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.
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.
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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.
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.
‘The Mystery of the Missing Forehand’ – Match Report: Donald Young vs Juan Monaco @ ATP Paris MastersPosted: February 13, 2012
Match Report: Juan Monaco (ARG) def. Donald Young (USA) 6-4 6-2, 2011 ATP Paris BNP Paribas Masters First Round
The Mystery of the Missing Forehand
If this match report seems absurdly belated, pointlessly insignificant and generally irrelevant, TennisNiche rejoices: it is only through such devious methods that it is possible to convey the diabolical quality and minuscule importance of this encounter.
It is a rare and offensive sight to witness a Masters Series match in which a player is struggling simply to keep his forehand in the court. Donald Young’s failings are made all the more repulsive when one considers the following circumstances:
- The player in question is not playing risky forehands, nor even hitting a particularly attacking shot. At no point was Young aiming for the lines on his forehand and by the end of the match it seemed the extent of his ambition was to keep the ball between the service line and the baseline, a challenge more suited to an amateur tennis team’s Sunday morning practice session.
- The opponent is a solid player who generally hits the ball with the same spin, trajectory and pace. Juan Monaco is far from a Fabrice Santoro style trickster, and there is no excuse that Young’s rhythm was disrupted by his opponent’s variety of shots.
- The match was played on a perfectly consistent, even-bouncing court surface – not a dishevelled gravel or concrete public court, complete with sagging net and miniature craters. Even so, Tennis Niche, filled with paternal sympathy for the promising young American whose career has thus far fallen tragically short of unrealistic expectations, wishes it could state that this match was played on a grass or clay court with all the problems of movement and uneven bounce associated with these surfaces. Alas, it was not so.
Now onto the contest itself:
As you may have guessed, the first ATP match between Donald Young and Juan Monaco was far from a high quality affair. While both were coming off solid performances in their previous tournaments, it was only Monaco who showed any real quality. He played a consistent match with few unforced errors, aided by the fact that his opponent was struggling to keep the ball in court with any kind of depth or pace. Monaco took the match 6-4, 6-2, with Young noticeably frustrated and flagging in the second set.
There is not a great deal to comment about the performance of Monaco, who did not need to push himself beyond his normal level. The Argentine hit his groundstrokes consistently with decent depth, came forward well and showed good focus and concentration in closing out the match when his opponent was visibly melting down.
As for Young, he is back on the right track in his career, despite the poor performance. Having entered the top 100 for the first time in November 2007, he continued to flit in and out of the top 100 during 2008. His career seemed to backtrack somewhat in 2009 when he fell out of the top 100 entirely and continued his inconsistent results until mid 2011, when he finally entered the top 50 and began showing some consistency. Put in optimistic terms, this match represents a brief return of the old Donald Young. He performed roughly to expectations at the 2012 Australian Open, reaching the round of 64 before being knocked out by Lukas Lacko. Looking ahead this year, Young must aim first to consolidate his position in the top 50; only then can he think about entering the top 32 and thus gaining a seeding for grand slam draws.
The mention of blistering single handed backhands may elicit a confused reaction from recent tennis converts, who know the single handed backhand as a sort of anachronism, only as a cruel and tragic weakness of Federer’s which is treated with disdain whenever he plays the Nadal’s and the Djokovic’s of this world, who use their muscular two handers to bully Federer on his weaker wing. However, for those who recall tennis before the year 2000, the mention of blistering single handed backhands will bring to mind a time when clay court specialists with regal, looping single handers still roamed the tour.
Well, if you seek thunderous, full blooded single handed backhands, which pop off the racket with the thud of canon fire, this video of Nicholas Almagro vs Stanislas Wawrinka should tickle your belly ( assuming your tennis schooling featured a heavy diet of Gustavo Kuerten, Gaston Gaudio and Agustin Calleri.)
Almagro defeated Wawrinka 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 in this duel of blistering backhands at the Australian Open. This was never a match for chess enthusiasts, resembling more an illicit, seedy showing of banned material for those sick, single handed backhand perverts who have been persecuted almost to extinction by the homogenising forces of the ATP. This HD tennistic-peep show exhibits backhands which were honed on clay courts; long, regal strokes which finish with a flourish and jump off the court with heavy topspin.
To a casual player of tennis, the technique and timing of these backhands on show is jaw dropping, an effect which is only emphasised by watching the current top 100 and seeing a wealth of fairly robotic and uniform two handers. There is almost a romantic element of risk with having a one handed backhand, as while there are many stunning one handers, there are also conversely probably more obvious examples of awful one handed backhands among top players than there are two handed backhands – while Igor Andreev and John Isner might be said to have limited two handers, they are still more useful shots than the awful topspin backhands of Fernando Gonzalez or Feliciano Lopez.
Almagro and Wawrinka’s backhands are perfect fits for the relentless topspin of the modern game – powerful and consistent, they match up well even to the vicious interrogation that is the Rafa Nadal forehand. Considering this, it is curiously frustrating that other such backhands are so absent on the tour.