Winning an event gives the championship’s title to the player but it is the aggregate in performance over a period of time that will place the player in the world ranking. Then, is it possible to be in the top ten of the world ranking without even winning any event? The answer is theoretically, yes [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

The battle of the ‘Top Guns’

Challenging the elites in Tennis

Winning an event gives the championship’s title to the player but it is the aggregate in performance over a period of time that will place the player in the world ranking. Then, is it possible to be in the top ten of the world ranking without even winning any event? The answer is theoretically, yes it is possible. That is by reaching the final round of events most of the time, however, the position of the ‘Top-Guns’, that is the top three, cannot be achieved without winning a few majors and some others of significance. The current women’s ‘Top Guns’ Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep and men’s Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray have this record to their credit.

Winning the 2015 Wimbledon title at 34, Serena Williams became the oldest Grand-Slam winner breaking Martina Navratilova’s record. Another interesting occurrence in Tennis is, time and again many unknown players perform one-off ‘giant killing’ wins in both genders and kindle great interest. This year too in Wimbledon we had Germany’s Dustin Brown with Caribbean flavour beating the much fancied Rafael Nadal in the second round in men’s and among women Slovakian Jana Cepelova beat much favoured world’s number three Romania’s Simona Halep in the very first round. Both these ‘giant killers’ couldn’t keep up the momentum and lost in the very next round.WTA’s promising names.

In the light of the history of player development and their performances, prediction is a dangerous game to get into. All the same, results of events do create an opinion in us and name players as probable contenders to replace the ‘Top Guns’ in the ranking.

In this Wimbledon Garbine Mugurusa seeded 20 reached the finals beating players with higher seeding. She played some great matches but what impressed me the most was her performance in the finals’ of 2015 Wimbledon. No player has broken the opening serve of Serena Williams twice to my memory. Mugurusa did just that. It naturally rattled world’s number one Serena and immediately Mugurusa became the crowd’s favourite with much expectation. Till 4-2 in the first set Mugurusa showed that she has all the mechanics of the game including the ability to handle Serena’s power and deliver power with equal terms. It is a potential which I believe will grow in the near future very much to dominate the world.

Power in Tennis is only good when it has the support of a high success rate. The art of sustaining high percentage with power is a highly developed skill. Sustaining such skills need the support of the mind. At twenty one Mugurusa is thirteen years younger than Serena and this showed in her effort to sustain her power game. This in turn Wimbledon women’s finals this year looked more of a Mugurusa beating Mugurusa. This is common among ‘up and coming’ young players. I may be wrong in saying this because even Serena Williams coach Patric Mouratoglou indicated Serena to have this issue at 34. He said the worst enemy of Serena is Serena. If she can control herself there is nothing she cannot do. If Mugurusa can master these mental skills she could replace the players in the top three soon.

New challengers
In women’s Tennis, three names come to my mind and these are three that have appeared in Grand-Slam Finals in the last two years. They are Romania’s Simona Halep currently ranked three, Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova ranked eight and Spain’s Garbine Mugurusa ranked nine. These three will have to consolidate their performance from sporadic good performances to consistent ones, if they are to achieve a ranking in the top three. It will not be an easy task in the current level of competition.

After a lapse of time two fresh names appeared from the North America in the quarter finals of women’s. They are Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys. Keys is being coached by former American icon Lindsay Davenport. Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard has hit a bad patch. Much expected performances have not come forth from her up to now. On the other hand Eastern Europe is rolling out players like a production line. The few Asian women at present are not in the caliber of LI-Na of China.

Men’s ATP ranking & ‘Roger’
There is a sentiment that Roger Federer should stop playing. On the other hand he is world’s number two and about the most popular ‘Top Gun’ in the last decade. None of his defeats are degrading and his style of play has the raving spectator appeal. He is also smart and plays only limited number of events. In terms of his career, he must be earning more than most players. When he loses it shows but does not sulk and disappear like many others. What more, he wins again. He is ‘Lazarus’ of our modern day Tennis. As a role model to younger players, he is very good. I cannot relate him to court tantrums but to the image of being a gentleman player. He will play for a while and at present he is an unmistakable and admired ‘Top Gun’.

Roger Federer sustained his challenge against three big names spanning three eras. He was a challenger to power and skillful Pete Sampras, raw speed and brutal powered Rafael Nadal and now to master of precision, Novak Djokovic. This by itself is a unique feature of his career.

The reigning king in Tennis is Novak Djokovic. He won Wimbledon last week. The prediction from long term Tennis observers is that he will surpass the record of all the big names of the past. That is Australia’s Rod Laver and Roy Emerson, USA’s Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, Sweden’s Bjorn Borg and Swiss maestro Roger Federer. The trade mark of his game is precision, placement and speed in court coverage. His sense of court geometry and anticipation of opponent’s moves show that the game, in his head is well ahead of the ball movement at any given time. In Tennis when speed surges precision suffers and consistency drops. Djokovic’s Tennis defies this law of gravity. He has mastered the art of living as a super athlete accommodating all changes and challenges.

The number three in the ranking is Briton’s Andy Murray. Right now only a few can beat him. His comfort zone is like that of Rafael Nadal – the back court game. This art of playing takes a toll on the body. Rafael Nadal had to have surgeries to sustain his Tennis. Murray must have come to this game plan after trying all that is possible. Every player settles into their comfort zone by trial and error process. Now and then we see Murray at net. many baseliners are doing this to escape long rallies.

The challenge to the men’s ‘Top Guns’ at present is coming from Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych. Others in the ‘knocking at the door’ status are Croat Marin Cilic who has the support of his famous countryman former Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic as the coach. The French are very strong in the second ten of the ranking. Probably it would be Gilles Simon ranked eleven who will break into the top ten soon and move up as a challenger to the top three. He has the game which has the potential to go up.

Over to USA
With Wimbledon, the European Tennis season takes the back stage. It is not because the events in Europe come to an end but the strong and appealing North American season will dominate and end up in the last Grand-Slam of the year the US-Open in New York. Events in North America have formed itself into a package. At the end of the US-Open there are two cheques to be won. One is the US-Open prize money and the other is the American circuit winner’s prize money. It is another of the moves to make American Tennis popular again. This way, event organizers feel more players will leave Europe and come to America to play in July and August. With the number of events increasing, events will have to be attractive get players to participate. The ‘Top Guns’ and the challengers will fight out in America during the next six weeks.

Sri Lanka’s Davis Cup relegation tie will be worked out this week end. We play Lebanon in Colombo SLTA courts.
George Paldano, former international player; Accredited Coach of Germany, National coach, Davis Cup and Federation Cup Coach; ITF and USPTR; –

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