There was something that caught my attention while watching the highlights of the French Open Mens Singles final more so than any shot that was struck by either player and it reminded me so much of the great man from Sweden, Bjorn Borg.
Forget the brilliant hitting of Rafa, that was always going to happen but if you haven't already seen the highlights do yourself a favour and take a look at where Rafa stands to receive serve. It's a throw back to the 70's and early 80's where Borg used to give himself so much time to receive serve that it was almost like receiving an underarm serve each time as he would wait for the serve to drop.
I have often wondered why more players do not employ this tactic or is it an egotistical type of thing to receive a serve at the baseline as Agassi did so well in the 90's ?
But not every player owns Agassi's returning qualities.
The Las Vegas showman definitely started a trend with his ability to meet the serve early though it takes a remarkable eye to be able to meet a 200km per hour delivery from either on or inside the baseline.
Borg and Agassi were Worlds apart with their tactics on the return of serve yet both owned a Rock Star type of appeal as far as their looks and flair were concerned. It is no surprise that at certain stages of their careers I found them to be both larger than life type of figures and it had everything to do with the way they played as well as the way they looked.
Any sportsman who shows up with long flowing locks is asking for trouble from the Media in particular though that is easy to put to rest if you win regularly as Borg did from the outset, not so with Andre Agassi.
To openly take part in a television commercial and say 'Image is everything' and then not win regularly is more or less taking the piss......
It's sort of like Anna Kournikova making millions as an 'image' but not as a tennis player as she didn't really win much despite a couple of Grand Slam Doubles events, not bad all the same but she couldn't win in singles, that's a fact.
Sorry I do get side tracked when I start talking tennis, back to Rafa at this year's French Open.
Why does a receiver stand so close in ?
This is word for word from Bjorn Borg.....
" Why do receivers stand so close in ? Mostly because it's macho to face a cannonball next to the barrel. Sort of like the gladiators in the olden days chasing each other with axes or swords at close range.
Me ? I want my macho moment in the winners circle rather than for a few isolated points during the match".
If a server slides a ball wide every single time particularly from a lefty serve then yes it requires a stance closer to the baseline to counter act the angle. If not, why stand close ? If someone kicks a serve as high as Safin used to wouldn't it be a smarter option for the ball to take its kick and then return it ?
Surely Rafa's tactic at this years French Open as well as his previous 9 titles in Paris needs to be studied by many coaches and players looking at just why the Spaniard is so effective in Paris on the dirt. It's because he has worked it out, time, tennis is all about time. You can't play 'ping pong' on a tennis court and expect to win consistently.
Rafa has a forehand that gives him so much time when he requires it due to the height and the bounce that he can vary at will yet if you watch the modern day 'clone' most clear the net by a 'bees dick', no time to think.
Rafa has it all over 'em no doubt about it when it comes to technique, tactics and time on the clay.
Cilic won just seven games against Stan in the Quarters yet Marin only lost around 30 games in four straight sets wins in his march to the quarters. So how did Stan beat Marin so easily ? Variety. Stan has won the French Open, he knows what is required on the clay as he can hit big, slice, loop and drive but Cilic, well he just drives it. That style will never win on the dirt consistently.
That fact goes back to the 70's, at least. ( I am only 48 )
So what happens when a man of Stan's ability comes up against a man of Rafa's ability ? Well according to my prediction it was going to go 4 sets. Yeah right, in every tennis expert's tipping book, the 'safe' tip. So did we miss something in the lead up ?
Stan beat Novak a few years back in Paris which was rather surprising given Novak's record on clay which isn't bad when you take it into account that he has made it to the semis on 4 occasions, the quarters on two occasions and the final on 4 occasions, winning once. I believe that nerves beat Novak that day. He only required the French title to complete his resume.
Rafa lost the final of the Australian Open this year to Roger in 5 though Rafa can't stand as far back on hard court as he can on clay, Roger worked that out. Rafa won three events in the lead up to Paris this year but could you really pick the score line in the final this year in Paris ?
It seems that Rafa is at age 31 by far the greatest exponent of clay court tennis that the sport has ever seen though Borg is a close second and the Swede did not play one year due to politics so perhaps a seventh was a definite possibility though he did not play in 1977.
Vilas won the year Borg did not play, the next year Borg beat Vilas 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in the final so you tell me whether Borg should have seven French Open titles or not ??
There are many similarities with Borg and Rafa, particularly where they stood to receive serve and particularly with the way they hit the ball, with a high uncomfortable loop that pinned their opponents way back beyond the baseline.
Not too many players have ever lost on the dirt with those type of tactics.
Is the modern game too flat ?
Borg and Rafa will tell you just that........