Posts Tagged ‘Alexandr Dolgopolov’


Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
7 September 2011

 

The fact that serve-n-volley is practically dead today has been a common discussion point among tennis afficianadoes. While it is true that it is now an extinct art, I do not miss that aspect of the same so much. There is still great baseline tennis on offer and the spectacular winners from the far court than makes up for that. In fact, I enjoy the occasional serve-n-volley points that players do today as an element of surprise, which is why I enjoy watching players like Roger Federer, Mardy Fish, Jo Wilfried Tsonga (coupled with Michael Llodra).

An aggressive slice is becoming a lost art

An aggressive slice is becoming a lost art

The side effects of the above has been more telling, in my opinion. One of them is the slow decay of the backhand ‘slice’. I know what you are saying. Don’t players today use slices a lot? Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have a great slice, Novak Djokovic does it sometimes, and Andy Roddick has modeled his backhand purely on the slice as the zip on his two hander has declined over the years. In fact, youngsters like Dolgopolov use it heavily, and yesterday’s match against Djokovic was a great example. The Ukranian troubled the Serb for the greater part of the first set with the lack of pace generated through the slice.

But the common pattern among all of these players is the exclusive use of defensive slice. Most of them use slice only when they are not in a position to hit a strong two hander. In fact, the aggressive slice down-the-line, one of the more difficult shots in the game, is almost absent in the game. There were countless times in yesterday’s match, when I yelled from my seat, “Slice to the forehand!” It never came. Or it came only when Djokovic was present mid court, and was in a great position to make a decent pass. Just like the backhand down-the-line is used to open up the court, the slice up-the-line was a great ploy used by serve-n-volley players which either resulted in some of the best running forehands or in a makeable volley at the net.

Dologopolov’s used heavy cuts on the slice, which were devoid of any pace and stayed very low even on these courts which have more bounce than in the previous years. For some time it troubled Djokovic, but it was only a matter of time before this pattern became routine, and Djokovic, with arguably the best backhand of all time, started handling it easily.

The other side effect has been the inability to recognize a good approach shot and closing the net. The sight of Roddick becoming a dead duck at the net against Federer occurs frequently in their encounters. Yesterday, Kuznetsova was passed time and again against Wozniacki. Part of it was because she made wrong approaches by hitting to Wozniacki’s stronger wing, the backhand. The inability to hit a good slice up-the-line to Wozniacki’s forehand. And because she was passed so frequently, she did not come forward on a potentially good approach. The other part of it was the lack of confidence to take the net which usually resulted in her in no (wo)man’s land in the mid-court. She took a lot of difficult half volleys as a result which were easy pickings for the Dane.

The very fact even Federer, the best aggressive player of this era, has hired Paul Annacone to improve his chip-n-charge tells the current condition of the game.


Rajat jain

Head of Tennis, CouchExpert

24 January 2011

 

After watching Robin Soderling’s yet another unceremonious exit from the Australian Open (he lost in the opening round last year), I have finally figured out why these courts do not suit this big man. The courts here are fast enough that they give his opponent a good chance to make him run around the court, and expose his fragile movement, and they are slow enough to not provide Soderling with a good enough penetration. Moreover, the relatively low bounce of these courts (compared to the French) do not suit Soderling at all.

Soderling thrives on extremes. The extremely slow conditions at Paris with bounce high enough to allow him to generate his own pace, or the extremely fast conditions of indoors to enable him to hit the first strike. He does not have a good transition game to thrive on these courts. The other stalwart of Melbourne, Andre Agassi, didn’t have that either, but he had the great return of serve, and ability to take the ball ridiculously early to make him a legend at these medium paced courts (in addition to his four titles at Australia, he has also won Miami six times, a record). Soderling has neither.

His opponent, the 22 year old Alexandr Dolgopolov utilized his weaknesses efficiently. Dolgopolov. This was the first time I watched this kid play, and I already like him—especially his last name. I said his name aloud quite a few times during this match, and he gave me enough reason to cheer for him.

In some ways, it is Dolgopolov, rather than Grigor Dimitrov, who reminds me of Roger Federer. He may not have Federer’s aesthetic one handed backhand, but he possesses two of the most important strengths of Federer—the efficient playing style (he hardly looked tired during the match even though this was his second consecutive five setter), and effortless movement around the court. Plus he has a variety of ground strokes to easily trouble Soderling.

He intelligently used his slice forehands to easily return Soderling’s big serves, and robbed him of pace with continual use of slices. When they did not seem to work, he was equally comfortable at being aggressive with his two hander, and he always had the option of running his opponent wide off court with his unique jumping top spin forehand which has enough depth and angle to trouble even the best movers in the game—Soderling was a gimme. In the third set, he was so comfortable with Soderling’s game, that he was routinely stranding Soderling by placing one drop shot after other. Soderling, who normally does not show any emotions on court other than determined fist pumps at his camp, was literally screaming in frustration.

As I said before, his game revolves around efficiency. Just like Federer, he looks like a ballet dancer on court, albeit of a different style. His inexperience showed in the fourth set as he started sensing the finish line after breaking Soderling thrice in the third set, but quickly regrouped in the decider to win the fifth set very comfortably.

This is his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, and his next test will be sterner. Murray has dropped just 22 games so far in the tournament, and will like Dolgopolov’s unorthodox game. He moves far better than Soderling, and has many dimensions in his game which would force Dolgopolov to think over his strategy mid way during the match. Dolgopolov just achieved his greatest victory in a short career so far, but as it is for any youngster, the road only gets tougher. Can he be this year’s dark horse at Melbourne? I would definitely be waiting for that to happen.

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