Tag Archives: Roger Federer

Wimbledon in Pictures – 2

We have reached the semi-finals of the 2014 edition of Wimbledon. Here are some more pictures from the beautiful grounds with little tidbits of info, stories, or in some cases, ‘tales’ attached to them… Enjoy!

1 Court First, to rehash how quick the courts get worn out… Here is the baseline on Court 16 toward the end of the first week.

2 CourtAnd, here is that same baseline 5 days later! Got it?

Court 3One of my favorite courts at Wimbledon, Court #3, also one of the “show courts,” meaning in this case, ticketed separately.

Court18Immediately after the “show courts” in the pecking order – meaning Centre Court, Court 1, 2, and 3 – there is Court 18 where John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut in 11+ hours in that historical match in 2010.

5 Court17One of the outside courts, Court 17. They are used mostly in the first three rounds. The picture above is from the Tereza Smitkova vs. Bojana Jovanovski third-round women’s match.

Baghdatis - Mayer WaitingQuestion: What are Leonardo Mayer and Marcos Baghdatis doing on this picture? (Answer, next pic)

Sick FanWaiting for one of the spectators to get carried out on a stretcher after she fainted from heat exhaustion. To everyone’s relief, she left the court smiling on the stretcher accompanied by cheers and applauds. Everyone wished her the best.

7 Davenport With FansLindsay Davenport, always smiling, always accommodating fans..

8But then again, some fans prefer pictures with the look-alike of Andy Murray…

fan reading newspaperAnd some fans prefer to read the newspaper instead of the live Wimbledon match in front of them! Seriously Mister? Really Sir?

FedererRoger Federer warming up on Court 4, in the morning hours before the crowd gets to the grounds. He warmed up with his coach and Stefan Edberg.

BallboyBallboys & Ballgirls take their task very seriously. this is how the ball boy stood throughout one match unless he was picking up balls and giving them to the players in a military fashion. You don’t believe me? Watch this clip to see how clinical this ballgirl’s movements are: Soldier-like ballgirl (15 mb)

KudlaThe answer is “Yes!” The question: “Did Denis Kudla get to this ball?” It’s called scrambling for balls, and Kudla’s effort payed off. He eventually won the point and got rewarded for making his opponent hit one extra ball.

13 Mauresmo 1aCaption — Amelie Mauresmo to an unidentified friend: “What did I get myself into with this Andy Murray character?”

Tennis Balls BreastsYes! Tennis can be a fashion statement indeed!

RaonicIf you thought Roger Federer’s hair stays immaculate through hs matches… He’s got nothing on Milos Raonic! This guy’s hair never moves! This is a shot taken late in the third set of one of his matches!!

CentreCourtLet’s end it with the most beautiful sight in tennis: Centre Court at Wimbledon!

Until next time!

Of the Importance of 2nd Serves…

Back in my college coaching days, my ex-roommate and life-long friend named Michael Kreider originally from Buffalo, NY, and a current tennis pro in Atlanta, said to me one time “you are only as good as your second serve.” At the time, I would make my team practice second serves as part of our daily serving routine. However, after Michael’s reminder, I began designing drills specifically geared towards making my players feel under pressure, and force them to serve second serves under those circumstances. Eventually, I got on the same page with Michael and began believing that second serves were just as important as any other single shot in tennis, if not more. You may have even read one of my pieces where I praise Raonic, Federer, and Isner for being, in my opinion, the best second-serve hitters in the game.

Let’s take a quick look at the Wimbledon Men’s Draw from the perspective of second serves.

2nd serve

There is a stat called “2nd serve points won” and you can find it on Wimbledon’s website. Three of the quarter-finalists are in the top 8 of that list (see picture above). At number 1, there is Tatsuma Ito whose percentage is based on one match only since he lost in the first round, thus not very indicative of the overall second-serve effectiveness. At number 2, 3, and 4, we have Roger Federer (68%), Feliciano Lopez who lost today (66%), and Milos Raonic (65%). At number 7, there is the guy who took Lopez out, Stan Wawrinka (62%). I will also add as a side note that, on the women’s list in the same category, after Kristina Pliskova, who also played only one round, you can find Petra Kvitova at #2 with 64%, and Simona Halep at #3 with 63%.

But wait! It does not end there.

It is generally accepted that the serve is an essential factor in playing successful tiebreaks. Until today, Lopez was 6 out of 7 in tiebreakers in his first three rounds. Today he lost two tiebreakers to Wawrinka who is third on the list among the players still alive in the tournament. Additionally, Federer is the leader of the career tiebreak winning percentage category on the ATP Tour.

No, it still does not end there.

Here is an incredible stat from today: against Tommy Robredo, Federer lost only one – yes, ONE – point on his second-serve points in the first two sets combined! Furthermore, since second serve is the shot that determines if you double fault or not, I should add that Federer had 0 – yes, zero! – double faults today, despite hitting them well enough to serve-and-volley on several of them. In fact, today’s four quarterfinal winners had a total of only 8 double faults between them. Half of those came from Nick Kyrgios who more than made up for that with his 37 aces against Rafael Nadal.

Is it becoming clear how important second serves are yet? If not, here is one last tidbit…

Out of all 8 men left in the singles draw, Dimitrov and Kyrgios have the highest number of double faults per match. They both average just below four double faults a match. They also average 10 aces (Dimitrov) and 26 aces (Kyrgios) per match. Next, there is Marin Cilic at less than 3 double faults per match and he is averaging 24,5 aces per match. The other five quarterfinalists are averaging less than two double faults per match.

Three of them are still in the tournament in the men’s draw. Watch Raonic, Wawrinka, and Federer, on their second serves, and you will see the variation on the spin, slice, speed, and placement. That is why these three players love the pattern of putting the next shot away with their big forehands (or even volleys in Federer’s case who serves-and-volleys on second serve occasionally), because they get a number of returns back from their second serves that are placed exactly where they want them for the winning shot.

Does all this mean that a tour player cannot win without a terrific second serve? No, but it does mean that if a player wants to succeed at the highest level, second serves will have to be incorporated into his/her practice routine, just like any other shot in tennis. Not just “serves,” but specifically “second serves”.

Roger Federer, a Master of Public Relations

Roger Federer may have missed his best chance to add the Monte Carlo Masters 1000 title to his resume by losing in the finals to his compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, but there is little doubt that he is the ultimate winner in terms of managing his public profile more profitably than any other athlete in tennis – perhaps in sports. The number of records held by the 17-time Slam winner probably overlaps that of any other player in the history of the game. Nevertheless, his career earnings in prize money from his athletic performances pale in comparison to his yearly income from endorsements from companies such as Nike, Rolex, Credit Suisse, Moet & Chandon and Wilson. In fact, the amount that he earns from endorsements in just two years – around $95 million – surpasses the amount that he has earned throughout his career in prize money – over $80 million and counting.

If one needed an example of how Federer & his PR team successfully negotiate his impeccable image, they need not look any further back then the series of announcements and press conferences since Federer’s public acknowledgement back in December of 2013 that he and his wife were expecting their third child. The brief and celebratory announcement that hit the waves via twitter included one sentence: “Mirka and I are very happy to share the news that Myla & Charlene will be big sisters in 2014! Happy Holidays.” No other information was provided and there is good reason for that.

Since then, Federer, who notoriously – and rightfully – draws a clear line between his public and private life, rarely mentioned anything about his wife’s pregnancy during any press conference, outside of a few words here and there indicating how happy they are. He made statements that were designed to uphold the image of a tightly-knit family, and that image is not hard to maintain because it comes naturally. Federer has always affirmed how much his family means to him, and he has frequently praised Mirka’s role in his success. There is no doubt that the happiness that Roger and Mirka and their children display has very little to do with image. They are a very close family.

Peculiarly, or so it seemed at first, none of the announcements included a due date. In this day of improved medical technology, due dates can often be estimated to the exact date, if not within a week of delivery date. However, on each occasion that a journalist initiated the ‘when-abouts’ of the due date during the press conferences, Federer’s reply has been a consistent “I don’t know.” Some saw it as pandering to the media, while others simply felt that he could opt for honesty and choose to say that he refuses to answer the question. I believe anyone who has had any experience with the media can agree that the latter option goes nowhere with media members. The pandering option is not Federer’s style either. He is no Vitas Gerulaitis who gave details of his night life or Boris Becker who has a reputation for wanting to be in front of any camera including the one that you set up in your garage. In fact, when journalists insisted in the Indian Wells tournament, he simply said that even if he knew the date he would not tell them. It’s his way of saying “move on to the next question.”

Shortly before the Monte Carlo Masters, the tournament organizers announced that Federer will indeed be a part of the field, accepting a Wild Card. In the social media, some speculated that it may have to do with his intention of solidifying his ranking in the top 4 (he is currently ranked #4). There were others that he wanted to try one more time to see if he could capture one of the rare titles that have eluded him. On the Tennis Channel they speculated that he wants to gain more points in case he has to miss a big tournament due to the delivery of their child. However, if I am connecting the dots correctly, I see an even more nuanced picture, one in which the Federer camp is carefully treading the line between providing too much information to the media and making sure that he can make the most of the clay court season during a period where the delivery date falls on a delicate time.

After his second round win over Radek Stepanek, Federer had to deal once again with more questions on the expected delivery date. Once again, he handled them masterfully. He revealed that he would put the birth of their third child ahead of any tournament saying all the right things about how supporting his wife was a “priority” to him. When pushed a bit further and asked if he was willing to miss the French Open specifically, he once again crafted his message to imply that the questions should stop there as politely as possible: ”Yeah, let’s talk about it when it would happen. At the moment we hope it’s not going to be that way.” Then, he added ”If it is, that’s what it is, you know.” He essentially came across as a great family man, a dedicated competitor, while not committing to any obligations before due time.

Seeing how delicately Federer is handling the flow of information, I do not believe it is a stretch to assume that the delivery date falls around the French Open: perhaps around the beginning, or late in the second week. If Federer were to announce the date, it would put him in the position of either withdrawing prior to the French Open, or forfeiting a match late in the tournament, making him appear somewhat inconsiderate since everyone would know that he went into the tournament with the knowledge that he would not play it out. If my speculation (and it is not much more than that at this point) turns out to be the case, it would make sense for Federer to avoid revealing the date in order to keep his options open.

For example, if the due date coincides with the final weekend at Roland Garros and Federer has made it that far, it would certainly render his decision to play the final (again, if he makes it that far) more acceptable in the eyes of the public. In another case, if the due date falls within the first couple of days of the tournament, I believe the tournament director would gladly honor his request to schedule his match on the last day of the first round matches, or even in an unusual move, schedule it on the first day of second rounds (provided ATP regulations has no mandate against that). Neither the participants nor the tennis world would perceive that as preferential treatment in the case of a man who puts his child’s birth ahead of his work. French open tournament director Gilbert Ysern would happily make that adjustment rather than lose a prime name in the draw. However, none of those options would remain if he were to make an early announcement about the date, basically forcing him to withdraw earlier, even if in hindsight, the actual delivery date would have shown that decision to be a hasty one. Of course, these are mere speculations and Federer may announce the date sooner than later. The string of announcements do however show an intention by the Federer camp to wait as long as possible prior to making a final decision in order to keep the options open.

In any case, this article does not intend to judge Federer’s business decisions or his decision-making process in family matters. It simply shows how well he and his camp are handling the situation despite him being the highest-profiled tennis player, and one of the most prominent sportsmen and/or celebrities in the world (a google search will reveal several Forbes’ rankings indicating just that). Whatever the outcome of his child’s birth, he will come out of this squeaky clean, with his image untarnished, as well as with earning the maximum amount of points to keep his ranking up, thus remain a contender on the tour. The case of the timing of the birth of the Swiss star’s third child and how efficiently Federer’s PR strategy relates to it should be a case study for all other sports celebrities in order to analyze how they could improve theirs.

2013-08-15aFedererFederer signing autographs for his fans in Cincinnati (2013)

2014 Early Season Notes…

2014 season has begun with several unexpected events that set the stage for a terrific year in tennis. The Australian Open, although by now it seems to be a distant memory, provided a number of spectacular matches and ended with a surprise women’s final in which Li Na captured her second Slam and her first Australian Open titles, defeating Dominika Cibulková in the finals. She also went through the draw without facing a single top 10 opponent. On the men’s side, Stanislas Wawrinka did a couple of things that he has never done in the previous 12 meetings against Nadal: win a set, and then win the match. He also defeated the world number one Novak Djokovic en route to the title. His win was overshadowed by Nadal’s injury in the second set which caused the Spaniard to play the rest of the match at less than one-hundred percent; however it should take nothing away from the Swiss’ well-deserved title, especially considering that he was dominating the match when Nadal injured his back in the second set.

On the one hand, Djokovic’s early form produced a couple of disappointing losses and no titles, putting question marks next to the Nole-Boris collaboration that began two months ago. I find it premature to question the partnership based on two losses to two in-form players, Wawrinka and Roger Federer. While Nole has not necessarily looked to be in top form à-la-2011, he has certainly not played poorly either. The Indian Wells and Miami tournaments should shed more light on the direction of the partnership. On the other hand, Federer seems to have found his good form. He played better in the Australian Open, even in his semi-final loss against Nadal, than he has played throughout 2013, and performed impeccably in the Dubai tournament, especially in the third sets against Nole in the semi-finals and against Thomas Berdych in the finals, before capturing his 78th career tournament victory.

Like Djokovic, Serena Williams has suffered couple of unexpected losses, first to Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open, then to Alize Cornet in the semifinals of the Dubai tournament. Unfortunately, her after-match comments following her loss to Cornet once again showed the stunningly wide gap between the amounts of class that exist amongst the elite of men’s tennis and that of women’s. John Isner pointed out after his victory against Juan Martin Del Potro in Cincinnati several months ago that the top guys in men’s tennis were all class acts, and it shows in their comments about each other in the post-match conferences as well as how they handle the fans and the media. What do the elite women have to show in comparison? Bunch of players who never talk to each other, who do not acknowledge some of the lower-ranked players in the locker room, and who, like Serena did following her loss to a lesser-ranked opponent, cannot find the magnanimity to simply say “my opponent was better than me today, all the credit goes to her.” instead, Serena sarcastically chuckled and laughed through the questions saying how embarrassed she was to have lost (to Cornet) and that she has not played that poorly since three or four years ago. There is no need to wonder why women’s tennis is losing audience while men’s tennis is flourishing: if I were the WTA, I would desperately search for ways to make the top faces of the tour more identifiable to fans. There is more to being a ‘complete’ player on the tour than shrieking on the court as loud as possible and grimacing as if it was a miracle when an opponent hits a good shot.

Davis Cup also produced the unexpected so far, with Spain, minus Nadal and David Ferrer, losing to Germany, and Serbia, minus Nole, losing to Switzerland that featured both Wawrinka and Federer. With teams like Kazakhstan, Japan, and Great Britain in the quarterfinals, the last one making it to this stage for the first time since 1986, the weekend of April 4-6 promises to be an exciting weekend. If Andy Murray plays, the tie between Italy and Great Britain in Naples, Italy, looks to be the most compelling tie of the quarterfinals.

I close this article with an “I told you so” anecdote. For years, I have been saying that I found it disingenuous that the players constantly complained about the length of the season and argued that the season should be cut shorter so that they could have time to recuperate from a grueling season of tennis. I did not believe in their candidness at the time because many of them scheduled exhibition matches, and traded trips and days in the hotel to pocket more money instead of resting and staying home like they claimed they desired to do. Now the hypocrisy is official. The International Tennis Premier League (ITPL) is set to begin its first year of competition at the end of this year, and just about every top player in women’s and men’s fields, as well as some legends such as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, have signed up for the event that will occupy half of the period of the so-called 7 weeks of rest following the WTA and ATP year-ending championships.

The competition will take place in Asia, putting players like Nadal, Djokovic and Williams in traveling mode and hotels for over three weeks at a time that they supposedly need their rest. Yes, the matches are supposed to be one set only per match, and yes maybe the intensity may not be what it is in the Slam tournaments, but when there is money to be made, you can bet that the competition will not be taken lightly either. It will certainly require an intensity level that is higher than that of an exhibition match. I am simply curious to see how Nadal, Nole, Murray, Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Caroline Wozniacki will answer the tough questions by the press about the need for “rest.” If Roger Federer were to win the 2015 Australian Open, and Maria Sharapova and Li Na were to play in the women’s finals, I will certainly not want to hear about how well-rested those three were because they chose not to participate in the ITPL. The “worn-out” excuse will not carry much weight at that time.

SAM_1417

No more tired legs excuse in the end of 2014!

Invented Categories: Diluting the Greatest Player of All-Time Debate

Is it Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal, or Roger Federer? Will Novak Djokovic soon be added to the list? In any case, the Greatest of All-Time (GOAT) debate has been alive since the mid-1990s and furiously kicking since the second half of the 2000s. While the debate has mobilized some intriguing research with regards to the history of men’s tennis in the Open era and stirred considerable passion for the sport, the partisanship in the debate has in many ways hurt the objectivity of the public opinion.

The most glaring examples of this “my-guy-must-be-the-greatest” anxiety come in the form of invented or overrated categories that have, in reality, no business in the GOAT debate if reason and objectivity were to prevail. This article will not make a case for any one player; instead, it will attempt to foreground the problems of partisanship’s over-involvement in the debate by pinpointing to a few of those artificially created measuring sticks.

Davis Cup Titles

This is one category that has no place in the GOAT debate, yet through the “if-repeated-enough-people-will-swallow” tactic, it has made its way into the debate as many times as it should have never been a part of it. First of all, no player wins the Davis Cup, officially or unofficially. In the tennis record books, you don’t see that “Borg has won the Davis Cup”; instead, it reads that Sweden has won it. Second, this category is not only inaccurate, but also non-existent. It was born out of the desire of John McEnroe fans back in the early 1980s to lift their player above his main American rival, Jimmy Connors, who regularly snubbed the Davis Cup, and further strengthened in the late 2000s by the wishes of the fans of players other than Federer, with the aim to place their chosen player ahead of Federer in the debate.

There is no doubt that when a player wins both his singles and doubles matches, he plays a major role in his team’s march to the Davis Cup title (for example Borg in 1975, and McEnroe in 1982); but “he” does not win the title!  There are four players and a captain on the team, contributing to the victory, and the country’s name goes on the records as having won the title.  A player wins two matches maximum by himself, which is neither enough to win a single tie nor to win a title.

The fans of this category somehow try to paint a portrait that shows their man winning the tie/title by themselves, which shows disrespect to the team and the country since on the Cup the country’s name is carved and not the player’s name. It also inaccurately assumes that a particular doubles competition — that of the Davis Cup encounter on the middle Saturday — somehow has more value than any other doubles matches or titles. Doubles play no role in the GOAT debate. If it did, one would need to include Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan individually in the debate since they would then have more Slam titles to their names than Sampras or Nadal and more Grand Slams to their names than any other player in the Open era (not to mention their Davis Cup titles — not the USA’s!), and John McEnroe would be looking better than ever with a total of 16 Slam titles and several Davis Cup titles.

But this is not how the GOAT debate operates because doubles’ results are not included in the debate. McEnroe’s doubles titles do not get weighed in when discussing his GOAT status versus Borg or Andre Agassi. Whether doubles should be included or not, that is a debate for another day, but the way the GOAT debate is conducted today, doubles are basically a non-factor, thus so should the doubles match in Davis Cup, effectively erasing any illusion that a single player wins the Davis Cup. But again, one does not have to go that far to see that Davis Cup titles have no place as a measuring category in the GOAT debate. As noted earlier, it is a category that does not exist. A country, not a player, wins the Davis Cup, and so it goes into the records, period.

Slam Titles

This is the most ironic category in the sense that the same group of experts who pushed this category’s rise to the dominant category in the determination of the GOAT probably now regret that they ever did it. While this is certainly not an invented category and should definitely contribute to determining the GOAT, the impression that exists today that this has always been the determinant category could not be more false.

In the 1970s and 1980s, accolades such as the number of Slams won in succession, the amount of time spent at No. 1, and achieving the Grand Slam outclassed the number of Slams won as far as the players and fans were concerned. From mid-1970s to mid-1980s, most top players did not even play the Australian Open, simply because its timing was odd and it was considered too far away. Borg openly said that he would only consider playing the Australian Open if he won the U.S. Open and had a chance to complete the Grand Slam. He never won the U.S. Open, thus he never played the Australian Open, except one time in 1973 as a youngster. As a result, he won 11 Slams in eight years, playing only three Slams per year. McEnroe played the Australian Open for the first time in 1983, and Jimmy Connors never played it after 1975.

The importance of Slam titles got put on a pedestal when Pete Sampras began collecting Slam titles in the 1990s.  The American media galvanized its viewers once they saw that one of their own could come out of the shadows of Borg and Laver that Connors and McEnroe could never quite surpass, and grab the GOAT title by focusing on the number of Slams.  The likes of Bud Collins, Brad Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe and Mary Carillo quickly reduced all statistics-related discourse to the number of Slam titles.

In this tactic, they saw the means to quicken the process of officially naming their man the GOAT.  As soon as Sampras surpassed Borg’s 11 Slam titles, he was essentially declared the GOAT; the 13th and 14th titles were the icing on the cake.  The American media clung on the number of Slam titles as long as it could, in the name of keeping an American as the GOAT.  The reality was that by the time Roger Federer won his 12th and 13th Slam titles, his list of accomplishments was already superior to that of Sampras, including titles on a surface that Sampras never came close to mastering.  But all that mattered was the number 14, and the American media reminded the public at each opportunity, through eye-catching graphics and colorful vocabulary, that Sampras was still the GOAT due to his 14 Slam titles.

The irony is, several years later, what Federer fans considered a farcical tactic to keep their man behind Sampras in the GOAT debate became their biggest asset when their man began collecting loss after loss against his main rival Nadal.  It seems that in the next couple of years, the number of Slams will remain Federer fans’ biggest ally.  Once again, the partisanship in the GOAT debate has accorded a category more importance than it deserves.  The number of Slams was not the most important category for two and a half decades into the Open era.

Even after two decades of a powerful push by the American-led tennis media, the number of Slams should still not be the central factor in determining the GOAT.  Sampras should not have kept the GOAT status when Federer had 12 or 13 Slam Titles, and Federer should not keep the GOAT status simply because Nadal’s titles (possibly) remain below 17.  On a similar note, I would not hesitate to already put Nadal ahead of Sampras, albeit by a small margin, even though the latter has more Slam titles to his name.  Nadal’s ability to win on all surfaces and his career Grand Slam, along with his record as the most Masters Series titles should at least be enough to trump Sampras’ one more Slam title over Nadal.

Head-to-Head

While this category shows who you may pick in a match between two players if your life depended on it, it does not say much about which player should be considered in a higher status than the other in the GOAT debate.  A given player becomes great not by consistently beating one player, but by consistently outperforming the rest of the field against which he is competing.  Once again, this is an invented category that Nadal fans cling on to due to their player’s fantastic head-to-head record against Federer.

Currently, it will matter in roundtable debates since both players are active and their fans can banter on message boards and blogs.  But tennis historiography shows that, twenty years from now, it will matter very little.  Guillermo Vilas, the player that history considers as one of the top 5 clay court players in the Open era had a 5-8 record on clay against Manuel Orantes, with one of the five wins coming in a walk-over, and another on an abandoned match.  Despite this one-sided head-to-head record, history would hardly consider Orantes a better clay-court player than Vilas.  Would anybody consider Vitas Gerulaitis ahead of Ilie Nastase in the ranking of the best players in the Open era?  I hardly doubt it and so would most tennis historians.  Yet, Gerulaitis had a crushing 10-1 record against Nastase, simply because he would endlessly chip-and-charge to Nastase’s backhand force ‘Nasty’ to use his weakest shot to pass him, the one-handed backhand topspin off of a slice that stays extremely low.  The bottom line is that history accords, and rightfully so, very little importance to the head-to-head record between two players.  Tennis rankings are not determined by how well a specific player does against another specific player; they are determined by how a player performs against the rest of the ensemble of ATP players.

I am sure others can find more frivolous, overrated, or invented ‘false’ categories if needed.  The truth is that partisanship consistently hurts the older players on the hand – how many ‘Laver fans’ or ‘Borg fans’ remain today compared to Nadal, Federer, or Djokovic fans? – and hinders analysis based on facts by diluting the debate with unhealthy emotions and inaccurate (and sometimes false!) data on the other.  It is understandable that fans of particular players fall into this trap.  After all, they have the right to be emotional, which is a major component of fandom.  However, it is utterly worrisome that the leading figures in the tennis media fall into this trap and wrongly influence the public opinion.