As the most high-profile youngster in tennis today, Nick Kyrgios is fairly practised in causing upsets -whether through defeating more established players, or generally causing upset with careless behaviour and ill-thought out remarks, the young Australian is accustomed to being the centre of attention. How disconcerting it must have been therefore to have the outcome of this Round 3 match-up totally taken out of his hands.
Some of Kyrgios’s best results to date have come from overwhelming his opponents with his dynamic power tennis. In his two Grand Slam quarter-final appearances, the Australian faced relatively defensive, steady players in previous rounds, defeating Seppi in the 2015 Australian Open and (more famously) Nadal at Wimbledon 2014. Seppi and Nadal proved rather accommodating opponents – neither serve particularly big and both are content to engage in long rallies, waiting for a short ball before attacking. Such an approach gives Kyrgios numerous opportunities to use his explosive power off both wings. Even when manoeuvred out of position, his athleticism enables him to hit highlight-reel winners from unlikely positions.
Against the number 6 seed Tomas Berdych, he faced an entirely different challenge. Whereas Kyrgios can simply over-power many of his opponents, Berdych is an expert at taking and maintaining the advantage in rallies. The Czech was actually out-served, hitting a mere 8 aces compared to Kyrgios’s 18, and making 6 double faults to the Australian’s 2. Furthermore, Kyrgios won an impressive 82% of points on his first serve, serving at 60% first serves in. This ensured that Kyrgios was winning a substantial number of free points and was often starting rallies on the front foot. This made it imperative that Berdych dominate the bulk of the neutral rallies on his and Kyrgios’ second serve.
Few players on the tour hit the ball so cleanly, and with as little topspin as Berdych, and therefore Kyrgios could be forgiven for struggling to adjust his game accordingly. While the Australian came back into the match, winning the third set, this was as much due to a lapse in concentration from Berdych, as it was credit to an improvement from Kyrgios. The latter has a habit of defending through a reliance on his athleticism – often hitting weak, mid-court slices, before retreating a few steps and using his speed and agility to retrieve whatever is thrown at him. Against a power-hitter like Berdych, such a strategy isn’t really viable. The Czech hit an enormous 25 winners off his forehand alone, evidence of his devastating potential to lead the play when given a chance.
Generally speaking, players have had success against Berdych by using the Czech’s power against him, and pushing him out wide. Once pushed outside the tramlines, Berdych does not have the malleability on either groundstroke to play a defensively savvy shot – rather than give himself time with a deep, looping topspin shot, he will invariably go for a hard, flat winner, with a relatively low probability of going in.
Nikolai Davydenko, himself never a Grand Slam finalist, had a dominant head to head record over Berdych, leading the series 9-2 (not including a retirement), going on a run of eight victories in a row over the Czech. Despite being 6 inches shorter, and possessing of a far weaker serve, the Russian was able to outmanoeuvre his larger opponent. Using his superb reflexes and compact groundstrokes, he was able to stand right up on the baseline and re-direct Berdych’s powerful groundstrokes, stretching his opponent out-wide, into a position he doesn’t want to be.
While it remains to be seen if Kyrgios has the technique and hand-eye co-ordination to adopt such an approach, he certainly cannot remain so passive in rallies against opponents like Berdych.
Had Kyrgios drawn a different seed in his quarter – say David Ferrer or Rafael Nadal – he might well have progressed further in the tournament. Furthermore, with his talent and ability, he may well go on to achieve more than Berdych in his career. For the time being however, this remains a bad match-up for the pugnacious Aussie.
Australian Open 2016: First Round – thoughts on Murray vs Zverev
As expected, the number 2 seed Andy Murray made quick work of Alexander Zverev, winning in straight sets, 6-1 6-2 6-3. Murray was rarely troubled during the 2 hour encounter, his young opponent only able to apply any kind of pressure on the Murray serve toward the tail-end of the match. While the match wasn’t of great interest as a contest, it did prove fascinating in another sense, as an opportunity to see the youngest player in the top 100 up against the world number 2. There probably isn’t a sterner test for a young player than a five setter against the consistent, cerebral Scot. Here are some notes from the match:
While it is notoriously difficult to predict future stars in tennis – harder still now that players tend to peak in their mid to late twenties – Zverev seems a relative ‘lock’ for a berth in Top 10 at some point in his career. Zverev was an elite Junior, reaching number 1 in the rankings, and winning the 2014 Australian Open. While this is not necessarily a guarantee of success as a professional (cf. Donald Young), Zverev appears to have the basic tools to make the transition. Whereas others have dominated the Junior ranks by simply being more consistent and patient than their peers, Zverev already possesses the tools necessary to make a dent on the professional circuit.
Crucially, Zverev possesses a great serve. The motion itself is a thing of beauty – deep knee bend, proper arching of the back, full extension on contact – and as such he already has incredible power on first and second delivery. Against Murray, the German hit 5 aces against Murray’s 3; had an average 1st serve speed of 126MPH to Murray’s 116MPH; and also produced the fastest serve of the match at 135MPH. One he learns to apply his power more efficiently, and hit his spots more carefully, the serve will become a devastating weapon.
Power off both wings
Simply turning up the volume and looking away from the TV for a few minutes would make clear that Zverev hits a huge ball. Particularly off the forehand wing, the youngster can generate a lot of easy power – the sound of the ball coming off the strings not so dissimilar to Marat Safin. One small concern would be the relative lack of variety of his backhand. While Zverev has a very solid topspin backhand in rallies, he runs into problems when stretched wide: against Murray, he didn’t seem able to hit a more looping, heavily spun shot, and nor did he appear to possess a great slice. The net result is that when pushed out wide, he does not have the variety on his backhand to slow the rally, in turn enabling him to recover position and re-set the rally. The young prospect could do worse than study some tapes of David Nalbandian in this respect.
Murray’s route to the Final
The first Grand Slam event of the calendar year, the Australian Open is said to always favour those who come in with the best preparation. It is therefore little surprise that Murray, one of the hardest workers on tour, has made the final on four occasions. The Scot has a notoriously gruelling training camp during the off-season, and always comes to Melbourne in great condition. This year appears no different, and Murray has the additional benefit of a relatively kind draw. Crucially, the number 3 seed Roger Federer was drawn in Djokovic’s half – if draw plays out according to seed, Murray will play the number 4 seed Stan Wawrinka in his semi-final. Otherwise, his half of the draw contains remarkably little threat. The highest seed in his quarter is David Ferrer, whom Murray has beaten on the last five occasions. Compare that to Djokovic, who has the dangerous Kei Nishikori in his quarter, or Federer, who will in all likelihood have to face either Berdych, Cilic or Krygios, should he make the Quarter Finals.
The Mens 2012 US Open Final: Andy Murray vs Novak Djokovic
With Rafael Nadal pulling out through injury and Roger Federer knocked out in the Quarter Finals, it was always likely that the US Open final would feature Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Despite the latter being the reigning US Open champion and leading the head to head with Murray 8-6, all signs point to this match being an even, carefully balanced contest, which will be decided by a few key points.
The similarities between the two players are striking: born within a week of each other, they entered the top 100 together and reached the top 10 at roughly the same time. Both have won numerous Masters Series finals, made Grand Slam finals and generally done the most of any players on tour to disrupt the hegemony of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the top of the game. Djokovic has five Grand Slam titles to his name, whereas Murray has four defeats in finals, picking up a lone set in an otherwise series of forgettable performances.
However, Murray has had a superb 2012, and has shown that he doesn’t fear Djokovic in the same way he did Roger Federer, when he seemed overwhelmed by the stature of the Swiss great in the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open Final. Murray should come out with plenty of belief, and there is a real chance of a classic final along the lines of their Australian Open encounter eight months ago, which finished 7-5 Djokovic in the fifth set. Here are two crucial factors which will decide tonight’s tie:
1. The First Serve % and the Return
Serve and return should be dealt with together as one entity when discussing a match up between players who return far better than they do serve.
In basic terms, Murray can hit his first serve considerably faster than Djokovic, but to the detriment of an poor first serve percentage. This is exacerbated by a weak second serve delivery, which opens the door for his opponents to tee off on the return and put holes in Murray’s service games – and no one is better than Djokovic (at least since the retirement of Andre Agassi and the decline of Davydenko and Nalbandian) at hitting clean winners off opponent’s first serves.
If Muray serves well he will be able to keep Djokovic out of the majority of his service games (accounting for the occasional 130MPH down-the-T serve which Djokovic will invariably return back into the corner with added velocity). To do so, he will need to strike a fine balance between maintaining a healthy 60%+ first serve percentage without neutering the power of his serve. Murray serves best on the ad court, where he can get enormous pace on the out wide flat serve. It is on the deuce side where he struggles more; his slice serve is not one of the best, and his down-the-T serve can be inconsistent.
Djokovic on the other hand, doesn’t have quite the same ability to serve through Murray. He will probably be best off contuining his high first serve percentage strategy; rather than trying to ace the best returner in the game, he will hope to hit the corners of the service box and eleicit weak responses from Murray, which will be enough to put him on the front foot in the ensuing rally.
There is merit in the strategy of a high first serve percentage when playing Murray: no one in the game is better than the Scot at clawing back huge serves, and he is extremely difficult to ace. Djokovic therefore might be better off going for higher percentages on his first serve.
Djokovic has the superior 2nd serve but this is negated by both mens outstanding returns. Getting the balance is key for both men. Murray will have to mix up his slice and T serve on the deuce court well enough to keep Djokovic guessing. Likewise, Novak may have to go for more on his first serves to ensure a few free points.
2. The forehand
Djokovic has fantastic rotation on his forehand, and generates considerably more topspin than Murray. This is partially aided by Djokovic having a more extreme grip. In theory Murray, with his more conservative semi-western grip, should find it easier to unleash flat forehand drives. However, he rarely opts to, and his forehand is certainly a weaker rallying shot compared to Djokovic’s.
Djokovic has a decided advantage in hitting the forehand from the ad court; while Murray has improved in this aspect, Djokovic has a superb inside out forehand, and his grip and motion seem more suited to hitting heavy inside out forehands. One area in which Murray has closed the gap is in the ‘inside-in’ forehand; previously he has been guilty of running around his backhand to hit a forehand up the line, not getting enough depth or pace on the shot, and leaving himself exposed cross court. With increased confidence on the forehand wing, he seems to have remedied this, hitting the shot with more conviction and power.
This match represents more of a challenge to Murray than his opponent; Djokovic will know that a repeat of his previous hard court Grand Slam performances against Murray will probably get the job done. For the Scot, he will have to serve smartly and well, and ensure that he hits his forehand with conviction.
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.
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This weeks edition of ‘Video of the Week’ focuses on an encounter from 2010 between two players whose careers are headed in opposite directions.
Fresh from being awarded his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Moscow, and sporting a beard worthy of a rogue Spetsnaz soldier gone into exile having been disowned by his government following the end of a controversial and regrettable war, Mikhail Youzhny is entering the twilight of his career.
Born in 1988, Marin Cilic is pushing the limit of what can be considered a ‘young gun’, but for the sake of this article, we shall consider him thus. Cilic has delivered some impressive results in the past few years, knocking out Andy Murray to reach the Quarter Finals of the US Open in 2009 and reaching the Semi Finals of the 2010 Australian Open, defeating Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Roddick along the way. However he still suffers from disappointing off-days and is yet to become a permanent fixture in the Quarter Finals and beyond of the Grand Slams.
TennisNiche was fortunate enough to be see Youzhny play against Sicilian Gianluca Naso in the qualifying rounds of the Roma Master Series in 2009. Although past his best at this point, Youzhny was one of the most impressive players TennisNiche has seen in the flesh, sliding effortlessly from corner to corner, and boasting a fantastic array of slices, drop shots and flat drives. Competent in every area of the game, his greatest strength is his single handed backhand, a gorgeous, rhythmic motion which is a joy to watch.
By most standards, Cilic is not nearly as aesthetically pleasing to watch. Superficially, standing at 6’6, his gangly demeanour suggests he has yet to grow into his frame. His serve is an odd motion, featuring a crazy amount of back bend, enough to make anyone wince who history of back pain. Far from Youzhny’s subtle game, Cilic is very much a modern baseliner. His two handed backhand is powerful, consistent and deals with high balls well, and his forehand, when on’, is a riotous force, as Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal can attest to.