Serve and Volley

Serve and Volley

Racquets and Words

By 8.17.15

Nick Kyrgios, 20-year-old Australian tennis player, beat this year’s French Open champ, 30-year-old Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, in an early round in the Canada Open, more formally known as the Rogers Cup and, bilingual correctness oblige, the Coupe Rogers. The men’s competition takes place in Montreal, the women’s in Toronto, but they alternate year by year. This may be on instructions from the meddlesome federal government in Ottawa, which is mindful of spreading the wealth — the sports-tourism wealth — between the neighboring provinces of Ontario (Toronto) and Quebec (Montreal.)

The Canadian Open enjoys Masters 1000 status (ATP, men’s tour) and Premier 5 (WTA, women). It is a significant event for anyone who follows tennis. The No. 1 seeds at the tournaments were Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, both of whom are having sensational seasons and will doubtless be the No 1 seeds at the U.S. Open, which begins August 31.

Serve and Volley

Wily Vets Keep the Lid On

By 2.5.15

Federer falls in the third round! Nadal knocked out in straight sets by the man he beat seventeen times in a row! Venus and Serena, fantastic as ever, and Serena takes it all! Two fab teens, one Aussie, one American, make splendid runs into the second week. There was plenty of excitement at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park, even from the distance and as seen on the small screen. Best of all, Leander Paes of India and Martina Hingis of Switzerland, teaming up in mixed doubles, beat the defending champs, Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor, for the title in that draw. It is always thrilling to see legends remain legendary.

There were sensational points though no matches that immediately passed into legend. But that is not necessary for a successful Grand Slam tournament. There were some high moments of competition, predictions were shattered, young people came up, and in the end veterans outplayed them, as usually they do; the show goes on. The Oz Open augurs well for a good 2015 Tour.

Serve and Volley

Swiss Supreme

By 11.25.14

Roger Federer broke Richard Gasquet’s service in the 7th game of the 2nd set with such grace and style that it would have been easy to miss the Swiss champion’s breathtaking power.

He made it look easy, which is always a sign that he is doing it the hard way.

Federer, as often happens, was getting so hot that he was playing in a zone different from the one Gasquet inhabits; as the cliché has it, he was raising his game to another level. Say it any way you want, Federer was obviously enjoying himself and he was also just a little angry, in that understated Swiss way he has, and he was showing it. There is British understatement, stiff upper lip, nothing-to-it-old-boy. There is that cold German style, murder on autopilot, no emotion. The Swiss are phlegmatic when they go on full-throttle-no-more-fooling-around, but you can see their facial muscles tightening. Federer nods almost imperceptively. His brow furrows, his eyes narrow.

Serve and Volley


By 10.29.14

The last great tournament of the year, the 64-draw BNP Paribas Masters held in the huge indoor stadium at Bercy, the busy Paris neighborhood on the eastern right bank of the Seine, kicked off with several thrillers. There was an endurance contest between the mighty Catalan, excuse me Spanish, veteran Tommy Robredo and the talented young Canadian Vasek Pospisil (better known in the U.S. as Jack Sock’s doubles partner, winners at Wimbledon this year), which ended in a third-set tiebreak. Sam Querrey got the American side off to a good start with a win over the mercurial Lodznik Jerzy Janowicz, a past finalist, and Sock crushed the Valenciano Pablo Andujar, but no one knows how deep the Americans will run.

Serve and Volley

Croatia’s Star Stops Japan’s Rising Son Cold in Three-Set Rout

By 9.9.14

Fittingly, a Grand Slam season that began with the victory of a long-suffering underdog ended with the triumph of still another. But whereas perennial Swiss No. 2 Stan Wawrinka faced one of tennis’s dominant Big Four at Melbourne, the big-serving Marin Cilic of Croatia was up against one of his own second-tier rivals, Kei Nishikori, who beat one of the Bigs in his U.S. Open semi while Cilic took out another.

Thus the final in the every-seat-taken (17,000 of them) Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York that a few days ago everyone expected to be a rematch of the Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic thriller at Wimbledon a couple months ago instead was a battle between upstart, relatively unknown players, neither one of whom ever had been in a Grand Slam final.

Serve and Volley

The End of Civilization As We Have Known It

By 9.8.14

When a man is down two sets to one and he is on serve and behind 15-40, you find out what he is made of — in tennis, at any rate. In Roger Federer’s case, his hapless rival in that particular situation said it best: “[S]uddenly he start to mix everything,” said the French ace Gael Monfils after the match. He meant, he did what he needed to do to save the game, save the set, save the match.

Federer himself put it a little differently, mentioning afterward that he told himself to just go ahead and play the last point, since last point is what by all evidence it was. But his unstated meaning was: just let it be and play.

Serve and Volley

Boris and Stefan

By 9.5.14

Boris “Boom Boom” Becker hit aces and unreturnable serves by the boatload. For Stefan Edberg, his great rival, the serve was not an end in itself but the means to the end: setting up his first volley — the deadliest in the game. On heavily spun serves kicked out wide to the backhand on the ad court, he could close to within two or three feet of the net. In this position, he was a matador poised for the quick and artful kill. No one struck so many clean, first-volley winners into the open court as the graceful Swede.

Becker is now a puffy-faced 46 — suggesting a life lived hard if not always well — while Edberg, who is a year and a half older, retains a look of boyish innocence and stoic composure.

It is good to see them back in center stage at the U.S. Open — if only as coaches to the two best players in the tennis world of today (Becker for Novak Djokovic and Edberg for Roger Federer).

As a keen tennis player and long-time fan of the sport, I had the pleasure of seeing Becker and Edberg play at the very outset of their careers.

Serve and Volley

Federer Improves—And the Yanks Are Knocked Out Cold

By 9.2.14

You can say that the first week of a major in tennis represents the triumph of hope over percentage: the world is wide open, anything is possible, the bold will be rewarded.

You can then add the sobering reflection that the second week, in the thick of which we find ourselves at the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows, Queens, represents the triumph of percentage over hope: the world has doors that slam on you when you thought they were unhinged.

Maybe you were unhinged, intoxicated with your own dreams.

Serve and Volley

Bipartisan Sports

By 8.4.14

Sam Groth serves for the match. Five thousand breaths are held as the shot booms off his racquet seven and half feet off the ground. Five pairs of eyes see it land across the net stretched across Washington’s legendary Stadium Court in Rock Creek Park. They belong to him, to his partner Leander Paes, who crouches near the net under the line of Groth’s serve, to the receiving player, Sam Querrey, and the linesman, and the chair umpire. The receiving player’s partner, Steve Johnson, is not looking. He stares across the net, ready for the return of the return.

The five men who see and hear the shot are experienced in split-second eyeballing. They know they must make decisions and stick with them despite their acquaintance with their own fallibility.

Serve and Volley

Tennis Kids Today

By 8.1.14

Vasek Pospisil beat Rajeev Ram two sets to zero, on Wednesday at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park, site of the Citi Open, Washington D.C.’s ticket to the tennis big leagues. Pospisil’s 24 years, compared to Ram’s 30, do not represent much of a spread by any ordinary standard, but in tennis these days, the Canadian is a young man entering his peak years, while the American is on the threshold of middle age. But are such terms reasonable?

Certainly not by the evidence of the match. The two tall, lean, strong-upper-bodied pros were keeping up with each other and you would not have said, seeing them from the close up bleachers on the Grandstand 2 court, who was more fit. One of the pleasures of this tournament is the unusually fine visibility on every court; even the showcase center court in the ten-thousand seat Stadium, which by the way was built not with federal matching grants but thanks to the generosity of W.H.G. FitzGerald, a great American who served as U.S. ambassador to Ireland in the Bush I administration. Well, you can see how close the kids and the adults are in basic tennis ability and in physical fitness and in mental strength.