is all about.

As Federer took steps towards the service line, with his collar going up and down, and hair continuously being blown away, he chose to stretch his arms!

Now be it for being calm about intricacies of playing in such environment or focusing on the job at hand, Federer just goes about tennis as if nothing can come in between him and his sport.

All this happened during the early stages of the third set of his eventual 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win over Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals of the US Open.

Going by the style of play of the two players, especially the high service toss and the huge forehand swing of Soderling, one would be tempted to say that the Swede definitely was expected to have a tough time vis-a-vis his opponent. Even if one considers this, the way Federer served against Soderling was simply immaculate. Soderling served bigger, but Federer was much better in the same department. The Swiss maestro served 18 aces to Soderling’s two.

The service statistics for the match show how Federer adapted to the conditions. But for him, it was just another day.

In the post match, on-court interview, Federer said if he can’t serve in the windy conditions, after doing all this in his life, then there is definitely problem out there! He said be it for 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning, he can be taken out of the bed and he would still be able to serve. When a man of Federer’s stature says all this, it definitely isn’t arrogance. Its just sheer passion for the sport.

Other than his positive attitude, Federer looked in prime touch.

Soderling struggled and looked very unsettled at times. He missed four breakpoints in the first set. On the other hand, Federer converted on his first opportunity and that is all he needed.

Soderling broke Federer with a great defensive return followed by a passing shot early on in the second set. But the Swede was again broken in the following game. In fact, the slide was started by an error from Soderling to finish the game at 40-0 at 2-1. A high ball, which swirled, resulted in the Swede attempting a stroke in an awkward position. After that, his forehand deserted him twice. On the other side, Federer just went about his task the way he usually does.

Soderling exerted pressure in the third set but Federer soaked in all of it, in fact at times showing great defensive skills. The Swede did break in the eight game to go up 5-3. But Federer again broke back immediately, as Soderling netted two forehands at 30-30. Continuing in the same vein, the Swiss wrapped up the set and the match in the 12th game.

Federer is now 16-0 in night matches played on Arthur Ashe Stadium. This victory signals Federer’s readiness for the battle against Novak Djokovic for a place in the final. The triumph also resulted in a settling of scores as Soderling had beaten Federer in their last meeting at the French Open.

RODDICK OVERCOMES LLODRA IN TESTING ENCOUNTER

By Ritesh Gupta

Witnessing a contrasting duel where one thrives on pace while the other seldom offers the same is something one hardly comes across in the men’s tennis today. Deft touches, exchanges at the net, pulsating half-volleys…all this is a treat to watch especially on the hallowed courts at Wimbledon.

Such contrasting style of play came to the fore as France’s Michael Llodra tested Andy Roddick in the second round at Wimbledon today.

Though Llodra lost 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 6-7 (2-7), the left-hander won many hearts with his skillful play, with class written all over it. It was surely an exquisite performance from Llodra but he couldn’t carry the same form once he lost his serve to loose the second set.

It’s a rare sight to see somebody of Roddick’s calibre being hurried into strokes. Llodra, who won the Eastbourne tournament prior to this championship, posed a serious threat after bagging the first set. Be it for pushing Roddick wide off the court or his display at the net, Llodra produced some immaculate stuff during the initial stages.

To his credit, Roddick, though at the receiving end, hung on. After Llodra fired two aces to finish the first set, he earned two break points in the very first game of the second set. Llodra not only hustled Roddick with chip and charge but he also showed his class with subtle variations in pace to unsettle Roddick. This was perhaps the best chance but Llodra couldn’t break the serve.

The American, who has lost in final thrice here, gradually got into his groove and broke the shackles in the tenth game. An insipid service game from Llodra changed the course of the match. Llodra, who held his service with aplomb till then, came up with uncharacteristic missed drop volley and even Roddick, too, forced an error at a crucial stage with a wonderful low service return, which Llodra failed to retrieve at the net. Roddick made it one set apiece at this juncture.

Thereafter, Roddick sustained the tempo and took control despite facing breakpoints in a couple of games in the third set. He wrapped up the match by pressurising Llodra in the fourth set tie-break, reeling off five points in a row.

Roddick, who came so close to lifting this championship against Roger Federer last year, is surely a contender this year, too. For him, this victory augurs well as Llodra is one of the tougher players to play on grass.

In the run-up to the Wimbledon, Llodra had won eight matches in two tournaments. He had his chances against Roddick but he wilted under the pressure when it mattered the most.

FEDERER-NADAL: HOW OFTEN CAN THEY PRODUCE CLASSIC MATCHES?

By Ritesh Gupta

Over the past week or so, reigning Wimbledon champion Roger Federer and 2008 winner Rafael Nadal have been queried about their chances of winning the 2010 edition.

The beauty of all the projections for any major title not only lies in choosing the winner, but also in whether we would get see another epic Federer-Nadal battle.

How often can these two meet and that too for the big summit clashes?

The possibility of these two going all the way may not be as strong now especially considering the indifferent form displayed by Federer of late.

Federer might have survived an early exit at the Wimbledon tennis championship with his five-set win over Colombian Alejandro Falla, but he needs to show some of the vintage stuff sooner than later to amend some of the dented impressions. It’s not that Federer can’t have an off-colour day or a  slow start in any major championship, but no one is used to seeing the Swiss champ being challenged in the first round of a Grand Slam in such a fashion.

To some extent, the onus lies on Federer to show the same ruthlessness.

Still, for those, who follow the sport and perhaps the most intriguing tennis rivalry seen ever, digging deeper and deeper or anticipating who would win the battle everytime they face each other is quite fascinating.

On top of it, after achieving so much, the two have reached a stage where everytime a Grand Slam is about to begin, there is talk of new records and comparisons inevitably lead to talk of unparalleled success in this sport.

In all, there have been 21 matches between the two. Nadal has won 14 times.

But what about these two players themselves?

There are two facets which clearly stand out in equal proportion in these two players i. e. self-belief and respect for each other.

The fact that there has hardly been any other pro other than these two to emerge as a strong contender for a title of Wimbledon’s stature, too, reflects the mindset of Nadal and Federer to a large extent. But still, if we look around the way the likes of Maradona and Pele have reportedly indulged in verbal volleys during the ongoing FIFA World Cup, it is quite amazing to see the way Nadal and Federer conduct themselves and never get perturbed by the incidents around them.

In case of Federer, the recent unexpected loss to Australian Lleyton Hewitt in Halle, has hardly dented his pride. Just days before this loss,  Federer saw his streak of a record 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals come to an end at Roland Garros.

For one, who would be trying to win his seventh Wimbledon title – a record currently shared by William Renshaw (1881-86, ’89) and Pete Sampras (1993-95, ’97-2000), Federer’s demeanour oozes simplicity. He categorically says his game is made for grass and even though he hasn’t performed the way he was expected to after winning the Australian Open this year, Federer says he is ready to defend his Wimbledon title again. He has also talked about his love for lifting the Wimbledon trophy and leaving a record which would be tough to beat.

Federer says he is happy to see Nadal competing again after missing out on the last year’s edition. And for himself, Federer still feels its important to win the first round and try to make all the expectations simple for “yourself”.

On the other hand, the only man who has managed to beat Federer in the past seven years at the All England Club, Nadal, too, never stops giving away any credit to the Swiss prodigy.

Nadal may have put the onus on Federer by labelling him as favourite, but at the same time, he says he is ready too.

The Spaniard pointed out that before the commencement of the clay court season, questions were being raised whether he would be able to reach the pinnacle again. After a troublesome 2009, Nadal’s hunger has only got stronger and stronger.

Even if Nadal fails to win the title at the All England Club this year, he will leave London at the top of the rankings.

For Federer, one comment from Sampras comes to mind.

“The reason I play tennis is to play in these big tournaments,” Sampras had said after his loss to Federer in the fourth round of the same championship in 2001.

Federer, too, lives for tournaments of such stature. Let’s see whether Federer can go all way this time around!

FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE CELEBRATES WIN WITH A DIVINE KISS

By Ritesh Gupta

The way Francesca Schiavone reacted after her quarterfinal victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the French Open is something what a tennis fan longs for.

A tennis pro can’t express much in the playing arena especially when there are a series of matches lined up. But the manner in which Schiavone expressed herself was touching to say the least.

She held her head in disbelief. Taking a few steps, standing in the middle of the court and acknowledging the applause from the crowd, Schiavone wrapped up her celebration by kissing the coveted surface. Definitely an emotional moment, which Schiavone would cherish throughout her life.

And why wouldn’t she?

For one, who will now appear in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time, such reaction is quite understandable. She is also the first Italian woman in the Open era to make it to this stage of the French Open. Schiavone next plays Elena Dementieva.

Schiavone, who will be turning 30 this month, has been on the professional tour for more than a decade. Though she has never been in the top 10, she still has the ability to pose a threat to anyone.

Schiavone’s 6-2, 6-3 triumph over third seeded Wozniacki showcased her athletic ability. She backed up up the same with an array of fluent strokes. The Italian was clearly in her elements today, hardly letting Wozniacki to get into rhythm.

On this day, Wozniacki not only lost the baseline duel, but she was also found wanting at the net. Wozniacki only won 5 of 13 points at the net. In fact, on quite a few occasions, even when Wozniacki had an opening and rushed to the net, Schiavone made up for it with her speedy recovery, setting up winners by either forcing her opponent to play tough half volleys or passing her at the net.

Schiavone remained in front throughout. She won three games on the trot at 3-2 in the first set. Wozniacki, who conceded an early break in the second set, levelled to raise hopes at 3-3. But Schiavone, who seldom hides her emotions while playing, motivated herself whenever Wozniacki showed signs of catching up. The Italian showed her aggressive intent as she to chose to serve and volley to set up her first match point. She capitalised on the same with a gutsy smash. And post that she celebrated her win beautifully.