Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Best Shots In Tennis - Part 6

Sure, ‘movement’ may not fall under the definition of a tennis ‘shot’ by any standard. But that doesn’t make it any less important to the sport, does it? This series goes by the name ‘the best shots in tennis’, but that’s only because ‘best shots’ sounds a whole lot more attractive than ‘most effective components’. You can have a spectacular serve, a ripper of a return of serve, a ferocious forehand and a bludgeoning backhand, but none of it will matter if you can’t scamper across the court well enough to actually make use of those shots. Positioning is everything in tennis, and the only way you can position yourself in the right place and at the right time to smack that glorious winner is through deft footwork, impeccable balance and blistering foot speed. Today we examine the best movers on a tennis court in the world.

Men – The Contenders: David Ferrer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko, Gael Monfils, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Nalbandian

When you talk of movement in tennis, there are so many different elements to consider that it becomes insanely difficult to decide which particular constituent contributes to truly effective court coverage. Players like Lleyton Hewitt and Gael Monfils have incredible, otherworldly foot-speed, but they lack the footwork to position themselves to go on the offense. A player like David Nalbandian, on the other hand, may not be the quickest sprinter around the court – one look at his girth and you know he cannot possibly come anywhere close to the word ‘nimble’ – but the numerous adjustments he makes before setting himself up into perfect position to crack that fearsome two-handed backhand or efficient flat forehand enable him to stay in a point longer than most players on the tour. Then there is the type of player whose movement differs from one surface to another – the 2003 Juan Carlos Ferrero and the pre-2010 Rafael Nadal moved exceptionally well on clay; so exceptionally, that it seemed impossible to win a single stinking rally against either of them on the dirt. But grass, and in Nadal’s case, hardcourts, seemed to be an altogether different animal. The inability, or unwillingness, of these two players to go side-to-side as comfortably on the baseline as they did so effortlessly 10 feet behind it was a game-changer. You can’t slide on a hardcourt, as many a knee injury would testify.

Nikolay Davydenko seems to have the best of both worlds – he’s remarkably swift around the court and has amazing footwork too; it’s not for nothing that Juan Martin del Potro commented last year that Davydenko plays tennis like a ‘playstation player’. But like just about everything that Davydenko does, his movement is right up there with the very best, but isn’t quite the best. Novak Djokovic has terrific lateral movement – this same movement helped him play some astonishing defense during his dark days starting somewhere around late 2008 and ending sometime in August 2010 when he seemed to have forgotten the meaning of the word ‘attack’. But his footwork when moving forward falls just short of the lofty standards that certain other players have set recently. David Ferrer’s movement is something of a cross between that of Ferrero, Djokovic and Davydenko – extraordinary on clay, pretty darned good on all other surfaces, not so good moving forward, and not quite the best in the business overall.


That leaves us with 3 players who I believe are so good and so evenly matched at moving around a tennis court that it is almost impossible to separate them. Andy Murray has always had spiffy wheels to boast of along with his bulging biceps (the word ‘bulging’ here has only been used out of respect for Andy’s dramatic and somewhat creepy habit of flexing his muscles after his matches to prove his improved fitness levels), but his fantastic anticipation adds more than a few miles per hour to his court coverage. Much has already been written about Roger Federer’s ‘gliding’, ‘floating’, ‘flying’ and ‘waltzing’ on the tennis court; the way Federer moves, whether laterally, towards the net or back to the baseline really does seem like a magician’s trick. One moment he’s completely out of the picture, and the next moment he’s right there, waiting to blast that forehand for an outrageous winner. He almost never seems off-balance, and although his foot-speed may have come down a notch or two over the years, it’s still up there with the best. So that’s 2 out of the top 3, and I’ve already exhausted my shortlist of players, have I? You’re forgetting that I’d only mentioned ‘pre-2010 Nadal’ earlier. The Nadal of 2010 is a different player to the Nadal of old. He moves (and always has moved) sensationally on clay, his grasscourt movement has been among the best in the world since about 2007, and the one thing missing from his arsenal before this year – hardcourt prowess – has been duly and diligently bumped off the checklist. There’s absolutely nothing that the present-day Nadal can’t do on a tennis court, be it explosively hugging the baseline on a hardcourt or rushing forward to the net with immaculate precision. Perhaps they should start using the Olympics motto to describe Nadal – he really is higher, stronger and FASTER than every other player in the world.

Winner: Rafael Nadal

Courtesy: SportsKeeda

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