In a spell of four days between Thursday and Sunday of the first week in the US-Open 2015, 14 players retired without finishing the matches. The challenge to survive the playing conditions reached unbearable limits in New York. Only those tactically armed survived. In the women’s singles quarter-final, the first time Grand-Slam quarter finalist 22 [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

New York’s survival challenge


In a spell of four days between Thursday and Sunday of the first week in the US-Open 2015, 14 players retired without finishing the matches. The challenge to survive the playing conditions reached unbearable limits in New York. Only those tactically armed survived.

In the women’s singles quarter-final, the first time Grand-Slam quarter finalist 22 year old Kristina Mladenovic of France, was the first ‘burnout’ victim. She lost to Italy’s Roberta Vinci unable to perform in the third set with a strained thigh muscle. Then it was 5th seeded Kvitova, also went down to Italy’s Pennetta seeded 26 in a similar pattern. With the conditions challenging and the opponents getting ever so stronger, even the good players could not control the game to their advantage with their skills.

One way of accommodating the heat could be to make short rallies. To achieve this, big serves, good service returns and the volley are necessary. The high speed, accurate service is meant to put the opponent into trouble but if it is returned equally fast and accurate, the server will be in equal trouble. Weaker services get punished. Being extremely tactical is the only way to overcome this ‘catch 22’ situation. Andy Murray of Britain went down to South African Kevin Anderson in the 4th round. Murray’s inability to tune his service to tackle Anderson’s return was one of the reasons for the loss.

Match rhythm
There is a tempo that comes to being in a match which is an interaction of three different entities. Each of the player’s rhythm contributes to it along with the playing conditions. In this year’s US-Open, all of these contributed to acceleration in speed, demanding extreme reactions from players to win. Regardless whether it was a short or long rally, the ball was on the fast track. The hard court is a fast surface and its coverage needs more running than the clay surface because the bounce does not reduce the speed of the ball and this takes the ball further. This also means players will have to cover court at a hectic speed.

Tennis doubles is played at a higher speed than that of singles. Out of the eight in the quarter finals in women, four were good doubles players. They are the Williams sisters, and the two Italians – Vinci and Pennetta. In doubles, more than the strokes, the mind-set to play quick successions of shots is very much a necessity. In fact, this was a method used to develop players in the earlier times before regimented training became popular. For hard court Tennis the mindset of a doubles player has a lot of answers.

Women’s matches
The most awaited matches of the quarter-finals were that of former world’s number one, Victoria Azarenka vs current number two, Simona Halep and the match between the Williams sisters. Venus did show the world how to beat her sister in the second set but was not in the best physical shape to sustain the game. Whenever Venus was in full steam Serena was no match. Venus is coming back. Appearing in the quarter finals at US-Open is a sign of it and she is ranked around 15 in the world now. She still has about two more good years to play at the highest level. Venus did not play the third set in full steam which gave Serena the match. Serena will play Italian Roberta Vinci in the semi finals. The second seeded Halep beat 20th seed Azarenka in a match that could be considered the best so far in this year’s event. The match was a ‘cliff hanger’ and was decided only in the last few rallies. As things stand now, Serena will achieve her calendar Grand-Slam, which is the original Grand-Slam, if she wins the next two that is against Roberta Vinci and most probably Halep after that.

Men’s matches
Armed to the teeth, Novak Djokovic seeded one and Spaniard Feliciano Lopez seeded 18 fought it out in the stadium court. Feliciano Lopez, played a very good match but was exhausted and went into making 50 plus unforced errors. Lopez’s earlier matches were costly energy wise. Although looked capable with his all court game was too exhausted to beat Djokovic. In the other match Croatian and reigning champion Marin Cilic had to go the full length of the match to beat colourful Frenchman Jo Wilfred Tsonga in five sets and will play Novak Djokovic in the semi finals.

In the other half of the men’s quarter-final Switzerland’s Wawrinka held solid against the 6’8” tall Kevin Anderson. Anderson is a known ‘giant killer’ of the world Tennis circuit and has beaten all in the top five at some point. In the second match of the bottom half Federer beat the musketeer 12th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the quarter-final. Gasquet adapts to challenges well and if there is a player who engages the opponent fiercely in today’s men’s Tennis – it is Richard Gasquet. The other is Spaniard David Ferrer. Effective engagement curtails opponents shot selection thereby weakens their tactical play. Gasquet has pulled out amazing wins in the last two years. Such is his personality and tactical capability. Federer being well aware of it made sure the rallies were short and won impressively.

If I am to name one player who has adapted best to win in New York this year – it will be maestro Roger Federer. The court was fast and heat was high, what was needed were short rallies and more net play. Federer had all of it in place. Stefan Edberg the current coach of Federer was a net game specialist in his days. Edberg must be proud of his accomplishment with Federer. After all, how many can say I taught Federer something? In the training sessions which can be watched now, Federer is the only player seen practicing the volley. Federer’s match strategies are equally strong as his eloquent and effective stroke making. Federer now will have to play Stanislas Wawrinka. This will not be easy for the maestro. Wawrinka is at his best!

Rules of winning
One of the major areas in player development is to work on the personality. In my opinion, the player’s team seated on the side of the court seems a distraction than a help in this aspect. Only one player played the matches without any kind of contact to the team during the matches that is Roger Federer. Some players are permanently in communication with the ‘team’ between points and in the quarter-finals such players lost. To win nursing ‘self’ for comfort is a weakness. Some players are talking loud to themselves and even laugh at themselves. It is surprising that all this is happening even at US-Open. These are attraction to the spectators and have no tactical value on court.

Second aspect to win is to have a game plan with a good instinct for ‘tactical-shot selection’. Among women, there is a very strong presence of it in Venus and Serena Williams, sssVictoria Azarenka and to a good extent in Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep. Among the men Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Stanislas Wawrinka, and to a good extent in Richard Gasquet, Kevin Anderson and Feliciano Lopez have this aspect. For a consistent performance tactical shot selection must be ingrained into the player. Only then tactical play will is possible.

Tactics is the reference point to all practice, training and effective match play for a player. If there is one aspect development cannot ignore, it is the game-plan with ‘tactical know how’. Performing to survive in competition should be unconditional, even in the worst of playing situations. Insurance to win in adverse conditions needs tactical knowledge and the ability to apply it. US-Open in New York is certainly testing players for this now for survival!

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


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