Serve and Volley

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.

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Serve and Volley

Post-Season

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tennis for Churchillians

By 7.7.14

Right away, on Roger Federer’s first service game, Novak Djokovic counter-attacks against the older man’s superior net game, as if to show him he is unafraid. Federer holds, with some effort, and Djokovic, who held his own first service easily, deploys his own weapons, a strong serve — Federer’s will turn out to be more effective over the course of the match — and relentless baseline defense to immediate effect, holding the third game at love. Contrasting styles of play, which sharpens the battle of wills: who is going to crack the other’s confidence in his own game plan?

On the immaculate Centre Court of the All-England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon, you are not supposed to crack. If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew…

Federer is unfazed. In his own second service game he serve-and-volleys repeatedly, with gorgeous classic shots, a backhand volley in particular. At 2-2, Djokovic is serving as hard as possible again, he opens with a service winner and an ace, then opens up the court on the third serve to give himself a forehand winner, finally makes the same play on the backhand side.

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Serve and Volley

Coronation on Clay at Roland-Garros

By 6.9.14

Rafa strikes back Nole’s best shots, pushes him to the side of the court, whams one to the other corner, stares murderously as his rival looks on hopelessly.

The match, which began with a strong showing by the world No. 2, Novak Djokovic, 6-3 for him in the first set and looking more balanced, skillful, steady, than his great rival Rafael Nadal, has turned on its head, and turned into a rout. In the second set they played even tennis, breaking, breaking back, getting through 10 games with deuces and ad’s. Then the caballero from Majorca began to surge.

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