Welcome to the Changeover Mailbag! Every week, I’ll be answering questions on tennis or life in general. If you’d like to submit a question, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for brevity or clarity.
“Hi Amy, can you review tennis auto/biographies? Have read Rafael Nadal’s and Andre Agassi’s so far.” –@AlegriaTomas
We’ll probably be doing some more in-depth book reviews here at The Changeover in the near future, so stay tuned for that. I wrote a review of Rafa’s book awhile ago. Both the books you mentioned are worth reading.
I’ll admit that I have a long list of tennis books to get through. But I did enjoy James Blake’s book “Breaking Back,” which takes you through the time in his career when he fractured his neck in a freak accident and dealt with other struggles. I was bored to tears by Pete Sampras’ “A Champion’s Mind,” particularly since I read it directly after reading Agassi’s “Open.”
If you’re looking for a more personal tennis read, New York Times’ Ray Krueger wrote an entertaining memoir about tennis.
I’m sure I’m leaving many things out. Hopefully our readers will weigh in on their favorite tennis books in the comments section.
“The Kurious Kase of Karolina Wozniacka. Will she finish her red clay season with a 4th 1st round exit in Paris?” –@Renestance
It’s been a rough stretch for Wozniacki. You don’t ordinarily see her exit in the first round in three consecutive weeks, but that’s what she’s done in Stuttgart (l. to Suarez Navarro), Madrid (l. to Shvedova), and Rome (l. to Jovanovski).
She’ll get her chance to right things before Roland Garros, as she’s playing the Brussels Open this week, but she doesn’t have the easiest draw.
While it’s easy to panic over three consecutive bad tournaments, Wozniacki is still ninth in the WTA race rankings at the time I’m writing this. Additionally, clay is not Wozniacki’s strongest surface. She’s 374-146 (72% winning percentage) on the career, but 89-43 (67%) on clay. Of course, that doesn’t excuse her poor play, but I’d be more concerned if a bad stretch like this were to occur on her strongest surface, hard courts.
In conclusion, let’s just wait and see with Wozniacki.
“We talk so much about how mental tennis is. How do players improve this aspect of their game? Or is it something natural?” –
I look at mental strength as similar to any other skill in tennis. Some players are blessed with the natural ability to hit a perfect forehand volley. And some players are blessed with the natural ability to stay calm under the extreme pressure situations in their matches. For others, it doesn’t come as easily.
As for working on improvement in that regard, some tennis players have worked with sports psychologists. For example, Andy Murray, who expressed skepticism about sports psychologists as recently as 2011, revealed that he’s worked with therapist Alexis Castorri, who helped Ivan Lendl during his career. He described the effects of working with her to The Independent:
Murray believes the sessions with Castorri have helped him on the court as well and played a significant part in his victory at the US Open last month, when he became the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title for 76 years.
“When my mind isn’t free of everything, when things might be frustrating me away from the court, I can’t focus as well as I need to,” Murray said. “When my mind’s clear, I can go on the court and play, not worry about anything else. I can play much better and think a lot better on the court.”
“When I was young, my tactical knowledge, knowing how to win matches, was always one of my best attributes. Sometimes if I wasn’t thinking about the match, I was wasting one of my biggest assets. I’ve been able to use that more. The US Open was a good example of that. I didn’t play my best throughout the tournament, but I played smart tennis. Even when it was really tough, I found ways to win when I wasn’t playing well.”
For some players, mental strength will come with experience. For some, it’ll always be a struggle. But Murray is a good example of a player who managed to take his career to the next level by working on that aspect of his game.
“Why did Radwanska lose in her 2 recent tournaments? Is it because she’s trying a new tactic? Trying to hit harder? Or no tactics?” –@Jamessoe
Radwanska’s struggles will almost always come when she gets blasted off the court. If you look at her losses from this year, most of them have come at the hands of big hitters. Sure, it’s not great to see her lose to players ranked outside the top 40 in Robson and Halep, but I don’t think she’s changed her game lately.
And maybe that’s the problem. She’s improved her consistency in recent years as shown by her ranking, but you’d be hard pressed to name a big concrete improvement in her game other than that. If she hopes to win a Slam in the era of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, and others, she’ll need to work on her ability to deal with those types of players.
[Edit to add: Radwanska has also been struggling with a recurring shoulder injury, presumably the one she’s experienced on an ongoing basis for the last couple of years, which may also explain some of her early losses in recent tournaments.]
“French Open = tons of French talent (Men’s side). Thoughts on Tsonga, Gasquet, Simon, Chardy, Paire, Julian, & Gael?” –
The French players on the ATP Tour are full of talent, there’s no denying that. Their most legitimate Slam threat, Tsonga, is not at his best on clay. He’s mostly been more of a factor at the other three Slams, but he did almost beat Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros last year, so you never know what you might get from him.
Gasquet will be an interesting player to watch. In terms of career win percentage, clay is his best surface by a small margin, and he’s been playing well lately. He’s reached the fourth round in each of the last five Slams, and he should really aim for a quarterfinal at Roland Garros this year. Of course, it all depends on the draw.
Benoit Paire is another one to watch. He’s not made it past the second round of Roland Garros, but he’s pushed his ranking all the way up to No. 26 with some great play in Rome last week, and there’s a lot of room for improvement on his Slam results. Depending on the draw, he should aim for a third or fourth round appearance.
“Should Federer consider playing doubles since he has lighter tournament commitments?” –
At this point in his career, I’d say no. With his ongoing back concerns, and the fact that he has clearly pared down his tournament commitments by choice, I can’t see him adding doubles to his commitments.
Federer still feels he can add to his Slam total. Anything that doesn’t fall under the category of preparing him to be physically and mentally prepared to contend at Slams probably won’t factor into the equation. Whatever benefits he might gain from playing doubles are probably outweighed by the physical toll it would take.
“In an article I wrote for Tennis Alternative, I argued that Ryan Harrison is the next Andy Roddick. Meaning that he will be next household name in American tennis, because let’s face it the majority of Americans do not know who John Isner and Sam Querrey are. I also argued that he will have a hard court rivalry with Tomic in the future, do you believe this to be this case? Or is Ryan Harrison simply over hyped?” -Cassie C.
I wouldn’t say Ryan Harrison is the next Andy Roddick. Let’s not forget that Roddick had won a Slam and was ranked No. 1 at Harrison’s age (21). Regardless of what Harrison ends up achieving, Roddick had a much earlier career breakthrough (which has admittedly become less common in recent years).
However, I think it’s too soon to entirely write Ryan Harrison off. I’ve never really felt that Harrison is a future top 10 player, but I could see him being a mainstay in the top 50 or 30 if he’s able to make significant improvements to his game. I’ve always been concerned with his passivity and tendency to play his matches from miles behind the baseline, and this isn’t the easiest problem to correct (see: Richard Gasquet).
I’d also keep my eye on some of the other young Americans, specifically Jack Sock and Denis Kudla, who are both 20 years old and ranked just outside the top 100.
Have a question for next Monday’s column? Send it to me at email@example.com.