First off – Alexandr Dolgopolov.
PMac and I were luck enough to watch the riveting match between “the Dog” and Nadal. A packed house on Monday for an evening match. Incredibly contrasting styles, and an entire Rafa cheering squad with pom pons and more directly in front of us. Rafa had mentioned earlier in the week about his back and concerns when serving. And truly, his serve speed was all over the place.
But what stood out to me was the following pattern. When centered on the baseline, Alexandr would bait Rafa to run slightly around his backhand to drive the first ball inside out. Alexandr then played his forehand down the line to yet another forehand for Nadal which our world number one would inevitably whip crosscourt. Now the fun began, and you will see this on replays on the Tennis Channel – Dolgopolov sprinted to the backhand corner to CRUSH sidespinning crosscourt winners back behind Rafa.
Said again, Dolgopolov intentionally opened his backhand wing but would then outhit Rafa in what is normally Rafa’s best pattern. Again and again. Amazing.
Now to the serve. In the 1960’s players always had to keep one foot on the ground. Then the rules changed and players could jump if they wanted. But through that early 1970 and even 1980 era, tosses were simple affairs. Laver, Nastase, Ashe, Borg, Connors or McEnroe – most tossed the ball just a bit higher than contact and served with a continuous rhythm. But something has happened in our present day, for many players now use overly high tosses – Sharapova, Berdych, Steffi Graf (an original outlier on the toss) or Soderling.
Certainly there are many ways to play the game, many ways to serve, many toss heights, but Dolgopolov may return us to the era of the quick toss and hit. The Bryan Brothers use this method, as did Roscoe Tanner and even Ivan Lubicic now the coach of Raonic. But the Dog’s serve is pretty darn good – perhaps we could call it “tossing into the swing.”
Photo courtesy Jim Fawcette ©jfawcette
After beating Nadal, Dolgopolov went on to “routine” Fognini 62 64 and then Raonic 63 64 before being subdued in the semifinals by the resurgent Roger Federer.
Now a question – Is Djokovic old school? Really. Is the BNP champion, who bested Roger in a third set tiebreaker an old school classical player?
Consider the following. Some years ago compulsories were included within ice skating competitions. Skaters would have to trace a large figure 8 on ice and the judges would measure how closely their skate followed the precise pattern on the ice. A compulsory test to measure “perfection” before the free style performance.
Do we have any American tennis players who could perform the following “warm-up compulsory” that Novak does whenever warming up on court. Novak steps in on EVERY BALL. Novak is on PERFECT BALANCE for every ball. Novak’s POSTURE is perfect on every ball. Roaming the grounds at Indian Wells last week, and watching our two Davis Cup singles players (John and Sam) practice – I rarely saw true balance, both are casual if imprecise with their footwork. Unfortunately Raonic the same but that is another story. If practice makes perfect only when “practicing perfectly” take a moment to watch and rewatch the following two clips of Novak.
And consider – in our literature (meaning magazines, USTA publications, and all the websites) is balance and posture placed front and center as the most important aspect of the game – or is it touched on rarely with more attention paid to grips spin tactics and so forth with the tacit assumption that everyone is balanced (more or less) so lets get on to more exciting stuff.