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Nicolas Kiefer lost his concentration then lost his nerve to lose his first round match in Paris today.
Two weeks ago, Nicolas Kiefer – known as Kiwi to his friends and his website – beat Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round of the Madrid Masters tournament, 7-5, 6-3. Today he lost to Wawrinka in the first round of the Paris Masters tournament, 7-5, 6-3.
If you’d listened to the Tennis Channel commentators for today’s match, you’d say the difference between this match and the one two weeks ago was the court speed. The Madrid surface was faster than the Paris surface and Wawrinka took advantage of the slower court to draw Kiwi into baseline rallies, most of which Kiwi lost. Maybe, but I’ll get to that later.
Wawrinka did draw Kiwi into baseline rallies and that does suit Wawrinka’s game better than Kiwi’s, but Kiwi played an awful point at a critical time and he never managed to recover.
Kiwi was serving at 5-6 in the first set when he hit a double fault that gave Wawrinka a set point. Kiwi followed that up with a lazy backhand into the net and that was that, he’d given away the first set. Serving to stay in a set is always a bit nerve-inducing but in Kiwi’s case, it carried over to the second set.
Kiwi had camped out at the net in the first set and even threw in a few serve and volleys. Wawrinka wasn’t far behind. He voluntarily got himself to the net at every opportunity. For a minute there I thought I’d entered the Twilight Zone and jumped back twenty years to a time when tennis players actually liked going to the net. It didn’t help that Wawrinka’s shirt was exactly the same shade of blue as the court. The shirt had a white stripe down the back of it so Wawrinka looked like a blurry blue skunk running back and forth to the net.
Kiwi, however, stopped going to the net in the second set. Wawrinka was already flying high and now he could see that Kiwi was playing into his hands by staying on the baseline, so he took over the the second set to go up a break and get to 4-1.
Kiwi got one break point with Wawrinka serving for the second set but it was too little too late.
Kiwi’s had a curious career. He spent a good nine months in the top ten in 1999 and 2000 then he dropped down the rankings. He was on the verge of climbing back into the top ten in May 2006 when he was forced to take a year off for a wrist injury. Has any other player dropped out of the top ten then dropped back in again six years later? If you can think of one, leave a comment below.
Kiwi hasn’t made his way back to the top ten yet but he has had three semifinals and two quarterfinals in his last eight tournaments and one of those semifinals was at Madrid. I wouldn’t think he could get back to the top ten with the young talent out there these days but those are solid results.
Back to court speed. How do you measure court speed? I suppose you could bounce a ball on the court and measure it’s momentum after the bounce. That wouldn’t account for changes in the weather and other environmental considerations and besides, who’s going to do that every year?
The faster the court, the easier it is to hold serve because the serve will travel faster. That means there should be more games played per set. By that measure, is Paris faster than Madrid?
If you look at this table on tennisform.com, you’ll see the number of games played per set averaged over the past ten years. Over that period of time, Paris is clearly faster than Madrid.
If you go to tennisinsight.com’s tournaments page and look up the court speed for this year’s tournament in Madrid and this year’s tournament in Paris, Paris is slower than Madrid. However, the measurement for Paris only accounts for the matches played in the first two days of the tournament and there were only two matches on Sunday so those results are incomplete.
Paris could be slowing down but we won’t really know until much later in the week. In any case, it’s unlikely that it is significantly slower than Madrid and we’re left with this conclusion: Kiwi lost a crucial point then lost his bearings. He stopped doing what had been working for him – going to the net – and played right into Wawrinka’s strength – baseline play.
It’s not the same as giving someone a set point with a double fault but it’s not all that different either.
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