For a man who reached a career-high ranking of 31 in the world back in December 2010, remarkably little has been heard in the tennis press lately about Sergiy Stakhovsky.
This is surprising because not only does the Ukrainian possess a wonderfully old-school game, complete with cutting volleys and a vicious slice backhand, but he is also an affable and charismatic character. He speaks four languages in addition to his native Ukrainian – Czech, Russian, Slovak and English, the latter with what the flawless sensory perceptions of TennisNiche adjudges to be a charming mixture of Eastern European and East End Geezer, with a hit of of North American thrown in for good measure (Sergiy himself describes it as a mix of Canadian and British English- see this video to judge for yourself.)
Onto his tennis game:
He is one the current generation of players who has suffered the most from the overall slowing down of court surfaces. Of his four titles, two have come playing indoor (Zagreb in 2008 and St. Petersburg in 2009) and one on grass (‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2010). His captivating serve and volley game is almost tailor built for fast, low-bouncing surfaces, complemented by his flat groundstrokes and a knife-edged slice backhand, all of which makes his tennis very easy on the eye.
It is on the clay and slower hard courts, where he cannot approach the net as frequently, in which his play suffers. While his groundstrokes are technically sound, he can be inconsistent, particularly in longer rallies when his footwork is prone to breaking down. Having played a pure serve and volley game during juniors, he has had to adapt in seniors to play more at the baseline, befitting the current conditions of court surfaces in mens tennis. Seen in the video against Ryan Harrison (19 years old at the time), Stakhovsky is able to execute his wide array of shots against an inexperienced opponent who isn’t able to trap Stakhovsky behind the baseline with deep, consistent groundstrokes.
If Stakhovsky is to re-enter the top 50 (and looking further forward, to break the top 20), he will have to find the right balance between using his sophisticated serve and volley game and finding a greater consistency from the baseline when he is forced on the defensive.
Some points on a fascinating contest in the Quarter Finals of the Miami Masters Series between Andy Murray and Janko Tipsarevic, two of the most consistent baseliners on tour.
Tipsarevic is typical of the modern baseline player, one who has no stand-out weapon but relies on great lateral movement (witness the Serb’s monster quads and calves), a strong two handed backhand and unerring consistency off both sides. Tipsarevic’s best asset is his serve – standing at 5’11 (180cm), he gets not only impressive pace (hitting upward of 130MPH on his first serve), but fantastic angles owing to the full extension he gets on the service action, especially on his serve out-wide from the Ad-court.
Murray is almost the perfect foil to the modern generic baseliner, possessesing a variety of ways in which he can approach each encounter. He is adept at playing the patient baseline game, yet with enough power to seize the initiative in a rally when he feels it’s falling from his control. Furthermore, against a dogged opponent like Tipsarevic who feeds off rhythm, he can turn to his coniserable array of ‘touch’ shots to disrupt his opponent. He can knife his backhand slice in either direction, or float it in the middle of the court to invite his opponent to the net. His drop shot is another effective tool – he perhaps over-uses it, but gets away with it due to his great composure and finesse on both passing shots and when drawn to the net himself.
Tipsarevic largely had the best of things in the first set, and he broke Murray at 4-4 to serve out the set 6-4. Murray cut a frustrated figure; he had been broken out of sheer impatience, and afterwards was seen complaining about his stomach. As he does so many times though, the Scot came back strongly in the second set, cutting out his unforced errors and showing his gritty determination to out-last Tipsarevic.
If ruthless consistency and dogged consistency were the two base ingredients needed to compete with Tipsarevic on the slow courts of Miami, Murray then added his own flourishes to take the match above and beyond the level of Tipsarevic. In addition to the aforementioned touch shots, he was also hitting his forehand impressively, particularly when he chose to run around his backhand to hit it. He unleashed on some huge inside-out forehands, and hit his inside-in forehand with surprising consistency. He dominated his opponent in forehand to forehand rallies and forced Tipsarevic to go for too much, too soon in the rally. Murray proceeded to take the second set fairly comfortably, 6-3.
Murray also yielded some great results from the drop shot. As stated, he has a tendency to abuse the drop shot, but against a strict baseliner like Tipsarevic, it can be an extremely effective tactic. The real difference in quality between the two players was illustrated at 1-1 in the third set, the game in which Murray took a crucial break of serve. Serving at game point 40-30, Tipsarevic elected to hit his first drop shot of the match – Murray got to the ball with enough time to caress a backhand slice up the line, covered the net with typical nous, anticipated Tipsarevic’s pass and put away a volley winner. A simple combination of shots, but executed with a composure and class which is just above Tipsarevic’s ability.
As the third set progressed, it became increasingly evident that Tipsarevic had no solution to Murray’s relentless barrage of power, guile and physicality. As a result he had resolved to become the master of his own fate, going for broke on his shots very early on in the rallies. While he succeeded with an aggressive approach in the first set, by this point he had neither the consistency nor the confidence to hit through Murray’s resolute defences. He also made the decision to hit a very high percentage of first serves, a curious move considering his opponent is perhaps the best returner of first serves in the men’s game. Ultimately Murray’s momentum was not to be stopped, and he triumphed 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
One area which Murray can still improve is his backhand down the line. For years he has been one of the best in the world at nailing his backhand down the line, causing havoc with his opponents rhythm by using it as a change of pace after a succession of slow, spinny shots. Curiously, he has started 2012 by improving his inside-out forehand but suffering an almost equal decline in his backhand down the line. If he can recall this world class shot, maintain a decent first serve percentage and keep a positive mental attitude, he has every chance of not only beating Nadal or Tsonga in the semi-finals, but winning his maiden Grand Slam in 2012.
The first in a two-part beginners guide to tennis betting, written by gambling prodigy Jonathan Premachandra. Jonathan has an in-depth knowledge of sports betting, in particular tennis and cricket, and can be found on Twitter here.
A Beginners Guide to Tennis Betting
As a keen follower of the game, you may be tempted to have the odd bet every now and then just to make things more interesting. It can certainly make even some of the dullest matches more captivating and you barely need to risk much to enjoy it. The principles of tennis betting can be as simple or as complex as you choose to make them but if you really want maximize your winnings, here’s some advice on how to go about it. This can be used by anyone who follows tennis and is looking to take a bit of extra money off their bookies.
Coming into a game, unless you are just betting for the fun of it, it is obviously important that you know about the players and have been following their form coming into the match. Most betting sites give you a list of their past matches and information of their head-to-head record with basic stats on every match coming into this encounter. This is all very helpful but it is not nearly enough to call a game just based on these raw figures.
You need to have watched the previous encounters between these two players, seen how their styles match up against each other and seen how well they have actually been playing recently by watching their games in the run up to this match. Important things to pick up on vary from player to player but unforced errors, 1st serve percentages and winners hit are always crucial.
For an example of how these stats vary with each player you just need to look at the winning stats on players that rely heavily on their serve such as Isner, Roddick and Karlovic. There stats can often be misleading as they line up for a game against one of the top 7. We know that these ‘big servers’ can dispatch their opponents with ease until they play someone who is a very strong returner and has a lower rate of unforced errors like Murray or Nadal.
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”
Past records can be very deceptive if you choose to follow them on their own, for example, take a look at the recent Federer v Murray final in Dubai. Coming into that game, Murray had a solid record against Federer in 3 set matches (8 wins vs 5 losses)
So with this lone stat, a price of 2.5 (6/4) for Murray to win another Dubai final against Federer (he beat him in the other Dubai final they met in back in 2008) looks pretty good. So surely that must mean it would be a great bet to take, right? Wrong. Murray was outplayed in straight sets inside two and a half-hours, showing nothing of the form he had used to oust Federer in the past. However, if you had been following the matches leading into this final you would have seen Federer in blistering form, while Murray, despite dispatching Djokovic in the Semi, was far from his best. His three set win against Djokovic was always going to have a draining effect on him and if you looked at the stats, you could see his first serve record was not great. The casual tennis fan rushed to bet on Murray after seeing those odds but if they had watched how Federer had dominated on his route the final, they would have known that those odds were justified (Federer was around 4/7 favourite at the start).
There are countless factors that you can look at such as a player’s abilities on a particular surface; their past records at the same tournament, their form in the last few tournaments etc. You can also factor in things like fatigue and injuries, just look at Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals last year, after such a successful calendar year, he was exhausted coming into the tournament. Nadal was suffering with an injury while Federer, who had taken a short break before the tournament was fresh and near his flawless best. Long story short, the bookies faltered and gave odds of 6/4 on Federer for the tournament just before the semi final stage, he then strolled past Ferrer in straights and won the final against Tsonga in a fairly comfortable 3 set victory and in doing so he helped me pay off a large chunk of my student overdraft!
These types of odds have to be spotted and you have to weigh up whether or not the bookies are making a mistake. In the case of the Dubai final, the odds were spot on as Federer took it fairly comfortably, but given the conditions of the other players and Federer’s form in the Masters, there was good money to be made on Federer at the half way stage.
Look out for the second part in the next few weeks, which will deal the more lucrative in-play betting.
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A second round clash between the prototypical big server (Isner) and baseline scrapper (Monaco). This match was ultimately won in the mind, with Monaco becoming tight on crucial points and Isner taking advantage.
Monaco started the stronger of the two, earning break points in several of Isner’s service games early on in the first set. He failed to take any of them, and was punished by a late break of serve, handing Isner the first set 7-5. The native of North Carolina was becoming increasingly confident on Monaco’s serve, and created several break chances early in the second set, which he failed to take. He followed this up with a sloppy service game of his own at 2:3, going down 15-40. A second serve ace (a slice serve which landed plum on the side line), followed by a 141mph first serve quickly dismissed both break points, demonstrating what a devastating combination Isner has in his giant serve and steely fortitude. Having missed break point opportunities in both sets, Monaco was put to the test on his own service game at 5-6. The Argentine faced and saved three match points, the second one spectacularly so, hitting a drop volley off his shoe laces for a clean winner. Finally, Isner secured the match on his fourth match point, courtesy of a Monaco unforced error from the backhand.
Tennis is often a game of risk-management, and this match was no different. Players at the professional level know their own strengths and weaknesses inside out, and often know their opponent’s too. In this case, John Isner knew his weak mobility and backhand would be exposed in longer rallies, therefore his most viable strategy was to keep points as short as possible, unloading on the forehand whenever possible. His challenge was to take on enough forehands so that Monaco could not settle into his baseline game, but without totally compromising his consistency.
Monaco is naturally a more risk-averse player. At home on clay and slow hard courts, he plays an unremarkable brand of baseline tennis; a functional serve, great lateral mobility on the baseline, solid two handed backhand, and a forehand which he likes to hit inside-out. What he needed to avoid at all costs was anything played short and in the middle of the court which Isner could attack with his forehand. This led to him hitting a very high percentage of first serves (above 70%), the majority kicked to the Isner backhand. This generally elicited a weak, mid-court reply from Isner, which allowed Monaco to initiate his preferred pattern of play, hitting inside out forehands to a (relatively) weak right-handers backhand.
As in so many of his victories, Isner achieved a narrow victory through managing his risk better than his opponent. Starting in the second set, he became increasingly offensive on Monaco’s second serve, blasting several forehand winners off the Argentine’s delivery. He also threw in a few backhands down the line, some beautiful drop shots (among a couple of stinkers), and generally kept his opponent off-balance. Monaco can’t have too many complaints; he didn’t convert any of his break points, but mostly due to Isner’s timely and gargantuan serve. He will perhaps rue becoming tight at crucial moments on his own serve – when Isner was looking to pounce and unleash a forehand, Monaco failed to adapt accordingly. He kept on playing the same mono-pace game, didn’t take any risks and instead allowed Isner to take his own calculated risks.
A fan-taken highlights video of Juan Martin Del Potro vs Philipp Kohlschreiber, providing a camera angle rivalling that of any mainstream broadcaster. The court-level angle sheds light on two interesting aspects of the match; Kohlschreiber’s excellent footwork and the strategy used by Del Potro to win points.
The majority of the video has Kohlschreiber at the near side, with the close up camera angle showing off his remarkable footwork. Kohlschreiber plays with a western grip on forehand and backhand, which means he needs to take the ball out of in front of his body that fraction earlier. Furthermore, his groundstrokes are fairly long, fluid swings at the ball, so getting into the right position is vital for Kohlschreiber if he is to stand on the baseline and trade blows. Particularly impressive is the precision footwork Kohlschreiber displays getting into position to rip his single handed backhand, a delightful shot in itself.
Del Potro’s rip roaring running forehands against Federer in their 2009 US Open final has popularised the notion that he is some kind of ball basher who immediately goes for the big strike in rallies. This clip shows otherwise, that Del Potro actually wears his opponent down with five or six bludgeoned, heavy topspin forehands before going for a winner. With great consistency off both wings, good footwork and fantastic balance when on the run, Del Potro has no need to go for such a high-risk strategy. He can be content to rally in a netural position, searching for a short ball on which to begin his onslaught of inside-out forehands.
Greetings all kind followers, serfs and those who are generally indebted to TennisNiche for the huge amount of knowledge and wisdom bestowed on a weekly basis.
Jonathan over at the superb Federer blog peRFect-Tennis has kindly allowed me to post my humble musings on Federer and his occasional difficulties against the big bitters of the ATP. So without further adieu – why are you still readng? Check out my ramblings, and while you’re at it check out the blog, ’tis a fine one.
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Andy Murray, fresh from another so nearly moment in a Grand Slam semi final, has been the subject of continued debate over what exactly is lacking in his game to go all the way and win a Grand Slam. Chief among technical factors, the forehand has proven to be the shot which has been make or break for him in crucial encounters.
It is the forehand which has let him down one too many times in the big moments, most recently in his Grand Slam matches against Rafael Nadal. Conversely, on the six occasions when the Scot has triumphed in this match up, it was through good work on the forehand side. As a defensive shot it is brilliant, but Murray’s challenge against the other ‘big three’ of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer is not to play well defensively, but to take the initiative in rallies and then hit through their resolute defences. It is the forehand down the line in particular which is vital to Murray; he hits his cross court forehand well enough, but too often it is predictable that the Scot will hit in this direction as he rarely opts for a decisive down the line strike.
This match between Nadal and Murray from back in 2011 shows the Scot’s forehand at its very best. Here, Murray is relaxed, confident and hardly afraid to go for huge, flat strikes. On occasion Murray can be guilty of tightening up when he hits the forehand; he doesn’t really open his shoulders and take a cut at the ball, nor take the ball that fraction earlier needed to get the angle for a down the line shot. Murray is often at his free-flowing best in situations where the pressure is off; either in matches against an opponent who has few weapons and he is expected to beat, or toward the end of matches where he has dominated and is clearly in control, like here. If he is to capture a Grand Slam title he will have to learn to release the shackles on his forehand when it really counts.