Friday, February 27, 2015

The Future is...Now? The Men

by Savannah

I've been toying with the idea of doing a "future is now" post since the end of the Australian Open but could never get it right in my head. It's early in the year. The spring US Hardcourt swing hasn't gotten underway yet. Which up and comer, hyped or not, should I focus on as an example of what the future of tennis will look like? A youngster may shine one week and flop the next. With the superstars of the last (current) generation not slowing down but maturing in their thought processes and hence their approach to the game what is the right age to start looking at the players born in the '90s? Are they showing any signs of revolutionizing how tennis is played? Are any wise beyond their years?

via GQ(Getty) photo 9b0cc4a7-c38d-47d5-9881-444d2e7ac940_zpsejjqvo8y.jpg
via GQ UK/Getty

Too broad a scope. I'll focus on one player this time, one that's not on my watch list. He's got potential but like his peers he still thinks like an eighteen year old kid. Who? Borna Ćorić (Chorich) of Croatia. He got himself in a spot of bother (I love some of those British colloguialisms)by declaring himself the best of his generation around the time of the AO and facing the inevitable "who the hell do you think you are" response from fans and the press. He'd played poorly coming into Dubai where he crashed out in Qualies. Because of a withdrawal he got into the Main Draw as a Lucky Loser.

As you know I'm a big fan of young players working their way to direct acceptance into main draws by playing Qualfying and the Challenger/ITF circuit instead of being gifted Wild Cards into the main draw's of top tier tournaments. Despite his "I am the greatest" moment those around the eighteen year old seem to be thinking the same way about his schedule. He's good but he's not ready for prime time yet. I don't think anyone expected much from him when he was set to play Andy Murray in the quarter final round at Dubai. Murray, a notoriously slow starter, would probably end up playing Roger Federer in the semi finals.

Things did not go according to plan. Murray quickly realized he was not going to have an easy time with Borna and began pressing instead of doing what he usually does and work his way into a match. He seemed unable to relax (Borna wouldn't let him) and Ćorić showed no mercy when Murray began spraying errors all over the place routing the British Number 1 in straight sets.

I was surprised that the press reaction wasn't "Murray had a bad day" but "Ćorić has shown he's a future Grand Slam winner". Really? Is the hatred directed towards Murray because of his coaching choice so strong that he couldn't be granted that nicety by fans and press alike? No. Because he needs Lendl. I'm really sick and tired of that talk. Lendl walked away from Murray not the other way around. What is Murray supposed to do don sack cloth and cover his head in ashes and crawl to Lendl and beg him to come back? I don't think that's going to happen. What is happening is that the Brits are terrified because when Murray walks away from tennis they have absolutely NO ONE to take his place. They also have no one who is suitable to coach a top ten Grand Slam winner since they have no former players who were anywhere near the top ten or winning a Slam. So they snipe from the sidelines and try to force Murray to get rid of the French woman.

But back to Ćorić. As I said Murray had a bad day. I wasn't impressed with that win. I wanted to see how he played Federer who would come out loaded for bear and ready to squash the kid like a bug. Would Ćorić be able to stay calm and play a patient game or would he come out and try to blast Federer off the court? He did the latter with the results you would expect from that approach. Federer saw him coming and saw him off with a pat on the back. It was Ćorić who pressed, who rushed his shots, who sprayed errors. But that's expected. He's eighteen. Even the comms conceded that his win over an ill and shouldn't have been playing Rafael Nadal was a win over a sick man before rushing on to praise Federer's easy win.

Ćorić was never close to winning the match today and the way he played he shouldn't have been. He played just like Elias Ymer, Francis Tiafoe, and Alexander Zverev play when facing a top player. They're all still at the "blast him off the court" stage in their development. None of them show the precociousness of the previous generation some of whom had Slams in their late teens.

Too much is being asked of these kids too soon. Play Challengers. Play Qualies. They need to learn to win and more importantly learn to lose. When the lessons have been learned from both experiences then and only then will these young men (and women) be able to play up to their potential. Don't ruin their spirits by putting them into situations they're not ready for.

Segue to Acapulco where there have been some very interesting goings on with the next big thing and one could have been next big thing.

Grigor Dimitrov is called the next big thing because he has a similar backhand to Roger Federer. He's managed by Federer and Tony Godsick's agency. He's got a Nike clothing contract. And it's said he's got a famous tall Russian Grand Slam winner as a girlfriend. And he can cliff dive as well as the people who do that for a living to harvest pearls. What a man no?

At 23 he's had four coaches including his current coach Roger Rasheed. He's won three ATP Main Tour titles including Acapulco last year. Seeded third things looked to be set for him to make at least the semi finals against Nishikori Kei. It didn't quite work out that way. Ryan Harrison, one of the enfants terrible US tennis is known for, seems to have decided he wants to play tennis and not just make shots and stage elaborate meltdowns. The US based comms made a point of saying he had moved to Austin and that he was working with Andy Roddick. (There was no mention of Roddick becoming his coach or travelling with Harrison).

That was a very strange match to watch. Harrison didn't implode and won the first set 7-5. Okay fine. I figured Dimitrov would take the next two. He won the second set 6-4 and then the bottom fell out. Harrison stayed cool, calm and collected, a minor miracle, and it was Dimitrov who had the melt down before losing the third set 6-0. I don't think anyone saw that coming. They didn't see Harrison getting past Ivo Karlovic either but he did and he'll play David Ferrer in one semifinal Friday night. Win or lose Harrison, at 22, seems to have gotten over being the next big thing and is looking to be a good tennis player. I don't think he'll be seen as cannon fodder at Indian Wells or Miami. If he can build on the success he's had in Mexico it should be very interesting for him and tennis in the United States. I'm not saying he's going to win a Slam but doing well at an ATP 500 is kind of a big deal for US tennis at the moment.

Colette Lewis Interviews Michael Joyce

Michael Joyce, former coach of Maria Sharapova, sat down with Colette Lewis for Tennis Recruiting Network to talk about his coaching odyssey. He talked about how he ended up coaching Sharapova and how his career has evolved from that experience. The exchange shown below got my interest.

CL: Do you think coaching is underrated or overrated?

MJ: I think you can overcoach for sure. I find it's usually a couple of little things that if you can make them believe that they can do it, believe in playing a certain way, have an identity of what they're trying to do, that's the hard part.

I think a lot of people can sit there and watch a match and say, this person should have done this or that, that's not that hard. I could watch the Super Bowl and pick apart what they did right or wrong.

But how do you get people to do that and believe that? That's what I think is the biggest challenge in coaching, to get the player to believe in what they're trying to do, do it under pressure, do it day in and day out. I'm not a big believer in quick fixes. You can tell a player something and it might help them for a little while, but having an identity and understanding what they're trying to do, having a good attitude, confidence, all those things a coach can really help.

That's a reason I like coaching women, because I feel as a coach you can make a lot bigger strides with somebody, sometimes more than a guy. Take John Isner. How much are you really going to help him? He going to hit 30 aces, and if he doesn't, he's probably going to lose. For the men, it's pitting my strengths against your strengths and seeing who wins. Obviously there's a little coaching there, but with the women, there's not as many weapons, a lot more patterns, little things a coach can really improve a lot.

I'm a big believer that coaching is important, and the Xs and Os of tennis are important, but the most important part is what environment you're in. If you're not in an environment to flourish, you're never going to be good. That's part of the problem with LA. There are great coaches out there, but you don't what the kids are doing all the time. You give a kid a lesson for an hour, that's not going to cut it. Taking lessons from a good coach is not going to make you a great player.

You need to be in an atmosphere where you can get stronger, get fitter. That's why I think some of the other countries have more success, because they come up together, kind of piggybacking off of each other. If you practice with someone for a week and that girl goes off and does well, you think I can do that too. I'm a big believer in coming together more as a group, more than as an individual. Even though it's an individual sport, you need that competition and you need that support system.

Colette is posting the interview in two parts. I hope she asks him more about the women having "not as many weapons" as the men.

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Randy Burgess said...

Smart writeup! I agree about Ćorić not being prepared for Federer, but then again, he is 18 after all. I thought that for 18 he played pretty darn good. I like his general air of confidence even if this began to crumble once he found he couldn't hit through Federer. He is a lot like Kyrigos in terms of confidence. Tignor has a piece on these two plus Thiem that I think is pretty nicely done, asking, what is the combination of traits that can lead to success in a young player? In Tignor's opinion Ćorić has good movement & a strong mental game but doesn't yet have a weapon equal to either Kyrigos's serve or Thiem's forehand.

I do think he frustrated Murray & deserves some credit for that. One shot he pulled off I loved: I forget the exact sequence but Murray was pushing him around the court & had come in to net; it looked like Ćorić was done for; but from outside the alley he flicked a beautiful soft backhand lob perfectly over Murray. Ćorić rarely executes a creative shot, but this one was definitely that.

About Murry, Lendl, et al: to me, you can't blame Mauresmo if Murray has an off day. Nor can you blame Murray. He has always had off days. He's that type of player.

As for Harrison/Dimitrov, I saw a little of that too. The commentators were saying Dimitrov was playing with a blacked-out racquet that was not his usual & that he had no touch with it. I have no idea. To me the loss just reinforces that Dimitrov remains soft. Harrison I remember from his highly trumpeted first appearances against first Raonic (who he beat) and next Federer (who he lost to). Yawn. Impossible for me to be a fan, but I like his current work ethic. He looks like he's lost weight, usually a plus sign for a player.

Savannah said...

Have you noticed how EVERYONE turned up fit and trim in Australia? With a few exceptions there was not a pot belly or love handle to be seen.

I saw that Ćorić lob. It was a thing of beauty.