Saturday, August 11, 2012

Armchair Coach: Raonic Is no Nole

I was watching—leisurely, mind you, so I don't have the stats memorized—the Raonic-Isner match and the Djokovic-Haas match late last night from Toronto, so I figured I'd ramble a bit about each.

So, anyway, what is the deal with Raonic and Isner hitting moonballs at each other last night during the tiebreaker? Did anybody else see that? Was it as glaringly obvious to you that both Isner and Raonic need to play riskier tennis (particularly in their return games) as it was to me?

I know: conservative, defensive, scared drivel is not exactly the recipe for potential maximization for a 6'5" to 6'9" player, but for some reason it's what both Isner and Raonic seem to prefer. It's a silly way for gargantuan tennis players to attempt to defeat one another—oxymoronic, don't you think?—but I digress.

I'm not myopic to the point where I can't see that it's admirable of both Isner and Raonic (I'm talking about all 13' 6" of them) to try to become better baseliners, so please don't accuse me of hating. Isner and Raonic should, by all means, aim for consistency and make a legitimate attempt to master the nuances of the game. But when it's crunch time, for god sakes, Isner and Raonic, step on the gas and hit for the hills!

I think that Raonic is far more guilty than Isner of being gun-shy, but they both suffer the consequences of possessing the passive gene.

So many times last night Isner and Raonic stayed in nuetral: reluctant to take on any risk, waiting for the other's mistakes. It's a winning formula more often than not for each, but at its core it fails to dream. When you are one of the top five servers in the game (both Raonic and Isner are) you need to use that serve as a get-out-of-jail free card and TAKE SOME RISKS!

Let's face it, neither of these guys is going to get to No. 1 anytime soon, so each's best bet to make a TRUE SPLASH on the tennis court is to win a Slam. Isner and Raonic should be fine-tuning their high-octane games with the goal of getting hot and staying hot for seven consecutive matches in mind, not trying to keep their heads above water by playing it safe.

Neither should be playing scared like both were last night. Isner won the match, and rightfully so—he is clearly the better big-match player—but he was just as guilty of Raonic of being passive and not embracing the gunslinger mentality.

All I am saying is this: Raonic spent half the match behind the "Toronto" sign which was probably six feet behind the baseline (see above video to locate "Toronto" sign). Djokovic, in his three-set victory over Tommy Haas probably ended up that deep in the court three times during the whole match.

Simply put, Raonic and Isner need to attack and intimidate. If they don't they'll still be fine. They'll earn a good living, but they will never win Slams that way.

As far as Djokovic goes...

He can do whatever he wants. The guy may be more human than super-human in 2012, but he is still elite in every sense of the word when he takes the court. Rumors of personal turbulence may be true, but don't think for a second that Djokovic isn't still ready, willing and able to add to his legend.

Anybody who saw him let out a guttural scream after defeating Tommy Haas in a tense nailbiter has been served the memo. Djokovic is already thinking about winning in New York. The rest of the big four are licking their wounds on different, but real, levels.

With that said, I like Djokovic's chances in New York.

But let's see what he can do tomorrow against Tipsarevic first...