Tenniszine - UK tennis blog.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rios v McEnroe

Rios waiting for tossIt was a drizzly and overcast grey day in London on Friday 8th 2006 when, after a lot of press hype about a grudge match and some pre-match sparring between the players, Rios and McEnroe faced off at the Royal Abert Hall in the season ending Blackrock Masters quarter finals. This was the second meeting between the two this year, and had come about with Rios winning his group in the round robin and McEnroe coming second (lucky loser) in his.

The crowd was overwhelmingly in favour of McEnroe, evidenced by the sustained applause he received when walking on court, also on his winning shots, and the numerous shouts of encouragement "come on John". There didn't seem to be a single Rios supporter in the audience, although there was applause for his tennis.

The match started out as a tense affair, with both players trading safe groundstrokes. McEnroe lost his temper quite early when a wide Rios swinging serve to the ad court was called in, whereas McEnroe obviously thought it was out. I was quite surprised over the fuss he made, as I was sitting with a good look down the line and the ball was 'on' the line, and not even close to out.

The first set continued much in the same way with McEnroe losing most of the extended rallies and having only about 50% success on his forays to the net. Either his volleys were short resulting in a successful Rios pass, or Rios won with exquisitely judged lobs. Both players had breaks but it wasn't until Rios came to serve out the first set that he appeared to go up a level in both service and the quality of his shots. It was as if Rios was playing within himself until the time came to close it out.

Unhappy McEnroe

The second set was slightly more competitive (despite the eventual score), although there were two occasions when theatre intevened. Rios was at one stage unhappy about one of the balls which was eventually replaced by the umpire, and McEnroe had a hissy fit over what he considered to be unfair line calling (of course).

Rios won the second set quite comfortably 6-2. His shot making wasn't awesome, just very controlled, often taking the ball quite early for a winner, his movement and speed were quite good. He didn't use his trademark double handed backhand with both feet off the ground but maybe that's because of the low bounce on a fast court that he had complained about. He also didn't make a single cross court forehand passing shot when pulled out wide to the ad-court side (he's a lefty like McEnroe).

Anyway, although Rios may not be the most charismatic person he let his tennis do the talking. It was difficult to tell his chances of winning the Championship, as his play didn't seem outstanding, doing just enough to win. A test against Haarhuis in the semi-finals will reveal more about his form, and on this court Ivanisevic's serve bombs and serve volley game might be too much if they both get to the final.

Update: Haarhuis beat Rios and faces Ivanisevic in the final.

Annual trip to the Royal Albert Hall to see the seniors

On Friday the 8th December I made my annual trip to the Royal Albert Hall in London to watch the quarter finals of the seniors tour. Of course it's more commercial these days so the tour is called the Merrill Lynch Tour of Champions and the season concluding event is the Black Rock Masters.

Also the description of seniors is no longer apt in an age context since the 30 year old Marcelo Rios also plays. There's a lot of noise about this from John McEnroe and maybe others. It's possibly justified since although none of the players play full time, it's certainly the case that the older you are the harder it is to maintain the form at high level over several days of intense competition, and anyway you're at least a step slower or two with each decade.

I saw Rios take out McEnroe, and will blog separately about that match.

In the other quarter final I also saw Pioline defeat Leconte. That was pretty much a friendly affair, with a lot of exhibition stuff, some good natured bantering between the players and the crowd, but when it came to the competitive points it was Pioline who had the goods, or really I suppose it was Leconte who missed a few sitters.

In the doubles I saw Fleming and Gullikson take on Muster and McNamara. I had been looking forward to seeing Muster, a previous favorite of mine (despite his lack of flair), but I would say on the evidence that he is not a doubles player by choice. The maestro out of the four was McNamara, making incredible angled drive winners and remarkable reflex volleys. Even so they lost to Fleming and Gullikson in the tie-break.

All in all, as ever, a most enjoyable day out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Book review: Play better tennis in 2 hours by Oscar Wegner

I was recently given this book as a gift. Its full title is "Play Better Tennis in Two Hours: Simplify the game and PLAY like THE PROS" and the Play like the Pros bit sounds good to me.

Reviews on Amazon range from "too basic" and "aimed at beginners" to "revolutionary". I found it to be rather basic, a bit slim and can be summarized (for me) as follows:

  • 1. Forehand groundstroke: use topspin by using a 'windscreen wiper' action and think about your stroke's finish.

  • 2. Backhand drive groundstroke: show the ball your butt, your rackets butt that is.

  • 3. Serve: use the triceps more than your shoulder muscles.

  • 4. Movement: find the ball.

  • 5. Forehand volley: cut from above.

  • 6. Backhand volley: turn from the shoulder.

Of course there's more than that, but that's really all I got out of it, and I've simplified the explanations given in the book with photo's to a one line summary.

So how did it work for me?

  1. Forehand: I already have a topspin forehand with a wrap around the shoulder when I'm not nervous (which I am most of the time in a competitive match!) but not the windscreen wiper action. I've seen Federer and others do this with a wrap to the side, but selectively. Thinking about the finish action helps when you're not hitting through the ball.

  2. Backhand drive: I tried it, instead of thinking about take back, hip rotation and stepping in, and it seems to work.

  3. Serve: I was really interested in that because of the chronic shoulder problem I have. Of course we're taught to back-scratch anyway but now 'I get it' and it seems to have added more power.

  4. Movement: yes it works. When you're on your game and playing well you're actively looking for, tracking, seeking, wanting and getting to the ball. Just remember this tip and it helps.

  5. Forehand volley: juries out.

  6. Backhand volley: maybe, juries also out.

So would I recommend it? It depends on your level of play. Beginner and improver then yes. Intermediate and Advanced, borrow a copy, you'll skim it in 30 minutes.

I was intrigued to see the acknowledgement Oscar gave to Ron L Hubbard the founder of Scientology.