Quotes of the Day: Isner, Matosevic, Sela, Becker, Sock

The second installment of my new series “Quotes of the Day” is here. Friday in Atlanta was an interesting, action-packed day of tennis. The sun was out, and it was unbearably hot. I’ll let the players tell the rest of the story.

John Isner–The 6’10 American played a very….unique match against Marinko Matosevic. After winning the first set(Matosevic double fault), Isner appeared to be laboring. He sluggishly moved around the court, but out of nowhere broke serve at 3-all. He served it out easily.

On starting at 4 p.m.: “I actually preferred the 4 o’clock start. It wasn’t easy out there, but I’m done and it’s 6 o’clock as to where last night (I didn’t get off the court)until 11.”

On the struggles of playing in the heat: “I knew he was struggling out there a little bit, and he knew I was struggling out there a little bit. But a lot of times, in situations like that, it’s a big advantage for me. Even though I appear to be very tired, I muster up enough enough energy to pop some big serves.”

Again, on the heat: “At the beginning of the second set it felt like somebody threw us in the oven.” 

On looking tired: “A lot of people tell me I play possum out there, and I may do that. But I’m not breaking the rules by any means. I’m lollygagging around between points but  when we start the point I’m ready. A lot of times when I’m super tired I’ve played some of my best tennis because at that point I don’t have enough energy to run side to side. There’s only one option for, and that’s to just go for it.”

On heat compared to Atlanta Athletic Club(tourney site 2010): “I don’t think anything is ever going to get to that level. We could have made scrambled eggs on that court for sure.” 

On whether not he’ll be able to walk his dog(with him at tourney site) tonight: “Yes actually(laughing), I will. Last night I went to bed at almost 1:30 in the morning. Tonight I’ll go to bed at a normal time, walk the dog, and that puts me at ease.” 

Marinko Matosevic–Only a couple quotes, but they tell the story.

On the heat: “It was really hot. (He said emphaticallly) I would say it was as hot as the 43 degree celsius day this year in Australia when I played Nishikori, if not hotter. The sun was on your head and you couldn’t escape it.”

On whether or not Isner was playing possum: “No no no no no, he was definitely tired.” 

Dudi Sela–A very interesting match between he and Vasek Pospisil, which featured medical time-outs from both players, and some very high quality play, and some very low quality play. Sela pulled it out 7-5 1-6 6-2, recording his 100th tour level win.

On 100th tour level win: “I didn’t know that. Wow.(laughing) Yeah, that’s good. It’s nice to get your 100th win when you’re a break down in the third.”

On why he took MTO: “To do some thinking with myself about what I have to do. To relax.”

On incredible backhand winner on match point: “For me it’s my best shot, the backhand. So I’m happy I finished it off with a good backhand.”

On serving(said yesterday that he was “serving terrible”): “It was even worse than terrible(laughing). It was not good at all. I was already thinking about the second serve (before I hit the first serve).”

Benjamin Becker–The 33 year old has quietly cruised to the semifinals, today beating Thiemo De Bakker 6-4 6-2.

On his game: “It’s coming together. I’m feeling well, I’m playing well. The final in s-Hertogenbosch was big for me to gain some confidence, get some matches under my belt. The start of the year did not go the way I planned, but now I have the chance to play for another final, and that builds my confidence.”

On winning 83% of second serve points: “I think I was very consistent from the back, didn’t miss much. If I have that every match I have a very good chance to win, so that’s a good stat to have.”

On the chance of reaching another final at 33 years of age: “I know I’m at the end of my career, or at the later stages at least. Finals are not always around the corner, so obviously I want to take this opportunity and give it my best.” 

Jack Sock–The American took out Lukas Lacko 7-6(6) 6-2, and showed that he has matured greatly as player over the last 12 months. He looked confident, and was the stronger player mentally,

On finding a way to win: “It was a pretty rough start. He came out and was keeping the ball very deep, and pushed me behind the baseline. I just had to chip some returns back in play, extend some rallies, and I was able to do that and get the break at 4-5.”

On his spectacular one-handed backhand passing shot: “Against (Michael) Venus I had nearly the same ball, and hit it cross court, and I laced it pretty good. And the one today was really clean off the racket, so I had to look up at (my coach) and give him a smile because we had just been talking about it in the warmup.”

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The Most Intriguing Tennis Match That Nobody Saw

Jared Donaldson. Daniel Cox. To the average tennis fan, these two names have absolutely no significance whatsoever. In fact, unless you’re a consistent follower of the challenger tour, odds are you’ve never heard of them. They faced off in the round of 16 at the Binghamton challenger wednesday night, and there were, undoubtably, very few watching. Binghamton, a short drive from Ithaca College(I may or may not attend this great institution), is far from a tennis hotbed. Perhaps the most notable/recent sporting occurrence in the area was the Binghamton Mets(New York Mets AA Affiliate) appearing on ESPN’s “Not Top 10.” You get the picture. What unfolded on the sparsely attended center court was nothing short of fascinating.

These two unheralded(and that’s putting it kindly) tennis players are very much the opposite of one another. Cox, a 23 year old from England, is generously measured by the ATP at 5’7, and had been battling predominately on the futures circuit for the last five or so years. He’s won 12 titles at professional tennis’ lowest tier, and because of that, his ranking has improved steadily into the low 200’s. He recently played in the biggest match of his career at Wimbledon, where he took a set off of world no. 37 Jeremy Chardy, before falling in four tight sets. Because his ranking has improved, he can now play challengers on a regular basis, and wednesday he was looking to reach his third challenger quarterfinal of 2014.

Jared Donaldson, in contrast,  is a 17 year old American, who is already 6’2, and still growing. Donaldson, who comes from a wealthy family, is one of a handful of young American juniors to have been touted at a future star. In February of 2013, he contemplated quitting tennis. After consulting with a sports psychologist, he decided against it. Donaldson was the runner up at the 2013 Kalamazoo nationals, and received a wildcard(speaking of wildcards…. read this) into the qualifying draw at the US Open, where he won two matches before falling in the third and final round. Obviously this created a lot of excitement, and rightfully so. The recent struggles that American male tennis players are having is something we hear just about every week, so I won’t babble on about that. Donaldson earned 16 ranking points in his first grand slam appearance, and with that came the opportunity to test the waters at the professional level. Over the last 10 months Jared has performed very well, and coming into wednesday’s encounter, he was on a 16 match winning streak, winning two futures titles and seeing his ranking reach a career high no. 343. He’s the number three ranked 17 year old, behind only Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric.

As I tuned into the stream, with the great Mike Cation on the call, I was vaguely interested. I’m on vacation at the beach, but figured I should watch Donaldson’s match and see how he’s progressed. Yes, I am a tennis nerd.

Cation was also looking forward to seeing how both would perform.

“I was thinking it was going to be one  of those matches where we see quite a few 10-15 stroke rallies. And frankly, I thought Cox was going to have the better end of it because I wasn’t sure if Donaldson could stay in the points long enough,” Cation said.

Early proceedings were dominated by the young American, who quickly jumped out to a 4-1 lead. A plus forehand and a vastly improved backhand were on a full display, with Donaldson hitting winners left and right. There wasn’t really much Cox could do, as Donaldson was dictating the vast majority of points. The two shots that really stood out for Jared were his powerful inside-out forehand, and a flat yet precise backhand down the line. He was hardly pushed on serve, and closed out the first set 6-2.

Cox is pretty much the definition of a grinder, or as he says, a “grafter”. He fights for every ball and tries to extend rallies. The longer it goes, the better for the Brit. Things were not going well for a set and a half, but slowly he was starting to get his foot in the door. At about this point the real drama of the match started to unfold. Donaldson was not happy with more than a few line calls, a fairly normal thing for a 17 year old tennis player. If you watch a junior or college tennis match you will see a lot of complaining and badgering between opponents, but it’s not something you see very often at the pro level, unless your last name is Fognini.

“At the beginning of the second set you could tell Donaldson was getting loose, and he was questioning every call. It did remind me of a juniors match,” Cation said. “You just don’t see that at this level very often. Dan Cox was frustrated because he didn’t have many openings to break and at a certain point he just said ‘stop questioning every call’.”

I watching on a my laptop, and a many of the calls did appear close, but it did seem like every time a ball was close to the line Donaldson was talking to the chair umpire.

For the next few games, the extra-curricular stuff remained relatively quiet, as Donaldson appeared to get Cox’s message. Jared had a few opportunities to break serve late in the second set, but could not convert. At 4-all, he went off the rails. The forehand that had been so effective suddenly couldn’t find the court. Cox broke and served out the set fairly easily. The rallies were starting to get longer, and Cox was now fully into the match, both physically and emotionally. He was the one who was pumping himself up.

The Brit broke to 2-1 in the third set, and then more drama ensued. As Cox served to consolidate the break, he started looking up and gesturing behind the court to Jared’s dad, Courtney Donaldson. Courtney had been clapping after his son was winning points, and that is also very normal. But Cox took exception, and yelled to the senior Donaldson that he shouldn’t be clapping after unforced errors. The one-sided banter ensued for the rest of that game, with Cox the only one engaging.

“I was not expecting anything like that. I would describe Dan as scrappy, but I’ve never seen him verbally engage in that manner during a match. It got ugly,” said Cation, who prefaced his comments by saying he thought that Courtney was not in the wrong.

I spoke to Courtney Donaldson after the match, and he described his perspective on the situation.

“I clapped for a point Jared won, and to be honest I don’t remember a mis-hit or a net chord in the point and I clapped and to be honest so did most of the other people.  It was a long point and I was happy to see Jared win the point and  he took offense.  But I left it at that.  As much as he was spouting off I just looked straight ahead and said nothing. I didn’t want to interject into the match. He was upset and in my opinion was for a lack of a better term un-professional but it is what is is he was in the middle of an intense match and lost his composure,” Donaldson said.

Who was right and who was wrong is really up to you. Brad Gilbert saw Cox on a regular basis from 2006-2008 while at the Lawn Tennis Association(LTA), and described Cox as somebody who was always “a feisty little guy on the court.”

To be honest, after Cox battled through a long service game to hold 3-1, I thought Donaldson would fold. He seemed to be on the edge, and after failing to break back he could have let it all go. But he fought hard, and made the rest of the match very exciting. He had chances to break in two more of Cox’s service games, but just couldn’t find a way to finish at the biggest moments. Cox closed the match out 6-4 in the third, and was very excited about his performance, giving a couple extended fist pumps. The post-match handshake was brief, but clean.

Tennis is a sport that can be intriguing at every level, from recreational to professional, and this match was a great example of that. A look at the scoreline and one would presume that it was just another tennis match, but it wasn’t. Every single point from about the second set on was tense, competitive, and fun. There was drama, high quality tennis, and a little comedy as well. What more could a fan ask for?

For Donaldson, his potential is overwhelming. He has all the tools to be a top player, and it might not be long before we see him at the big leagues. But we have to realize that he is a 17 year old, and he still has a lot of time to grow.

“The whole time I was saying to myself, ‘this is just part of the mental maturity that will certainly come for (Jared)’,” Cation added.

“Jared loves to compete, improve and play tennis. He enjoys the success but doesn’t let it affect his development,” father Courtney said.

As for Cox, he’s on to the quarterfinals, where a very winnable match against Darian King awaits. I hope the few of you who saw the match enjoyed it as much as I did

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

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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.”

The Australian Open Court Speed Debate

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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.

Grigor Dimitrov- The Arrival

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After years of being touted as one of the next great players, Grigor (Baby Fed) Dimitrov has finally arrived. Sunday was monumental  for the Bulgarian, as he claimed his first ATP World Tour title, defeating David Ferrer in the final of the IF Stockholm Open 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Sure, it’s only a 250 event. Sure, it’s his best surface, an indoor hard court. He only had to beat two top 30 players in route to the title.  Ferrer, a top five player, hasn’t even been playing great tennis. But the significance of this title cannot be understated. This is huge for Dimitrov’s progression into a top 10 player–and yes, I do think he will be a top 10 player.

His game style is compared to Roger Federer, and for good reason. His forehand is nearly identical, and the rest of his game isn’t far off either. I used to think that I was going to like Grigor because he like Federer. Now I realize that I love Dimitrov because he has his own personality, and he is not just a shadow of the Swiss Maestro.

Dimitrov has almost all the shots–his backhand is vulnerable to mistakes. Surely you’ve seen the insane highlight tapes on the Bulgarian. His behind the back half-volley, his diving pass against Djokovic in Madrid, or his squash-shot like pass against Rafael Nadal in Cincinnati. Every match Dimitrov plays you could see something special, and that’s what makes him great. This has held him back in the past, because his shot selection was questionable. However, in 2013 his fitness has improved, and his style of play has changed with it. He can now grind with the best of them, like Ferrer. He’s not afraid to do some roadwork behind the baseline. Speed has never been the problem for Dimitrov, it’s been about harnessing that speed with balance.

As he heads to Basel, the event he hit his greatest shot ever, Dimitrov is full of confidence. He only has two tournaments left this year, but look for him to make some more noise on the indoor hard courts. A potential blockbuster quarterfinal in Basel could be Dimitrov vs Federer. Please make that happen guys.

A Step In The Right Direction For Federer

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As I watched Roger Federer match against the flying Frenchman Gael Monfils, I was thinking: “Wow, this is better.” Yes, I can already see the comments flowing in from my readers. “But he lost to another player outside the top 30”. “He lost before the quarterfinals”. But hold that thought for a second.

What you might not have noticed, is that Federer actually made a couple of adjustments in his game. The forehand, which used to be lethal, but this year has been a liability, was making a comeback. Sure, he missed some. But he was GOING FOR IT. He was hitting through the forehand, and not shanking very many. He ran around as many backhands as he could to get some forehands. I’ll put the highlights in here so you guys get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately the guy on the other side of the net might be the greatest athlete in tennis. Gael is special to watch, and his defense combined with some controlled aggression were reminiscent to his top 10 days. When he is serving that big and that clutch, its going to be tough for even the worlds best to beat him.

Now yes, I will say that Roger looked a little rusty, especially on the backhand. He also came in on some pretty poor approach shots, but that can be fixed with a little more match play. But his movement looked very crisp, and it was not Federer, but instead Monfils who was gassed towards the end of the match.

As he heads to Basel, where Rafael Nadal is also scheduled to play, I think Roger is going to start playing some good tennis. He’s back home, in Switzerland, and back on his favorite surface; indoor hard courts. He needs to win some matches to guarantee a spot in the World Tour Finals, and I think he should be okay because of Andy Murray’s Withdrawal.

Federer lost the battle today, but he may well be on his way to winning the war. That doesn’t mean getting back to #1 in the world, but I think he has some good results left in him. In 2011, he won Basel, Paris Indoors, and the WTF to end his season. He used that as a springboard into 2012, where he returned to top form. Let’s see if Roger can repeat that 2011 effort in 2013.