Wild Cards–Coveted and Appealing, but are they Beneficial?

Wild Cards. Those exciting, compelling tournament entries that everybody who hasn’t gotten direct acceptance wants. But as we look deeper into wild cards, you begin to notice very obvious trends on who receives them and how those players fare. We all want our favorite players to get wild cards, because that gives them an opportunity to play in upper level tournaments where they can play the best players and improve their ranking rapidly. However, research proves that often times accepting too many wild cards hurt a players development. Let’s take a look into who get’s wildcards, why they get them, and how they play in those matches. We will focus on a few players throughout.

Who Get’s ‘Em?

There are 61 ATP World Tour stand alone tournaments, 4 Grand Slams and in 2013 there were 149 Challenger tour events. At every level wild cards are given out. Slams give out 8 WC’s, Masters 1000′s 4 0r 5, and 500+250 events award 3. A number of things is taken into consideration when a tournament decides who to give a WC to, but predominately they are awarded to players from that tournaments country. Along with that, tournaments like to give WC’s to young players who have shown promise, players who can draw in fans, or older players who have a strong reputation but couldn’t get direct acceptance.

The real problem: not every country is equal, and this equates to a very uneven distribution of wild cards. For all the problems and discussion about the state of American tennis, guess who receives the most WC’s? Yepp, Americans, and it’s not even close. The USA is the only country to have  more than one Masters 1000, we have *three*(Indian Wells, Miami, and Cincinnati). We also have a Grand Slam(US Open), one 500, and 6 250′s. That is BY FAR the most tournaments for any country. And, not so coincidentally, our players receive the largest chunk of WC’s. Research by Jeff Sackmann in 2012 stated that the top 200 players of that time had received 748 WC’s before the age of 25. 139 of those, or 18.6%, went to just 7 American players–Mardy Fish, Donald Young, Ryan Harrison, Jesse Levine, John Isner, Sam Querrey and James Blake.

Now, you would think that said WC’s would help those players. But in most cases it does not. Let’s go case by case on three players: Donald Young, Jack Sock, and Ryan Harrison.

Donald Young

DY is the most infamous WC failure case of all time, and it wasn’t really his fault. Young reached the number 1 ranking in Juniors as a 15 year old, something unheard of at the time. He won the Australian Open and Wimbledon Junior championships, garnering major attention from the USTA and tennis fans everywhere. With that hype came a lot of opportunities. Young has received 27(!!) main draw wildcards in his career, as well as 7 other tour level qualifying WC’s. His record in those tournaments is abysmal. He’s 14-34 overall, and he lost in the first round an astounding 25 times. And the real problem was that, as a 15 year old, he was getting main draw WC’s into Masters 1000 events, where he just was not physically or mentally mature enough to compete at that level. Through his first 10 WC’s, Young never reached the age of  18. He went 2-10, and lost in the first round 9 times.

Jack Sock

This is the guy that really sparked me to write this blog. I’ve followed him pretty closely over the last 3-4 years, and he seems to get more WC’s than anybody on tour. And it’s somewhat understandable. Sock was dominant as a US Junior. He won the USTA Junior National’s in Kalamazoo two years in a row, and wan’t even challenged too much in those tournaments. He was a man among boys. Jack’s serve and forehand are no doubt top 30 strokes. Combine all of that and what do you get? Wild cards, lots and lots of wild cards. Not counting this week’s tournament in Delray Beach, where Sock has a WC, he’s received 18 tour level wild cards. His record is 12-18, with 9 first round losses.

Something I came across that was fascinating to me, was an article from The Changeover, comparing Jack Sock and Denis Kudla. Sock beat Kudla in the 2010 US Open Juniors final, and both have been touted as American hopefuls. From May 2012 to May of 2013, their tennis lives were completely different. Sock received 9 WC’s, Kudla 1. Jack Sock’s wild cards guaranteed him over three times as much money as the lone wild card Denis Kudla received. The exact figure for the difference in guaranteed money was $48,610. That money can be crucial for youngsters trying to make it on tour. But the most fascinating thing is this: at the end of those 12 months, Kudla was the higher ranked player, at #115, while Sock was at #118. Denis qualified into a few tour events, and kept his head down and worked hard at the challenger level.

Ryan Harrison

As I researched Ryan I thought that he would have received less than the previous two, but he’s right there in between Sock and Young. Harrison also garnered a lot of attention(noticing a trend?) when he qualified and won a main draw match in Houston as a 15 year, the second younger player in the history of the ATP to do so. So Harrison started getting chances to play in big events at a very young age. He’s received 24 main draw wild cards, and although his record is a little better than the other two(18-24), he lost in the first round 12 times.

The Problem For All Three

Young, Sock, and Harrison all have different stories, but they share the same problem. Young was gifted everything as he transitioned from the Juniors to the Pro circuit. He had a couple nice results, but loss after loss in the first round does terrible things to a player. Eventually, in 2010-2011, Donald stopped getting WC’s, and dropped down to the challenger circuit. He started playing more matches, winning more matches, and that gave him confidence, after reaching the round of 16 at the 2011 US Open, Young got his ranking all the way up to 39, doing it the “hard” way. Of course he has since fallen off the grid, losing something like 17 straight first round matches, but has once again worked hard in the minors to inch his way back into the top 100, even playing in Davis Cup a couple weeks ago. However, those WC’s did terrible things to DY. His attitude is not good, and that is probably because of a multitude of things, but being handed everything certainly contributed to that attitude and persona.

For Sock, the problem is similar, but slightly different. Because he’s getting around 8 WC’s a year, he can play a lot of tour events. But one of Jack’s biggest issues has been his fitness, and when you’re losing first round every other week, that really hurts. His motivation to improve is just not good enough. His talent is off the charts, but he’s unwilling to sure up his backhand, and work hard to get on the same playing field physically as his peers.

Harrison had some nice results and cracked the top 50, and for about 8-9 months was playing exclusive at the tour level. But now that he’s dropped back down in the rankings, he is struggling to get back to where he was. There is no doubt in my mind that Ryan wants to be great, you can see it in his eyes every time he plays–except when he’s playing a challenger. When he’s playing at the lower level it appears he thinks he’s above his opposition. Last year, he had just come off a good result in Atlanta, making the Semis. He then travelled to Aptos to play a challenger. He played James Mcgee in the first round, and you could tell by his attitude and remarks that he thought he was 5 levels above James. Mcgee won the match because of it. Harrison has it engrained in his mind that he should be playing at the tour level, when really he needs to earn it, and prove he belongs there.

All three of these guys should take a page out of the next few players books.

Dominic Thiem

Thiem just had a great week in Rotterdam, taking Andy Murray to three sets. Similar to the three above players, Thiem was a highly touted junior. He reached the French Open final and won the Orange Bowl. However, he’s only received 7 main draw wildcards, and he’s 6-7 in those tournaments. Other than that, Thiem has done it the hard way, playing challengers and qualifying into tour events. In 2014, he’s qualified into Doha, Melbourne, and Rotterdam. This gives him match experience and toughness. (Speaking of toughness, have you read this article on Thiem fitness coach?) He’s gotten his ranking up inside the top 100 because of it.

Jiri Vesely

This one is even more extreme. Vesely has only been awarded *ONE* main draw wild card into tour events, and only 7 into challenger events(imagine if I counted American challenger WC’s?). He played 2013 almost exclusive at the challenger level, amassing a lot of points by going deep into almost every tournament he played. He’s now up to #81 in the world and has the chance to prove himself on the main tour.

Bradley Klahn

Now an American comparison. BK went a different route than Young, Sock, and Harrison, and decided to play college tennis before turning professional. He’s received a grand total of *THREE* wildcards, two of those to San Jose when he was playing across the bay at Stanford. Klahn has not been handed anything since graduating college, except for a WC into last years US Open. Instead he’s been grinding, working, and doing everything he can to improve. He’s now up to #67 in the world, and in great position to break the top 50. Think BK has a problem playing challengers? Does he feel entitled? Nope.

Conclusion and Solution

What I’m trying to say is that Young, Sock, Harrison, and all other American players who get numerous WC’s, are being halted in their progression. International players, who don’t have the same opportunities, are doing things the old fashioned way, and earning their place in tournaments. Obviously the blame can’t be put solely on the shoulder of young American players, because who wouldn’t take a WC into a tour event? But something has to change.

I think there needs to be a more merit-based system for awarding WC’s. There’s some of that now, such as the Australian Open Wildcard playoff, which forces players to win 3 matches to get a wildcard into the Aussie. Wimbledon has a great system. The winner of the Nottingham challenger(a grass court challenger a couple weeks before London) gets a WC into the main draw of Wimby. We need more WC’s to be given out like this.

My final idea might be an unpopular one. I think there should be a limit to the number of wild cards a player can receive per year. I think 4 is more than enough, but even that would force players to earn their way up the rankings. Either limit a players WC entries, or reduce the amount of WC’s each tournament gives out.

Keep in my mind that both Tomas Berdych and Janko Tipsarevic never received a main draw WC before they were 25. Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer were awarded a grand total of *2*.

Daniel Kosakowski: The Long Road Back

dk

In only his second full year on the professional tour, things were looking up for Daniel Kosakowski. He had just reached his first career Challenger final at an event in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, beating four quality players in the process. This result earned him 48 ATP points, shooting him up the rankings to a career high of number 230 in the world.

“I had just got acceptance into the qualifying draw for both the French Open and Wimbledon, two of my favorite tournaments growing up. I always dreamed of playing there,” said Kosakowski.

However, during his time in Mexico, Daniel began to feel a slight pain in his right shoulder. He didn’t think much of it at the time, because he was told it was just mild tendonitis, and he was playing some of the best tennis of his career. But as he traveled to Brazil to play a couple challenger events, the injury worsened. MRI results showed that he had suffered multiple ganglion cysts and a slight labral tear, and that surgery might be necessary.

He opted to undergo an aspiration. It was the least invasive and quickest way to fix the problem. This along with rest and physical therapy meant that Kosakowski was going to miss the next 6 months.

“It was devastating. But the time off really put things in perspective for me, and when I was able to come back on court I really took tennis more like a full time job,” Kosakowski said.

The 21 year old from Downey, California comes from a strong tennis playing family, with both his brother and sister playing at the collegiate level. Daniel entered the 2010-2011 as the top ranked recruit in the country, and chose to stay close to home and compete at UCLA. He spent the entire year playing #1 singles for the Bruins, and earned Rookie of the Year honors in the Pac 12.

Kosakowski decided to forgo his final three years in college to pursue his dream of playing professional tennis. “I played a lot of great players, but if I had stayed a year or two more my game might have plateaued, so I felt that to improve I needed to bump up to a higher level, challenge myself,” he said.

The transition to the pro tour is often very difficult for players, but Kosakowski had some immediate success by winning a 15K Futures tournament in Sacramento in June of 2011, defeating one of his rivals in college, Steve Johnson, in the final. He notched his first ATP World Tour victory later that summer, by winning three qualifying  matches and defeating Tim Smyczek in the first round of the Farmers Classic in Los Angeles, California. He played futures for the majority of next few months, before transitioning to the Challenger tour in 2012.

“The jump from futures to challengers is huge. The fitness level of most main draw players is much higher, and the mental aspect plays a much larger role in matches,” Kosakowski said.

Kosakowski showed constant improvement over the next year and half, before suffering the shoulder injury. Now that he’s back to being 100% healthy, Daniel has had a good start to 2014. He reached the third round of the Australian Open qualifying,  and reached the semi-finals of the Chitre Challenger last week. He’s beaten four top 200 players this year, and is looking to really gain some ground in the rankings this season.

“I’m going to take a hit after San Luis, but after that I have nothing to defend, so with the way I’m playing right now I think I can improve my ranking quite a bit, and hopefully get inside the top 200 by the end of the year,” Kosakowski said.

Daniel is one of only a handful of American players that uses a one-handed backhand, and he’s been working on that shot in particular extensively with his new coach Steven Amitraj. He feels his biggest strengths are his forehand and his fitness, but has been working hard on becoming a more complete player. Along with hitting for 3.5-4 hours per day, Daniel spends at least an hour a day focusing solely on fitness. Growing up he felt like he was never the most talented guy, but made up for that by “working twice as hard to catch up with everyone else.”

Kosakowski will turn 22 later this month, and will head down to Mexico to play a challenger in Morelos. It’s been a long road back for the youngster from So-Cal, but he knows he’ll give everything he’s got to reach his goals.

“When I turned 15, something happened inside me. I started having a lot more passion for the sport, and when I saw the improvement in my game I really started to believe in myself. I never imagined I would be where I’m at today, but I think my ceiling is very high and I’m going to work as hard as I can to reach my potential.”

Davis Cup First Round Preview+Picks–All 8 Ties

The first round of Davis Cup play is upon us, and Jared Pine of The Second Serb joins me to preview all 8 ties. In most places around the world it is winter, so many of these ties are being held indoor. Let’s break down the lineups and analyze the match-ups for each.

United States of America vs Great Britain 

Location: Petko Park. San Diego, California, USA

Jared: This is one of the most historic rivalries in Davis Cup history. The first ever Davis Cup Title was determined between USA and the UK, when the Americans won 3-0 in Boston. Since then, 14 other Davis Cup finals have been between these two teams. Now, the countries meet again for the first time since 1999 and just the fourth time on clay. The last time Great Britain won the matchup was in 1935 on Centre Court at Wimbledon. USA is currently on a four-tie winning streak against the Brits, pushing the all-time head-to-head record to 10-7 in favor of USA.

The UK earned its spot in the World Group thanks to a gutsy performance by Andy Murray, who won both of his singles matches and paired with Colin Fleming for the win in doubles while battling a back injury. Fleming and Murray will be joined by 18-year old Kyle Edmund, who has won four futures titles on clay and is making his Davis Cup debut, and James Ward, who came up through qualifying to win a clay court challenger in Florida back in 2009. USA is led by the world No. 1 doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan. For singles, the Americans have John Isner and Sam Querrey, who are both well established players on the ATP World Tour.

Although defending Wimbledon champion Murray considers clay his worst surface, the world No. 6 is still the favorite to win both of his singles rubbers.  The crucial match of the tie will be Saturday’s doubles rubber. Fleming boasts an 8-1 record in doubles at Davis Cup matches and won the only time he partnered with Murray. The defending Roland Garros Champion pairing of the Bryans is 20-4 in Davis Cup play, including a perfect 10-0 on clay. The doubles and No. 2 singles rubbers will determine who wins the tie. The Americans need both to advance to the quarterfinals.

United States 3-2

Switzerland vs Serbia

Location: Nopens Sport Centre, Novi Sad, Serbia

Joey: News came out today that Roger Federer will play in Novi Sad, only his second time playing a first round tie since 2004. That other time was in 2012 when the swiss faced the USA, and things didn’t go so well for Roger. However this time around things look much, much better. Novak Djokovic is not playing, neither is Janko Tipsarevic, and Viktor Troicki is still under suspension. So that leaves the Serbian number 1 spot to Dusan Lajovic,(ATP 102) who played his first tie last year. The second singles spot is between Filip Krajinovic(ATP 237) and Ilija Bozoljac(ATP 268). My guess would be Bozoljac gets the call because he’s the more experience of the two, however both of these guys have little to no shot against the Swiss duo of Wawrinka and Federer. For the first time in his career, Federer will play at the number 2 singles position, and rightfully so with the form Stan showed in Australia. The tie is being played on an indoor hard court, so while that might not favor Stan all that much, it certainly favors Federer. The only chance Serbia has in this one is to get the home crowd absolutely nuts and hope that Stan or Roger have historically bad days.

Switzerland 3-0 

France vs Australia

Location: Vendéspace, La Roche sur Yon, France

Jared: This is a matchup that historically has heavily favored Australia, but this year, France has brought its best crop of players to the first round tie. France’s lineup features top 10 singles players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. They are backed up by former world No. 7 Gael Monfils, who hasn’t lost a match to anyone other than Rafael Nadal yet this year. For doubles, France has Julien Benneteau, who ranks 29th in the world despite being primarily a singles player at tournaments where ranking points are on the line. The home team is positioning itself as one of the favorites to win the Davis Cup this season. Meanwhile, Australia is led by Lleyton Hewitt, who is arguably the best active Davis Cup player in the world. However, it is going to take more than a 32-year old Hewitt to stop France. Kyrgios and Kokkinakis will be fun to watch, but don’t have the maturity in their games to seriously threaten the talented French.

France 3-0

Germany vs Spain 

Location: Fraport Arena, Frankfurt, Germany

Joey: Potentially the most evenly matched tie, with Spain’s top 3 players(Nadal, Ferrer, Almagro) all sitting out. I found it intriguing that Germany decided to play on an indoor Rebound Ace surface. Rebound Ace is known to be pretty slow, and that could work out in their favor when they compete against the likes of Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco. Also on the Spanish roster in Roberto Bautista Agut, who had a very impressive run down under, taking out Delpo and Paire before falling in the round of 16. However it’s likely that Verdasco and Lopez will play singles due to their far superior experience. The German team is pretty stacked, with Tommy Haas, Phillip Kohlschreiber, Florian Mayer and Daniel Brands rounding out their lineup. However both Haas Kohlschreiber are coming off slight injuries in Australia, so we’ll see how their health holds up over the weekend. I think this one could come down to doubles, where David Marrero and Verdasco are by far the best team. It’s in Germany, and this is extremely tough to pick. Toss Up?

Germany 3-2

Czech Republic vs Netherlands

Location:  Cez Arena, Ostrava, Czech Republic

Jared: Two-time defending champion Czech Republic will be the heavy favorite in this tie. The Czechs will rely on their duo of Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek to win each of the first three rubbers before Sunday. The pair has a combined 21-8 record in Davis Cup rubbers on hard courts. The pair are equally good in doubles with a 14-1 record as a team. The odds are definitely stacked against the Netherlands. Even if Robin Haase or Igor Sijsling manage to pull off an upset, the Czechs can send Berdych and Stepanek both back out on Sunday. Both players proved again in the 2013 Davis Cup final that they are capable of playing best-of-five matches on three consecutive days. Add the fact that the tie is being played in the Czech Republic, and we have a winner.

Czech Republic 3-0

Argentina vs Italy

Location: Patinodromo Municipal ¨Adalberto Lugea¨, Mar del Plata, Argentina

Joey: Argentina has been somewhat of a DC powerhouse lately, reaching the quarterfinals or better every year since returning to the top flight in 2002. Juan Martin Del Potro is not playing as he gets treatment for his left wrist, but Juan Monaco and Carlos Berlocq are still a pretty formidable team, especially on the Clay in Argentina. The Italian pairing of Fognini and Seppi are potentially very solid, but you never really know what to expect with Fabio. It’s going to be a serious grind no matter what, because the clay is the preferred surface for all 4 of these players. This definitely could be the longest tie, with extended points and constant grunting. Doubles…uhh..nobody on either team is very good, but I’ll give the slight advantage to the Argentines because they’re at home. I usually get burned my picking Fognini, but from what I’ve seen in the past, he usually shows up to play in DC. Still, two serious grinders in Berlocq and Monaco will feed off the home crowd and pull this one out.

Argentina 3-1 

Kazakhstan vs Belgium

Location: National Tennis Centre, Astana, Kazakhstan

Jared: It has been three years since Kazakhstan  pulled off the massive upset of beating the Czech Republic 3-2 in the first round of the World Group in 2011. Kazakhstan won both of the reverse singles rubbers in that tie, which included Andrey Golubev’s win over over Tomas Berdych before Mikhail Kukushkin won the deciding rubber that sent his country to the quarterfinals. Things have changed since then. The Czech Republic have won each of the last two Davis Cup titles, while Kazakhstan has only won a single tie. Belgium hasn’t had much success lately either with the country’s last world group win coming in 2007. The only player returning from that squad will be Olivier Rochus. Belgium will turn to David Goffin and Ruben Bemelmans to counter the duo of Kukushkin and Golubev for Kazakhstan. The experience in Davis Cup for Kazakhstan’s singles players will be key, but nothing is a sure victory in this tie.

Kazakhstan 3-2

Japan vs Canada

Location: Ariake Coliseum, Tokyo, Japan

Joey: Initially this tie looked to be heavily in favor of the Canadians, but with Milos Raonic pulling out and Vasek Pospisil only being fit for doubles, Japan now has the clear edge. Kei Nishikori is far and away the top player now, and he should win both of his singles matches, while Go Soeda is about even with both Frank Dancevic and Peter Polansky. The Canadiens will likely take the doubles point with Nestor/Pospisil being the far superior team, but it will be a major struggle for them to win more than one singles match. I’ve never watched a DC tie held in Japan, so I’m not sure how boisterous the crowd gets, but I imagine that they hold their weight in the loudness department. Best of 5 singles matches really favor Japan, with Dancevic and Polansky not having as much experience and fitness in pressure situations.

Japan: 3-1

Notable Racquet Changes Part 1 (Outside of The Federer)

As somebody who has an affinity and love for playing tennis, I’ve always been very interested in racquet technology. I’ve tested and hit with a wide array of racquets, and personally I believe every one is different, ranging from slight to significant. So now that I’ve been watching tennis religiously over the years, I’m intrigued and curious as to how equipment changes and technology improvements will affect the game of tennis and more specifically each individual’s game. So with the new year, comes new equipment for the players. Players change for a few different reasons, such as signing a lucrative sponsorship deal, or simply because they like the feel of a new racquet. Let’s look at some notable equipment changes other than Roger Federer’s new racquet. All specifications and pictures are from Tennis Warehouse.

Important: Almost every player on tour tinkers and customizes their racquet to some extent, so take these specs with a grain of salt and remember that the version on sale for the public might be different than what a professional player is actually using.

1. Jo Wilfried Tsonga–Jo is sticking with Babolat, however he has switched to the French company’s newest line of rackets: The Pure Strike. Jo is going with the 100 square inch version, and it does appear to be a good fit for his game. An open string pattern along with a low swing-weight allows Tsonga to enforce his aggressive game while maintaining a nice blend of comfort and control.

Specifications: Pure Strike 100

Head Size:
100 sq. in. / 645.16 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 10.8oz / 306.17g
Balance: 12.87in / 32.69cm / 5 pts HL
Swingweight: 304
Stiffness: 65
Beam Width: 21mm / 23mm / 21mm /
Composition: Graphite
Power Level: Low-Medium
Stroke Style: Medium-Full
Swing Speed: Medium-Fast
Racquet Colors:
Black with Coral and White
Grip Type: Babolat Syntec Feel
String Pattern:
16 Mains / 19 Crosses
Mains skip: 8T 8H
One Piece
No Shared Holes

2. Jerzy Janowicz– The big serving Pole, also a Babolat user, has made a minor change in his equipment. His previous racquet, the Babolat AeroPro Storm is no longer being made, and Babolat has introduced a similar line of racquets instead. Janowicz is using the Babolat Pure Control. This looks to be somewhere between the old Pure Storm and old AeroPro Storm, as evidenced by Sam Stosur’s(Pure Storm user) switch to this new frame as well. To be honest I’m not really sure why Janowicz uses this racquet, other than the fact that he grew up with the AeroStorm and enjoyed the feel of that racquet. I actually used the AeroStorm for about two years, and it does have nice feel and comfort, but it’s not exactly a power machine, which you might expect a player like Janowicz to use. Maybe it’s the best stick for his world-famous drop shots?

Specifications: PC-1

 

Head Size:
98 sq. in. / 632.26 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 10.9oz / 309.01g
Balance: 13.12in / 33.32cm / 3 pts HL
Swingweight: 313
Stiffness: 62
Beam Width: 21.5mm / 21.5mm / 21.5mm /
Composition: Graphite/Tungsten & Flex Carbon
Power Level: Low-Medium
Stroke Style: Full
Swing Speed: Fast
Racquet Colors:
Black/ Red/ White
Grip Type: Babolat Skin Feel
String Pattern:
16 Mains / 20 Crosses
Mains skip: 8T 8H
One Piece
No Shared Holes

3. Grigor Dimitrov and Alexandr Dolgopolov– What some might consider an ever so slight change, Dimitrov and Dolgopolov’s update to the Wilson Pro Staff 95S could be a trend setter for racquet technology. Wilson’s new spin affect technology has engineered frames to have extremely open string patterns, this one being 16×15, allowing for crazy amounts of spin. That combined with the classic feel of a Pro Staff and you have an incredible combination of modern technology and an old-school players frame. Dimitrov’s run to the quarterfinals was impressive, and he was serving huge, consistently around 215 kph. Also his slice backhand was noticeably sharp, really staying low to the ground. Dolgopolov also has one of the better slices on tour, so it should be interesting to see how the racquet responds to that.I think this is the wave of the future in racquet technology, and Dimitrov is one of the first to experiment.

Specifications: PS95S-1

Head Size:
95 sq. in. / 612.9 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 11.6oz / 328.85g
Balance: 12.63in / 32.08cm / 7 pts HL
Swingweight: 305
Stiffness: 64
Beam Width: 18mm / 18mm / 18mm /
Composition: Graphite/Kevlar/BLX
Power Level: Low
Stroke Style: Full
Swing Speed: Fast
Racquet Colors:
White/ Red
Grip Type: Wilson Sublime Grip
String Pattern:
16 Mains / 15 Crosses
Mains skip: 8T 8H
One Piece
No Shared Holes

4. Tommy Haas–Although Haas had been using the Head IG Prestige Midplus(my racquet of choice) cosmetic on his racquet for the last couple of years, many speculate that he was really still using his HEAD Pro Tour 630 frame. However the 35 year old German said in an interview in Auckland that he spent a week getting used to the design and specs of his new racquet, the Head Graphene Prestige Midplus(Also the racquet of choice for Florian Mayer and Gilles Simon). The classic Prestige line got a pretty significant update, with the graphene technology changing up the specs on just about all of the Prestige line. This one is .4 oz heavier, but has a lower swing-weight, adding maneuverability to a solid, crisp feeling frame. It should be interesting to see how Haas’ game reacts to a more modern stick.

Specifications: GPMP-1

 

Head Size:
98 sq. in. / 632.26 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 11.7oz / 331.69g
Balance: 12.75in / 32.39cm / 6 pts HL
Swingweight: 328
Stiffness: 64
Beam Width: 21mm / 21mm / 21mm /
Composition: Graphene
Power Level: Low
Stroke Style: Full
Swing Speed: Fast
Racquet Colors:
Black/ Red
Grip Type: Head Hydrosorb Pro
String Pattern:
18 Mains / 20 Crosses
Mains skip: 8T 10T 8H 10H
Two Pieces
No Shared Holes

5. Bernard TomicThe much maligned Australian has switched from his  Yonex VCORE Xi to the new Head YOUTEK Graphene Midplus. Bernie will miss the next couple months due to injury, but I think it’s a good sign that he’s gone back to Head, where he’s had the majority of his success. The Graphene Midplus has a 16×19 string pattern, compared to the 16×20 of his Yonex. It’s also a little bit lighter, so hopefully that means that Bernie can be more aggressive instead of probing from the baseline. Fun fact: This is also Jeremy Chardy’s racquet of choice.

Specifications: HGRMP-1

Head Size:
98 sq. in. / 632.26 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 11.2oz / 317.51g
Balance: 13in / 33.02cm / 4 pts HL
Swingweight: 316
Stiffness: 64
Beam Width: 20.5mm / 23.5mm / 21.5mm /
Composition: Graphene
Power Level: Low-Medium
Stroke Style: Medium-Full
Swing Speed: Medium-Fast
Racquet Colors:
Orange & Black
Grip Type: Hydrosorb Pro
String Pattern:
16 Mains / 19 Crosses
Mains skip: 8H, 8T
Two Pieces
No Shared Holes


Australian Open Quarterfinal Picks–Dimitrov/Nadal and Federer/Murray

baby and fed

There are two blockbuster quarterfinals tonight, with both Baby and Uncle Fed participating. In all seriousness, these have the potential to be great matches, and my roommate Jorge Merlos has joined me to break down the match-ups and make our picks.

Grigor Dimitrov vs Rafael Nadal

Joey: This match has the uncertainty factor. Nadal definitely goes in as the favorite, but there are a few things that could have a massive impact on the outcome of the match. For one, Rafa has grabbed his knee a few times throughout the tournament, and it’s unclear whether he is 100% healthy. The massive blister on his palm could bother him, but he should be able to fight through that. Another unknown is how Dimitov will perform at this level in the most pressure packed match of his life. He had not been past the third round of a Grand Slam before this tournament, and although he has performed exceptionally well thus far, you never know what might happen given the uncharted territory.

The matchup is always tough for a one-hander like Dimitrov against Nadal, but Grigor has taken a set off of Rafa in each of their previous three meetings. Interestingly enough, it has always been the second set, and I believe if Grigor wants a shot at this one he will need to win the first. Unlike most players, Baby Fed hits a very sharp slice that actually can give Nadal trouble. In Cincinnati last year he used the shot very effectively, keeping Rafa on the back foot. It will be interesting to see how much he decides to come over the ball, because his one-hander at shoulder level almost always lands short. We pretty much know what we are going to get from Rafa, who never gives anything away, and always makes the opponent earn the match. Dimitrov has served exceptionally well and he will need that to continue to have any shot. My head tells me Rafa, as does every expert analyst out there, but sometimes you gotta go with your heart right?

Dimitrov 7-6(4) 6-4 2-6 1-6 7-5

Jorge: La Rodilla! The blister! Stop it. After beating Kei Nishikori on Monday, Rafael Nadal is poised to stop the Fed of the future, Grigor Dimitrov. If Dimitrov wants to win this match, his serves have to be on point. Last year in the round of 16 against Nadal at Cincinnati, Dimitrov won 38 of 54 point of his first serve. However winning points off his second serve was not as efficient as he won 12 out of 29 points.

Dimitrov has been able to win at least a set on Nadal in each of their matches but Nadal has been able to close out every match. Grigor takes a lot of positive momentum into this match after taking out Raonic and Bautista Agut, but Nadal looks unstoppable after beating his last 3 opponents in 3 sets. Look for Nadal to use his forehand to break down Grigor’s backhand, and attack Dimitrov’s unstable return game. I see this match ending with a very tough 4th set tiebreaker with Nadal eventually pulling it out.

Nadal 6-4 5-7 6-3 7-6 (7).

Roger Federer vs Andy Murray

Joey: A little after Baby takes the court, Uncle Fed will take center stage against Andy Murray. The two played a great, but not necessarily high quality match one year ago in Melbourne. Murray is coming off of back surgery and has played three players outside the top 100 in route to the quarters, so to say he’s had a weak draw would be an understatement. He has looked sharp though, only dropping one set to Stephane Robert in the round of 16. Through his first four matches it appeared that Murray had a few lapses in concentration, but that is understandable given the competition. He does look fully healthy, but playing his 5th match in 10 days will be a big test for back. After playing somewhat scratchy against James Duckworth in the first round, Federer has looked awesome in last three matches, culminating with a dominant performance over Jo Willy Tsonga that gave all Fed-fans some serious hope and belief.

Murray leads the head to head 11-9, while Federer leads the Grand Slam record 3-1. Hard courts are definitely the Muzza’s best surface, with his movement giving his opponents fits. The surface on Rod Laver Arena in a little quicker this year, but it’s a night match so condition will slow down. With the new racket, Federer has been serving very effeciently, even adding a few m.p.h.’s. His wide serve in the deuce court has been especially potent, and he uses that serve on almost every first point of his service games. Murray has played Federer with more aggressiveness in their past few meetings, and it will be important he does so against, because Federer has been bossing his opponents around the court. I think we know what to expect from Murray, a good solid performance. Federer is much more of a questions. However, there is a certain fire in Fed’s eyes and you know how badly he wants to prove the doubters wrong. Again, I’ll admit it, I’m picking with my heart.

Federer 6-3 7-5 6-7(5) 6-4

Jorge: I readily admit that I did not expect this match to happen. I did not see Federer beating Tsonga, and certainly not with that kind of  conviction, crushing Jo Willy in straight sets. It was the perfect way for Fed to come into this matchup against Murray. Murray has looked solid in his first few matches coming back from surgery but has not faced a big challenge from any opponent.

What I have seen from Federer in the past week has been amazing after a dismal 2013.  If Federer can move like he has been for the past couple matches, he can win this match. Look for more of the serve and volley from Roger to neutralize the Murray backhand return. The serve and volley tactic won’t seal the deal, but it will be a key part in winning the match.

Federer 5-7 6-4 7-6 (4) 3-6 6-4.

Go ahead, blast our picks. But I want to hear from you guys. As Brad Gilbert and Ricky Dimon  would say, who ya got and scoreline?

The Australian Open Court Speed Debate

Margaret-Court-Arena-1-700x450

 

If you’ve been watching the Australian Open for the past two days, then you have undoubtably heard commentators, analysts, and players discussing the speed of the court in Melbourne. Court speed is debated at just about every grand slam. Consensus opinion is that court speeds in this era are medium-slow to very slow at just about each major. For those of you who have watched enough tennis, you know the affect the speed of a surface can have on the game.

What I’ve noticed in watching the action is that yes, the courts look slightly faster. I mean slightly. This is not an event-altering adjustment. The outside courts look to be a bit quicker than the Stadium courts, as the players have reported. And as Brad Gilbert said, the new balls at this years Aussie Open aren’t fluffing up as much as years past, allowing them to get through the court a bit quicker. But even with these modifications, the tennis hasn’t been impacted too much. Part of the reason the courts are playing quick is because it’s so hot, over 100 degrees on Tuesday. When it’s hot outside(and especially dry heat like they have in Melbourne), the balls fly through the air much quicker. In contrast, if you’ve watched any of the night matches you’ll have noticed a significant drop in the court speed. Djokovic and Lacko, and even Nadal and Tomic’s matches looked to be playing much slower than the day.

So all that crap begs the question: Should the courts be faster?

As somebody who enjoys aggressive, attacking tennis, I always felt that quicker courts would lend themselves to more aggressive play, and they do. But you have to be careful, because at a point the tennis starts to get boring for the fans with razor quick courts. First serve unreturned. Second serve chipped back to the middle, forehand winner. First serve unreturned. The rallies are short, and therefore the matches are short. Tournament officials are stuck between giving fans a good show, and allowing players easier times on their bodies.

Everybody remembers the epic Djokovic vs Nadal Final in Melbourne ’12. All 6 hours of it. And because of how slow that court was playing, it seemed like every rally was going at least 20 strokes. This, obviously, made the players tired, and therefore they began to take very long time between points. With the new 25 second rule, those guys would have defaulted in the third set. So if we really want to enforce these new rules then the surface speed is kind of forced to be faster.

Is this good for fans? I don’t know yet. I always used to agree with the old-timers and say,”yeah, lets make these courts faster.” But I’m starting to rethink my position. The courts in Brisbane and Sydney were really fast, and there weren’t a lot of long rallies. I started to say to myself,”this is kinda boring…”

So I guess I’ve come up with a conclusion that is fair for everyone. How about we don’t go just one way or another, and instead make each Grand Slam have very different characteristics. Believe it or not, the French Open has been getting quicker over the years. Wimbledon has slowed down significantly and the US Open is…inconsistent. How about the Australian Open goes back to being really slow with a high bounce, Roland Garros goes back to its slower speed, while Wimbledon and the US Open get sped up?

What do you think? I might have just confused myself writing this article.

Australian Open Preview +Picks

aus

 

Make sure your alarm clocks are set. Be sure that your friends and family are aware that you may be unreachable for the next two weeks. If you’re like me, your sleep schedule will be wildly unordinary for the next 14 days. The Australian Open is upon us, the first slam of the year, the “happy slam.” With temperatures set to break 100 degrees on multiple days in Melbourne, the heat will certainly test players happiness.

The draw was released on Friday, and more than a few were in uproar at the imbalance it produced. Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro and Roger Federer are all on the top half of the draw, leaving Novak Djokovic sitting pretty in his quest for his 4th Australian crown. But a draw is nothing more than a draw, and the matches still have to be played for potential matches to occur later in the tournament.

I think this year’s Aus Open will be the year of the upset. An upset winner is highly unlikely, but we could be in store for some deep runs by less than “elite” players. So let’s get into the picks!

Winner

Novak DjokovicI know, this is probably the 1000th time you’ve seen this pick. But to pick against Djoker would mean that I’m not a realistic tennis analyst. Look at his draw. Really the only danger he faces in route to the final is Stanislas Wawrinka, and that is real danger. If Stan the Man gets to the quarters, we could be in for another epic. But most likely Novak will cruise through his first 5-6 matches dropping maybe a set or two in the process. He is the best hard-court player in the world, as he proved during his 24 match winning streak to end 2013. Obviously he should face a great player in the final, whether that’s Nadal, Murray, or Del Potro. But none of those players have an easy road to get to their 7th match. The overall stress of playing 2-3 tough matches takes its toll and Novak will undoubtably have the clear edge in the final.

Dark Horse(‘s)

Ernests Gulbis–Although Ernie G is in Novak’s quarter of the draw, he has the firepower to take out anyone. He lost in straight sets to Rafa in Doha, but I think the court speed in Melbourne is just right for Gulbis’ style of play. He will have just a split second more time, and the ball will sit just a little higher; perfect for his elongated strokes and extreme grips. Of course Ernie could lose in the first round and make me look incredibly stupid, but you gotta show some faith right?

Gael Monfils–I’ve made a few comments on twitter in the last couple weeks talking about Monfils. From what I’ve seen, I think he’s ready for a breakout(or breakback?) 2014. The talent has always been there, but he looked as focused as I had even seen him in Doha. He lost a close 3-setter to Nadal in the final, but he was hitting the absolute **** out of the ball. If he is serving well, he is tough to beat, and Gael lives for the big moments in front of big crowds. The defining match for him will be the potential 3rd round rematch between Gael and Nadal, under the lights on Rod Laver Arena.

Grigor Dimitrov–I pick this guy….a lot. And usually he proves me wrong, by losing before the third round in Grand Slams. But my colleagues at Tennis View Magazine have had great reports for Dimitrov’s practice sessions. Apparently he is really hitting the cover off the ball, and with new coach Roger Rasheed, it’s time that Grigor made his move. 2014 will see Grigor inside the top 10. There. I  said it.

Americans(The less Popular One’s)

Tim Smyczek–Had to include Smee in this post. He adds to the stacked top half of the draw. He will play Roberto Bautista-Agut in the first round. RBA is in good form, reaching the SF in Auckland, where he blew a set and break lead to John Isner, eventual champion. Tim is using a new racket in 2014, and as long as he takes out RBA he will meet Delpo in the second round, which should be fun to watch.

Denis Kudla–I really like Kudla, I think he has one of the higher ceilings among young Americans. He is VERY fit, and solid as they come off the ground. He qualified into the tournament and will face Florian Mayer in the first round. Mayer is a really good player, but I think Kudla takes this one in 5. He will then could face Mikhail Youzhny. Again, it should be fun.

As Brad Gilbert says: Who ya got and scoreline?