Friday, June 3, 2011

Tequila shots of Tennis

The title was meant to be attractive. It must be read - 'the killer' shots of tennis.
Tennis is not just about fitness. There is something called finesse that is crucial in the sport and one must know when to pounce on his prey and that pouncing is the tequila shot.

Tennis is an attractive sport to watch because of the options available for players to win points and the geometries involved in shot-making. Decisions are made in a split-second and among the top 20-30 players, there is not much difference in the talents they possess. When it comes to separating the top 3-4 from the rest, it boils down to the percentage of times the correct shot-making decisions are made. So it would be unsurprising to find that the best in the business when it comes to some of the popular eye-catching shots are the big names of the big game.

This piece would focus on some of the scintillating shots that have ‘winner’ written all over them and the players who play that shot best.

1. Forehand down the line
This is the bread and butter shot if the need is to suddenly confuse the opponent in a rally which thus far had been going well for both the players. It is a high risk shot but the dividends are too attractive not to be tried. The man who plays this with precision is the world’s numero uno (could change soon) Rafael Nadal. He keeps churning out mid-court forehands shot after shot and suddenly comes out with this winner and the fist-pump would follow. The powerful Swede Robin Soderling too plays this shot well but is erratic and plays it long quite a lot of times.

2. Forehand crosscourt inside-out
This is a deft ploy which requires setting up play as its pre-requisite. One has to be in control of the point before playing this shot. The opponent needs to be made to hit the ball to one end and in doing so must be positioned in the same end. That would give much room to play this shot turning and making a spontaneous winner out of it. When the ball is short and when the player is in, many (almost all top players) play this shot well but the one who plays this with sublime touch from behind the baseline and gets incredible winners out of it is the man with the most grandslam titles in the history of the men’s game – Roger Federer. The angles he uses to play this shot when he is on top form are inhumane, out of the world! Andy Roddick is another wonderful player of this shot and then there is Juan Martin Del Potro. If he becomes the legend he is expected to become, he will have a lot of say with this particular shot in the future.

3. Backhand up/down the line
This is one of those shots that separate the very best from the rest –adds an extra dimension. For example, this is one shot that separates a Jo Wilfried Tsonga from a Novak Djokovic. While Tsonga doesn’t play it confidently, Djokovic rips this shot at ease and earns an instant point. This one too, must be played out of the blue by setting up the point after playing a few cross court backhands – A dreadful defence to offence shot! Players who play well off both the wings play this shot well – Djokovic,Nadal,Federer,Soderling,Wawrinka in that order.

4. Forehand and approach to the net
This is a high risk attacking option when a player is not in full control of a rally but is the easiest of ways to score a point when his opponent is defensive and crumbling in the rally. One needs impeccable footwork to carry out this shot as this might not exactly be a winner. It sets up the point for a winner off the next shot. Roger Federer’s beautiful approaches in the grass lawns of Wimbledon are a treat to watch.

5. Backhand crosscourt
This is that shot that gives considerable advantage for a double-hand player against a player who employs a single-hand backhand. This one is all about using the angles to the fullest. Rafael Nadal torments his opponents with his powerful crosscourt backhands that are virtually unreachable. Roger Federer and the inconsistent Russian Nikolay Davydenko are quite effective too. But this season, Rafa is being given a taste of his own medicine by Novak Djokovic who is combining terrific angles and power in this shot to ensure the running machine Nadal doesn’t reach the ball. At this point, Nole is the best player around with this shot.

6. Forehand pass
When the opponent is at the net, there is no better way to break his confidence than sending a blitzkrieg of a pass so near yet so far for the opponent to return and the top players are all best in this business. Pete Sampras has been the legend of playing running crosscourt passing shots but in the current era Rafael Nadal does this very well and breaks the confidence of his rival with the shot following it up with his trademark fist-pump and a fuming look at the pitiful man on the other side of the net. But, to me, the best in this shot is the Scot Andy Murray. He has a lot of heart, backs himself up in taking the high-risk option and plays this shot to success at crucial break point opportunities. No wonder he is one of the players with an amazing number of breaks of serve.

7. Backhand pass
It is quite difficult to play the backhand pass for a double hander for want of control but having said that, Nadal plays this at a good success rate but the players whose backhand passes give pleasure to a tennis fan are those who have single-hand backhands – Especially Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet – Sheer class !

8. Backhand Slice
This shot is owned by RogerFederer. He employs it to destabilise his opponent during the course of a rally. It is akin to the famous Undertaker move of choking an opponent’s throat before slamming him down. The change in pace offered by a slice followed by a free-flowing shot or vice-versa is enough to confuse and get the opponent off balance during a rally. Federer uses this shot to move from defence to offence at the unpredictable of times during the course of a rally.

9. Volley
Thanks to the baseline counter-punching started by Lleyton Hewitt and then made extremely popular by Rafa, the volley is almost as extinct as the Siberian Tiger. Wimbledon used to boast of short rallies and sweet vollies but those days are long gone. However, much is being spoken of this shot and of Roger’s coach Paul Annacone after Federer’s success from mid season 2010 from when he started using it much better like in his 2003-05 days. One person who still patronises the volley and does it very well is the Czech Radek Stepanek. When it comes to drop volley, one of the sexiest shots in the sport, Federer and Djokovic are supreme frontrunners.

10. Tweener!

The between-the-legs shot, more popularly dubbed the 'tweener' is the ‘YOUTUBE’ shot of tennis. Discovered in the 80s by Yannick Noah, the eccentric Frenchman, it has been used time and again by players, when in despair ; when they have no options left and more often than not, it ends in failure to fetch the point. In some cases, players suffer hits at vital parts attempting to play this one!Andy Roddick got one right in his vitals once.This is a shot for the occasion and no one seems to play it better than the man who rises to the occasion,TMF - The Mighty Fed. The tweener that Roger Federer hit to set match points during his semifinal against Nole at US Open 2009 is highly popular. He virtually owns this shot and when Rafa played an incredible tweener this year at Madrid, Roger followed that up with an even better one just a week after that in Rome against Gasquet as if to say ‘Please stay away;This is my territory’.

And there ends a rather technical note on some of the finest of shots in men’s tennis.

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