Roger, Rafa, Serena, Venus. Form is temporary, class is permanent

January 28, 2017

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The Australian Open singles finals became the sporting event of the year when four of the greatest tennis players of their generation faced off for the titles

January 2017: Melbourne Australia. Four great tennis players have battled to reach the finals. None had started the tournament as top seed. The tennis tensions are palpable.

All four have shown astonishing resilience against younger and arguably fitter opponents. It was all the more unusual because all four had been written off before the tournament on grounds of injury, Ill-health, and advancing years.

Andy and Novak battle for top seed

In the men’s game, for nearly a year Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic had been fighting for top dog (or top seed, as they prefer to say in tennis.) Roger and Rafa were left behind.

Roger, after a career of injury-free successes had succumbed to the perils of fatherhood, namely prepared his twins for their bath, and severely damaging his back when turning the tap on. (I couldn’t have written that in a fictional account).

Rafa after an equally-illustrious career but one blighted with injuries was recovering from his latest injury time-out. His appearances now reveal residual damage to knees, legs, fingers (ugh, particularly unpleasant looking.)

Recently they met to share medical reports, dreaming of one day when they might be both fit enough to limp on to court for one last public match.

Serena versus Venus

In the women’s game, the Williams systers had already become medical phenomena with debilitating conditions which has not prevented them from collecting multiple titles individually and just for fun as a devastating doubles partnership.

The younger sister Serena became by far the strongest and most talented and winningest woman player of her generation. Venus, by comparison Spiderwoman to Serena’s Superwoman, would also hold more singles titles (but fewer doubles, probably) if her sister had not been around.

A year ago, Serena reached the pinnacle of her career in the Senena Slam in New York, widely touted as the tournament in which she would be crowned as winner of all four slams in a calander year. Partly through nerves she slipped up. Since then she has won out only on  injury bragging-rights.

However, earlier in the tournament she summoned up her remarkable depths of bouncebackability to sweep past the new British hope Joannah Konta. She is installed as favorite once again.

Age shall nor weary them

Age shall nor weary them. This weekend, the tennis world watches with huge anticipation the battle of the four thirty-something’s. At clubs around the world, the four golden-oldies will be celebrated by millions of mere mortals, some still swinging as the decades slip by.

A tweet from Donald?

Donald Trump used the US Open to launch his political career. He may just find time for a phone-call to Australia or maybe a tweet today.

To be continued


Champions in the making

August 22, 2016

Andy Murray [wikipedia]

Last week I dropped by at a junior tennis tournament to see how champions are made. I thought  I glimpsed one of the reasons

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Jamie Murray: World Number One Doubles Player

April 16, 2016

Jamie Murray

 On March 27th 2016 Jamie Murray became World No 1 doubles player, and the first British tennis player to achieve top ranking since the ATP computer rankings were introduced for doubles in 1976. He strengthened his position at Monte Carlo three weeks later

 Jamie Murray had progressed with John Peers into several Slam event finals, and won six titles over the period 2012-2015, but switched partner to the Brazilian Bruno Suares shortly after the 2015 US Open last September. Almost immediately [in January 2015] they won the 2016 Australian Open together.

 

The Overlooked Murray

Jamie has been overlooked outside (and arguably inside) the tennis following community. Andy Murray has attracted headlines for a range of achievements and firsts for British Tennis (not English Tennis, as he felt required to point out  in earlier years). First to break the drought in Grand Slam winners, and Olympic golds for GB, the driiving force on the team winning the Davis Cup in 2015, where again Jamie played an important part in the doubles victories with Andy.

But it was Jamie not Andy who was first to win a slam event, hardly mentioned any more. Why? Because it was in doubles (lower kudos than a singles win) and mixed doubles at that.

Now it is also Jamie who is first to become the Tennis World No One. as Andy contests for the Number two slot (but of course, again in the higher status Singles rankings).

Jamie probably prefers to stay more out of the limelight, but it would take a very unusual person not to have some hint of sibling rivalry from time to time.

Jamie’s strengths

Jamie’s strength has developed around lightening quick reflexes and net interceptions, and a few specialities which favour guile over power, including a chip forehand, a placed rather than a crunched volley, and a lob return of service.  He still conceals a modest serve which sometimes lets him down.

Beating the Bryans

At 30 he is seven years younger than the Bryan twins who remain committed to returning to the top, and are experimenting with a switch of court positions to do so.

No false mask of confidence

Jamie sometimes cuts an anxious figure on court. He does not conceal tensions he feels. In so many sports, the top cat displays a mask of confidence and even invincibility.

Not Jamie, which is encouraging for the rest of us.

Acknowledgment

Image from Jamie’s wikipedia site.

PostScript

More to come, as Brother Andy prepares to emulate Jamie and get to the final of the Monte Carlo tournament

 

 


Doping in Tennis. Nadal plays an attacking game

March 15, 2016

Rafa Nadal

Three years ago we published a post about doping in tennis. The story re-emerged this week as Nadal says he intends to sue for remarks about his alleged drug taking.

The original post suggested that tennis may be in denial about the state of drug taking in the sport.

A colleague with legal experience suggested I leave the specific aspects of the post out of the more recent publication Tennis Matters.

This post will be updated as the story develops.

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Tough decisions made in the Davis Cup reveal Leon Smith’s leadership qualities

August 3, 2015

Davis CupWhen Great Britain defeated France in the quarter finals of the Davis Cup in July 2015, the media headlines extolled the brilliant series of victories by Andy Murray. The leadership qualities displayed by non-playing captain Leon Smith should also be acknowledged

The Davis Cup is the most prestigious of international tennis competitions. It is held annually on a knockout basis with divisions, the higher of which is the World group. GB has not won the cup since 1936, another unenviable statistic for British tennis. Even reaching the quarter finals in 2015 is regarded a success for the team and its outstanding player Andy Murray.

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Tennis tactics at Wimbledon: the curious case of two injury time-outs

July 7, 2015

The match between Andy Murray and Andreas Seppi in the Wimbledon championship of 2015 was noted for two incidents each involving an injury break called by one of players

Saturday July 4th, 2015. Home favourite Andy Murray was scheduled to play Andreas Seppi. Murray seeded No 3 was expected to win against the lower ranked player. His previous record against Seppi was 5-1. For two sets, expectations of crowd and presumably players were more or less fulfilled. Murray cruises to a 6-2 6-2 advantage. After some lengthy rallies, Seppi looked increasingly fatigued…

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Andy Murray versus Jeremy Chardy, French Open 2015: Notes and Expectations

June 2, 2015

These Notes were prepared and reported in unedited form as part of a research study into momentum in sporting competitions

Pre-Match expectations

Lower seeded Chardy expected to lose unless Murray’s form slumps
Murray expected to continue his good clay court form to win
Chardy is also good on clay, and has beaten Murray
French crowd will be behind Chardy
Early start to match is disliked by Murray who, although on winning streak, is still not playing to potential. His serving reliability remains uncertain.

Scoring notation

Scoring notation always shows games to Murray first.

Set 1

Chardy plays a nervous game and drops of his serve 1-0
Murray also nervous serving, loses to near desperate winning shot by Chardy 1-1
Chardy sharpens play. Good serving and a big backhand down line wins game. 1-2
Murray also sharpens up. More first serves in. Murray has brilliant volley as Chardy seemed to be getting back. 2-2
Chardy serve still vulnerable. Seems he was troubled technically in last round.
Struggles back from 40-0, then eventually loses. 3-2 Murray
Murray wins more comfortably 4-2
Murray less urgent but seems to be conserving energy. Chardy holds serve 4-3
Comfortable new balls win, slower first serves, by Murray but they are in. 5-3
Chardy now visibly ‘yipping’ on ball toss but holds 5-4
Murray now comfortable, content to work Chardy around the court before serving out the set. 6-4

Summary of Set 1

Murray in pre-planned change attempts to increase first serves in, to deal with Chardy’s dominance over his second serve. Lost 5/6 second serves to dangerous if unreliable hitting.

Second set

Very lengthy first game. Chardy eventually holds 0-1
Murray holds serve easily. 1-1
Chardy holds from 15-40 but paints the lines a bit 1-2
No sometimes slumps after first set win. But even as I wrote that, Murray was losing serve. A slump? Chardy playing better but still painting lines 1-3
Chary holds . Agressive and more secure The commentators happier. “We’ve got a game on, now.” I don’t think Murray has slumped a lot. 1-4
Murray holds 2-4
Chardy holds 2-5
Murray holds 3-5
Chardy holds and wins 3-6

Summary Set 2

Murray appeared unconcerned . No self-chastising. Confident that he can break back. Now what? Can Chardy continue playing as well as he did? More breaks of serve seem likely.

Set 3

Murray Slightly cautious.Loses serve 0-1.
Chardy. Also bit cautious, loses serve back. Murray upped his play. 1-1
Murray holds. Needs scrambling. 2-1
Chardy holds. Murray seems to be still holding back, while looking for some change of plan? 2-2
Murray appears in control and wins 3-2
Chardy easy hold 3-3
Murray holds to 30. 4-3
Chardy after great scrambling rescue of a game point, Chardy dropsgame on a dbft serve. 5-4
Murray for set. Aggressive play again from Chardy. Murray db flts at set point. Eventually scrambles home. 6-4

Summary Set 3

Chardy’s aggression gained winners, but he was eventually punished for those errors. Some big shots ‘painted the line’, some went very wide
Chardy Holds comfortably. 0-1

Set 4

Murray starts somewhat sluggish. Is this like a second set slump? . Chardy gets break point. Murray forced to save with brilliant drop shot. And holds 1-1
Chardy dbl ft error and Murray breaks. 2-1
Murray. Still not in top gear, holds after another unforced error from Chardy. 3-1
Chardy Subdued. Murray feints and draws a chance of a great running Bhand winner. Then breaks and wins 4-1
Murray. No longer intensity of last game. Chardy wins easily with several brilliant points 4-2
Chardy still winning nice points. Two more line-painters plus great defensive play by Murray and Murray breaks and serves for the match. 5-2
Murray moves to 40-0 with weak resistance drifts to 40-30 before winning game, set, and match 6-2

Summary of set 4 and match

Murray wins dropping one set. 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6.2

Murray followed a strategy selected to address his weakness on second serve when playing a strong returner. Went for slower but higher % in of first serves.

Chardy had more of an emergent strategy? Played each point to the limit of his strength and ability. Tended to swing, sometimes hitting spectacular line-painters, but also making wild misses.


Murray v Kholschreiber, Madrid 2015. Questions for coaches

May 7, 2015

Andy Murray printwords[Notes prepared during the match as a mini-case for coaches with case questions]

May 2015: Andy Murray wins his first clay court Tennis title, in Munich, in a tight match against clay court specialist Phillip Kholschreiber. Can he continue his progress against the same opponent, again on clay in Madrid, a few days later?

Murray is least successful when playing on clay courts surfaces such as Munich and Madrid. He shares this relative weakness with British tennis players who have little experience of the surface as juniors. No Britain before Murray had won a ranking clay court tournament for nearly forty years.

The result at Munich was somewhat surprising, considering Murray’s weakness and Kholschreiber’s comparative advantage on the surface. The return in Munich offered a chance to see whether Murray might sustain the form h showed in Germany.

The context of the Madrid match

There are considerable factors to disconcert Murray. He was recently married with considerable accompanying media pressures. There have also been major changes to his coaching team.

Additional more immediate distractions included a bizarrely late start around one a.m., after inflexible scheduling. Bad for the players and arguably worse for spectators who would expect to be watching well into the early hours of the following day.

Early exchanges

Murray starts the faster and moves 3-0 with two breaks before dropping his own serve. Kholschreiber breaks back. Commentator Petchey, formerly Murray’s coach suggests his game plan was for an intense start which had been followed by a dip after the initial adrenaline rush.

Murray wins first set

Andy Murray retains aggressive but not over-aggressive play and holds break to win 6-4. Kohlschreiber demonstrates his strengths on this surface.

Second set

Both players playing well. Kholschreiber wins a brilliant lengthy rally and breaks at 2-0.

3-1

4-1 2.15 am. Stadium has nearly emptied. Murray holds. Slight dip by Kholschreiber. Drops serve.

4-3

Murray also drops serve with poor first- serve percentage

5-3 and closes out

Third Set

Murray holds a strongly-contested game. Murray breathes heavily at one stage,

Kholschreiber and Murray scramble. Kholschreiber makes last mistake.

2-0 to Murray who then holds serve to love

3-0

4-0 as Murray breaks easily.

5-0 as Murray holds

6-0 as Kholschreiber eventually capitulates.

Murray survives and overcomes an unusual set of problems, Kholschreiber eventually weakened both mentally and physically.

Questions for coaches

What factors would you consider in preparing Andy Murray for the match?

Murray appears to have started with a tactical plan. What do you think it might have been?

Why was the lower-ranked Kholschreiber considered a favourite before playing Murray in Madrid, even after his loss to Murray in Munich the previous week?

What aspects of Murray’s game might have contributed to the result in Madrid?


Murray wins a battle outside his comfort zone in Miami Open

March 29, 2015

Andy Murray had lost heavily to Santiago Giraldo in their last match. In the Miami Open he and his coaching team had to come up with a new strategy to deal with an aggressive risk-taking opponent. It succeeded, but only after taking Murray out of his comfort zone

Murray’s immediate post-match analysis did not quite match up with his court demeanor. It was essentially that he believed he had played a pretty good match in difficult windy conditions.

The final score of 6-3 6-4 seems to back this up. It confirmed expectations of the respective rankings, and Murray’s familiarity with the conditions in Miami, his training base. If so, why was he repeatedly grumbling during the match at his bench? Dissatisfaction was combined with a new tactic of being more aggressive on his opponent’s weak second serve. This seemed to be working well. But it also seems to lie outside Murray’s comfort zone.

When Giraldo came up with a powerful response to it early on, Murray grumbled more pointedly. It was as if he had reluctantly agreed to the new strategy, but wanted his coaching team (especially, I assume, Amalie Marismo) to know this was a dumb idea and he should never have gone along with it.

After the match, Marcus Buckland The Sky interviewer avoided raising the question of Murray’s serve which was found wanting. First serve percentage was low. This could be at least partly due to tricky windy conditions. Second serve was treated by  in an equally aggressive fashion as the way Murray was dealing out to his own serve.

Comfort zone

The Comfort zone is increasingly found in ideas about performance management in sport and beyond. Settling an athlete into a comfort zone is important, as a way of increasing the ease of getting into the bubble of unthinking high performance or flow. But getting out of a comfort zone may not just be a necessity for tactical reasons but opens up possibilities for personal development.

To be continued


Andy Murray v Yuri Bhambri : Cave-man tactics and their limitations in sport and maybe in business

January 19, 2015

Caveman

When a qualifier meets a top seeded tennis player, sometimes caveman tactics result. We review Andy Murray’s march with Yuri Bhambri, and consider the implications of all-out aggression in other sports and in business

The start of the Australian Open, the first major of the season. Somewhat against my better judgment, I get up in the small hours in the UK to see how Andy Murray is doing. His opponent, Yuki Bhambri, is a qualifier and ranked 317 in the world.

1st set

Half an hour into the match. Bhambri’s aggression is impressive. Murray breaks Bhambri’s serve but failed to capitalise, being broken himself, ringing the first set to a tense four games all. Murray then breaks and holds to take the set 6-4.

Both players are making excellent winners, but both are rather prone to unforced errors..

2nd set

Bhambri serves first and holds. A discordant but enthusiastic chant rises up from tee-shirted Murray supporters. In the next game, good defense from the Indian draws errors from Murray, but the Scot’s resolve helps him survive; 1-1.

Bhambri continues with his aggressive style of play and wins service after more winners and errors. Murray replies with a love game bringing it to 2-2. Bhambri is still the aggressor and seems to be benefiting from winning though three rounds of qualifiers Murray breaks, then holds, making it 5-3.

Take out the errors…

Minus a few errors from each game, the quality of the match is more suited to be a second week tie. An edited film would be misleading. The commentators suggest Bhambri is playing like a top fifty player.

Defend Rally Attack

Murray continues to plays rather defensively with flashes of brilliance. I remember the coaching maxim: Defend Rally Attack. Murray too inclined to defend and Rally; Bhambri too inclined to go from defend to attack. This is evident again as Murray moves to 40-15. In returning, the all out attack opens up court, higher risk [one attacking return forces Murray to attack not rally, and he hits winner down the line. Murray wins serve reasonably easily and takes the set.

0nce the pattern is seen, it becomes clearer. Bhambri does not rally enough. I think of chess. All-out attack is the weaker player’s weapon which too often accelerates defeat, although the infrequent wins reinforces the pattern of ‘cave man’ play. [which suggests another idea: the infrequent upsets against seeds more obvious in first rounds, more chances for the cave man play to succeed.

Third set

A good example in first game of third set, when Bhambri grabs an ad point then a net point for him wins game and a break. Murray continues to rally and wait for errors. The pattern for me seems to persist but Bhambri wins and extends lead to 4-1. Murray wins own serve. 4-2. Pattern persists, and Murray breaks back. 4-4 and eventually into tie break.

Prediction for tie break

My prediction is that failure to Defend Rally Attack more dangerous in the tie break Murray goes to 5-2 then 6-2 and 6-3 but two then Murray closes it out as Bahmrhi ballons out a return.

Murray’s verdict

Opponent is a junior world champion, but injury explains his low ranking.

Notes

Caveman chess was a popular term among British chess players to refer to violent attacks often unsound but always unsettling.

Rather than show an image of one ‘caveman’ chess player I had in mind, I choose the image from Wikipedia Commons.

Also thanks to Conor for helping in the editing process.