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March 16, 2011

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BNP Paribas Open 2011, Indian Wells, California, USA
March 16, 2011
Editorial by Vince Barr. Photography by Harvey Rubin.


 

Vince Barr Photo
Vince Barr

Men's Round of 16
 
Much has been made of the fact that Novak Djokovic is undefeated to start his year after winning the Australian Open (and upsetting Roger Federer in the semifinals in the process), winning Dubai and beating fellow countryman Viktor Troicki (6-0, 6-1) to go 15-0. That kind of start sounds a lot more impressive than it really is (in my opinion) because it is not unusual for top players to be able to run together a winning streak of 20+ matches in a row. That is not a knock against what Novak has accomplished; rather, it is merely an attempt to put things in perspective. When Roger Federer was dominating the game (doesn't it seem rather odd to put that sentence in past tense?) back in 2004-06, he went 74-6 (2004), 81-4 (2005) and 92-5 (2006). So he had a lot of streaks where he put together more than a 20-match win streak. What fascinates me is Novak's recent dominance over Roger Federer, though Roger would contest that assessment. Federer would note that he won the last three meetings of last year (after his semifinal loss to Novak in the U.S. Open semifinals) and still has a winning career head-to-head record of 13-8 against the Serbian Sensation. Still, Novak is only 165 points behind Roger so if he goes further in the BNP Paribas than does Roger, he will take over the No. 2 ranking while Federer would slide to No. 3. They could play each other in the semifinals and if that happens, it could well mark a watershed moment in men's professional tennis.
 
A couple of hours later after Djokovic took Troicki out to the proverbial woodshed, both players teamed up to play doubles together. Cari Champion, a Tennis Channel analyst, asked Novak after the match if teaming up with Viktor after such a lopsided beating would be difficult and he replied, "Not really. We are both professionals. We went out to dinner last night, had a few drinks (before their match today). Unfortunately, once we step out on the court, someone has to lose," Djokovic said in a matter-of-fact tone. In the doubles match, they played well but lost, 1-6, 6-7 (5) to the tandem of Rohan Bopanna (of India) and Aisam-Ul-Haq (of Pakistan). Novak will next play Richard Gasquet in one of the singles quarterfinals. Gasquet upset Andy Roddick just prior to the Nadal match, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
 
The interpersonal intrigue between the Serbians reminded me of a quarterfinal match in Cincinnati way back in 1998 between Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Daniel Vacek. Kafelnikov dismantled Vacek's game in the quarters, 6-4, 6-4 and then they played doubles together about an hour later. Yevgeny was asked the same question that Novak was today, about the difficulty of playing doubles with someone that you had just beaten in singles. Kafelnikov said something to the effect that it wasn't difficult because they discussed their singles match in detail in the locker room during their brief break. Astonishingly, Kafelnikov took Vacek through their just completed singles match, pointing out what Vacek did "wrong," where he misplayed a shot, or used the wrong tactics. They also discussed their own relative strengths and weaknesses, which is a level of candor that few players reach, even if they are playing doubles together after a competitive singles match. I doubt that Djokovic and Troicki went through their singles match today since Troicki won only one game during the whole match. But at the professional level, players seem to be readily willing and able to separate business from off-court friendships.
 
Rafael Nadal played Somdev Devvarman in his Round of 16 match; they had not faced each other before. Devvarman had nothing to lose and played like it, quickly breaking Rafa in the first game of the match, then holding his own serve to go up briefly, 2-0 in the first set. Then Rafa broke back and each player held on to their own serve to get to a pivotal point in the first set, 5-all. Devvarman played men's singles for four years at the University of Virginia, earning his sociology degree in 2008. Devvarman captured back-to-back NCAA singles titles in 2007-08; in 2007, he beat the University of Georgia's John Isner in the title match. Not many college players have done well on the ATP Tour, so it remains to be seen if Devvarman will follow that trend or start a new one by being more successful than others who have gone that same route before him. Certainly, John Isner falls into that category and it is much too early to make any conclusions one way or the other for either player. Watching him play tonight (Wednesday), I will say that I am very impressed with his composure. He lost the first set, 5-7 and for many young players, that's about as close as they get to beating a top-ranked player and the second set is a walkover. Perhaps it is the magnitude of the moment or they suddenly realize who they are playing but this kid (Devvarman) does not seem overawed by his circumstances and the final score will certainly reflect that assessment. Case in point, at 4-all in the second set, Nadal serving; Rafa tried moving Devvarman all over the court, which he had done throughout the match with a decent amount of success. But at love-15 during the rally, Somdev executed an impossible cross-court volley that Nadal wasn't even close to catching up with, goingcc up love-30 in the 9th game of the second set. The fact that Rafa came back to even the score at 30-all is inconsequential; it simply underlines my point how well Devvarman is playing despite losing the match. He's making Rafa earn this victory and that can only result in the accumulation of some serious respect inside the locker room from his fellow touring pros. The final score was a win for Nadal, 7-5, 6-4 but you will be hearing more from the top-ranked Indian (who is currently ranked 84th best in the world and had to qualify to make the main draw). Devvarman has much to be proud of in this tournament as he won two matches in qualifying and he upset Marcos Baghdatis, 7-5, 6-0 in the second round and Xavier Malisse 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5).
 
During Rafael's match, Lindsey Davenport was talking about how difficult it is to return Nadal's forehand and why so many players have difficulty doing that with any measure of success. She cited a story that appeared in the January 8th, 2009 edition of Time magazine; the article was called "Tennis: Nadal's New Spin" by Eben Harrell. Apparently, San Francisco-based tennis researcher John Yandell "used video-capture technology to record the topspin of Nadal's forehand. He found that Nadal's shot rotates at an average of 3,200 times a minute. Andre Agassi, one of the game's great shot-makers, generated 1,900 rotations per minute in his prime, and current world No. 2 Roger Federer, whose forehand is considered among the game's best, generates 2,700." Davenport related that one of Nadal's forehand shots actually tested out at 4,900 revolutions per minute (RPM). As a former player, Davenport opined that "(his high RPM and pace on his forehands is) what makes his shot so tough for these guys to make clean contact. They are just not used to that extreme amount of spin," Davenport said. "The ball bounces even higher, it has more juice (speed) on it (and the result is that) you see a lot of players shank some balls (off his forehand)," Davenport concluded.
 
The article in Time went on to explain Nadal's spin in the context of his game as well as the strategic development of that particular shot, which is utterly fascinating. "That forehand is the central component of a style that tennis experts call 'counter-punching.' It's one that absorbs an opponent's attacking play with aggressive returns, and springs from Nadal and his uncle's contrarian instincts. Nadal is naturally right-handed. But early on, Toni decided his protege should play with his left hand to impart unusual southpaw spin. Toni then encouraged, or perhaps failed to correct, the extreme grip Nadal uses, and the unusual way he swings his racquet. To this day, instead of using the forward momentum of his body to generate pace on his forehand as the training manuals recommend, Nadal falls backward from the net on his forehand, whipping his racquet behind his head instead of across his body. This movement results in looping shots that keep an opponent heaving balls back, often on the run, in a nightmare from which only an error provides release. Rallying with Nadal, says former Top 10 player-turned-coach Brad Gilbert, 'is an education in pain.'"
 
Of course, such a style of play has its drawbacks. "Can someone with such a high-intensity game last long enough to break all the records? Tennis players' longevity varies depending on their style of play. As points and matches lengthen, careers often shorten. Nadal and his coterie of physical trainers know that the flip side of his heavy topspin is that it forces him to engage in bruising rallies. His muscle-bound physique - which Nadal says is down to genes rather than weight-lifting - adds an extra burden: the explosive forces those muscles generate put his body under increased strain." That article proved to be somewhat prophetic about the wear and tear such a playing style causes Nadal as he developed tendonitis that resulted in him being unable to defend his 2008 French Open and Wimbledon championships. It looks like those injury problems are behind him for now, so it will be interesting to see what his body of work looks like about five years from now.
 

 

 
Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) {white headband} d [32] Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) 76(3) 76(7)
 
Juan Martin del Potro 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Philipp Kohlschreiber 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Juan Martin del Potro 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Juan Martin del Potro 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Philipp Kohlschreiber 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Juan Martin del Potro 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Philipp Kohlschreiber 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Juan Martin del Potro 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Philipp Kohlschreiber 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Philipp Kohlschreiber 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis

 
 
[12] Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) d [7] Tomas Berdych (CZE) {yellow shirt} 36 64 64
 
Stanislas Wawrinka 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Tomas Berdych 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Stanislas Wawrinka 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Tomas Berdych 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Stanislas Wawrinka 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Tomas Berdych 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Tomas Berdych 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Stanislas Wawrinka 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Tomas Berdych 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Tomas Berdych 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Stanislas Wawrinka 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis

 
 
[3] Novak Djokovic (SRB) {white shorts} d [16] Viktor Troicki (SRB) 60 61
 
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Viktor Troicki 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Viktor Troicki 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Viktor Troicki 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Viktor Troicki 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Viktor Troicki 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Novak Djokovic 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis
Viktor Troicki 2011 BNP Paribas Open Tennis

 
Earlier Columns from this Event:
 
March 15, 2011 BNP Paribas Open: 4th Round - Federer, Chela, Djokovic, Gulbis, Clijsters, Bartoli, Roddick, Isner
March 14, 2011 BNP Paribas Open: 3rd Round - Nadal, Soderling, Sweeting, Kohlschreiber, Querrey, Verdasco
March 13, 2011 BNP Paribas Open: Raonic Rising, Roddick Rolling, Federer Florishing - Roddick, Blake, Djokovic, Golubev, Federer, Andreev
March 12, 2011 BNP Paribas Open: Women's Preview & Second Round Results - Nadal, de Voest, del Potro, Ljubicic, Wozniacki, Stephens
March 11, 2011 BNP Paribas Open: Men's Preview with Photo Coverage of Blake, Guccione, Ivanovic, Date-Krumm
 

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