Friday, June 11, 2010

Upside Down in London

Feliciano Lopez ended Rafa's winning streak at 24, and unlike most Spaniards, he's got a game that is built for grass.
The transition from clay to grass is proving to be a difficult task for many of the world's best players - look no further than the 2010 Aegon Championships for proof of this fact.

In 2009 the top seed Andy Murray held true, bursting forth as the first Brit to win the title since Bunny Austin bunny-hopped to the crown in 1938. This year, Murray became just another third round casualty when he lost to American Mardy Fish.

But at least Murray can take solace in the fact that he's in pretty good company at the moment.

All of the top six seeds are now catching a breath after a grueling spring on the dirt.

Rafael Nadal was the last of the group to bow out when he went down at the hands of his compatriot, Feliciano Lopez, in straight sets today.

Is the play - or lack thereof - of the ATP's cream of the crop this week a harbinger of things to come when Wimbledon gets under way in a little over a week, or are we merely experiencing a bit of turbulence on what is certain to be a smooth flight?

Hard to say.

It kind of makes one wonder about just what the ATP is thinking when it transitions from a bulky clay court season by giving players 2 weeks to get used to all the intricacies of the grass court game.

Last year's Wimbledon is a prime example of how tricky it is to prepare for Wimbledon. Experienced veterans who could draw on their knowledge of the surface - and of their knowledge of how to prepare for playing on it with such a short lead time - were successful, while younger players who haven't been through the transition as much were shell shocked.

Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Tommy Haas, and Andy Murray reached the Wimbledon semis, while grizzled veterans Juan Carlos Ferrero, Ivo Karlovic, and Lleyton Hewitt all reached the quarterfinal rounds.

Judging from the results at Aegon, where Sam Querrey and Feliciano Lopez, at No. 7 and No. 8, are the highest seeds remaining at the moment, a lot of top players need a lot of work on the grass surface.

For some, it might just be a case of changing footwork patterns and stroke selection from the one's they've used all spring on the clay. A lot more slice and a lot less topspin might be a good place to start. This simple yet effective strategy sure worked well for Feliciano Lopez (who has twice made the Wimbledon quarterfinals and four times made it to the fourth round or better) today. He fed Rafael Nadal a steady diet of slice and made it a point to get to the net to make some volleys en route to a surprising 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory.

For others it might simply be a case of finding a way to get a lot of reps against those low skidding slice balls that tend to cling to the court, forcing players to make contact at around knee-level.

Richard Gasquet, who won two rounds at Queens before losing to another veteran Ranier Schuettler, thinks that grass court tennis is far more nuanced than clay. "A lot of French players are good on grass because we have good technique, good serves. It's a talented game on grass, more than on clay."

Lleyton Hewitt, well-known for his grass court expertise, has reached the semi-finals of Halle and is emerging, yet again, as a Wimbledon contender. "You never expect a lot from your first week on grass," he said. "It always takes you a couple of matches to make the transition from sand to grass."

Hewitt, unlike many of the clay court connoisseurs, had a head start on the grass after his loss to Nadal at the French. "I am lucky enough to be a member at wimbledon, so as soon as I was done at the French I went to London and had the chance to train there."

For the rest of the players, who possess neither the experience or the extra time to train on the grass like Hewitt does, there might not be enough time in the day to be truly prepared for the fortnight.

For those top six seeds who've been rubbed out of the Aegon draw, it might not be as bad as it sounds. Rest is at a premium this time of year, and match toughness knows no surface.

Players like Nadal, Roddick, Djokovic, and Cilic can head to the practice courts and begin to craft a strategy - they've got no choice after all.

5 comments:

  1. Shining Knight Of The Two Handed TerrorJune 11, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    I agree the grass season is too short. It's been decimated over the past couple of decades. There's far too much of that stupid clay. (But I would say that.. ;)

    Conversation killa I know Chris, but it's the slams stoopid. I don't think any of the top players on the mens or womens tour give a monkeys for even ATP 500 and Premier 2 million events.

    In fact to break even more taboos, I don't really think Henin or Clijsters were that bothered about the French. Their eyes are set on Wimbledon. That's their holy grail.

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  2. Richie Gasquet: "A lot of French players are good on grass because we have good technique, good serves. It's a talented game on grass, more than on clay."

    Suuure. That's why two US players are in the semis of a grass tourney. And no French players.

    This whole "talented" thing is one big chunk of baloney. The point of playing a game of tennis is winning it. Not looking pretty while doing it.

    After just having beaten Gasquet 6-1 6-1, Federer praised the talented French players and how much he loves playing against them because their game is so great and varied. Asked to comment that, Nadal said he would also love playing against someone if he kept winning against them 6-1 6-1.

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  3. The grass season is too short. There's too much of that stupid concrete.

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  4. Shining Knight of the Two Handed Terror? Now that that is a moniker, my friend - come back and come back often.

    BTW, Sam Querrey obviously cares about these 250's - or maybe he just can't help winning them with his heavy duty artillery.

    Yes, I agree (anonymous - good points) prettiness gets you nowhere, but artistry (particularly having one of those slices that is more like a drive rather than a floater, so it skids off the grass), is a huge weapon at Wimbledon.

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  5. Hewitt over Federer today in Halle? After 15 straight defeats? And yet Roger is still heavily favored over at Unibet.

    Maybe Murray does have a shot after all.

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