Serve & Volley
Roger Federer strolled majestically through the first week of the Australian Open, totally dominating the men’s event. He seems to be sharper and in better form than last year. One wonders when his human frailty will surface and against whom. Andy Roddick, Federer’s prospective semi-final opponent, will be his greatest danger. Roddick’s impatient and fractious game has been reined in by his new coach Jimmy Connors. He is not charging around the court blazing away with his shots trying to carpet-bomb his opponents. Connors has brought about an oriental calm in Roddick’s temperament. His victories over Safin and Ancic will have honed his game to the sharpest edge. Besides, he defeated Federer in an exhibition match in the week prior to the Aussie Open.
From the bottom half of the draw Nadal seems to be the lone challenger. He is the only Grand Slam winner and also has victories over Federer.
With four high ranking seeds out in the bottom half, the women’s draw is listing like a torpedoed ship. Amelie Mauresmo (2), Svetlana Kusnetsova (3), Nadia Petrova (5), Elena Dementieva (7) were all eliminated. The dark horse lurking in the lower half is Serena Williams who is fighting back from the depths of the rankings and improving with each match.
If she does not break down, Serena could find her way to the finals — perhaps even win it. The top half seems to be firmly in Maria Sharapova’s grip. After a sluggish first round, she is now in top form, though the in-form Kim Clijsters could give her a very tough match.
For Sania, the learning process has started. Her response after her defeat at the hands of Aiko Nakamura of Japan — “But that is the beauty of tennis, there is always a tomorrow,” — indicates that the loss to Nakamura has in no way dented her confidence. But tomorrow can only be fruitful if you learn from your mistakes today.
Sania’s humiliating loss was brought about by her inability to keep a rally going for more than two to three shots and her poor service. Her forehand, with which she destroys most of her opponents, kept flying out of court notching up a fatal level of unforced errors. Sania’s inability to adjust to the sharp and deep double handed shots of Nakamura and the tendency of the balls to fly in the very hot conditions brought about her downfall. She kept ‘teeing off’ with her wayward forehand and seemingly made no effort to slow down her shots and play her way back into the match.
Having said this one has to concede that tackling players who play double-handed on both flanks is not an easy task. The double-handed shot gives you more power, can create more angles, more control and deception. The downside is that it shortens your reach and makes you vulnerable to sharply-angled shots which open up the court. Sania was not able to exploit this weakness, she never tried to change her tactics and adapt to the conditions. Rather than take refuge behind her statement that “all players have off days” Sania should introspect and identify the areas she should work on.
Among other things, her totally aggressive style has to be supported by a lower, more consistent gear of play when the big shots are not working. At the top level of the game, one has to learn to fight, grind out and win matches when not at your best. The year 2007 will be a challenging year for Sania. One hopes she will not be content with the hollow adoration of a nation starved of sporting heroines but achieve her potential with the sacrifice and consuming passion, which are the substance of the greats.