2014 Coaching/Player Relationships on the ATP and WTA

I don’t know about you guys, but I am ready for tennis season to be back in full force! I am counting down the days until the Australian Open! But until then, let’s discuss some player/coach relationships as it seems like lately there has been an influx of new relationships being formed.

It’s not new to see former pros on the coaching end of things, but it seems like lately, all of our favorite players from the past have made their way back to the circuit via coaching. Brad Gilbert has worked with the best of them — everyone from Agassi, Roddick, Andy Murray to Nishikori and even Sam Querrey. Some of those relationships blossomed in chemistry, and some were duds. In 2013, we saw Sharapova hire, and quickly fire, Jimmy Connors — but let’s be honest, there wasn’t enough room on the court for those two superstars. Then there was Martina Hingis’ stint in coaching Anastasia Pavlyuchnkova…until Martina realized how much she missed the limelight and competition.

So, who do we have paired up in 2014?

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Federer and Edberg are working together in 2014 — photos by Cynthia Lum

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5th Annual T Dubbies: Year End Tennis Awards

The most coveted award in all of tennis

The most coveted award in all of tennis

I don’t know about you, but to me, 2013 seemed like it was only about 3 months long. One minute everyone was doing the Harlem Shake and the next, they moved on to something called twerking. It felt like just yesterday that I was writing my 2012 year in review. Weren’t we just talking about Rafael Nadal’s comeback? But here we are, at the end of the 2013, less than 1 month away from the 2014 Australian Open. And Rafa’s knee, much like Miley Cyrus, appears to be alive and well.

These past 12 months can be summed up in 2 words: Rafa, Serena. Both had spectacular seasons and both went into 2013 with question marks. Rafa with his knee and Serena with her age (which, at 32, is considered “over the hill” in tennis years). And yes, let’s not forget that this was the year Andy Murray got the monkey, well, more like Godzilla, off his back by winning Wimbledon.

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Davis Cup Quarterfinals

Davis Cup kicks off some exciting rubbers in the Quarterfinal Rounds for the World Group today.

Davis Cup Quarterfinals

Led by Jim Courier, Team USA begins play today on home soil this round on an indoor court in Boise, Idaho and will take on Serbia. Having met just one time before, Team USA comes up against the only World Team to have the highest ranked player on the ATP on their active roster, number one in the world, Novak Djokovic. Djokovic teams up with Viktor Troicki, Ilija Bozoljac, and Nenad Zimonjic to take on our team of Sam Querrey, John Isner, and The Bryan Brothers. Despite having powerhouse Nole on their team (who has proven to be human over the past couple months and has taken a loss or two), I am hoping to see the US take full advantage of the crisp, clean (and high altitude) Boise air and use the home court advantage to pull off the upset over Serbia.
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Now available for pre-sale: New Wilson Blades for 2013!


We think the new Wilson Blades for 2013 are the best yet! Get a demo and give them a try for yourself!

The highly anticipated new Wilson Blade racquets are here, and now available for pre-sale!

Wilson has built upon the success of the Blade line and re-engineered the racquets to make them more solid and more comfortable than ever. The new versions include Wilson’s Amplifeel technology, a handle system designed to provide a clean, more enhanced feel for the player upon ball contact. In addition, the frame has been re-designed with a new construction, making it more stable on impact and off-center hits.

When Wilson presented these new racquets, we were told these were the best Blades ever. We took them to the court, and sure enough, our playtest team felt these were a huge improvement upon previous generations. The improvements that Wilson set out to make were exactly that – noticeable improvements!

The biggest difference we noticed was in the construction, where the new Blades significantly outplayed the previous ones. The new Blade 93 offers superior comfort, feel and a larger sweetspot compared to the BLX Blade Tour it replaces.

In the 98s, the new Blades are rock solid! The Amplifeel in the handle is an improvement, making them softer and more comfortable, providing a better connection between the ball and the player. Furthermore, we were excited to see the open (16×19) string pattern being offered in the 98 square inch version. We found it to have a much livelier feel than the 18×20 version, offering both more power and spin.

All in all, these new Blades are everything they are hyped up to be. The improvements Wilson set out to make are real, and our whole playtesting team loved hitting the new sticks. Be sure to check out our full written and video reviews by clicking on the review links on the product pages for each new Blade.

Here is some additional info and in-house specs about each racquet in the new Blade line:

Blade 93 (click to see our TW review): 

  • 93 sq.in head, 18×20 string pattern, 6.5 pts HL, 12 oz strung, 68 stiffness, 333 SW, 21mm beam
  • Terrific precision weapon for the advanced player
  • Replaces the BLX Blade Tour

 

Blade 98 16×19 (click to see our TW review):

  • 98 sq. in. head, 16×19 string pattern, 1 pt HL, 11.2 oz strung, 66 stiffness, 331 SW, 21.5mm beam
  • Open string pattern for added power and spin
  • Control for the modern, aggressive game

 

 

Blade 98 18×20 (click to see our TW review):

  • 98 sq. in head, 18×20 string pattern, 2 pts HL, 11.2 oz strung, 65 stiffness, 328 SW, 21.5mm beam
  • Racquet of choice for touring pro Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils
  • Replaces the BLX Blade 98

 

Blade 104 (click to see our TW review):

  • 104 sq. in  head, 18×19 string pattern, 3.5 pts HL, 10.7 oz strung, 60 stiffness, 308 SW, 22mm beam, 27.5″ extended length
  • Racquet of choice for Grand Slam champions Serena and Venus Williams
  • Replaces the BLX Blade Team

Thanks for reading!

-AG

Milos Raonic – The biggest server on tour

Milos Raonic's explosive game has catapulted him to a career high ranking of #14 this week.

All you tennis fans out there better get ready to welcome a new face into the ATP top 10 really soon. 21-year-old Milos Raonic is taking his game to new levels, reaching a career high ranking of #14 in the world this week, led by a world class serve, the likes of which is one of the best that we’ve seen in a long time.

The 6’5″ Canadian has had the best year of his career to date, moving from outside the top 30 at the end of last year to his current ranking of #14. He’s won two titles already and reached two more finals, doubling his  2011 efforts. Most importantly, he’s been good against the game’s elite. He’s 2-1 against Andy Murray this year, and even though he’s 0-3 against Roger Federer, the losses were 7-6 in the third, 7-6 in the third, and 6-4 in the third.

More impressive, however, is his service game and the statistics that he’s been putting up this year. He’s holding serve 93% of the time, which is tied for second highest holding percentage for a year since the ATP starting keeping these statistics in 1991. He’s the tour leader in aces with 921, which is already nearly 300 more than he had all of last year. He’s also won 83% of the points when he gets his 1st serve in, which also leads the tour,

In the infamous words of my former college coach Matt Anger at the University of Washington, “all tennis is is holding serve and breaking serve.” Raonic has turned into the most dominant server on the pro tour, which is putting more and more pressure on his opponents to hold their own serve. As Milos’ game continues to develop, I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t become even more dominant on serve, as well as utilizing his explosive game to become even better on his return game.  If he starts breaking even more, he’ll become an extremely dangerous player.

So what can we expect from the big serving Canadian? He’s got very few ranking points to defend through the rest of the year, and the rest of the season is going to be indoor hard court tournaments, which happens to be the conditions he’s most effective in. He had a long week in Japan, which resulted in an early exit in Shanghai, but look for him to use the extra rest this week to recharge the batteries for the rest of the year. I like his chances to crack the top 10 and maybe even make an appearance in the year end championships in London.

He’s got a ways to go before being a top 5 player, but as long as Milos Raonic stays healthy, he’ll be a staple in the top 10 for a good long while.

Click here to see Milos Raonic’s gear!

Thanks for reading!

Andy G.

ATP Blog: September (and a wee bit of October) in review

Kei Nishikori became the first Japanese player ever to win the Japan Open last week. Look for the hard-hitting youngster to make a push for the top 10 next year.

The pro tour action is starting to pick back up again after the exciting conclusion to the US Open about a month ago. Let’s take a look at what’s happened on the pro tour over the last month…

-The United States Davis Cup team’s run was halted by Spain in the semifinals of the World Group. The pivotal match came in the second singles match, where Nicolas Almagro outlasted John Isner 6-4 4-6 6-4 3-6 7-5 to give the Spainards a 2-0 lead going into the doubles. Next month, Spain will look to repeat as champions as they take on the Czech Republic in the finals after the Czechs defeated Argentina 3-2 in the other semi.

-Kei Nishikori became the first Japanese player to win the Japan Open, taking down Milos Raonic 7-6 3-6 6-0. Nishikori used the energy from the hometown crowd to beat US Open semifinalist Tomas Berdych along the way, dictating play with his aggressive court positioning and thunderous groundstrokes off both wings.

Novak Djokovic won last week's China Open, dismantling Jo Wilfried Tsonga in the finals.

-Novak Djokovic won his third straight China Open title after defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final, 7-6 6-2. It was an even match until Novak just poked his head a bit in front in the first set tiebreak, and then it all began to unravel for the fiery Frenchman.

-The Shanghai Rolex Masters is underway, with 6 of the world’s top 10 players competing for $3.5 million in prize money and 1000 ATP ranking points on the line. Look for a Federer/Murray semifinal matchup if they can both make it through their respective sections of the draw. This will be the first time Roger Federer has played since his quarterfinal exit at the US Open.

Stay tuned for more ATP blogs…thanks for reading!

AG

Everything you need to know about strings for the modern game!

"Guga" Kuerten revolutionized the game by popularizing the polyester string.

As the turn of the century hit, a revolution in tennis strings was starting on the pro tour. It started in 1997, when Gustavo Kuerten won the French Open with a polyester string made by Luxilon. Traditionally, players on the pro tour had been using natural gut string, made from animal intestine and known for its unmatched tension maintenance, power, and soft feel. Natural gut was rumored to have been manufactured first by Pierre Babolat in the late 1800s, and it remained the most popular string on tour for the next century.

However, when Guga won the French with polyester string, players began to realize something. Since polyester is much stiffer and lower powered than traditional natural gut, it allowed for players to take much larger swings at the ball, unlocking their own natural power. With greater racquet head acceleration, players were able to generate more spin and ultimately more power than ever.

Furthermore, racquet technology was getting better, with companies producing lighter and more powerful frames than ever. As pro players transitioned into these high-powered frames, they needed a string that could harness a bit of this new found power and provide the control and spin necessary for the modern game. As a result, it’s very rare nowadays to see a player using a full bed of natural gut, and instead almost every pro player has made the switch to either a full bed of polyester string or a hybrid setup that utilizes both poly and natural gut strings, designed to take the control from the poly and the comfort of the natural gut and blend them together.

Rafael Nadal is the prototype for the modern game, with massive amounts of spin and power in his game.

Tension Strategy with stiffer strings

In general, stringing your racquet at certain tensions will give you specific sensations when hitting the ball. If you string your racquet tighter (at a higher tension), you maximize control and produce a stiff, dead feeling stringbed. On the other hand, dropping the tension low maximizes power, comfort, and feel, but sacrifices control.

Traditionally, with a full bed of natural gut, players would string their racquets at very high tensions to harness the power of the soft string and their fast strokes. In the 1980s and 1990s, you’d often see players in the 60, 70, or even 80+ pound range for tension. At the 1991 US Open, Michael Chang, Ivan Lendl, and Jim Courier were stringing their racquets in the 70+ lbs range, and Thomas Muster and Monica Seles were even at 81 and 83 pounds respectively! That’s like playing with a 2×4! But with natural gut’s extraordinary playability, the string remained soft and the high tensions were the only way for the players with longer strokes to have enough control on their shots.

Nowadays, with pros switching to stiffer polyester strings, the tensions that pros are using have dropped dramatically. At this week’s Japan Open, Andy Murray is stringing his racquet at the highest tension of anyone in the tournament…at 60 pounds! Most of the pros are between 45-55 lbs, with Milos Raonic coming in with the lowest tension in the tournament at 41 pounds.

Players are forced to come down in tension with the polyester strings because they are so much stiffer than natural gut. With stiffer strings, there is a significant loss of comfort and power, but dramatically more control. If the same high tensions are used with a polyester string, it would be way too stiff on a player’s arm, causing fatigue and eventually injury. Players must come down in tension with a polyester in order to get the comfort and feel they require.

The best value polyester strings on the market

With the increased popularity of polyester strings there has been lots of new companies producing them, leaving you with an overwhelming selection to choose from. However, with all the new additions to the market, companies have found new ways of altering the poly string to make their strings unique and enhance playability. Some polys are now textured or shaped in order to grab the ball even more than “standard-shaped” strings, maximizing the spin potential of the strings. Companies have also introduced materials into the strings making them softer, reducing the jarring effect of the stiffer strings and making them more arm-friendly. Furthermore, the newest development in polyester string technology is making the surface of the string very slick so that it slides on itself easier, which also dramatically helps spin potential.

Enough mumbo jumbo…I want to make your decision process easier. Here are (in my opinion) the best polyester strings around with the best value, so you can get high-end performance at a great price!

Volkl Cyclone is the string I used the most when I was out playing on the pro tour. It has medium stiffness for a good blend of power and control, and its shaped design grabs the ball exceptionally well and helps you to generate tons of spin. It’s offered in 16, 17, and 18 gauge and in multiple different colors. At only $7.99, it’s a steal!

 

Tourna Big Hitter Black 7 has become one of my go-to strings lately after a recent playtest. Very similar to Cyclone, it has great playability and exceptional spin potential with it’s 7-sided design. Very few strings that cost $10 or more out-perform it, so at $8.95 it’s a no brainer!

 

 

Solinco Tour Bite has in the past couple years gained a ton of visibility on the pro tour. Players love it because of the great control and massive spin that it offers. This one is also a shaped string (you’re beginning to figure out I tend to like shaped strings). It’s a little more expensive at $11.50, but it’s still not going to break the bank. It’s offered in 16, 17, 18, and very soon 19 gauge!

 

 

Topspin Cyberflash was my string of choice during my college career. According to TW University tests, it’s one of the softest polyester strings around, making it super comfortable and easy on the arm. I loved it’s super lively and soft feel, and it’s only $7.49!

 

Thanks for reading!

AG

The Ultimate Tennis Player: Male Edition

If you were to put together the ultimate tennis player from today’s group of pros, a la Dr. Frankenstein, which players would you pick and for which shots? Great question, I know. So I started racking my brain, thinking about the categories I’d need and which players would fit where. I gave myself one parameter, though: I couldn’t pick a player to fill more than two categories. I needed to do this so I couldn’t just pick Nadal, Federer and Djokovic for every category. After some careful consideration, this is the monster I created. (Cue evil villain laugh and lightning).

The Ultimate Tennis Player

Categories

Serve: Milos Raonic

Don’t be fooled by what Verdasco called “the body of a 12 year old boy.” The 6’5″ Canuck can bring the heat! And the amazing thing is that he makes it looks almost effortless to hit 140+ MPH missiles.

Forehand: Rafael Nadal

Call it whatever you want: the buggy whip, the helicopter, whatever it is, it works. Nadal hits his forehand at an average of 3,300 RPMs. Compare that to Roger Federer who hits an average of 2,700 RPMs. His inside-out forehand is the best in the game. Hands down.

Backhand: Novak Djokovic

Brad Gilbert calls Djokovic’s backhand “the best since Andre Agassi.” And he’s right. Down the line, cross court, on the rise, it doesn’t matter. His backhand is probably the main reason why he’s been so successful against Rafa in their past few meetings.

Slice: Roger Federer

His forehand could be misfiring, the topspin backhand could be going long, but the slice is tried and true. For those of us who’ve tried to hit a driving slice above our shoulders, we know just how hard of a shot it is to hit. But he does it with ease. Playing against Nadal 28 times probably had something to do with it.

Volley: Bryan Brothers

11 Grand Slam doubles titles can’t be wrong. Need more convincing? Check out the video below.

Drop shot: Andy Murray

He uses it often and sometimes even at the displeasure of the crowd like what happened with his match against Giles Simon at the 2011 Monte Carlo Masters.

Tweener: Roger Federer

Anyone remember the ‘tweener he hit against Djokovic at the US Open? Thought so.

Return: Novak Djokovic

His return game isn’t just one of the best in his era, but one of the best of all time. Djokovic stands right at the baseline and is able to hit winners from both wings. Down two match points against a 16 time Grand Slam champion at the semifinals of the US Open? Doesn’t matter, he’s like the honey badger.

Speed: Gael Monfils

There are a lot of fast players on the ATP World Tour, but there are few faster than the speedy Frenchman. Full disclosure: I would’ve put either Djokovic or Nadal here, but by my own rules, I couldn’t because they’re already in two categories. So save your angry emails!

Heart/Mental Toughness: Rafael Nadal

Quick story: It was 2008 and a group of us from Tennis Warehouse were watching Nadal vs Nalbandian at the BNP Paribas Open (formerly known as the Pacific Life Open). Nadal lost the first set 6-3 and was down a couple breaks in the second set. We thought it was over and decided to go home. The next morning, we come into work to find out that Nadal saved five match points, taking the second set to a tie-break, winning the tie break and then handed out a bagel in the third set. No one is more mentally tough and fights harder than Nadal.

- Charisma: Mansour Bahrami

Yes, yes, I know he isn’t necessarily considered to be part of “todays pro” but he he gets paid to play exhibitions matches. So technically, he’s a professional. I had to make an exception! He’s an entertainer in every sense of the word and you’ve probably never even heard of him. Go ahead and watch the video below. I guarantee you’ll find yourself smiling or laughing within 2 minutes. Or your money back.

So that’s my ultimate tennis player. What’s yours? Comment below with your own monster.

Up next, the ultimate female tennis player.

Jason, TW