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Oct. 4, 2006

Breaking Federer and Nadal

by Nitin Sukumar, Online News Editor and Copy Editor
With Andre Agassi's final, tearful bow to the crowds at the 2006 U.S. Open, his retirement has raised questions about the future of USA tennis. The days of tennis greats Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang are gone. The women's side has been long dead, dominated by a score of Russian athletes. With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominating the Grand Slams, the US needs its players to step up. With aggressive serves, approaches and backcourt games, Andy Roddick and James Blake may be the only Americans who are future Open contenders. Federer knocked both of them out of the U.S. Open. Here's a quick look on the strengths US players need to use, and the weaknesses they need to suppress.

Andy Roddick

When he entered the pros as a top junior, the Kansas-native was hailed as a future American tennis hero. Even though he won the 2003 US Open, Roddick has struggled through coach changes, temper issues and just bad play. But the fiery server, only 24, looked sharp at the Open. Through in the six rounds leading up to his four set loss at the hands of Federer, Roddick played well, dispatching Lleyton Hewitt and Mikhail Youzhny. Although he ultimately lost to Federer in the finals, he showed flashes of determination and brilliance after losing the first set. Maybe having legend Jimmy Connors as his coach has started to fix his erratic game. Connors will definitely need to help Roddick work on his net game. In the final match, Roddick gave up a ridiculous 47 percent of his points at net. For a USA pro, that's unacceptable and needs to be fixed immediately. Roddick giving up points at the net wasn't the big deal; the fact that he repeatedly approached despite the mistakes is one that Connors cannot be happy with. Federer's unbelievable placement of the ball may have forced Roddick to come to net. And you would think Roddick's serve and forehand combination would keep anyone, including Federer, from breaking his serve. But Federer outclassed Roddick even in his serve. Roddick may be a top three player behind the likes of Nadal and Federer but he is certainly not better. But the young gun is only 24, so barring any major injuries, he still has at least six solid years to improve.

James Blake

Blake's story has been amazing. After nearly dropping out of the world rankings because of injuries and family deaths, the 26 year old has come back to the court with newfound determination to be the number one American. Blake's game practically imitates Roddick's. He made many of the same mistakes Roddick made against Federer. Even his loyal New York fan base, the "J-Block", seemed to accept defeat after the second set. Blake's strength lies in his powerful baseline game; his ability to return deep shots with sheer power is his main weapon. Although his serve can be like a bullet, it is too inconsistent to rely on. Blake managed to nail only 59 percent of his first serves against Federer at the Open. And when that many points fall to the second serve, the results are horrible. He won less than half the points played with his second serve. Throughout the year, Blake has struggled in his return game. He barely uses his forehand to send the ball back down the line, giving his opponents too much time, too often to take the point into control. Even though Blake is one of the most physically fit players on the tour, he can't handle chasing down the ball back and forth for long. He needs to take control of the point when he returns serves, using his ability to place the ball well to force his opponent to move.

It may be a little harsh to talk about Blake and Roddick's failures against Federer. But the best way to improve is by improving against the best. Anyway, applaud the two of them. Here come the scrubs.


Ginepri, Fish & Co.

Why put Robbie Ginepri, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent and Vince Spadea together? Injuries, careless, repeated mistakes and distractions have plagued the four since the start of their careers. Ginepri led the group this year with a rank of 21, but his flashy game didn't help him at the U.S. Open, losing a five-setter to Tommy Haas. And guess who Spadea lost to? Federer dispatched him in three easy sets. Fish similarly lost an easy match. Dent didn't even play because of injuries. The main problem for the four is the fact that their compatriots Blake and Roddick are the same age, and yet they are at a much higher level. Unless drastic changes are made in their commitment, fitness and mental games (count the number of racquet smashes from the four), the group is going nowhere. Maybe if Spadea stopped trying to rap in his free time he might actually win a few points.






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  • hmm (View Email) on October 4, 2006 at 8:38 PM
    while it's true that the ATP singles race is basically gone to Federer and Nadal (at least for now), you can't forget about the Bryans brothers, who are #1 in doubles and have a pretty big lead over their strongest competition!
  • Doubles Partner on October 4, 2006 at 8:44 PM
    OMG, when I saw this article, I knew it was definitely by nitin! Very very good!
  • tennis x333 on October 4, 2006 at 9:07 PM
    Finally an article about something other than football.

    Tennis is not about countries, it's about globalization. Yes the women's top 20 is dominated by Eastern Europeans, if you look closely many of the most promising young players have trained in America. Maria Sharapova, Nicole Vaidisova, Tatiana Golovin... all have attended the Florida tennis factory. As did Anna Kournikova, who for the record was a top 10 singles player. So if you look at it that way, the U.S. is actually producing quite a few quality tennis players.

    I mean, Dmitry Tursunov, who clinched the Davis Cup semifinal win over the US, lives here. So as far as tennis is concerned, nationality hardly matters.

    As for the actual bulk of your article, not a single American really stands a chance against Federer (Nadal is hardly invincible on any non-clay surface; that Wimbledon final was a total fluke). Roddick focuses too much on power in his serve. Federer almost always has more aces than Roddick, even though he usually serves 10-20 miles slower, because he goes for placement. Federer is also a much better volleyer. He has better movement, a much much better backhand, a more consistent forehand, and just so much more variety. Basically, Federer is better regardless of how you want look at it.

    James Blake is a good player, but he's not exactly a contender for grand slams. He's fast and has a good forehand, but his second serve is always going to be a liability. He's a top-10 player, but there's always going to a large gap between a top-10 player and a real contender. And the rest of the Americans, most of them don't even advance far enough in tournaments to play Federer.

    If you want to find someone who could potentially challenge Federer and Nadal, look elsewhere. Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray are all talented up and comers. And there's always Marat Safin, who is probably as talented as Federer but just never capitalized on it.
  • well... on October 4, 2006 at 10:36 PM
    it's not that Federer served better than Roddick, it's just that he returned better... thus making it look like he's served better. There're hardly any players who can have more aces than Roddick in a match... Federer was able to return those serves that would have been aces if Roddick played anyone else...
  • sahil on October 4, 2006 at 10:56 PM
    did you see Roddick play in the Davis Cup against Tursunov? That was an amazing game...lasted almost 5 hours. In my opinion, Roddick was able to stay in the game solely because of his extremely fast serve. I remember in the third set, he won every game in which he served and lost every game in which Tursunov served. Tursonov had amazing placement abilitites, often hitting cross court shots right on the single's line and leaving Roddick in his tracks. On a side note, Roddick holds the record for the fastest tennis serve at 153 mph.
  • irene french (View Email) on October 6, 2006 at 12:34 PM
    I watch blake play and cheer him on with all my being...I would like to see him be champion one day. On the other hand, although I am a Canadian, I am a HUGE fan of Raphael Nadal and just love the way he plays the game. I live in TV desert and do my best to catch all tennis games, if I can't, I google it and keep up to date. Nadal has it and Blake can have it...wish he would get on it.
  • =/ on October 6, 2006 at 8:33 PM
    I thought Roddick's fastest serve was 155mph.
  • soyala (View Email) on December 2, 2006 at 10:31 PM
    Roddick aggressive tactics are working. He's looking better than ever. I hope he can beat Federer and win Wimbledon in 2007. Connors as coach is genius.
  • Ram prasad Panday,Nepal (View Email) on August 12, 2007 at 6:50 AM
    Federer aces are the world best.Nadal is a strong loser,6-0 defeat in the third and deciding set at Hamburg open is the evidence.You might be the supporter of Nadal and therefore may be your's best,but me along with the entire world can't support it.Federer in all sense is stronger than Nadal and is even getting more stronger.In 2008 federer will named all the four major Grandslam titles slamming Nadal.People saying nadal the best,are ignoranr about tennis.Good luck Fedex!
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