Wow, every time I turn around, tennis players are getting taller and taller and the power game continues to dominate the sport. Heck, it seems like just about every player can rip a cannonball serve well north of 120 miles per hour and there is no end in sight. Is it possible that this new power game lacks originality? Is it just too much of the same darn thing?
The simple answer is no! In last week’s Indian Wells Master Series event, Novak Djokovic’s lob foiled Roger Federer’s bid to dominate at the net and win the finals match. Furthermore, both players’ offered finely crafted slice backhands during many exchanges.
In order to add more variety and unpredictable shot selection, Djokovic moved away from his two-handed backhand and implemented his one-handed slice. Federer was already blessed with a smooth one-handed slice but he has incorporated new strategies to keep his opponents off guard.
For instance, he often hits his slice backhand near the service line to force his opponent up and perhaps vulnerable if they don’t hit an ultra-aggressive shot. Additionally, Federer uses the slice as a defensive tool to survive his foe’s best offensive shots. Moreover, Federer is comfortable using the backhand slice approach shot as he moves in quickly to dominate at the net. And this tactic can work as a big surprise to the server and cause errors.
When Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Federer play one another, each player has integrated their own version of a wicked drop shot.
On the ATP Tour, each stadium court is gigantic; Nadal is often ten, possibly fifteen feet beyond the baseline as he scurries around the court. Even though Rafa is one of the fastest moving athletes in the world, smart opponents have to utilize the ‘dropper’ to get him out of his comfort zone.
The great Roger Federer resisted changing his game and adding the drop shot but finally, he relented a few years ago and has had outstanding results. His forehand drive continues to overwhelm foes and when he disguises his intention, players are befuddled and caught on their heels.
As I observe the professional doubles circuit, the lob is essential to winning big matches. Even though we witness more and more groundstroke rallies, most teams prefer to win the net. With so much poaching and switching, the lob is a necessary shotto keep the opponent honest. In other words, if the Bryan brothers know your intention, huge groundstroke drives will be put away at the net. The key is to be imaginative with an array of shots: Drives, lobs, slices and topspin dips.
One of the rising American male tennis stars; Steve Johnson Jr. of USC fame (won 2 NCAA singles titles in a row without losing a match) is climbing fast on the ATP Tour due to his vastly improved slice backhand. Ironically, the scouting report concerning young Mr. Johnson was to pick on his backhand and he will commit too many errors.
Fast forward to the new 2015 season, the energetic, hard-working Johnson has embraced this slice backhand and it has catapulted his overall success because he now can stay in a point longer and have the opportunity to change the course of the rally. When Steve was struggling, he had a tendency to over-hit his two handed backhand and thus, lose the point too quickly. With his more consistent backhand, Johnson has improved footwork and shot selection and there may be no limit to his improvement.
As we move closer to the clay court circuit, tennis fans will be treated to countless drop shots, slices and perfectly placed lobs on the slower red clay in Europe. Unless our American tennis stars embrace the delicate slow red courts and learn to accept a different style of play, we will not see anyone participating in week two.
Which American male tennis player has the best opportunity at the French Open? Contrary to many naysayers, John Isner has played some of his best tennis on the slow red clay; a few years ago, he played five amazing sets against champ Rafa Nadal. Strangely enough, the slow courts benefit John’s game because he has more time at the baseline to recover. As he hangs in a few more shots on the slow courts, he has another opportunity to set up his lethal forehand drive.
Too much power in tennis…no way; French Open 2015 will surely knock your socks off! I can’t wait, can you?
Since 2000, Doug Browne was the Collier County Pro of the Year three times, and has been a USPTA pro in the area for 28 years. Doug was also honored in the International Hall of Fame (Newport, Rhode Island) as Tennis Director during the 2010 summer season. Doug has been writing about tennis for the last 19 years.