The first day of the Australian-Open sent more than a share of the ‘big guns’ among women out. Most noticeable was top ten Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic. In these early rounds of the new season, it is easy to catch good players who are still nursing their game, off balance. This makes the first Gran-Slam the [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

‘Heat’ of the Australian- Open draw


The first day of the Australian-Open sent more than a share of the ‘big guns’ among women out. Most noticeable was top ten Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic. In these early rounds of the new season, it is easy to catch good players who are still nursing their game, off balance. This makes the first Gran-Slam the best hunting grounds for the ‘fresher’s. The first two rounds this year showed how strong the draw was and how hard the seeds will have to work, to survive. The top 150 of the world’s best are there in the draw. When this is so, it’s not only the Australian summer heat that the good players will have to survive.

The Australian-open is played on a special hard court. Like all hard courts, the speed of the ball will demand very high levels of reaction to be being sustained for five sets. Five setters are exactly what the good players will try to avoid in high heat conditions.

A few good matches are a blessing to players in the early rounds so that they could peak their performance in the final rounds. One too many five set matches will spell doom to the men’s seeded players. The issue is the time period between matches. Full physical recovery from 5 set matches within 36 hours repeatedly, does not happen. All these means it is not only the skill levels that will decide the fate of any players in the draw but also the way they pace themselves to win the early rounds. In other words, every match will have an impact on the subsequent matches. It is a hard formula to tackle when the draw has only the best in the world.Surface issues

Australian-Open hard court is very fast and the heat makes it difficult for players to move. Heat has this unwelcome effect on all hard courts. To win in the first couple of rounds on this surface, the men will need a first service to be 190kmph and with an ability to push it to 220kmph for the big points. It has to have 70% consistency too.

The second serve will have to be around 165kmph with near 100% consistency. This pushes the returning reaction ability of player’s sky high. Players will have to have highly trained controlled reaction to return these services.

At these speeds, there will rarely be long rallies which are a big spectator draw. The first five shots of the rally often decide the fate of the rally at these speeds. Power and speed dominate the match. Then what happens to shot variation skills? Much is said against the ‘anti-entertaining’ factor about watching hard court Tennis for this reason. I believe slower courts will return soon and it is in the Australian-Open agenda for the future.

Little chicken’s Trap

Weaker players in the draw often create upsets in the early rounds. Unforced errors are the biggest issue for good players playing against a weak one. Fundamentally, unforced errors are a result of poor shot selection to play winners before the court is made open.

The disrespect a good player has towards the weak ‘little Chicken’ is the trap here. Invariably very good players consider the early round matches to be a ‘grill party’ and hate being stretched even within a rally by a first round player, compelling good players to go for winners when it is not possible.

Then the trap springs. When this happens, some good players tend to choke and when they recover, a lot of damage will have to be undone. This emotional drain will reduce good player’s tactical efficiency to a bare minimum. It also means the ‘little chicken’ has succeeded in reducing the good player’s game. This is what happened to Ana Ivanovic in the very first round of the Australian-Open. She lost because of recklessness and for the same reason Maria Sharapova in her second round had match points against her in the third set. This shake up of Maria can go either way in the subsequent matches.

Secret of game compilation

Hard court Tennis increases the quantum of running by a third in distance and speed. The ball hardly loses speed with the bounce and as a result. Players are forced to play from the peripheral area of the court. All the good players are sporting ankle-guards.

I saw them on Serena Williams, Kei Nishikori and a score of others. “If one can ‘kill’ the feet of the opponent, their strokes will die” is an old saying in Tennis. In the final stages of the game, if a player is tired just 10 percent, they cannot find the correct position to hit the ball effectively. Any trained eye to read body language can spot this easily.

One way to avoid this pitfall is to be ‘tactical’ and the other is to have a sharp sense of ‘game-compilation’. Everybody understands how to be tactical however, ‘game-compilation’ is an exclusive area of matured competition players. It deals with winning four out of six rallies comfortably using service, return and net play, than straining to win everything with long rallies. In the modern terminology, this system is described as playing ‘big-points’. Rod Laver through Arthur Ash to John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova used it well. Current maestro Roger Federer and Pete Sampras are masters at this.

Strength of Australian-Open

By some chance of vision, Dwight Davis of USA started the Davis Cup. Australia being one of the four pioneers to win the Davis-Cup is blessed with the right to host a Grand-Slam every year. Sports history will reveal what would have happened to Tennis if not for the Australian-Open and the other three Grand-Slams. It could have become a thing of the past. Today ATP, WTA and other international bodies have come to see this and support it without any reservation to sustain Tennis in the world. The energy Australian-Open generates and propels even in the unknown remotest parts of the world for people to take up Tennis phenomenal. Power of Australian-Open is global and round the year. The excitement of the Australian-Open 2015 draw through to the final rounds in the two weeks of January, will fill many pages of news print and sport history and keep enthusiasts’ excitement echoing for decades.

Players and limits

Australian-Open is not about winning one match. It is about surviving moment to moment, shot for shot, rally to rally and surviving match to match. A player will have to take the toll physically and mentally, test their personality and maturity, strength of imagination in strategies and tactics and perform relentlessly, all the time. Time tested Maria Sharapova had to stand on the court for two and a half hours to beat the Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova ranked 150 in the second round. Often what looks simple to the world is most difficult to achieve in life. Most of the matches in Australian-Open draw will be so.

George Paldano, former international player; Accredited Coach of Germany; National, Davis Cup and Federation Cup Coach; ITF and USPTR –

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