Observations and Overrules: One-Sided Rivalries, Breaks of Serve, and ATP Changes

(Hey guys. The point of this column is to have a space where I can informally sound off on multiple tennis topics that interest me. I’ve been struggling to keep up pace here at The Changeover lately, and my drafts folder is filled with half-baked pieces that never see the light of day because the tennis calendar moves on before I have time to finish them. I’m going to keep experimenting with the format, but hopefully this will give me the freedom to write a bit without worrying about it being too cohesive. We’ll see.)

The most exciting rivalry that isn’t.

I’m typing this as I listen to Katy Perry’s “ROAR” (I do not know if that is actually the name of the song or not) play during Sharapova’s changeover. She’s just lost five games in a row to lose the first set after being up 4-1 and, for a sliver of a second, giving us all reason to believe that this match would be different than all of the others. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.)

But do you want to know what? As blasphemous as it might sound, I still enjoy this Serena/Sharapova match-up and look forward to their battles, even though (as we all know) Sharapova hasn’t won a match in TEN YEARS.

Juan José has used this comparison before–as have others, I’m sure–but it does remind me so much of Roddick and Federer’s battles. Roddick was not as good of a tennis player as Federer was, but he was going to go out there each and every time and give it his all. Eventually, later in their careers, it paid off for Roddick a tiny bit, with two wins over Fed, both in Miami. I think that Sharapova is closer to Serena’s level than Roddick was to Federer’s, so it’s hard to imagine that over the next couple of years–if both remain healthy and close to the top of their games–that Maria won’t finally get her shining moment against Serena. She’s too good of a competitor and tennis player not to. To borrow a line from Ms. Perry, we’re going to hear her roar.

That’s one of the reasons why I tune in every time. It’s great to see two of the best and most powerful female athletes in the world square off. It’s exciting to wonder if this will be the moment that Sharapova will finally cause the upset. And, more than that, it’s just nice to be certain that both will bring their competitive spirit. In my opinion, that’s good TV, no matter what the result.

Welcome to the Top 10, Domi!

I watched most of Cibulkova’s matches against Venus and Radwanska, and I found both of them were incredibly entertaining. The second and third sets of Domi/Venus were some of the best tennis I’ve seen all year, and it was hard to believe some of the rallies that Aga and Domi were coming up with.

But I need to rant for a minute, because all I saw/heard from commentators and tweeters for the first two sets of Domi/Aga was complete mockery of the women because they couldn’t hold serve. AAAAAHHHH. I get so, so, SO sick of hearing matches boiled down to holding serve = quality. Haven’t we proved time and time again how BS that is?

Yes, Radwanska and Cibulkova are both not huge servers. Have you seen them? Geometry is not their friend. But you know what’s awesome? They’ve both managed to have great careers despite their lack of serve. That’s because they are phenomenal returners and incredibly smart on the court. Watching Radwanska invent angles and defy gravity while watching Cibulkova muster up power from her soul and paint the lines is FUN. I’m a person who is a fan of big serving–I mean, I was a Roddick fan–but I’m also a fan of watching tennis players figure out how to play *their* games the best that they can.

Sometimes, yes, when the players can’t hold serve it means that they’re playing very poorly. But sometimes when players both hold serve, they too are playing poorly. It varies match to match like a special snowflake. Serves are important, sure, but so are returns, forehands, backhands, lobs, and volleys. So let’s all just dig a bit deeper when analyzing matches, shall we? It’s just lazy otherwise.

(Seriously, though, congrats to Domi. Great to see her fight in the Top 10. POME for everyone.)

Is change coming to the ATP? Like…now?

Nothing stays the same forever. We know that. But I must admit that I thought the status quo on the ATP would hang on for the next couple of years or so, simply by default if nothing else. But 2014 is proving that the time for change might be sooner than I thought. We all know about Stanislas Wawrinka and his Slam, but it goes deeper than that. With younger players such as Dolgopolov, Nishikori, Raonic, Gulbis and Dimitrov playing some fearless tennis at times this season and coming up with big-name wins, I’m starting to take notice–especially since none of the top guys look invincible right now. I’m excited to see where the rest of 2014 takes us.

My guess right now is that Djokovic and Nadal will stay at the top, Murray and Fed will be lurking somewhere right inside or outside of the top 5 by the end of the year (though Murray could drop out of the top 10 even before that happens), but the rest of the top 10 will look very different. Raonic is already almost there (and has been there before). Dimitrov and Nishikori could join him soon. Gulbis and Dolgo are right behind them. (I haven’t mentioned Fognini, but somehow, yes it is relevant that he’s in the mix as well at No. 14 in the world.) It sounds crazy, I know, but with guys like Tsonga, Ferrer, Delpo, Gasquet and Haas all in the process of plummeting for different reasons, there are openings. The only guys in the top 10 right now that I feel certain will be there at the end of the year are Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, Fed, Stan and Berdych. (That feels like a lot, but somehow it isn’t.)

Of course, the past few months could be just a flash in the pan, and we could be headed back to days when it was the “Big Four, etc” tour, but my hunch is that the guys ranked No. 5-25ish are finally ready to push the cream of the crop on a week in, week out basis. I suspect there will be a couple more surprise Slam finalists, and two or three surprise Masters winners–which on the ATP would basically be a revolution.

But, as with everything, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Favorite quotes:

Q. Obviously very disappointing, I’m sure you are, especially with the four match points in the second set. What was it like to think you had the match won on that return of serve, and then the challenge system changes everything?

AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: Well, I think it was so close, the second set. But I think, you know, in those matches you have to play good and you have to be lucky.
I was just playing good and she was both (smiling).

Q. Question about the pretty/tough thing and Strong is Beautiful campaign. What do you think the balance is with WTA players between promoting them as athletes and promoting them in a way, marketing them in a way that they know can sell too, the kind of glamour side of tennis? How does that balance seem to you?

MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think as players we want to be known for our strength on the court, because at the beginning of our careers that’s what we started off as. We didn’t start off with modeling agencies. We started off grinding on walls or in tough circumstances and tough situations where we had to grind out and become, you know, top professional players.
We didn’t start in a promotional advertisement modeling world. That was never our job. There are a lot of people that can take care of those things. Our focus has always been the game and the opportunities that we are able to create with the game that we produce and the results that we produce.
It’s fun. I have been very fortunate in my career to have the opportunities that I have.
But in terms of promoting us not just by being strong but beautiful, it’s not what’s on the outside. I think what we possess as athletes about being professional, about what we do on the court, and then all the other activities that we have, it’s not just about being a tennis player. There are so many other things that we have to be strong in, as well.

Q. He used the word to show your Coco‑ness or something during one of your… What’s that mean?

COCO VANDEWEGHE: Well, Maciej has three things that characterize me. One is I can always sleep. I’m always able to go to sleep. I can take a nap anywhere. I mean, I have been sleeping on these couches in the players lounge a couple times.
No. 2, I’m always hungry. I can eat any time.
And No. 3 is I’m always stronger than somebody and I want to prove that I’m stronger than somebody. It’s kind of like that mentality.
So just kind of implementing that and just being myself out there with the Come ons, showing, you know, fist pumps and different things going‑‑ you know, being a little bit risky but, you know, intelligently risky.
Just taking advantage of the opportunities and that I’m getting out in the court.

Lindsay is an author, a filmmaker, a long-winded blogger, and a huge tennis fan.

3 Responses

  1. Patrick of La Verne
    Patrick of La Verne March 27, 2014 at 9:09 pm |

    Hey, Lindsay

    I think you and I heard the same discussion between Mary Carillo and Lindsay Davenport the other night which began with Carillo asking the question, “Why can’t these modern girls take better care of their service games?”

    Lindsay, as always, was at pains not to disagree with the lead announcer, and tried to come up with some convincing explanations for why Johnnetta can’t serve.

    But, let’s go back to Lindsay’s era. She had a fine and powerful serve, as of course, did Serena and Venus.

    But did Hingis have a big serve? Seles? Capriati? Sanchez-Vicario, Clijsters? Henin?


    But it didn’t matter much because most players, in those days (Seles being a notable exception) weren’t aggressive service returners.

    Nowadays there are many more big servers than there were ten-fifteen years ago. Venus and Serena are still out there smashing aces.

    And so are Kvitova, Ivanovic, Lisicki, Stosur, Kanepi, Keys, not to mention some non-top players like Garcia and the Pliskovas and Mladenovic and Vandeweghe and Goerges and Hradecka.

    Carillo was bemoaning the fact that first serve percentages aren’t higher, but in the first place there’s very little correlation between first serve percentage and success. The current top ten in first serve percentage are Errani, Dulgheru, Suarez-Navarro, Pereira, Shvedova, Beck, Nara, Larsson, Cepelova, and Mayr-Achleitner. Of those ten, only Shvedova is ever going to win a significant number of points with her serve. The Erranians are just putting the ball in play, a la the Evert era.

    First serve percentage doesn’t mean very much. First (and second) serve effectiveness is what it’s all about.

    In the modern game (unlike the game of 1980-1990-2000 or thereabouts) virtually ever player realizes that receiving the second serve of a good opponent gives her her best opportunity to seize the initiative. And that forces servers to go for more — they can’t just dump the ball into the serving court any more against aggressive returners. Ergo, lower first serve percentages, and more double faults. Psychologically, IMO, a double fault is mich less likely to give an opponent confidence than a nothing second serve that the opponent is able to smash for a winner.

  2. Max
    Max March 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm |

    You guys should have another article about sexism in tennis.

    IW 2013 :

    Damien Cox, Martch 15th 2013

    Fed battles thru injury on a day two women’s matches were won by walkover. Tells you all you need to know about the two tours.

    Disgusting silence from all the British journalists who would tore the WTA apart if they had the same situation.

  3. Jess
    Jess March 29, 2014 at 2:11 am |

    I never understand why those people keep bashing matches with lots of breaks.
    The player win the game, does it really matters that who was serving?
    You win the game, that’s what really matters

Comments are closed.