Across The Net: The Events of the Week and What if Match #2 Roddick vs. Rafter
Players of the Week:
Andy Roddick won his second title of the year by downing surprise finalist John Isner 6-4, 7-6. Roddick will return to #3 in the world Monday August, 6. He also takes the lead in the U.S. Open Series. Isner deserves a ton of credit. He is 6’9″ and serves huge. He also won the NCAA title in singles, a Futures event in CA (Futures are replacing Challengers), a Satellite tour event in Lexington, KY and then took out a lot of solid players en route to his first ATP final. At 6’9″ if Isner develops adequate footwork he could become a nasty player to draw on any fast surface. Isner, Sam Querrey and Donald Young are all demonstrating that the U.S. may still be producing quality tennis players.
Tommy Robredo is ranked 7th in the world and just won his first title of 2007 in Sopot, Poland. His solid results in Melbourne and Paris along with this title cement his status as an elite slow court player. Robredo played well in Cincinnati last year before injuries stunted his hard court season. Better health this year could lead to some nice wins.
Story of the Week: Gambling Fixing a Match in Tennis?
World #4 Nicolay Davydenko lost a match earlier this week by default to a low ranked player. Irregular betting patterns caused a London Casino to void all bets. My guess is that Davydenko was not in on this. Tennis tournaments are staffed by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Still, Davydenko who plays one of the heaviest schedules on tour may have been on the verge of a physical breakdown. If a volunteer heard that his feet were in poor shape and passed that information along to interested parties, the betting could have poured in for a big pay day. Tennis will need to monitor this, but since all bets were voided it seems to have been handled in short term as well as could be expected. In the long run, tennis needs to be careful about who has access to medical information. Finally, if Davydenko was involved, he should receive a lifetime ban.
What if match #2: Patrick Rafter vs. Andy Roddick
On the surface, Rafter and Roddick have had similar careers, each has been runner-up at Wimbledon twice and had their best success in North America. The two players are quite different in style and temperament. Rafter played like a kind-warrior with a net rushing style that pressured everyone. Roddick tries to win with a huge serve, big forehand and some opportunistic net play. Roddick’s demeanor on court can be more negative than the Aussie’s.
Strengths and Weaknesses: Rafter’s strengths revolve around his net play, his reflexes, his instincts, his foot speed and his willingness to make the match very physical. Roddick’s strengths are his first and second serve along with his overall power. Rafter’s weak return of serve prevented him from winning more Grand Slams. The Aussie also had a fairly vanilla baseline game that produced few errors, but also placed little pressure on the opposition. Roddick’s weaknesses revolve around a predictable backhand, sometimes poor court positioning, and shaky volleys off of low passing shots.
Slow Hard Court On this surface, Rafter never really excelled. Such a court causes his volleys and approach shots to sit up. It also takes a bite out of what is a good but not great serve. Rafter’s best result at the Australian Open was a 5 set semifinal loss to Andre Agassi in 2001. Roddick has reached the Australian Open semifinals on 3 occasions 2003, 2005 and 2007 along with a quarterfinal finish in 2004. Roddick’s serve is so big that a court at this speed does not often derail it. In this match up, Roddick would serve big and take advantage of Rafter’s weak returns. Roddick would also have good enough footing to hit enough passing shots and returns to win most of the time. Roddick would win 7 out 10 matches on this surface.
Clay Neither man excelled on clay. Still, Rafter did reach the semifinals of the 1997 French Open. While his serve, approach shots and volleys would sit up on clay more than he would like, Rafter always likes mixing it up. Clay is a court for street fight grimy tennis. Roddick’s serve is more adversely impacted on clay and most importantly his movement is just not solid on this surface. Rafter is not a clay courter, but he is one of the most gifted athletes to ever play tennis and moves well anywhere. Rafter’s foot speed and willingness to mix it up lead him to winning 7 out of 10 matches on clay.
Grass Roddick’s 4 Queen’s club titles, two Wimbledon runner-up finishes, 1 Wimbledon semifinal loss and 1 Wimbledon quarterfinal loss actually make him the more accomplished grass court player than Patrick Rafter. Roddick would be hard for Rafter to break on this surface. Still, grass seems to reward athleticism, reflexes, and soft hands. Even on the slow grass of 2007, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Gasquet are among the most gifted players when it comes to improvising. Rafter was also great at improvising. I am not knocking Roddick’s athleticism, but I think over the course of 10 matches Rafter’s hands, reflexes and speed win more often than not over Roddick’s power. Rafter would keep the ball low, slice a lot and of course make Roddick hit lots of backhand returns and passing shots. Roddick would eventually breakdown. Rafter wins 7 out of 10, with most matches going 4 or 5 sets, on grass.
Fast Hard Court In Summer 1998, Patrick Rafter won nearly every hard court event he entered including the U.S. Open. In 2003, Roddick replicated that feat. Both guys play well on this stuff. Rafter once again would need to keep the ball low because unlike on clay or grass, Roddick’s movement is best on this surface. Rafter would perform better on this surface than on a slow hard court because even if he could barely break Roddick’s serve he would hold more easily and be able to do more damage with approach shots and first volleys. I think Roddick would feel at home on this surface, but also face the pressure of an ever charging Rafter constantly making him hit passing shots. Rafter stared down Pete Sampras and won in 5 sets in 1998. Rafter would likely handle the big points slightly better on a surface that suits both men’s games so well. Rafter would win 6 of 10 matches that would be decided largely in tie-breakers.
Indoor Court Neither man plays/played as well on this surface as one might expect. Rafter likes to make matches very physical so my guess is he disliked the controlled climate of indoor tennis that minimizes fatigue. Roddick has not dominated on indoor courts the way a power player is expected to. In Roddick’s defense, fewer and fewer indoor events are contested on surfaces like carpet that would really suit his game. The old WCT Finals in Dallas would have suited Roddick well. Still, I think indoor tennis reward the pure power player more than any other surface. That leads me to believe Roddick wins 7 out of 10 matches here because he could get into such a groove serving that Rafter might never break him. Rafter might win a few matches 7-6, 7-6, but that is a tough mountain to climb.
Overall Total: Rafter 26 Roddick 24 Rafter would largely win due to his superior speed and hands. I think Roddick would have a hard time producing enough passing shots to really win a majority of matches. Still, Rafter would have a hard time breaking Roddick, and that would give Andy a punchers chance.