by James A. Crabtree
Roger Federer’s switch to a new racquet has made more news stories worldwide than a lunar landing. And so it should. When the world’s most successful assassin changes his most trusted weapon, this is big news.
Federer has made minor adjustments over the years, from the Pro Staff 85 6.0 he used in 2001 to defeat Sampras (the same racquet Sampras used). He then went to the Hyper Pro Staff which looked like a paint job of the previous.
If you painted your old Porsche and told everyone it was a new model would they believe you? Well, lets just assume your friends are gullible. And you would argue it is still a Porsche and should be driven with care. Both the Porsche and the Pro Staff are tough to handle.
By 2003 Federer was using a racquet with a 90 sq. inch frame and winning slams. This was the most dramatic adjustment and to many an observer the racquet has barely changed since. Just subtle paint jobs and a twinge on the marketing with a new name to keep mugs like myself trying to emulate our Swiss hero. The nCode range followed, then the nSix-One Tour 90, K Factor Six One Tour, Six.One Tour BLX and up until Wimbledon 2013 the BLX Pro Staff Six.One.
This is a tough racquet to play with. It may also be the least friendly racquet for your regular club player, as it doesn’t allow for errors. It’s a pure players racquet for Samurai’s who have mastered the craft.
So is it the same old Pro Staff that has been around for Eon’s. Well it is and it isn’t. The racquet has been moulded and adjusted to fit the player, rather than the other way around. Federer has made detailed and minute changes to his racquet and although it may look like the one in the shops it would feel and play totally different. The model, which has the same shape and hard edges would vary in weight, balance, swing weight, composite material, grip and strings whether you chose the version played by Sampras, Edberg, Courier or Federer. Regardless, it can still account for 41 slams.
Irrespective of the intricacies the Pro Staff, a racquet initially designed for Jimmy Connors, is now gone. The replacement looks like the Blade that Monfils has been using, but is now suspected to be a prototype. Whatever racquet it is, the switch has laid to rest the most successful racquet in grand slam men’s tennis history.
Usually when players change racquets it is for money, such as Djokovic to Head or more recently Wawrinka and Tomic to Yonex. When players switch model within the same company more often than not it is a paint job. Federer’s latest racquet is definitely more than just a façade.
Federer lost one surprise match at Wimbledon and it’s not unreasonable to think he has overreacted. He has had a horrid year thus far, with only one tournament win and no victories over a top 10 player. On top of this his confidence has taken a hit. He has dropped in the rankings, and showed inconsistency with his various game plans. Is a new racquet just a desperate shot in the dark to find form, or another experiment that could plummet his woes further?
Is Federer learning from Pete Sampras, who never changed his racquet throughout his career but suggested perhaps he should have. Or is coach Paul Annacone in his ear, having been there at the end of both the careers of Sampras and Henman.
Federer has stated he is happy with the new racquet, and the greater sq. inches it provides should add a little more power and help with the various shanks we have become accustomed to seeing. The new racquet hasn’t yet experienced a loss or been put up against a considerable opponent. His arm may have been tested, but not his ability to deal with the underlying psychological aspects it will undoubtedly present.
by James A. Crabtree
I was talking with a fellow tennis fanatic the other day and the conversation shifted to the best live match we had ever seen. The fellow fanatic in question has rather deep pockets and could recount epics played throughout the world and the great corporate seats they had and blah blah blah. Well, enough about them, they were rather annoying.
I am not going to get snobby and say “You had to physically be there.” That is absurd and unfair to those of us with mortal salaries.
And by no means does this epic matchup have to be a final.
You simply have had to watch the match live, been engrossed in it, unable to draw yourself away from the drama that unfolded in front of your eyes..
Andy Roddick versus Roger Federer, 2009 Wimbledon Final
Tough call here because the Federer versus Nadal epics in 2007 and 2008 were pretty special. But the choice goes to this five setter simply because, like many, I started the match cheering for Roger and finished going for Andy. Fed, at the time, was going for his fifteenth slam which would make him the most successful player in history, and Andy has had to bear witness to every slam in Fed’s career. But on this day Andy Roddick really looked like he could it. He was a set up, then 6-2 in the second set tie break, but Federer levelled it. Roddick lost the third but rebounded in the fourth. The thirty game fifth set, well that’s just part of Wimbledon lore. Do I really need to mention that Federer won it?
Stephen Edberg versus Michael Chang, 1989 Roland Garros Final
This was an absolute heartbreaker, especially if you were a diehard Edberg fan. Anyway, the gentleman Swede was attempting to become one of only a handful of true volleyers to pick up the title. In the fifth set he was a break up and looked like he would serve and volley his way into destiny, on clay. Unfortunately for Edberg fans he was up against a seventeen year upstart who had famously underarmed served in the fourth round against Lendl, the world number one. Michael Chang, with destiny on his side, took the title and secured his place as the youngest ever grand slam winner.
Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic, 2012 Australian Open final
This epic final knocks out of the list the 2009 Verdasco/Nadal semi-final. Although still a very recent memory the relentless fight these two players showed proved why they will be remembered as legends in a match that lasted twice as long as Lord of The Rings. Let’s remember both players were coming off emotional wins, Rafa over Roger and Novak over Andy. The final included some of the most gruelling baseline hitting in recent memory, Nadal falling to his knees in jubilation after winning the fourth set and Djokovic’s infamous Hulk inspired shirt rip after his victory. Most of Melbourne awoke after this match with a very painful tennis hangover.
Boris Becker versus Johan Kriek, 1985 Queen’s Club Championships
Little can be said for the quality of the tennis as I simply don’t remember because I was only five years old at the time, but this was my first ever tennis match. I do remember it being very hot, and standing with my parents in line for the bar behind the biggest and most ginger human in the world.
This list did take a lot of deep thought, with so many games to recollect. The 2012 Aussie Open Marco Baghdatis versus Stan Wawrinka racquet smash bonanza was one of the most intriguing matches I’ve ever seen and now rewritten as a Greek tragedy. Brad Gilbert versus David Wheaton at Wimbledon 1990 was a strategical masterpeice. It is easy to recall the Sampras and Agassi bouts, Henman near misses, Davis Cup upsets including Lleyton’s 2003 two set down comeback against Federer. But the battles royale that take precedence within the memory banks cannot be dislodged.
It’s back-to-back Masters 1000 events on the ATP Tour as the focus shifts to Cincinnati this week. One last major tournament before the U.S. Open is upon us and one last chance for the top players to find their game and show us who the front-runner might be for the final Slam of the year.
As was the case in Toronto this past week, the top eight seeds benefit from a first round bye. That comfort seemed to treat the top players well at the Rogers Cup and I’m sure the top-four will benefit from the few extra days rest after their strong showing in Canada.
In his quarter of the draw, Rafael Nadal will play either Feliciano Lopez or a qualifier in his first match. Nadal fell to a very sharp Andy Murray in Toronto in straight sets and will be looking, by his own admission, to tighten up his serve. Another early round encounter with Stan Wawrinka looks likely and a meeting with Tomas Berdych would make for a great quarter-final match-up.
Despite having the No. 2 ranking back in his possession, Federer has the No. 3 seed and is in Rafa’s half of the draw. He will play either a qualifier or James Blake in his opening match and has a nice path for the first few rounds. An unpredictable Gael Monfils and a struggling Nikolay Davydenko are in his section of the draw but should not trouble him with his current rediscovery of form. Philipp Kohlschreiber may be the toughest opponent in Roger’s vicinity, but even he should not pose much of an obstacle, especially given Federer’s 5-0 career advantage against him.
In the third quarter of the draw, Andy Murray will face either Jeremy Chardy of France or a qualifier in the second round. Fernando Verdasco is the 8th seed and could meet Murray in the quarters but after his meltdown versus Chardy in Toronto the other day I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Mardy Fish gets the wildcard and has been on fire this summer. It will be interesting to see how he measures up against some stiffer competition. The talented but inconsistent Richard Gasquet and Ernests Gulbis are also lurking in this section of the draw.
Finally we have Novak Djokovic as the second seed at the bottom of the draw. He will face either Radek Stepanek or fellow-Serb Viktor Troicki in his first tilt. This represents without a doubt the toughest quadrant in Cincinnati as it contains Robin Soderling, Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and a returning Andy Roddick.
Soderling was upset by Nalbandian in three sets this past week but looked terrific in practice. Hewitt is returning from a slight injury while Roddick apparently has been struggling with a mild case of mono for the past two months. Fans will hopefully be treated to some great matches if these guys are healthy and ready to go.
While the field in Cincy looks strong, there is always the possibility for upsets following a fantastic week in Toronto where the top four players in the world advanced to the semi-finals. Another deep run by all four as the U.S. Open approaches is not something I would bank on. While the top guys will all be trying to keep their momentum going, they are also less likely to push themselves to the brink and risk showing up at Flushing Meadows in less than perfect form.
Personally I like Berdych to go on a strong run following his heart-breaking collapse against Federer in Toronto. He took that loss very personally and I think that will motivate him to push hard this week. With Roger’s draw I think he will very likely advance to the semi’s this week and I also like Soderling’s chances.
Enjoy another week of great hard court tennis everyone and check back starting later in the week for some U.S. Open preview coverage.
Day 4 of Legg Mason – Fish, Verdasco & Malisse Press Conferences, Tipsarevic’s DNA, Friendships on Tour
Another day has set on the Legg Mason Tennis Classic and with it we find a quickly diminishing field as only the best players move through. Two seeded Frenchman, Michael Llodra and Julien Benneteau, crashed out but the rest of the seeds prevailed. Let’s catch up on the day’s happenings around the grounds and on the practice courts.
- First up, I stumbled upon the end of Stan Wawrinka’s practice with Andrey Golubev. What caught my eye more was that Richard Gasquet was sitting in the stands, watching and waiting to take the court next. As soon as Wawrinka sat down, Gasquet strolled over to him and the two started chatting. Gasquet then picked up a racquet of Wawrinka’s and started feeling it out. Both players use a Head racquet, so I started wondering if Gasquet was looking to switch models. Will be interesting to see.
- When Gasquet finally took the court, I could tell right away he was not feeling the ball well. He had just played a final in the cold of Gstaad, Switzerland on Sunday and was already slated to play a match in the 90-degree humidity of Washington, DC two days later. Suffice it to say that his hitting hand was even cramping mid-hit. One thing struck me in particular. As fluid as his backhand looked, his forehand seemed off-balance and forced. The placement of his left hand is even more awkward up-close and actually takes away from his power. Not sure if it was just the day and conditions, but he’s looked better. Sadly, he had to retire from his match later in the day after losing the first set 6-3 to Kristof Vliegen.
- Lo, and behold, who do I find now watching Gasquet practice? None other than newly-minted tweeter Janko Tipsarevic, eating a banana.
A girl sitting close to me taping Gasquet’s practice, started getting really fidgety when she saw Tipsarevic. I couldn’t tell it she was being bitten by bugs or suddenly realized she had lost her passport. Thankfully, she figured out there were people around her and she quickly asked me “Can I borrow your pen?!” I said “Sure” knowing full well it would become her souvenir if Tipsarevic were to sign an autograph with it. I watched as she ran over to him, got his signature with my pen and took a photo. She then proceeded to walk back towards me and extended her hand holding my blue pen. “Thank you so much!” she exclaimed. I was stunned. I actually got my pen back. Not only that, but with Tipsarevic’s DNA on it. I wonder if I could clone him …
Shortly, Tipsarevic took the court and practiced with another player. He mostly did serves and wanted to work on his returns, but was frustrated when his practice partner was struggling getting serves in. Luckily, Tipsarevic went on to win his match against Arnaud Clement in fairly easy fashion a few hours later. What was most entertaining was that he looked like Darth Vader from Star Wars in his all-black Fila kit and Oakley sunglasses. Pretty intimidating if you ask me!
- First match of the day that I watched was between Marco Chiudinelli and Brian Dabul. Although Chiudinelli struggled in his match and his left knee was still tightly wrapped up, his coach was cheering him on in crucial moments and he seemed to be happy to get through. He seemed limited in his lateral movement in the back court, so he tried approaching the net more frequently. However, his opponent was quick and could retrieve most balls. It took some adjusting but Chiudinelli came out victorious with a score of 7-6(3), 6-2.
And look who I find on my way out of the match: compatriot Stan Wawrinka and his coach, Peter Lundgren watching Chiudinelli.
- I next made my way over to a hotly-anticipated doubles match, played on Grandstand instead of Stadium Court. It was the match-up between doubles world #1 Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic vs. Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek. The stands were packed and the tennis was top-notch. I didn’t feel bad missing the Fish/Troicki blow-out on stadium court when this doubles match had everything a tennis fan wanted: amazing rallies, bad calls, umpire disputes, ‘Ajde’-ing and on-court laughter and embarrassment when a shot was miserably calculated. The pairing of Berdych/Stepanek was like peanut butter and jelly: Berdych is smooth, fluid and strong, while Stepanek has shot variety and nutty surprises at the net. Even though Berdych/Stepanek won 6-4, 4-6, 10-8, it says a lot about the doubles game and how they can compete with top singles players and only narrowly lose in a matchup.
- My next two stops were the press conferences of Xavier Malisse and Mardy Fish, who knocked out Julien Benneteau and Viktor Troicki, respectively.
Malisse was very personable and engaging, detailing how his past injuries kept him away from top form. I don’t think I realized how many injuries he has had in the last 3 years: left wrist, then right wrist, then twisted right knee, then left wrist again. But today he said he is “playing well and feeling healthy.” This looked to be the case when I peaked in on his match against Benneteau. He was running him all over the court! Hopefully, this will continue and we’ll see him once again climb in the ranks.
Mardy Fish was next and he was light-spirited and pleasant as well. He talked about how quickly he lost weight, going from 203 lbs. to about 170-3 lbs. currently. He thankfully feels that he hasn’t lost any energy or precision in his shots or serve, but hopes to gain some muscle in the off-season and not lose any more weight. Since he didn’t have any points to defend, he wanted to stack his summer up with tournaments and see how he fared.
Fish was asked about the other Americans in tennis and how it feels to play a friend in a match, like Andy Roddick 2 weeks ago. He stated that you pretty much have to put the friendship aside, “just play the match, and you’ll be friends after the match.” He also paid compliments to John Isner saying that his serve is “probably one of the best in the world.” Fish’s current coach, David Nainkin, is also the long-time coach of Sam Querrey. Fish had praise for Querrey’s character as well: “I’m lucky Sam is who he is to let me share [Nainkin].” Quite a humble guy, and not taking his new-found game for granted. He’s worked hard to get in the best shape of his life and I hope he continues strong.
- The last match I watched was between Fernando Verdasco and Michael Berrer. I have a separate post on Verdasco and his press conference (http://www.tennisgrandstand.com/archives/6953), but I’ll sum up a little here, including the tiebreaker point-by-point.
Verdasco struggled in the first set and even faced two match points down 5-2 in the second set. He finally found his rhythm and won the next five games. All he had to do was wear Berrer out and he couldn’t do it. It seemed that from the first ball, Berrer was wearing HIM out. Verdasco seemed drained and tired on the court and his footwork was lacking. He was miscalculating shots and overhitting them and couldn’t seem to return most of Berrer’s first serves. The most alarming aspect of his game during the match was his erratic toss. He would throw it too far behind him, let it drop, and then try again. He blamed it on the wind and the crowd, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was a deeper problem.
The third set reached a tiebreak. It was high energy, exhilarating, with lots of crowd cheering and clapping. Two unfortunate shots that clipped the net and went out, brought the score to 4-3 for Verdasco. Another backhand mishit from Verdasco, brought it to 4-4. An ace from Berrer make it 4-5 for Berrer. A fearless backhand approach winner from Verdasco evened the score again. Verdasco then fired a service winner that Berrer was not able to place, making the score 6-5 for Verdasco. The next rally brought fear and doubt to the crowd as they watched Verdasco approach the net for a volley and fall to the ground, grabbing his left foot. He took his shoe off, shunned ice away, and got the trainer. A few moments passed. To the applause of the crowd, he eventually got up and jogged to the other side for the changeover. (He later stated it was just the plastic in his shoe that hurt his big toe with a great deal of pain, but that it was nothing to worry about.) The score was now 6-6. As the crowd, we still didn’t know what exactly happened to cause the fall and if he would be able to close this out. However, Berrer never scored another point and Verdasco went up 7-6 with a big “VAMOS!”, and then finished it off at 8-6 to the cheers of the crowd.
Check out the video below and find more of my videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/kiki52484#g/u
It was a great day showcasing all the top seeds in either singles or doubles and the tournament has indeed started well on its way. I’ll be back for more later this week!