Thursday, January 20, 2005

Why Roger Federer is my number 1 tennis player



When it comes to men’s professional tennis, I have been lost in the wilderness for the past few years. All of my favorite players of past years have long since retired, and although I have had plenty of favorites since—from Richard Krajicek to Pat Rafter to Gustavo Kuerten-- none of them has inspired lasting enthusiasm. Krajicek and Rafter came the closest, because, although they also played often from the baseline, they played serve-volley tennis enough to keep me really interested. But Krajicek’s career was plagued by injuries and he retired for good a couple of years ago.



Pat Rafter was much the same, and it made me sad that he never won Wimbledon because he came so close. And his career, like that of Krajicek, came to an early end due to injuries.

Of course, Kuerten isn’t even remotely a serve-volley player. He is the sort of player who, to quote Fred Stolle, only comes to the net to shake hands with his opponent at the end of the match. But I love his personality and his ground strokes.

However, let it be known that I am a serve-volley enthusiast. Yes, I admire a player with a big serve, but what I want to see is someone who follows that serve to the net and volleys his way to winning the point. He doesn’t have to serve and volley on every point, but the more the better.

My revered favorite in this regard is Stefan Edberg. With Edberg, there was never any surprise. He served, went to the net, and the opponent either passed him or had to cope with a volley. And what a volley it was—forehand, backhand, half-volley, it didn’t matter. They were all sweet. And if it came to groundstrokes, Edberg had a backhand that was a pleasure to see-- unless you were on the other side of the net, of course. Best of all, Stefan Edberg was an elegant player, handsome, gentlemanly, and exquisite in form.

After Edberg, I had an unhappy love affair with 1991 Wimbledon champion Michael Stich. I can’t think of a prettier player to watch when he had his head on straight. His Wimbledon final against Becker was a thing of beauty, as was his 1993 Masters championship victory against Pete Sampras. I can’t think of a player with more beautiful form and a more brittle mental constitution than Stich. When injuries forced him to retire in 1997, I found it something of a relief, even though I missed his beautiful serve and almost as beautiful volley. I never missed the tantrums and the racket-throwing at all, of course.

And after that, I wandered in the desert until Roger Federer came along. Could I really fall for a tennis player with a pony-tail and a nose like Bob Hope? Oh yes, I could. Obviously, he’s not a pure serve-and-volley player like Edberg, but he’s an all-court player in the best sense of the word—what Michael Stich might have been if he had been a harder worker and not such a basket case mentally, or a Pat Rafter who could play well on clay. And he’s smart, well-disciplined, and a gentleman. I mean, this kid is really smart—smart enough to win three grand slams and eleven tournments in 2004 without the benefit of a coach, and also smart enough to go out and woo Tony Roche to be his coach for 2005. Can Roger Federer improve? Obviously, he thinks so. He has already won his first ATP tour title of 2005 (in Doha) and clobbered Andy Roddick in the final of the exhibition tournament in Kyooyang the week before the Australian Open. Will he defend his Aussie title successfully? I hope so, and I’m having great fun watching him try.

God, it’s nice to be out of the wilderness and enjoying tennis again!

22 Comments:

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy is AWESOME!!! I stayed up to watch the match with him and Andre Agassi. He totally stepped all over Agassi. Won 3 straight sets. I mean this guys just makes it look SO easy.

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheer up! At Wimbledon 2005 there were signs of a serve-volley revival - Federer, Roddick, Safin and even Hewitt served and volleyed fairly often, occasionally on the 2nd serve as well as the first.
Serve-volley may not return to being the default tactic on medium-pace courts (US concrete, Aussie Rebound Ace), but the top players are realising they need it as a tactical option, either as a Plan B or just to confuse their opponents from time to time (like bluffing in poker).
And the rising stars (early teens now) will follow the example of to-day's top players.
BTW I agree with some of your comments about Stich - at his best he was beautiful to watch, partly because such a slight physique delivered very effective power tennis, like a ballet dancer out-punching a heavyweight.

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Philip Chalmers said...

Cheer up! At Wimbledon 2005 there were signs of a serve-volley revival - Federer, Roddick, Safin and even Hewitt served and volleyed fairly often, occasionally on the 2nd serve as well as the first.
Serve-volley may not return to being the default tactic on medium-pace courts (US concrete, Aussie Rebound Ace), but the top players are realising they need it as a tactical option, either as a Plan B or just to confuse their opponents from time to time (like bluffing in poker).
And the rising stars (early teens now) will follow the example of to-day's top players.
BTW I agree with some of your comments about Stich - at his best he was beautiful to watch, partly because such a slight physique delivered very effective power tennis, like a ballet dancer out-punching a heavyweight.

 
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