Serve and Volley

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.

Serve and Volley

Greed Games

By 3.31.14

You could, indeed you should, conclude that it all worked out in the end. The finals at the Miami Open brought the four top ranked players in the world, Serena Williams (WTA No. 1) and Li Na (No. 2) on the women’s side, Rafael Nadal (ATP No. 1) and Novak Djokovic (No. 2) on the men’s. They were fine if not grand matches.

On Saturday, Miss Williams came back from a 2-5 deficit in the first set and by sheer force of will, skill, power, and smarts — by sheer force of everything, face it — prevailed 7-5. That set alone made the tournament for many of the fans, sharply disappointed by the appalling mishap on Friday. Then she walked away with the second set, 6-1. Miss Li, always good natured and witty, cracked a joke about two old women (they are both 32) whose clothes are not as crazy as some of the younger set’s. Li’s were classic whites, Miss Williams green and orange, reportedly designed to indicate support for the local football team of which she is part owner.

Serve and Volley

Master Teachers

By 3.26.14

Andy Murray achieved five break points in the fifth game of the first set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, including a remarkable clutch forehand on a shot that no one reasonably would have expected him to retrieve. Murray’s extreme physical speed combined with what surely are some of the quickest wits among top ten tennis players render him unpredictable. When he is hot, it is impossible to keep up with the variety he can put into play, ranging from perhaps the best return of serve in the game today to lightning reflexes at the net. From the baseline he can control the point with his consistent two handed backhand and a seemingly effortless ability to suddenly quicken the pace of play.

Serve and Volley

Hot Shots at Indian Wells

By 3.14.14

On the fourth deuce point, Dominika Cibulkova’s return of Li Na’s return of serve went long and once again she faced a break, but she saved it. Then on the fifth deuce she returned a return of serve into the net and then there was a long rally and it appeared at last it was going to be Miss Li’s break, but no. It went to a sixth deuce and this time at long last Miss Cibulkova got the ad. This time, for sure, she would hold — but no again, she shanked an easy forehand and it was deuce once more and the tough and spirited lady from Wuhan, winner of the Australia Open six weeks ago, hit a perfect backhand down the line that Miss Cibulkova could only look at. So was this it? No, still not. Miss C. saved still another break point and on deuce again an exasperated Miss Li sent a return of serve wild and on the net point the mighty mite (five-three) from Bratislava played it shrewdly, played her like a sucker, actually, caught her running the wrong way. Third set, 2-2, Li Na to serve.

Serve and Volley

Crossing the Desert

By 3.10.14

In one of the most anticipated matches of the first week of the Masters 1000 tournament at Indian Wells, California, the doubles team of Roger Federer and Stanislaw Wawrinka beat the legendary Indo-Pak Express team of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi in three sets, largely due to sensational return-of-serve shots by the ex world No. 1 (presently No. 8). Wawrinka (presently No. 3) did his job as well as you would expect of the man who beat Djokovic and Nadal, both, at the Australian Open a few weeks ago, but it was Federer, fresh from his triumph over Tomas Berdych in the final at the Dubai tournament (Bopanna and Qureshi took the doubles trophy), whose lightning reflexes at the net and absolutely uncanny sense of where to put the ball, drew the oohs and aahs, perceptible even on TV, of the capacity crowd at Stadium Two on Friday afternoon.

Serve and Volley

Failing Better

By 1.27.14

Roger Federer played great tennis for a week and a half at Melbourne Park, the venue of the Australian Open, which bills itself as the Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific. Australia, of course, is a continent in its own right, but it is closely interested in Asian and Pacific affairs. Federer was a feared and loved power here a few years ago — feared by his adversaries, loved by the fans, who appreciate his grace and classical form. He won four championships here, most recently in 2010. The fans still love the beauty of his game and the demeanor of the champion that he carries with him even when he loses.

Given the poor level — by his standards, no one else’s — of his game last year, which knocked him all the way down to number seven in the ATP rankings, it was a victory in itself to make it to the semis.

Serve and Volley

Top Seeds Fall, the Game Thrives

By 1.23.14

In my youth newspaper writers were taught to avoid “As I said” or “As I wrote,” it is bad form, so I should note right away that if I wrote in this space that I never make predictions, it is because I believe in free choice as well as inexplicable chance, even if there is a higher power: though the argument in theological circles regarding just how much He concerns himself with human affairs rages on. In tennis there certainly are ways of trying to stack the cards to insure a certain outcome, including training, coaching, thinking, and practicing, by no means necessarily in that order.

Serve and Volley

Up and Down Under

By 1.21.14

It is not correct to generalize and it is not factual that all women who play tennis are divas. You might as well say all male tennis players are egomaniacs. It is demonstrably false. There is much humility in tennis because the sport teaches you that winning depends on you alone and you cannot blame anyone else. Even in doubles it would be viewed as insufferably bad form, especially if your partner made most of the mistakes: maybe they were made because you set him up.

Serena Williams blamed no one but herself for bowing out in the fourth round of the Australian Open last week, snapping a breathtaking winning streak that included wins last year at Roland-Garros, Wimbledon, and Flushing Meadows, three of the four great tournaments. Everyone in the tennis world with a microphone or a typewriter said she was bound to win at Melbourne Park, giving her a Serena Slam, which is what tennis commentators have taken to calling four in a row but not in the same calendar year.

Serve and Volley

Game Set Match

By 9.13.13

It had to end, but our man, suffering from withdrawal symptoms, offers one last take on this year’s U.S. Open as well as idle musings on the fate of nations.