wimbledon final

Jerzy Janowicz Ready to Rise Above the Rest

(June 30, 2013) Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and Bernard Tomic have been commonly touted as being the next generation of great champions. If the ATP World Tour was a movie, these three men are believed to be its future leads.

While I do agree these three players have voluminous potential, I believe one young man—Jerzy Janowicz—is ready to rise above them all.

Let’s take a closer look at the 22-year-old Pole’s game to see what separates him not only from the young stars of the ATP World Tour but also from the other giants of tennis.

The most glaring aspect of Janowicz’s game is his imposing serve, which he unloads with herculean strikes and in the process prevents his opponents from grasping even the slightest glimpse of the ball. Janowicz delivers his devastating, heat-sinking missile of a serve from a soaring height. At 6”8’, the Pole is not only one of the tallest players on tour but is actually one of the few players that is able to look over the net and see his opponent’s baseline (you must be 6”7’ to do so).

Janowicz’s serve of course comes with much power but it also possesses ample variation. On the deuce side, as was demonstrated in the Paris Indoor Masters last fall, Janowicz is able to slide his racket head across the outside-edge of the ball producing a side-spin serve that not only moves out and away from his opponents but also lands short in the box making it nearly unreturnable. In terms of his second-serve, Janowicz is able to torpedo up the back of the ball and produce uncanny amounts of topspin making it more of a weapon than a starting shot.

Many big men on tour such as John Isner, Milos Raonic, and Kevin Anderson can absolutely crank their serves and are able to hold quickly and often. This is all fine and dandy until you realize that winning every set in a tiebreaker is not only an unrealistic expectation but really the last thing anybody wants to be doing. Unfortunately enough, this is what a lot of tall guys on tour end up having to do because they simply cannot break serve.

No shortage of individuals have correctly pointed out that big men on tour often find themselves retreating and backtracking on second serves to give themselves more time to set up and execute the return. This puts them into highly defensive positions and exploits their poor movement.

The explanation I find more revealing of the poor returning of big men is much grimmer: These guys have inadequate reactionary prowess and will probably never be anything more than average returners because they need more time than is allotted to hit meaningful returns. If you examine a player like John Isner, you’ll find out quickly that he loves running around his backhand and taking massive cuts on his forehands—granted he has time. Milos Raonic is much the same in that while he may be a big ball striker, he thrives when given time and often crumbles when rushed. This necessity for time during rallies extends to the return of serve.

Janowicz, unlike several of his towering contemporaries, takes a fearless and aggressive stance when returning serve. Against Andy Murray in Paris last year, Janowicz was almost standing on top of the baseline for first serve returns and was inside the baseline on countless second serve returns. Needless to say, Andy Murray’s serve is no pushover. Janowicz is able to establish such a proactive return stance for multiple reasons. One, Janowicz has speedy reactions and is able to anticipate and pick up on where his opponents are serving. Secondly, Janowicz’s forehand and backhand do not have protracted swing paths thus when returning, he is used to producing the abbreviated swings needed to deflect back powerful serves.

Speaking of Janowicz groundstrokes, the Pole’s forehand and backhand are undoubtedly some of the flattest strokes on tour. Janowicz drives through the ball with low-margin, enterprising and authoritative linear strikes. Janowicz’s forehand grip is also one of the most extreme on tour. He uses a full eastern grip approaching a continental grip which helps to explain the flat nature of his groundstrokes. Despite Janowicz’s groundstrokes being very high-risk, he is able to stay in elongated rallies because his swings are short and simple thus he is not going to be breaking down mechanically when under pressure.

The commanding power Janowicz possesses is beautifully contrasted by his out of world feel. The tennis world was shocked when the big man started pulling out the most deft and well-timed of drop shots in Paris last fall. This feel is translated to his net play which is assisted by his extremely long wingspan.

I would also be remiss to exclude the fact that Janowicz possesses absolutely shocking movement for a guy of his height. His court coverage and all-around speed are unbelievable and frankly unprecedented for a guy of his stature.

Ultimately, if you compare Janowicz’s game to the other young phenoms on tour, it becomes evident the Pole’s game has more dimensions. He has more weapons on court than any of the other young talents and certainly can do more than almost all of the big guys. I could go on and on praising the ability of this guy, but I think he’d prefer to prove how good he is on court.

As we head into the second week of Wimbledon, Janowicz is two matches away from a likely semifinal encounter with Andy Murray. If Janowicz does end up facing Murray, expect the Pole to display his full repertoire of shot making backed by a supreme level of confidence for Centre Court on Friday.

Don’t look now, but a week from today, we could very well be watching Jerzy Janowicz step on to Centre Court as a Wimbledon finalist.

Venus and Serena Williams return mediocre at best, Kim Clijsters withdraws, Helfant to step down – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Mixed Results

The much-anticipated return of the Williams Sisters occurred this week in Eastbourne, and it was mediocre at best. For Venus, the grass courts proved once again to be her happiest hunting grounds as she has progressed through the tournament to the quarterfinals against some quality opponents before bowing out in three sets to an in-form Hantuchova. It seems that no matter what her injuries or results are coming into late June, the elder Williams always manages to up her game when she steps onto the well-manicured lawns of Great Britain. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for younger sister Serena. She struggled to eke out a victory against the inconsistent Pironkova and ultimately crashed out in the second round to Vera Zvonareva, whom she had beaten in last year’s Wimbledon final. Granted, this loss is unlikely to shake her confidence going into Wimbledon. She’s always found a way to up her game when it matters most, and opponents have typically found it harder to take out Serena on the game’s biggest stages. But her play this week is unlikely to inspire a ton of fear in the competition, making it hard to predict how Serena will fair. She could just as easily win the title as crash out early, and so could her sister for that matter. Either way, should make for interesting viewing.

Questionable Seeding

The Wimbledon seeds were announced on Wednesday, and once again, the seeding committee exercised its right to name the seeds as they saw fit rather than stick to the rankings. This policy is not the issue. In fact, it might not hurt Roland Garros to consider doing the same thing (Did anyone really think Roddick stood a legit shot at winning there even when given one of the top ten seeds?). But the seeding of Venus and Serena at the 2011 Championships is more than a little mind boggling. Sure, technically the seeding committee’s hands were a little tied. At the time when the seeds were announced, they couldn’t have known exactly how Eastbourne would play out. They’ve also historically considered grass court performances of the past two years in their decisions. Based on this, the committee saw fit to seed Serena 8 (and ultimately 7 with the withdrawal of Clijsters), which is nearly 20 places higher than her current ranking. Sister Venus is seeded a lowly 23 (albeit ten places higher than her current ranking). Serena has won Wimbledon the last two years, but Venus was the runner-up to Serena in 2009. This is also one of the venues in which she has outshined Serena in terms of titles, and she has already proven the stronger of the two in their respective comebacks. This then begs the question that if Serena’s seed was bumped so high, why not bump Venus a little higher as well? It’s unlikely the other top seeds want to see Venus in the early rounds. Ultimately, time will tell how this evolves, but the wide disparity in seeding of the two is a real head scratcher.

Over and Done

Before the first ball was struck, Kim Clijsters’ shot at her first Wimbledon title was ended when she aggravated the ankle injury she sustained earlier this season. With Clijsters potentially little more than a year out from her permanent retirement, there might have been some initial concern that this latest setback would prove the final nail in the coffin and lead to an ever earlier exit from the game. But Clijsters’ management team has already stated she’s looking to get ready for the summer hard court season. She has typically posted her strongest results during that time of year, so expect her to be ready to add a fourth US Open victory to her impressive list of titles.

Fitness Race

Australian Lleyton Hewitt, who has also had to overcome his share of injuries as of late, is also dealing with a foot injury, which he aggravated last week in Halle. As the 2002 champion of Wimbledon, Hewitt will be doing all he can to compete at SW19. Aside from the prestige and historical significance of the tournament, Hewitt has an added incentive to do all he can to be fit to play there. Due to his early exist last week, he has dropped to 130 in the rankings. He is in desperate need of a solid run at a big tournament if he wants to get his ranking up to where he can gain direct entry into some of the bigger summer hard court events. Besides, with all that he has been through and the fighting spirit he has shown over the years, it would be great to see “Rusty” find a way to compete and put together another fine performance.

The Hunt Begins

The search will soon begin for a new ATP World Tour Director as Adam Helfant has announced that he will be leaving the ATP at the end of the year for professional reasons. Helfant’s three years with the ATP have had their pros and cons. He did manage to secure two major sponsors, increased commercial revenues, and reduced the crowded calendar ever so slightly. But there were also gripes, with most of those coming from the tournament directors of the smaller 250 events. They claimed that Helfant was virtually inaccessible to them and blamed his exhibition policy for undermining their success. So, while Helfant was not without his faults, he did leave the tour in a better position than where he found it, and hopes are high that his successor will continue to build on this.