It's early in the morning, and I'm not really bothered about whether I watch Tomas Berdych, Fernando Gonzalez or Andy Roddick. I have to admit that when blogging, I like to take into consideration, that I might actually want to write about someone that I haven’t already written about… only if I’m stumped as to what I would like to choose.
I chose Andy Roddick and he’s facing Thomaz Bellucci, a potentially promising young player with competent looking groundstrokes. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that they are stylish, but it is getting there. He has the type of groundstrokes filled with full, circular motions, and fluid motions like that are definitely more pleasant to watch than the abrupt. In the past, I had thought of him as a strong baseliner, who has the ability to hit forcing shots.
Sadly I had overrated his chances in this particular match, and about three games into the match, Roddick already appeared a heavy favourite winning far more points on Bellucci’s serve than the other way around. I remember those days when Roddick was thought of as unlikely to win baseline rallies against any player that thrives in that area, but that has changed now.
It was an inhibited performance from Roddick though, mostly staying within his comfort zone, disappointing from a spectator point of view because he can be more adventurous than that. There was not much of an attempt to hit baseline winners, it was more about forcing shots, finding depth and limiting his opponent’s options. Roddick had incredibly low unforced error statistics, which was impossible for Bellucci to keep up with, and it only increased the pressure on the Brazilian to come up with more spectacular points.
I just wonder, despite the one-sided victory, whether this is the correct way for Roddick to play because every time he reaches the latter stages of tournaments, we inevitably see him trying to play a more all-court game, and perhaps it would be best for him to use some extra practice on the approach shots.
It was interesting to see the development of Bellucci over the course of the match, and his attempt to play an all-court game, to break up the rhythm of Roddick. He was definitely the more aggressive player, but he never looked reliable enough, or even entirely certain on what he was trying to achieve. I am not sure whether Bellucci even pulled it off well enough to be considered an all-court player. He gets marks for trying, but maybe a little more practice in this area is required.
As the second set concluded, I decided that was enough for me so I made my way back to the main section of outside courts to see Philipp Kohlschreiber play against Wayne Odesnik. Only to find out that there are barely any seats there. Still, the alternatives I had in my mind were too far away for me to walk, so I stayed for a while. Just long enough to have a look at their groundstrokes.
This view I have directly facing the baseline, is one that looks a lot like the video camera shots you get in warm-ups of matches where you get an extremely close look at the players and their technique. Kohlschreiber’s groundstrokes look great from here, with the very noticeable shotmaking ability he has, but many of his shots aren’t even landing in the court. It doesn’t seem to matter from here, whether he misses or not.
His backhand obviously is the big strength, and at first glance it looks as aesthetically pleasing as Justine Henin’s. But again, not with the same effect. I think a common trait of all great single-handed backhands is that backhand crosscourts can be exceptionally potent in shots that look like rallying shots, not hit too far away from the opponent. Shots that just happen to spin further and further away from the opponent on landing.
Kohlschreiber’s shots tend to do that on both sides though because he does hit with a lot of spin without compromising pace or penetration. He has big grip changes on both sides, and he is literally uncoiling his shots, the way he will use his whole body. I suppose his forehand works in the same way that a discus is thrown in athletics although to a much lesser extent clearly. Again, you get the sense that all of this is great when it works, not so much when it isn’t.
Odesnik does a good job of keeping up with Kohlschreiber’s groundstrokes showing some very good side to side movement. He seems very light on his feet and capable of offering up shots that aren’t significantly weaker on the run. The problem is that all of his forehands are loopy and high over the net. To win rallies, he needs to play long points every point moving his forehand around using claycourt point construction.
In the first set, Odesnik had numerous opportunities and couldn’t convert, while Kohlschreiber converted his one chance. The match was mostly a matter of how well Kohlschreiber could play, with the match clearly in his hands.
There’s only so much tennis I can watch standing up so I decided to watch Feliciano Lopez’s match against Rainer Schuettler instead.
It was one set all, and they were midway into the third set. As I walk into the stadium, I see Lopez gesturing to his box, making a lot of arm signals about how bad his play is. When they get to exchanging rallies, the first thing that I notice is just how much Lopez steals the show, making Schuettler seem totally irrelevant. I think it’s all about that grunt. It doesn’t seem to matter whether Lopez is hitting a big shot or not, he puts in an effort grunt which says, look how hard I’m working out here.
But apart from that, Lopez seems very bouncy on the court, as he returns serve and it always looks like he’s constantly using his knees, bouncing them around in a very subtle manner. Watching him play live, I’m very surprised by how reliable his groundstrokes look and how well he moves. He’s comfortably exchanging long rallies with Schuettler, without looking like the worse player. I always thought of him more as a serve/forehand/volley player but his other attributes are not that terrible. Still, it was the forehand that made the rallies competitive between him and Schuettler, the main difference I think which allowed him to win.
Schuettler on both sides seemed lacking in potency, like a weaker and more one-dimensional version of the tennis Andy Roddick was playing this morning. He doesn't seem to have the ability to seize control of rallies without giving big chances to his opponent to balance it out again with a big shot. It’s interesting that more than a year ago, I wrote about Schuettler being the complete opposite of an effortless player, the way he would deliberately use a lot of his arms and legs in the creation of a forceful groundstroke. But to balance that, I think he is actually very efficient. He has textbook defensive skills, great at cutting across diagonally to retrieve wide balls. He meets the ball before it drops too far and he often seems to be in contact with the ball in the best position.
Unfortunately he doesn’t seem anywhere near as effective when he’s not counterpunching and trying to create something, and that’s where a lot of the mistakes come from. This is the difference between Schuettler playing well and playing poorly, whether he can pull off more aggressive, non-counterpunching shots where he can't just use the pace that he was given with. As the fourth set went on, the errors seemed to pile up for Schuettler and it became a more one-sided affair for Lopez.
For a player that is labelled as a serve-and-volleyer, Lopez didn’t really do that in spades today. I noticed that he really likes to use his forehand and the midcourt ball, and prefer to come in on the next shot instead.
After a decent chunk of waiting time and scoreboard monitoring during matches, the match between Florian Mayer and Viktor Troicki had finally arrived. I don’t like to leave matches abruptly, so they were midway in the first set when I first joined. They have scoreboards this year that have updated scores in the changeovers which is a great improvement from last year saving me from walking back to the IBM scoreboard on the grounds out of panic. Though this ends up taking my attention away from the players sitting at the changeover, and now I never have any clue what they are doing in those breaks.
As I take my seat, Troicki has just taken the first service break of the match and clenches his fist. It was only a matter of time, I pessimistically thought. Well, this is the match-up of the unorthodox techniques, so it seems appropriate that I should analyse that. Troicki’s serve consists of a ball toss that is thrown ridiculously far forward, and his legs are spaced so far apart at first, before moving them both together at front to create that universally slanted/forward-moving action. But it obviously works well. He generates a lot of pace on it, and it was a good serving day for him. Something around 20 aces.
With unorthodox technique usually comes technically liable shots and that’s what happened in the first set with the set being focused on both players’ flailing forehands. Both Troicki and Mayer are definitely more solid on their backhands. Troicki has more of an ability to get on top of forehands and hit it big though. For the first set, that’s what the difference between the two was.
Mayer was generally spending most of his time behind the baseline chopping and slicing shots in defense. His forehand was proving to be a big liability too, and Troicki went up an early break in the second set. But where Troicki should have capitalised and ran away with it, his game suffered too and started leaking errors. This gave the chance for Mayer to start working his way back into the match and solidifying his game.
It seems like lately, Mayer is a very slow starter as his game gradually turned from solid to assured and confident over the course of the match. What a difference it makes when Mayer is playing well and confident about his game. Sometimes he seems like a bit of a low key type of person and in between points, it shows but from late in the second set onwards, Mayer was transformed into a much better player. He was doing everything quicker now, and suddenly it seemed like he had much more offensive options.
The turning point was that forehand crosscourt. A shot that I didn’t even know was a weapon. The shot that he had been missing turned out to be one of his greatest strengths, the way he’d consistently find a great angle with it and use it to build and construct all his points with. Once he had that shot working, his whole game started to come together, that full-flowing unorthodox game in all its glory. Dropshots, serving-and-volleying, awesome double-handed slice backhands that barely skidded over the net, strong double-handed backhand drives and occasional forehand slices and just really fun all-round play.
There was no way I was going to leave this match, while it was this entertaining. And the intimate atmosphere is great too, not feeling distanced compared to other larger showcourts, and sitting near numerous German and Serbian supporters. I like how whether I decide to clap softly or loudly seems to make a noticeable difference to the atmosphere I am feeling around me.
I could barely believe it that Mayer would be controlling the match as much as this. This had to be a result of Troicki’s decision to play in a more restrained way on the forehand, because of the errors he was making. But by the time he had readjusted his aggression again, Mayer had built up all the confidence he needed. I think his decision to return Troicki’s serve much earlier and closer to the baseline made a big difference in the outcome.
Throughout this match, Troicki was animated and fiery. It seems to be a given almost these days that every match without Hawkeye will have some disagreement about a line call in it, and this was no exception. Except that Troicki went far enough to suggest that there is a problem with females umpiring men’s matches, which ended up causing a very charged atmosphere that had crowd members shouting comments at Troicki, but Troicki continued to direct all of his complaints to the chair umpire.
Troicki picked up his level of play in the third set which ended up being the best part of the match, featuring excellent all-court play from both players. Mayer seems to have a unique knack of being able to hit almost every passing shot low over the net by the way. The highlight of the match would have to be the third set tie-break, where Mayer broke open the tie-break and his lead, by hitting a spectacular dive volley where his racquet fell from his hands after contact, quite awesome under the circumstances.
After such an intense and high quality third set, Mayer took advantage of a loss in concentration to achieve the early break. Troicki had his chances to break back, but he didn't convert, and then he decided that he had enough. This was not a dejected performance. This was an immature release of frustration, almost as if he was making a statement. He made a specific effort to make no effort. Serving to stay in the match, he didn’t even plant his feet properly before serving and he hit every serve, first or second as big as possible and served and volleyed. This really is the kind of behaviour that can break your reputation, and he should have at least tried to keep it professional.
Nevertheless I was in a hurry to watch Andy Murray anyway in his first round match against Marc Gicquel, so I saw the good side of it. But even though Troicki tried to make the end of the match as quick as possible, so did Murray in the beginning of his. As expected, the stadium was fully packed though at what stage that happened I’m not sure. Fortunately I ended up occupying the media seats at the top row and end caught just over a set of this match.
At first it’s difficult adjusting to the view being significantly farther from the players. There’s definitely no connection here. Actually you can’t really see topspin that well from up here, instead you can just see the balls bouncing relatively high.
One of the first things I noticed is that it didn’t seem like one of Murray’s sluggish or behind-the-baseline days. He was very quick to move forward into the ball and on the rise. Most people hit their backhands by driving right through it, but Murray’s backhand looks like more of a reflective shot, which makes him great at redirecting shots on that side. In comparison to other players’ games, one thing that stands out is how Murray can play an all-court game more effortlessly and fluidly. He doesn’t need to charge into the net, and his way of showing urgency is to have his feet and racquet set up early.
Gicquel seemed to be on the right track tactically, but he didn’t have the game to back it up. He took his forehand early wherever possible, and took charge wherever possible. From this view, Gicquel’s movement onto his forehand and arm action reminds me of Stepanek’s, the way he moves forward to hit his racquet down onto the ball especially when it’s close to his body. The problem with it though, is that he is inconsistent with it and his game was not really technically sound enough for it to execute on the regular basis that was required.