Monthly Archives: March 2008

Why did Jimmy and Andy Split Up? Does Mirza Need Surgery?

Finally some concrete info on the Roddick-Connors split, and our suggestions for Sania Mirza’s wrist problem.

Dish on the Roddick-Connors Split

It turns out that one of the journalist hanging at the Media Center here at Indian Wells has some dish on the Andy RoddickJimmy Connors breakup. His name is Doug Robson and he’s the lead tennis writer for USA Today.

As you can see here on his aptly named blog, Doug’s Sports Dish, Andy wanted to swing by New York on his way to next week’s tournament in Miami and spend some time with his girlfriend, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker. Not sure about that name, for some reason it reminds me of baseball cards or the upper deck of Yankee Stadium.

Anyway, Andy wanted Jimmy to fly to New York and get in a few training sessions but Jimmy didn’t want to travel, he wanted to stay home in Santa Barbara. This led to a showdown and, finally, a long conversation in which they decided to end their working relationship. Thanks to Doug for that, a little bit of info goes a long way to understanding a situation.

Sania and the Quick Fix

Sania Mirza has to decide whether to change her extreme western grip or have surgery because she has recurring soreness in her wrist. This is what she said after playing with wrist pain in a loss to Daniela Hantuchova earlier this week:

It’s a big step to even change it half an inch because my game is my forehand. You know, it’s not easy to change a grip at the stage where you’re, like, 30 in the world. I would obviously like to look at other options before that.

It sounds like she’d prefer surgery to changing her grip. This is a common attitude and it’s one of the reasons you see so many people with elbow straps and knee straps on tennis courts – it’s easier to get a medical procedure than change a grip. Here are the typical options for an injury:

1. Take aspirin or some other anti-inflammatory. I play tennis with a woman who takes aspirin before she goes out to play.
2. Get a chiropractic adjustment, acupuncture, or some other kind of bodywork to relieve the symptom.
3. Surgery.

Here’s the problem: if you take an anti-inflammatory or get a chiropractic adjustment then go out on the court and swing the racket exactly the same way, the soreness and inflammation will return. How could it not, nothing has changed. Surgery will bring you relief if the injury was a one-time accident – say you stepped wrong and twisted your knee – but it’ll only relieve the problem temporarily if you have a chronic problem resulting from your swing or some other repetitive movement.

Mirza is choosing temporary relief and it could work if the relief lasts as long as her tennis career, but it’s possible she’ll need surgery again. Tommy Haas had his third shoulder surgery last November, for instance. Mirza is between a rock and hard place because her forehand is the shot that sets her apart. If she changes her grip her forehand may be less effective, but there might be an alternative.

I am not a medical expert of any kind but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night…uh, uh, I meant to say that recently I moved into a house with stairs after living in a one story house for a few years and my knee started bothering me. I went to an Alexander Technique instructor who showed me that I was turning my foot inward when I walked downstairs. Now I’ve successfully changed my movement habit and my knee doesn’t hurt.

I don’t know if Mirza could benefit from this kind of work because she’s been using that grip for 16 years and it would be hard for her to take a long break from the tour, but I see it all the time: athletes at all levels choose cortisone shots and surgery without addressing the basic problem. This is, in no small part, due to our medical system. Insurance pays for quick fixes but it doesn’t pay for long term work that will relieve the problem permanently.

Insurance will pay for physical therapy but physical therapists are not swing coaches and swing coaches are not necessarily the answer either.

After swinging the racket the same way for so long, Mirza might have deeper structural problems than just her grip. Maybe she compresses her body on one side or lifts her shoulder and constricts nerves in the area, I don’t know, but I dearly wish our health system embraced bodywork that teaches us to change our movement habits rather than offering up quick, and temporary, fixes. Most athletes would be much better off.

Nadal Wins Rematch With Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga lost his rematch with Rafael Nadal but I’m still a fan.

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Frustrating day. I settled in here at Indian Wells to see if Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could summon up anything close to the perfect match he played against Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. Twice I was ready to wrap up my piece with the news that Tsonga can beat Nadal without the playing a perfect match and twice I was foiled.

Three hours later, Nadal was the guy moving on to the quarterfinals and Tsonga was going home. After exchanging breaks to start off the match, Tsonga won the first set in a tiebreaker after failing to cash in two set points one game earlier. Same thing in the second set: the players exchanged breaks and went to a tiebreaker again.

Tiebreakers should favor Tsonga with that big serve of his and here was the first time I was ready to finish my story. Tsonga only managed to get one first serve in out of five tries, however, and we were going to a third set.

The second time came after Tsonga broke Nadal in the third set to go up 4-2. He was playing pretty well from the baseline – at one point he hit an inside out forehand followed by a drop shot to the opposite corner and then won the point with a lob, but he couldn’t get to the net anywhere near as much as he did at the Australian Open because this is a slower and stickier court. As Nadal put it:

The ball is getting a lot of topspin, so much more than Australia, so that helps me a little bit.

That may have helped him but that wasn’t the difference today. The difference was tennis years: Tsonga is almost two years older than Rafa in biological years but far younger in tennis years. This is how Rafa put it in his endearing way of speaking:

The true is, well, I have more years on the top position, like I have three years I win a lot of matches like today.

I’ve been trying to interview Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram all week to find out why they didn’t play Dubai after announcing that they would. I ran down to the cafeteria to find them because they’d just finished their match so I missed part of the third set. It was a waste of time on my part. Erlich and Ram won’t speak to me without an ATP person present and when asked in a post match media session, they refused to talk about Dubai.

I did see Tsonga fail to serve out the third set and that was all Rafa needed. His first serve percentage in the third set was 81% while Tsonga had exactly zero aces during the set. This is what Tsonga said about that third set and it shows some immaturity:

Yes, my serve was not very good in the third set, and I tried to hit the ball more and more and maybe it was the wrong way.

Ya think? Donald Young is only 18 years old but he took something off his serve in his third round match with Nadal rather than smashing the ball and continuing to miss first serves. Young didn’t win the match but that was the correct adjustment.

Young has also played in five Master Series events while this is only Tsonga’s second and that Australian Open final is his only final to date. I expect Tsonga will figure it out and I think he would have won this match had it been played at Wimbledon. He feels bad because he wanted to prove that his run in Australia wasn’t just a matter of luck, but he proved it to me.

I think he’s got some Pete Sampras in him. He can hit aces when he needs them, he’s got a killer inside out forehand and a great touch volley, he’s even got Pete’s jump overhead. Best of all, he’s shown that he can rise to the occasion in big events.

I’m still a fan.

I told you I’d report on the Maria SharapovaDaniela Hantuchova match but the desert heat got to me so I napped through part of it, but I will tell you this: Sharapova looks like her unbeatable self. Hantuchova got to the first set tiebreaker but the second set was soon over by the score of 6-1. Hantuchova was a big hurdle for Sharapova because she’s the defending champion and she’s won this tournament twice, but it was no contest after the tiebreak. I don’t see anyone here who can beat Sharapova.

Except for a Quick Hit I’m taking tomorrow off and Pat Davis will be reporting in. See you Friday.

The Nalbandian Personality Type

David Nalbandian hung around long enough to win one of the weirder matches of the year at Indian Wells.

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What kind of personality could go down 5-2 in the first set then win it in a tiebreaker, lose the second set 6-0, go down a break in the third set, and yet still win the match? Let’s call it the Nalbandian Personality Type.

I was sitting in the Media Center minding my own business here at Indian Wells when I saw that David Nalbandian was down 4-1 in the first set to Radek Stepanek. I considered going over to Stadium 3 to see what was going on but why bother, Nalbandian often loses the first set and, besides, he soon came back and won it in a tiebreaker. Then he lost the second set 6-0 and I got my butt over there rather quickly.

Understandably, Nalbandian was a bit disturbed. Early in the set, Stepanek put a lob over his head that landed on the baseline and Nalbandian did not agree with the call. Stadium 3 doesn’t have Hawkeye so Nalbandian wandered over to the stands and discussed it with a few people there instead.

I can see why Stepanek took that second set; he was still making beautiful shots when I got there. He made an excellent passing shot from deep in the corner and he got a break point at 2-2. Nalbandian calmly bounced the ball on the edge of his racket to show how unaffected he was by the whole thing, served up the ball and got himself to the net. He had Stepanek on the run and got an open court – all he had to do was hit a crosscourt volley – but he couldn’t, he hit the ball long. Stepanek had his break.

That point is Nalbandian’s game in a nutshell. He has the calm of person who treats each moment the same and he has exceptional tennis skills. He puts himself in position to win but you’re never sure that’s the reason he’s out there. That’s been the arc of his career too. He hung around for years getting to semifinals and finals yet he only had five tour titles coming into the fall of 2007. Then, after suffering through injury and malaise for most of the year, he won two Masters Series events in a row after never having won a Masters Series event and he beat Roger Federer in both tournaments to do it.

Stepanek must be an opposite personality type to Nalbandian. He’s cagy and he’ll do anything to win including unnerving his opponent if he can find a way to do it. When the players were changing sides in the third set tiebreaker, Stepanek jumped over the net and walked directly to the baseline instead of wandering over to his chair to get a drink. It was his not so subtle way of saying that he was in better shape than Nalbandian.

Nalbandian got to that tiebreaker with one of those exceptional tennis skills – he hit two good returns to get back on serve and went up a mini-break in the tiebreaker with another good return. It’s an impossible question to ask: How much of a tennis victory is won by your mind and how much by your tennis skills?

You can’t answer it absolutely but you can compare players and comparing these two I’d say that Nalbandian leans more on his game and Stepanek more on his mind. What I mean is that Nalbandian puts himself into position to use his tennis skills by staying calm – which is arguably a mind skill – and Stepanek depends a bit more on strategy and mind games.

Stepanek had six aces in that 6-0 second set and he hit three service winners and a second serve ace in the tiebreaker which took him all the way to 6-6. Nalbandian then hit a service winner of his own and a passing shot and the weird match with the double momentum swing was over. Nalbandian had done it again.

Courtesy Car

Apropros of nothing, as I left to go to dinner, I saw a guy walk out with a backwards tipped cap carrying two tennis bags. He was by himself and he walked up to a tournament courtesy car, threw his bags into the trunk of the Mercedes S.U.V. and drove away. At first I thought it was Federer and, in fact, it was. No entourage, no driver, just the keys to the car. I guess that’s the sign of superstardom. You don’t get a shuttle back to your hotel, you get your own car.

Which Has More Reach: The One Hander or the Two Hander?

If you think a one-handed backhand has more reach than a two-hander, you might be surprised.

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When I walked into the Media Center here at Indian Wells yesterday morning, I ran into Andy Fitzell. I first met him at the now defunct San Diego WTA event last August and he confused me when he casually mentioned that the two-handed backhand has more reach than the one-hander. I hadn’t seen him since and I certainly never figured out how that could possibly be true.

Andy should know what he’s talking about. He’s a tennis coach, researcher, and one of the owners of The Vic Braden Tennis College. He sets up his motion capture equipment at courtside to record tour players then uses the video to analyze their strokes. To see why Ana Ivanovic is the top seed at Indian Wells, look at Andy’s analysis of her hammer of a forehand.

Ana’s skeletal body looks like any other motion capture figure. It looks like she put on a bulky bodysuit with various sensors attached to it and a computer downloaded the sensor data and created the skeletal 3d figure you see. To see how motion capture works, look at this footage of soccer star Ronaldinho doing some dancing, juggling, and a few things that, believe it or not, he doesn’t do so well.

And Ivanovic did not agree to put on one of those bulky body suits, however, and neither did Roger Federer or David Nalbandian or any other top tennis pro. Andy sat down and inserted the sensor points frame by frame and that’s a huge amount of work.

All the more reason we should pay attention to him. Luckily the two-hander/one-hander issue doesn’t require anything nearly as complex. All we need is two tennis rackets. Put a racket in each hand and position one of them where you’d make contact with the ball for a one-handed backhand, and the other where you’d make contact with the ball for a two-handed backhand. Andy is demonstrating this in the photo above.

The two-hander meets the ball later and the racket is farther away from the body – it has further reach. If you’re lunging for a ball, you need a one-hander because you end up twisting your body to reach with the racket, but that’s why we have the one-handed slice. The one-handed volley is better at the net than that ugly two-hander because you often have to lunge, but on most shots, the two-hander has a lot of benefits.

We’ve been wringing our hands and squawking non-stop on this site about the death of the late and lamented one-hander. All is not lost because young players like Richard Gasquet have beautiful one-handers, but the two-hander is a solid shot that makes sense so I hereby declare that I will never whine about it again. Two-handed volleys, though, that’s another matter. There’s no way around it: they are just plain ugly.

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