Indian Wells – Raonic Serena and Djokovic

PMac and I have just returned from two outstanding days in the desert. And man was it hot!

The grounds, the stadiums, the venue – FANTASTIC

The fan support – AMAZING – as Sunday the 15th the day session general admission was sold out!!!

And hats of to Serena Williams and Larry Ellison for her return to the tournament – with all the news from Oklahoma fraternities, police issues in Ferguson and elsewhere – this was a warm welcome and wonderful story.  For her first match on the stadium court Larry was sitting with Bill Gates and John McEnroe – for this was a historic return.

Now to the tennis.
Kei Nishikori – Nick Bollitieri has said that Kei and Marcelo Rios where the best natural hitters he had ever had thru his academy.  We watched Kei practice on two occasions, as well as in his victory over Fernando Velasco.  To my eye, Nishikori has such confidence in his backhand, and such quick quick feet, that he is far less out of position than those (read Isner or Raonic) who run around their backhands to drive forehands but in the process give up valuable court position.  And the most telling situation was when he drove Fernando Verdasco wide backhand corner – when cross court Kei stepped up with a forehand winner down the line, and when Fernando went up the line Kei hammered backhand cross court winners.  Effortlessly, without grunting or even making it look like work.
Milos Raonic – we had fantastic seats for his match against Simon Bolelli of Italy. Third row, baseline seats, Stadium 2.  Best seats I have ever had.  Roanic is getting better, his movement improves (slowly) his balance is still an issue in my opinion (and he would be well served to read Mastering the Art of Running by Malcolm Balk – an Alexander Technique interpretation of posture and length in running but the same goes for tennis).  But to the serve – easily serving in the 140mph rang with effortless rhythm.  As a child he has said he was copying Sampras’ technique – and perhaps he has taken it to another level.  Why or why did not anyone encourage (if not demand) that he learn to serve and volley.  Federer is amazing everyone with his embrace of this tactic – imagine Milos following his serve to the net – for the best most can do is to simply block the return.
Stan Wawrinka – again from our seats on the baseline of Stadium 2 – Stan posed a counter point to Milos – serving sometimes between 95 to 110mph on first serves, and only running around his backhand to finish points – certainly the one handed backhand is not for everyone – but if you are a fan or practitioner of this shot – his length, his spin, his net clearance, as well as his confidence – this is one of the best versions of the one handed backhand.  Look closely at this photo – and he is in a full if not low eastern backhand grip.  And when it comes to contact – he drives this ball from well out in front – no chip in this one.

Now to the business end of the BNP Paribas Mens Final – and what a classic, unexpected, even see saw affair.  In many ways Federer has inspired if not grown Djokovic – and after Fed’s amazing serving in Dubai somehow I think Novak was motivated to show what he can do with his service delivery – for he showed this clearly in the semifinal contest against an overmatched (and poor serving) Andy Murray.

The following graphic, a screen grab from Tennis Channel (courtesy Jim Fawcette  ©jfawcette) showed the serve location in Dubai – where Novak faced and lost 2 break points and Fed faced 7 break points and was never broken.  And while everyone had been saying Federer has never served better, Novak seemed determined to change the course of that story.

screen shotIn the first set Novak converted 70% of his first serves and won 100% of those points played, against a meager 28% of the points won by Fed on his own second serve.  Routine first set 6-3.

Set two was different – Novak’s serve numbers were down, 58% on first serve and he won 73% of those points he save 4 of 5 break points – but on Fed’s side of the street he staged an improbable comeback when appearing to be out the door with a 36 26 loss – to capture the tiebreaker after Novak’s serve deserted him.

In the third set form prevailed (meaning the world Number One righted the ship) – but here the story was Federer winning just one of 9 points on his second serve – truly unheard of.

But more and more Novak shows us how to play the game – serve with confidence and pin point accuracy to the corners, play truly error free tennis, and patrol the baseline so the opponent never has the luxury of the time the ensues when the opponent is 10 to 18 feet back of the baseline.

And what if Novak becomes even better – for it could happen.

PS – I am going through my extensive footage, and will soon unveil something new – working title (subject to change) – Deconstructing Professional Technique

The plan is to post footage of a sequence of shots, or a sequence of the same shot, initially without sound or content – to challenge you to watch repeatedly to get the image in your mind’s eye.

Then – with minimal verbiage and “under analysis” if you will, I will draw your eyes to certain aspects of the form.  I came to this idea in graduate school, where a study showed that when gymnastic coaches of varying skill and expertise watch a performance, the eyes of the veteran coaches noticed different things than those of the neophyte coaches. And as often as not the veterans observe more the macro elements and the neophyte’s are more commonly noticing and seeing the micro or peripheral issues.

I am not saying you are a neophyte, but that likely you may notice one thing while I may notice another – but hopefully I can draw your eyes away from nuance and more to the basics.  As an example, many notice how Milos Raonic holds his hand and wrist at the start of his service motion. But to me that is nuance, that is of some interest, but truly Raonic is about rhythm, let me say it again – RHYTHM.

My own experience with this watching/deconstructing thing was in Destin Florida.  Don Kerr, my coach and mentor from New Orleans would visit often.  A student would be on court and Don would ask, “What do you see?”  The game was for me to speak first, and then he would tell me what he saw.  In nearly every instance he pointed out something I did not notice, and in nearly every instance what he directed my eyes to see was somehow better or meaningful that what I had first noticed and mentioned.

So we will create “Deconstructing Professional Technique” to do the same with you.  This will also lead to some work on observational learning, and whether players can use visual templates to improve aspects of their game, and even whether with suitable training players can reduce the self talk and analysis and truly come to deal solely with the ball – which at the end of the day was and is the story within the Inner Game of Tennis.

 

21 Comments

  • Sally

    Reply Reply April 17, 2015

    Please do not praise Mr Williams.America has a lot to answer for.

  • Alan

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Interesting to again compare Gonzales or Laver to top players today. I think Jack Kramer felt P. Gonzales would be the strongest former player in the last 50 years to favorably compete with players of the last 20 years. I agree.

  • Steve

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    As far as your comment about veteran coaches vs. neophyte coaches, I believe you are spot on in how their tennis vision. Many years ago John McEnroe was commenting on TV about how Novak Djokovic is going to be a great tennis player. At that point in time, Novak was just a regular touring pro. I never forgot that comment from JMac and realized that he also has great insight into his sport as a former champion. Obviously his prediction became true.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 23, 2015

      Steve -I have wondered just that, whether anyone could have seen Novak’s rise compared to all in the top 20 or so when he was there – my guess but I would love to get Mac’s words – were about what somehow his quickness and his balance – for even in the quarterfinals I would see Berdych hammer a backhand but slightly off balance (truly wobbling) and though he would not miss the shot didn’t penetrate the court and then Fed would take over – but with Novak there appear to be no holes in his game
      Jim

  • rob gallo

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Jim,

    Really enjoyed reading all your comments on the matches. Look forward even more to hear your sage advice as you pull out the dynamic parts of play and transform them to great tennis information!

  • Maury

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Jim,

    Your thought process is intriguing and your attitude of continual experimentation and discovery is inspiring.

    Keep putting out this good stuff.

    Thanks,
    Maury

  • Tom

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    enjoyed the analysis and look forward to reading what you glean from the videos. Did you see any of the women’s singles or men’s doubles matches? Strikes me as a great tournament to attend– great venue,(mostly) great weather and many of the top players playing doubles.
    While the women’s singles semi final and final were not great tennis, they were both entertaining, competitive matches. I am always (painfully) amazed at how many excellent women players have so much difficulty with the serve. It is also interesting to see the challenge that big serving and hitting singles players (Sock/Popisil) are presenting for doubles teams and how those teams are attempting to adjust. Seems the 10 point tiebreak 3rd set compounds that challenge.

  • Patrick Whitmarsh

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Do you suspect that Djokovitch has been trained in part with the Alexander technique? Are you familiar with the application of the Alexander technique to tennis players? Do you have any reference material you can list on the Alexander technique in addition to Balk’s work? The watching/deconstructing concept is of course what we teachers of behavior hang our shingle on. It would be interesting and instructional if other teachers of behavior could comment on the formats they use in watching/deconstructing behavior. Excellent reporting from Indian Wells. We owe you a debt.

    Pat

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 23, 2015

      Patrick – good good question – I know Gary Adelman at Columbia is an excellent tennis player and trained AT instructor – but at this point I do not know about any tennis specific stuff – that said Malcolm Balk and I have discussed a collaboration – and at some time it will occur – but I cannot promise when – even have a few AT interviews scheduled with teachers here in the Bay Area (but I worry I as usual bite off way more than I can chew!)
      Jim

  • Per - Sweden

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Talking about a natural and fluid servicemotion, I used to think Federer was no 1 in that department , but now I´ve discovered a new favorite. I looked at some old clips with ARTHUR ASHE and, man, what a natural server he was! I´m not sure how hard he hit the ball but he sure made it look effortless. Makes you wanna go out and practice your serve!

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 23, 2015

      Per – a friend from that era said Arthur’s serve was the most difficult to read and return, Jeff Borowiak
      Jim

  • skip

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    I always look forward to your insight..Thanks

  • Donald McDonald

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Looking forward to seeing your new format for videos. I read a study that experts consider fewer cues to decide how to handle a situation. So I agree with the approach. However, after reading this I immediately viewed a golf video which had an interesting take on Raonic’s weird service grip. The video was about what percentage of power comes from lag. Hank Haney’s answer was do not worry about it just speed up everything. However, he noted that as you increase lag your path goes more and more from in to out so you had better be hitting a hook before you increase lag. What this means in terms of serving is the more lag the steeper upward your path will be so the more you have to close your racquet face to get topspin on the shot. If so, the weird grip may be integral to getting above the ball. Anyway I promise not to nitpick the new format, because I agree everything is all rhythm and the weird grip could be discarded with a slight change of rhythm.

  • Noushin

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Many thanks for sharing your invaluable knowledge!

  • Ricardo

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Hi, I only watched the final, and the impression was that Roger only had a chance if he managed to slowdown the rythm of the game.
    Novak is so much more powerful nowadays that everytime Roger pushed him to the corner and came to net, Novak could pass him from any position on the court.
    It was a fantastic match, but the age difference is too much today. Anyway Roger does not seem to be scared by this and still gives it his best try, which I find inspiring.

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 23, 2015

      Ricardo – and further Novak rarely missed and was always close to the baseline so the time of the ball racquet to racquet was very very short for Fed
      Jim

  • ken

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    In your article they mention the art of running (Alexander method).I thought tennis running training was different?
    Will learning the Malcolm Balk (Alexander Method) mess up tennis? What about specially young athletes and club players?

    • Jim McLennan

      Reply Reply March 23, 2015

      Ken – this book is all about athletic posture and how runners hold their head, their shoulders and even their spine – I mention this because I believe that posture issues influence footwork – and if you compare the movement of Del Potro to Raonic or Isner – Delpo is much much quicker and holds himself much more in a balanced position – almost like a ballet performer
      Jim

  • Mark Hess

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    It was painful watching the Ranoic/Federer match. Raonic would load up and hit that inside out forehand. Federer would run out to the doubles alley (or beyond) to retrieve it and hit a gently floating slice backhand that Raonic would sit back in the corner and patiently wait until it finally got to him and then do it all over again. Eventually Raonic would try (and always miss) the down the line forehand as Fed got pulled farther and farther off the court. I hope Raonic sees the film and figures out, if you hit what you feel is a good inside out to Fed, come in behind it and hit the gently floating ball with an overhead or volley from mid court and end the point. At least make Federer change his tactic. It was maddening.

  • bud light

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Wonderful summary, and as usual extremely perceptive. I was hoping Roger could beat Novak but Novak is clearly the number one player in the world right now, tho Federer’s resurgence at nearly 34 is truly amazing. Credit Stefan Edberg for some of that, and perhaps his new racket, but he is truly amazing and still has an edge in head to head matches with Djokovik. I was surprised you made no mention of Rafael Nadal. Something is clearly missing. He is just not the same Rafa we have known. His coach says it is mental but he also appears to be a step slower in movement and reaction time. I thought he could and should have beaten Raonic but he clearly (who doesn’t) has trouble with big servers and hitters. Easy for me to say; I should only play half as well as he does, but he just doesn’t seem like the same guy with that killer instinct. Thanks to you for your report and analysis. You are the best. Bud Light, [email protected] P.S. Does anybody know what happened to Serena;s knee and/or how serious it is? (Same right knee that Venus hurt l4 years ago when she had to cancel her match against Serena and caused the reaction that followed.

  • Richard

    Reply Reply March 23, 2015

    Interesting comments on the final. It seems Fed and Rafa are the only players who can trouble Djoker if Djoker is playing well. Obviously, Nishikori and Wawrinka came up big against him in majors last year, but in neither case did it seem Djoker was playing his best. Of course, sometimes one isn’t playing their best because of the opponent. Still, right now, the only players Djoker isn’t an obvious favorite against are Federer on a fast court and Rafa on clay. And in both these cases Fed and Rafa have to play their absolute best to beat Djoker. Fed needs to serve superbly, which he can do, and attack, attack, attack. Rafa needs to take his forehand up the line with total confidence and accuracy and wear Djoker down, which he can do on clay. French and Wimbledon will be very interesting. Will Djoker finally get the better of Rafa? Can Roger play one more completely magical match and beat Djoker? Is it possible we will get something other than Djoker-Rafa at the French and Djoker-Fed at the big W? Not likely.

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