Serve and Volley

Serve and Volley

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.

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.

Serve and Volley

Fast Women

By 6.6.14

Eugenie Bouchard has not won many tournaments, but she was in the semifinals at the Australian Open. She took the first set in the semifinals at the French Open, formally the Championnats Internationaux de France, but she was playing against Maria Sharapova, the 2012 winner here at Roland-Garros Stadium, and the great Floridian, originally from Siberia, has been making a bit of a specialty in coming from behind, as for example in her quarter against another 20-year old phenom, the Hispano-Venezuelan Garbine Muguruza.

Serve and Volley

Murray Wins Marathon

By 6.5.14

First of all, you have to give them both a hand. Andy Murray and Gael Monfils played into the last traces of daylight on a cold evening, having waited out a long rain delay and a first match at Chatrier Stadium, in which Andrea Petkovic wiped the floor, frankly, with Sara Errani, the crowd’s favorite. The fear among Murray watchers was that the waiting and the cold would cause him to cramp up, and there was some relief when he clearly dominated the first set, 6-1.

Watching him dictate point after point, control the pace and choose the moment for an attack at the net, it looked like the Scot had it over the Frenchman, or, if you prefer, was dealing with adversity, or stress, or pressure, better.

Serve and Volley

Gulbis Going Forward

By 6.4.14

PARIS—Ernests Gulbis gets to match point with Tomas Berdych serving at 3-5. He fails to convert. The tall Czech fends him off and then gets two more to hold.

Serving for the match now, Gulbis gets the first point on a second-serve kicker that Berdych returns too low, then he makes a mistake at the baseline that evens the score.

The next serve comes right down the middle at 225 km/hr for an ace.

The next serve is clocked at 198 km/hr and lands on the sideline and Berdych cannot reach it either.

The next one comes in at 227 km/hr but it is long. A reasonable second serve leads into a short baseline rally than ends with Berdych netting an easy backhand.

You can look it up, but every man who beat Roger Federer this year lost his next match. Maybe there is a psychic price to pay for lèse-majesté. But apparently Ernests Gulbis does not know this.

Anyone with doubts about the young Latvian’s newfound seriousness of purpose had to admit there might be something to it after all, as the man from Riga followed up his five-set win over Roger Federer with a straight-set humiliation of Tomas Berdych.

Serve and Volley

The End of Roger Federer?

By 6.3.14

PARIS—Ernests Gulbis snaps at the bellboy, argues with the referee, smashes his racquet and bends it out of shape, takes a suspicious time out in the fourth set, breaks his opponent’s service early in the fifth, hangs in, finds himself serving for the match at 5-3.

When you are at this level of a sport, if you are true, the contest you are in is the most important of your life. But life has hierarchies in memory as in all other things, and there is not a sportsman who does not know that this game, this match, this race, was the one to remember. An NCAA final, an Olympic downhill, a no-hitter against the rival high school, you keep forever.

Serve and Volley

French Open Closes for American Men

By 6.2.14

PARIS — For a moment it looked like a typical Donald Young day: many brilliant shots, an aggressive game marked by movements to the net, and then frustration as errors pile up, discouragement, folding. But Donald Young was not having a typical day. After coming from behind in the first and second sets and then failing to follow through in the first one and letting an even stronger rally wilt at the end of the second one, he found his stride in the third and sustained a fierce tenacity in the fourth to even the match.

Donald Young is often mentioned in tennis circles as the most talented American of his cohort, the young-20s who are supposed to bring our colors back to the front of the international game. He has marvelous form and when he is on a roll he looks invincible, then he makes an error of tactics or hits long due to small miscalculation, gets mad at himself, blows the game, blows the set, abandons the match. This time, he was magnificent.

Serve and Volley

Champs Tough It Out

By 5.12.14

When you are not against a clock, you can always repeat the famous Yogi Berra line about never saying die, and tennis is a case in point, with illustrations of the adage almost as thrilling as ninth- or extra-inning rallies in baseball.

There is the astonishing case, saved for posterity thanks to Rod Laver’s tennis writings, about the French Open match wherein victory was sprung from the depths of a two set deficit and 0-5 in the third. This was such a long time ago that no one remembers the protagonists in this extreme mental drama — because what was it but a case of irrational exuberance against despondency beyond analysis — but we remember the story, because Laver told it.

Serve and Volley

Madrid Wide Open

By 5.8.14

Rafa Nadal looks like the unconquerable king of clay as he crushes Juan Monaco in two near wipe-out sets at the Mutua de Madrid Wednesday, but Stanislaw Wawrinka, the other great clay court champ (victor at Monte Carlo over Roger Federer), is surprised by 20-year old Dominic Thiem, who comes back from a crushing first set, 1-6, to show what his backhand is made of as well as his deftness with drop shots at the net.

This is all the more remarkable inasmuch as Wawrinka has one of the best and most elegant (one-handed) backhands in today’s game, and you would have expected him to get the better of those crosscourt duels to each other’s left. But tennis is made of sudden surprises, and this season in particular has proven to be more of a free for all than most in recent years.

Serve and Volley

Wide Open at the Mutua

By 5.5.14

Tennis’s clay court season advances toward its grand climax in Paris as the Mutua de Madrid gets under way with last year’s finalists on the women’s side, Serena Williams (who won) and Maria Sharapova, fresh from winning her third Porsche in a row at the Stuttgart tournament, brushing aside their first-round competition with almost identical scores, 6-2, 6-1 and 6-1, 6-2, unless it was the other way around, but you can look it up.

On the men’s side the Mutua starts out wide open, which is the ATP story this year, with Novak Djokovic withdrawing at the last minute due to the same arm injury that plagued him at Monte Carlo, where Roger Federer beat him with relative ease in the semis before succumbing to his friend and fellow-Helvete Stan (“Stanimal,” Federer calls him) Wawrinka, the Australian Open champ. Rafa Nadal, who should be the favored player and who objected a couple of years ago to the Mutua’s innovative “blue clay” courts, on which he lost, is defending the title he won here last year, but he has got other things on his mind, namely his own competitive drive, which has not been turned on lately, neither at Monte Carlo or at Barcelona.