Posts Tagged ‘Svetlana Kuznetsova’


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

23 January 2011

The scoreboard says 11-10 in the third set, Francesca Schiavone to serve for the match. The timer reads more than four hours—only minutes away from the longest women’s singles match in a Grand Slam.  But she is looking sick. She has her hand on her heart, trying to control her breathing rate. And at 29, after playing more than four hours of physically draining match, you cannot blame her. She calls for the trainer and takes a medical timeout—that when she was serving for the match.

F_schiavone_23_01

Francesca Schiavone

After her three minutes, Svetlana Kuznetsova called for her trainer too and treat her foot. She had already called for a trainer at the end of the second set, to work on her blisters—she had played the entire third set suffering from blisters.

Before this moment, Schiavone had already saved six match points, and squandered three break point opportunities at 0-40—one of them by tipping over the net while successfully reaching to a Kuznetsova volley! The drama had already reached its unexpected proportions.

And yet, Kuznetsova, the mental widget stroke two courageous forehand winners to keep the match alive at 11-11. And astonishingly, they continue to hold for six more games as the match gets to 4:21 hrs making it the longest match in women’s history. And unlike the men’s longest match—the famous Isner-Mahut saga—it was not a serving contest. They could not serve big, in fact, their serves were in the 120s and 130s by then. It was an excellent display of all court tennis.

They approached the net a total of 126 times out of 358 points played—more than once every three points. And each of those net approaches were constructed brilliantly by heavy hitting from the baseline, and using intelligent approach shots. Kuznetsova was hitting her forehand better than I have seen, and Schiavone’s defense was unparalleled. It was commendable how she was handling the heavy Kuznetsova forehand with her one handed backhand, and returning it back with interest. When she was made to run around the court, she used her supremely cupped slice backhand—one of the best in women’s game, probably better than even Justine Henin—to get back in the rally, or even gain the upper hand by creating ridiculous angles which left a scrambling Sveta reaching for the ball.

At 14-14 with a break point, Schiavone had to reach away two great volleys from Sveta to earn the break, twisting her calf muscle in the process. A trainer was again called to rub her muscles and two minutes later, she was back hustling around the court, and watched to her dismay as Sveta saved two match points of her own. Schiavone finally hit a service winner out wide to earn her third match point, and ended the next point at the net to achieve a well deserved victory.

Four Four Four. Read the timer—at four hours and forty four minutes, Schiavone finally got her reward—tired legs, fatigue and a quarter final clash with the world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

Women’s tennis has come under a lot of criticism, with the absence of Serena Williams, injured Justine Henin, a slamless No. 1, and one-dimensional baseline bashers. This match was anything but that. I hate to use superlatives, especially right after an emotional match, but I have to say this was the greatest women’s match I have ever seen. But it was played between a 30 year old and a 26 year old. We have yet to see such variety from the women in their teens or early twenties.

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