Monday, December 28, 2009

The 9 Most Inspiring Tennis Players of 2009

Inspiration. Now we are getting to the heart of the matter...because when you think about it that is why we play. And that is why we watch. Because we want to be moved...because we want TO MOVE...because we want to believe that anything is possible.

They say in sports you can't flick inspiration on and off like a switch. They say you have to just HAVE IT. But it sure looks to me like the best of the best can produce it. They can't necessarily flick it on and off at will, but they can summon it, they can invite it, and harness it when it comes.

It is a sense. A sixth sense.

And it is an art.

What is success in tennis? And how can you most effectively achieve it? When must you strike, and when must you be content to wait? In times of fatigue, where does genius come from? It times of strife, where do the great ones find the impetus to act?

Inspiration, as we all know, stems from a belief.

The top 9 most inspiring players of 2009 inspired busloads of belief in us all.

Most Inspiring Player #9: Gael Monfils

What is the knock on Monfils, and why does there have to be a knock? Gael is the quintessential showman and he brings the crowd to life with his theatrics. But he doesn't do just that. The guy absolutely throws himself around the court. He stretches, he lunges, he sprints, he slams, he pirouettes, he shadow-boxes, he waves his arm and bounces up and down - well, you get the picture...

La Monf is a rare and precious commodity in tennis - he is a veritable sight to behold. He is very close to a breakthrough and only needs a little more mental grit to be a true Slam threat.

Most Inspiring Player #8: Melanie Oudin

Melanie Oudin could just as easily be ranked #1. The way she went from relative obscurity to being a viable Slam consideration was more than phenomenal. Wow. This fiery kid could be the real deal, so stay tuned...

Most Inspiring Player # 7: Radek Stepanek

You have to give it up for the old-school. Radek is not quite Fabrice Santoro stylistically, but man is he ever effective. He plays a delightfully daring brand of tennis - it features classic grips and strokes and it sometimes looks like he is stepping out of a time machine to play these modern-day baseline addicted droids.

And then, - HE WINS! How does he do it? He's clever as heck, that's how.

Most Inspiring player #6: The Bryan Brothers

Ok, I do realize that two people does not fit into the category of "player". But for Bob and Mike Bryan, I'll make an exception. They may be a team on paper, but in reality they are one. And to watch them is to be energized. They are chest-bumping, high-fiving, maniacs out on the court. Two positively charged balls of energy that are rarely if ever in the wrong place at the wrong time. How can you not get inspired to play tennis after watching them?

Most inspiring player # 5: Rafa Nadal

Sometimes love inspires us. And that is what many of us feel for Nadal. He has ushered in an era of physicality in tennis that gives the sport a new cachet in terms of athleticism. Tennis is no longer a country club sport played in sweaters and white linens. And Rafa is the personifaction of that ideal.

His vast and unconquerable physical presence has set the bar so high that even he is having trouble being himself. As he struggles we love him even more for who he is, and for his humanity. And the love inspires us.

Most inspiring player # 4. Victoria Azarenka

Inspiring players come in all shapes and sizes. Victoria Azarenka may be one of the smallest on the list, but man is her desire big. That is the word that most quickly comes to mind when I think about what the feisty Belarusian represents. She represents the notion that great tennis comes from great desire. Azarenka embodies the physical nature of the sport. She prowls the baseline with such verve, and she hits with the same vigor and contempt for the ball that Monica Seles used to have. Her high energy up-tempo brand of play seem destined for bigger things - if she can learn to control her emotions.

Most inspiring player # 3: Spain

Spain is a player because they all play for one collective ideal. Their 4th Davis Cup title of the decade was a moving display of camaraderie for the Spaniards. It wasn't just about mind-numbing awe-inspiring clay court tennis. It was a true homage to the beauty of national togetherness. Nationalism can be a beautiful thing when it serves its function. To inspire the many to become one stronger unit. Spain has cornered the market when it comes to this - it was obvious that the players on the benches were as important as the players on the court when they defeated the Czech Republic.

Most inspiring player # 2: Kim Clijsters

What she did is still blowing my mind to this day. KIMPOSSIBLE! She just snapped her fingers and made it happen. One day coloring books with Jada, the next, a decisive victory in a Grand-Slam final over Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets. The comeback itself was to be expected - but winning a slam on the first try? Beating both Williams Sisters in New York? Wow.

Most inspiring player # 1: Roger Federer

He's always been inspiring, but this year Roger Federer inspired us differently. This time around, it wasn't just about pure tennis artistry. This year it was about struggle and strife, and overcoming hurdles. Roger was down and out in March - you could literally feel it - and it was hard to come to terms with. Maybe this wasn't really happening, we thought. But we had seen it! Roger was off. His play was uninspired and downright confusing. And it hurt us to see.

But never mind all that. Federer went back to the woodshed and claimed what we all know is rightfully his. He worked on that damn serve until he was sure it wouldn't fail him in the slams. And he rested up, so when it was time for the Slams he'd have fresh legs. (Give Mirka some credit for that.)

In the end Federer blasted off into tennis immortality, and David Foster Wallace's clever title was as fitting as ever: Federer as Religious Experience.

Roger inspired us in 2009 by being the whole package. The beautiful game, the sinister concentration, the graceful presence, and the stellar decorum. He has it all, and it all inspires us, probably because in him we see a glimpse of perfection that we can all aspire to.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 9 Nastiest Tennis Shots of 2009

It may come wrapped in a nice layer of politeness, with a touch of glamour, and lots of artistry, but make no mistake about it - tennis is a nasty sport. The player who can successfully frustrate, annoy, or rattle his opponent is very likely to be the player who wins the match.

But there is more to being nasty than just being annoying. You have to have some weapons as well. A nasty serve...a nasty inside-out forehand...or a nasty drop shot can make an opponent want to bury his head beneath a towel and forfeit the match.

In the modern game it has never been more true: Getting nasty gets results.

Here are the 9 nastiest tennis shots of 2009.

Nasty Shot # 9: Jelena Jankovic's Moonballs

A steady diet of Jelena's moonballs can drive someone who has trouble generating their own pace all kinds of batty. Jelena is the master of this nastiness, and she is the type of girl that really enjoys exposing her opponents weaknesses.

Nasty Shot #8: Andy Murray's Forehand Cross-Court Angle Passing Shot

Not many in the men's game are better than Murray at toying with their opponents. He is so good at luring unsuspecting players into the net and then angling his forehand low and wide, just past the outstretched racquet of his ticked-off opponent. Dealing with Murray's dipping passing shots for a few sets is enough to make a player call for a shrink instead of a trainer between games.

Nasty Shot #7: Serena's first serve

The return of serve is many girls bread and butter on the WTA tour. That is why it can be so frustrating to face Serena, particularly when she is serving well. Not only does she keep a returner guessing - even when they guess right they have to deal with the fact that there is a vapor trail coming off the 120 mph heat that just popped off Serena's strings. Trying to return Serena's ballistic serves must feel similar to playing a video game at the highest level on Christmas day, when it is just out of the box.

Nasty Shot # 6: Roger Federer's Drop Shot on Clay

This is the shot that finally sent Robin Soderling back to earth in the French Open final. Federer is so good at getting you on the defensive — just when you are on your heels (expecting a forehand laser), roger gently tucks his wrist under the racquet-head and drops the ball about one millimeter over the net, where it dies in the clay and makes opponents feel inept.

Nasty Shot #5: Maria Sharapova's Return of Serve

Just when a player thinks she's got Maria — because she is basically double faulting away her service games — she starts hammering returns with so much force that all a poor server can do is hope and pray that her bombs land outside the lines somehow (they rareley do). Maria doesn't discrimate either — she feast on first serves, kick serves, slice serves, backhands, forehands, and anything else that might be on the menu.

I've yet to see her return an underhand serve, but I don't think it'd make a difference.

Nasty Shot #4: Radek Stepanek's Volleys

Radek Stepanek doesn't put away his volleys. He'd rather hit them softly so you think you have a chance to make a play on the ball. He's not a shoot-em-up type of guy — the clever Czech prefers to see his opponents die slowly — so he uses his soft hands to angle the ball all over the court and basically gets opponents on a string and keeps them there until they don't have the energy to chase another one down. It's enough to drive even the calmest player nuts.

Nasty Shot #3: Anything By Kuznetsova

If you happen to catch Kuznetsova on a day when she is on, best of luck to you. She hits the meanest ball on the women's tour and there is nothing you can do about it except try and beat her to the punch. Often times that can be a recipe for disaster.

Nasty Shot #2: The Fernando Gonzalez Forehand

Ouch. Gonzo can bring it, and if you're at the net when he is doing so, you might want to duck —especially if you see him set up with that huge windup that has become his trademark. Of all the forehands on the men's tour (and there are many sizzlers that captivate) this one takes the cake. Consider yourself punked if you leave the ball anywhere near his hitting zone. Gonzo takes no prisoners.

Nasty Shot #1: Del Potro's Cross Court Forehand

Good luck hitting what you can't even see. Delpo was cracking forehands that were measured at 110 M.P.H in that career-defining win over Federer, and he was hitting them so flat that they skidded off the hard court like hockey pucks off a clean sheet of ice.

Note to ATP players: If you notice Delpo dialing this shot in, stay the heck away from his forehand side - either that, or call for a trainer (or a shrink)!

Honorable Mentions:

1. Soderling's big paddling forehand. 2. Federer's first serve 3. Cilic's flat forehand cross court 4. Azarenka's two-hand backhand return of serve. 5. Wozniacki's two-hander from the baseline.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Top 9 Intensely Dramatic Women's Matches of 2009

This was a crazy year for Women's tennis. That's c-r-a-z-y with a capital C. Quite frankly, the sport has become impossible to predict. It's a good thing I'm not a betting man, is all I can say.

Please realize that all this craziness is good for the game: the chaos is extremely entertaining. The spontaneity is the allure, and you never know what is going to happen next. The comebacks of Sharapova, Clijsters, Krumm, and now Justine Henin are taking the drama to a whole new level.

It's really hard to summarize just how superb 2009 was for women's tennis. And crazy. Did I mention crazy?

Without any further ado, here are 2009's top-9 intensely dramatic matches:

Intensely Dramatic Match #9: Bartoli over Venus Williams, Bank of the West Final

Venus was the heavy favorite in this one, but Bartoli proved once again that she is not a girl to be taken lightly. Just as she did against Jelena Jankovic in the 4th round of the Australian Open, Bartoli came out on fire. Venus was basically livin' on a prayer for the better part of two sets. Her 2nd serve was attacked ruthlessly by Bartoli.

Finally, late in the second set, Venus' prayers were answered. She struck quickly and grabbed the second set 7-5, by taking the final four games. Suddenly Bartoli's brilliant effort seemed as if it might be wasted. This was only their second all-time meeting - Venus had decisively beaten Bartoli in the 2007 Wimbledon Final - and it looked as if revenge may just have been a false dream for Bartoli. But Bartoli dug in and fought. She would not go away, even as the 2-hour and 43-minute battle seemed never ending.

Her feisty return game was the difference, and it didn't just enable her to exact revenge for her 2007 Wimbledon thrashing: it enabled her to score her first Premier-level victory of her career.

Intensely Dramatic Match #8: Kuznetsova Loses to Serena Under The Roof In Australia

Melbourne is like an oven. It's hard to keep it together when you are not sure if you are frying like an egg on a skillet. It's even harder to Beat Serena Williams when you feel like that.

Surprisingly, At the 2009 Australian Open, Svetlana Kuznetsova was doing just that. Until they closed the roof and gave Serena a chance to cool down. After the change in scenery Kuznetsova played like a iguana being tossed out a plane into the Arctic Ocean. She did get three points away from serving out the match - then Serena flipped the script. As the temperatures dropped to the 80's (from 120!), Serena got hot. She went on a stretch where she won 9 out of 10 games. Just like that the all-Russian semifinal at the 2009 Autralian Open was a no-go.

Intensely Dramatic Match #7: The Torture Match: Wozniacki over Zvonareva in Doha

This was a match for the fetishists out there who like their sports colored with a little of the rare and the raw. Vera Zvonareva was no stranger to pain this year, but it was Caroline Wozniacki's pain that made this match truly and horrifically dramatic.

Wozniacki, after seeing the trainer twice during the third set, serves for the match. Suddenly, she is stricken by the worst imaginable cramps. She falls to the court, rolls on her back, puts her hands to her side, and starts convulsing as if she is having an epileptic seizure. Perhaps she is being transported to another universe? It was hard to tell. After being warned by the umpire (Wozniacki has no injury time left) she is forced to either get to her feet, wipe the tears from her face, and continue serving for the match, or forfeit. Sunshine makes the right choice - she guts out the win first, and heads for the training table immediately after.

Intensely Dramatic Match #6: Oudin Over Sharapova in U.S. Open Stomach-Turner

You can't really talk about Women's tennis in 2009 without bringing up either Oudin or Sharapova. Both played major roles in shaping the drama and emotional color of the season. Sharapova was a wonderful story with her long-awaited comeback from shoulder surgery. She showed us a new level of commitment in her character, and she captivated us with a Roland Garros run that reminded us of just how valiant and good for the game she can be.

Oudin was our symbol of belief - a theme that runs through nearly every WTA contest. When the two fierce women clashed in the U.S. Open's 4th round, they did not disappoint. Some will say that Sharapova's 21 double faults lessened the quality of this match. To me, it only added to the drama. Not only was Sharapova fighting Oudin, she was also fighting herself.

Emotionally, this match was riveting. It was amazingly tense, but also high in emotional spirit. "I try to pretend like it's not, like, Arthur Ashe Stadium, playing Maria Sharapova," Oudin said. "Sometimes I just tell myself I'm playing one of my friends, so it's not a big deal."

Oudin's mental approach worked, and she advanced to her first-ever Grand-Slam quarterfinal.

Intensely Dramatic Match # 5: Pennetta over Zvonareva in 4th Round Thriller at U.S. Open

This one was the quintessential cliffhanger. Pennetta, sure to die, facing 6 match points in the 81-minute second set (four at 5-6 and two more in the tiebreak), wiggled her way off the cliff.

In the third set she slammed Zvonareva 6-0. It wasn't much of a set, but the second set was good enough to more than make up for a lack of down-the-stretch drama. Emotionally, Zvonareva's collapse was difficult to watch. So close to victory, and hurting so much physically (who could forget the tape on both knees and her ankle?), it was torture for the Russian to lose. Each of those match points drove her more over the cliff that Pennetta had just found refuge from.

Intensely Dramatic Match #4: Kuznetsova Pays Serena Back at Roland Garros

This match lasted nearly three hours, and when a clay-covered Kuznetsova finally outlasted Serena in three thrilling sets, she was well on her way to the French Open Crown. Beating Serena can open a few doors for you, especially if you do it at the right time. But it wasn't so simple for Kuznetsova. Serving, and one point away from going up 5-2 in the 2nd set, she took a spill on the clay. Before she could get it brushed off, Serena had drawn even in the match.

But the 3rd set, typically the domain of Serena, surprisingly went Kuznetsova's way. She played courageously, going for her shots and hitting out with wild abandon to keep Serena off balance. It was too much for Serena to handle. This was a monumental affair, and one that proved that Sveta is in that small group of players that can handle Serena when she doesn't beat herself.

Intensely Dramatic Match #3: Jankovic Rips the Rug From Underneath Dementieva in Cincy Semi

This match was so nerve-wracking I thought Elena Dementieva's hockey-playing boyfriend was going to pass out in the stands. After Jankovic squandered three match points at 5-4 in the deciding set, it appeared all but over when Dementieva took a 6-2 lead in the third set tiebreak. Somehow Jankovic blocked out the pressure and played flawlessly for the next six points, outlasting Demetieva in rallies and gaining momentum with each successive point. She had done the unthinkable: reeling off six consecutive points to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. This one has to go down as 2009's most fantastic finish.

Intensely Dramatic Match #2: Wozniacki Breaks Through against Kuznetsova

This was the one that put Caroline Wozniackin on the map. After being thrashed in the first set, the tennis world was introduced to the guts of Wozniacki. The 19-year-old had to fight ridiculously hard to get into a second set tiebreak, but when she did - it was on!

Many say that Kuznetsova became careless and went for too many winners in the latter stages of this match, but the real story was that Wozniacki was coming of age right before our eyes! Her backhand was flawless, and she covered the court remarkably well.

In the end, Kuznetsova was forced to go for more and more, and when she wasn't up to the task, Wozniacki was well on her way to her first Grand-Slam final. She would later defeat Oudin and Wickmayer before finally falling to Clijsters in the final, but it was in surviving 2nd and 3rd set tiebreakers against Kuznetsova where Wozniacki first earned her Grand-Slam stripes.

Intensely Dramatic Match #1: Serena Breaks Dementieva's Heart in the Wimbledon Semis

Some matches have everything. Drama, tension, athleticism, strategy, shot making, and emotion. When we talk about Serena coming back from match point down in the Wimbledon semis against Dementieva, we are talking about everything - and a whole lot more. This match was captivating from the very start because right away it was obvious that Dementieva was in rare form. The Russian was playing perfect tennis against Serena, and before long it looked like she was going to send Serena off for an early shower.

But we should have known better. Serena got in the trenches and proceeded to gut out another signature comeback. "Elena played so well, we gave the crowd a wonderful match," Serena said. "It was really hard. It's definitely one of my more dramatic victories, for sure."

And that is what made this match so memorable. The drama. The agony. The fact that Dementieva had taken her game to a new level - and it still wasn't enough. Serena, the poster child for the slogan "fortune favors the bold," responded to being match-point down in the 10th game of the final set in typical fashion: She rushed the net and punched a backhand valley off the top of the tape. It skidded over the net chord and Dementieva saw the clouds roll in. It was the longest Wimbledon Semifinal in Open Era history - If it wasn't the best, I'd like someone to let me know what was.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Top 9 Tennis Heartbreakers of 2009

In tennis, the agony of defeat plays as important a role as does the exhilarating joy of victory — the razor thin margins that separate winning and losing in a tennis match are very often undecipherable to the naked eye.

What is it then, that makes the difference in those matches that come down to a few crucial points?

Unlike the inverted finish on the modern forehand or the serve to the body, these difference-making subtleties cannot be practiced. Nor can they be ignored. They can only be summoned by the player who is willing to introduce the heart into the mix.

Sometimes, great victories are won with the heart. But sometimes, the heart is not enough. Even the valiant can fall, and even those who deserve victory can lose big.

The top ten Tennis Heartbreakers of 2009 are living proof of this fact.

Heartbreaker # 9: Zvonareva Vs. Pennetta, 4th Round U.S. Open: Sheer Torture

This match was not for the squeamish. It was also clear proof that tennis can drive you crazy.

When Vera Zvonareva failed to finish Flavia Pennetta in the 2nd set of their 4th round U.S. Open clash, the floodgates opened and a tidal wave of emotional overflow spewed forth from an agitated Zvonareva. At times the match resembled a horror movie more than U.S. Open tennis.

In Zvonareva’s defense, the steely resolve of Pennetta - as she valiantly fought off 6 match points - would have driven most of the WTA mad. Pennetta played each match point with bravado, and eventually evened the match.

When Zvonareva started the 3rd set she was already beaten in spirit. She angrily pulled at the tape around her knees and whacked her feet with her racquet, in between piercing guttural howls. Vera had gone over the edge. Being so close but yet so far is tennis torture. Pennetta finished her off 6-0 in the third set.

After a debilitating ankle injury in the spring, Zvonareva had fought through a significant amount of pain to advance through the draw. She worked extremely hard to get back into action for Wimbledon, and nagging injuries materialized in her knees as she started to favor the ankle.

If you think tennis is a frustrating game, then try playing it with multiple serious leg injuries. Vera did all she could and it drove her mad that there simply wasn’t enough there to do the deal. Great for Pennetta but sheer agony for Zvonareva.

Heartbreaker #8: Isner over Roddick, 3rd Round at the U.S. Open

As if Andy Roddick didn’t have enough tough luck in Wimbledon. As if his loss to Sam Querrey in the Cincinnati Masters wasn’t enough after that.

It was a rough summer for Andy. It got even rougher when Isner came out like a house on fire, taking the first two sets from a surprisingly resigned Roddick.

But Roddick wasn't dead. He stormed back from a 2-set deficit like a warrior on a mission, only to be bamboozled by the crafty Isner in dramatic fashion during a classic 5th set tiebreaker.

Great news for a burgeoning Isner, but this was bitter agony for Roddick, who most certainly deserved better this season.

Heartbreaker #7: Karlovic Serves 78 Aces In Defeat? What?

My heart will forever bleed for a man that serves 78 aces, on clay no less, and still loses the match. In a 5-hour 59-minute epic that took place in Porec, Croatia, the 6’10” Wimbledon quarterfinalist was denied victory, even after breaking tennis’ all-time ace record. The previous high was 55! It was Karlovic who served 55 aces in a French Open loss earlier in the season.

Unfortunately for Karlovic, it probably would have taken 100 aces to bring the wily Stepanek down.

Karlovic, who was stymied on 4 match points in the match, may very well be forever remembered for this match.

Being remembered is nice, but the fact that the memories come attached with a huge loss in a Davis Cup semifinal equals not so nice.

Heartbreaker #6: Serena’s Foot Fault

I don’t know what was more heartbreaking: Serena’s behavior, or the fact that all the loyal fans who sat through a long day of weather related delays did not get to see a fitting ending to the long awaited match.

Let's face it: This was the match of the tournament, and it went wildly awry.

And let's not forget: Serena was the only player to recover from match-point down to win a Grand-Slam in 2009 (against Dementieva @ Wimbledon). She may have been down, but she certainly wasn’t out. When her verbal assault of a USTA official ended the match prematurely, Kim Clijsters was denied the opportunity to win the match on her terms. It was a bittersweet ending that took the focus away – and for far too long, and far too often – from the mesmerizing motherizing play of Clijsters..

There wasn’t anything good you could say about it the way it ended, and it left everybody involved feeling cheated. This was the worst day of the tennis year – hopefully there were lessons truly learned.

Heartbreaker #5: Rafa’s Knees

When Soderling told Nadal not to let the door hit him on the way out of Paris, we were heartbroken. But we relished the idea of watching Rafa pick himself off the canvas and come out fighting like a wild dog at Wimbledon.

Later that summer, when rumors started to fly about Rafa’s health, it didn’t seem real. But when Uncle Toni told the world that Rafa’s knees were would keep him out of The Championships, a collective groan let out from the chests of true blue tennis fans.

How could it be that a Wimbledon Champion would not defend his title for only the second time in 35 years?

Rafa shut it down after a few exhibitions on the grass in England, and dreams of another Federer v. Nadal Wimbledon final were sadly shelved.

Stunning! A year that begins with many experts vaulting Rafa into tennis-god status becomes the year of Federer Winning the French and Wimbledon consecutively.

Heartbreaker #4: Elena Dementieva’s Near Miss Against Serena At Wimbledon

The longest Wimbledon women’s semifinal since the Open Era began may have been the most nerve-wracking as well. Elena Dementieva kept Serena at bay for the better part of this 6-7(5), 7-5, 8-6 thriller. It was the quintessential cliffhanger, and one that Dementieva certainly could have won.

This match went way above and way beyond the standards, thanks very much to the inspired play of the svelte Russian Dementieva, who seemed hell-bent on acquiring a signature win that would be on par with her Olympic Gold Medal.

Sadly, when the chips were down, Dementieva fell just shy of the mark. On match point, a courageous foray to the net by Serena got her out of trouble.

Much to Dementieva’s chagrin, Serena's volley clipped the tape and skidded down the open court.

Another slam, yet another heartache for Elena.

Heartbreaker #3: Roddick Comes Up Short At Wimbledon

If he didn’t have such a beautiful wife, I would feel really sorry for Andy Roddick. After a beautifully played upset of the Andy Murray Hype Machine in the Wimbledon semis, Roddick set his sights even higher in the Wimbledon final.

Roddick was 2 out of 20 against Federer, and o for Grand Slams against the Swiss Maestro. But for some reason none of that seemed to matter. Roddick took a firm hold of this match from the onset. He proceeded – in a very confident manner – to outplay the King of grass.

Never before had Roddick played so brilliantly against Federer. Never before had Roddick been the superior baseliner.

On this day, he was. The onslaught was so convincing that Roddick soon found himself holding 4 set points to go up 2 sets to love in the 2nd set tiebreaker.

After 4 squandered set points (Roddick missed a high backhand volley on the fourth that will forever be blown out of proportion) Federer had drawn even by stealing the breaker.

From there Roddick, ever the valiant competitor, did not let up. Just when it looked like Federer was in the fast lane to his 15th Grand-Slam title, Roddick broke him in the fourth game of the fourth set and proceeded to level the match.

But Roddick's heroics were once again destined to be wasted. After two squandered break points in the 17th game of the 5th set, Roddick had seen his last opportunity to seize match.

But Roddick apparently didn't get the memo - they played on for 13 gut-wrenching games. The longest 5th set in Wimbledon history ended with a framed - ugghh - Roddick forehand in the 30th game. A jubilant Federer was crossing the threshold that previously marked the difference between him and a true immortal.

It had to be devastating for Roddick to know that he had played the best match possible - the best match of his whole career quite possibly- and that it still wasn’t enough.

Heartbreaker #2 : Safina’s Head

By the end of the first month the theme of the year was already taking shape for Dinara Safina. PAIN!

After a death-defying run to the Australian Open final, Dinara was brushed aside by Serena in convincing fashion. At the conclusion of the 59-minute 6-0, 6-3 thrashing, Safina stated that she was “nothing more than Serena’s ball girl” for the night.

At the time, the general consensus was that Safina had come out flat and that she would learn from the experience in future Slams. In early June, after enjoying a 15-match winning streak and scoring clay titles in Rome and Madrid, Safina found herself with a shot at redemption.

Again, the theme of the season was hammered home as Kuznetsova capitalized on Safina's lack of gusto.

Was she nervous? Did she not believe in her own imposing presence? Instead of being blessed by becoming the 19th female player to reach No. 1 in the world, Safina seemed cursed by the scrutiny of the media and the scores of others who questioned her legitimacy.

The mental torpor bled into her game. She and her coach, Zelko Krajan, became unglued by the expectations of the tennis world.

An early exit against Petra Kvitova in the U.S. Open was followed by the biggest upset in terms of rankings disparity in the history of the WTA, when Safina lost to No. 226-ranked Zhang Shuai in Beijing.

The year started with the highest of hopes for Safina. But a series of gut-wrenching losses left her frazzled - eventually the pain manifested itself in the form of a back injury that is still hampering her today.

Watching a player of Safina’s caliber betray her own abilities is heartbreaking, especially to those of us who’d prefer to see her slay her demons rather than succumb to them.

Heartbreaker #1: Dethroned: Soderling Takes Out Nadal!

This one rocked the tennis world. Nobody in his or her right mind foresaw this. Suddenly we were left with a crater-sized hole in the men’s Roland Garros draw where we thought Nadal was going to be.

As always, Nadal was humble in defeat. "I have to accept with the same calm when I win and when I lose. After four years I lose here, and the season continues." Words like these, and character like Nadal's, are what makes this shocking turn of events heartbreaking.

It was strange seeing Nadal taken down from his pedestal right there in front of the rowdy French revelers who began screaming their support for Soderling. It was even stranger (don't you think?) that he didn’t get the standing ovation that he so obviously deserved after his run ended. But strange isn't the word - this match was SHOCKING!

All good things must come to an end, but there is no guarantee that it won’t break your heart when it does. Now that 2009's cookies have crumbled, there are many who wished it had turned out differently. Rafa Nadal is certainly one of them.

But the possessor of a brave heart will always get a shot at redemption.

The Top 9 Men's Matches of 2009

2009 was a magical year in men's tennis in so many ways. Whether you were consumed by Roger Federer's quest for immortality or Rafael Nadal's push for a 5th consecutive French Open. Whether you were rooting for Andy Murray to become the first man from Great Britain to win the Championships since 1936, or pulling for Juan Del Potro to become the first Argentine to win a Slam since Guillermo Vilas — there was something for you.

The only difficult part was knowing exactly where the magic was going to happen, and who it was going to be provided by. Luckily for fans, there was a steady supply of classics to choose from.

Classic Match #9: Ferrer's Comeback vs. Stepanek in the Davis Cup Final

Momentum is everything in tennis, and David Ferrer's valiant comeback against Radek Stepanek kept the Davis Cup momemtum where it has been for most of the decade: With Spain.

It looked almost certain that Stepanek would finish Ferrer off in straight sets when he jumped out to a commanding 6-1, 6-2 lead, but Ferrer dug deep inside himself to find his best form — eventually he pushed through to capture the match in dramatic fashion, prevailing 8-6 in a 5th and deciding set. His heroic effort vaulted Spain into control of the tie, and it also pushed his all-time Davis Cup record on clay to a remarkable 8-0.

It may have been a disappointing year for Ferrer in terms of Slams, but when it came time to grunt it out for his country, he went a perfect 6-0, including a huge win over Novak Djokovic in the Serbia tie.

Classic Match # 8: Radek Stepanek's marathon win over Dr. Ivo in the Davis Cup Semis:

It wasn't all about heartbreak for Stepanek in Davis Cup play this season. In a true test of stamina, patience, and mental toughness, the quirky Czech was able to withstand a 78-ace performance from Karlovic in the first match of this long awaited showdown between the two Eastern European powers.

The 5-hour and 59-minute match was the longest match in Davis Cup play since the tiebreak was introduced in 1989.

"I feel like I was in a 10-round boxing match," Karlovic said of the match. "Everything hurts."

Classic Match # 7: Roddick Ends Murraymania At Wimbledon

The only thing that kept me from ranking this match higher on the list was that it didn't go the distance. The madness surrounding Andy Murray's deepest Wimbledon run of his career reached a fever pitch in this match. After the two split the first two sets, Murray found himself down a break late in the third, but some late heroics got him back on serve in a dramatic set that was eventually decided in a tight tiebreaker in which both players had set points.

The fourth set was also a nailbiter. Niether player gave an inch, but it was Roddick who jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the fourth set tiebreak. With the crowd squirming in agony, Murray drew to 5-4, and he made a miraculous passing shot as Roddick served for the match at 6-4.

Murray's 20th unforced finally did him in, and Roddick was on to the final to play another classic match against Federer. "To be fair, he had all the pressure on him and I just had to swing away," an elated Roddick told the press after the match.

Classic Match # 6: Soderling over Gonzo in the French Open Semifinal:

2009 will forever be remembered as the year that Robin Soderling came of age. The 24-year-old wasn't content with pulling what might have been the most shocking upset in the history of tennis — he wanted more. And against Fernando Gonzalez in the French Open Semis, he got more.

Trailing 4-1 in the 5th set, Soderling remained on the attack. He employed his newfound sense of belief and stole the final five games from Gonzalez. The bold and brash styles of both players made this a thoroughly entertaining semifinal, and it was one that had the Parisien crowd exercising its lungs regularly.

"I did what's supposed to be impossible, beating Nadal on clay," said Soderling. "It was great, but today was a semifinal." His heroics landed him in the first Grand-Slam final of his career, where he fell in straight sets to Roger Federer.

Classic Match# 5: Haas Over Cilic in a Wild Third Round Wimbledon Match

This one started with a bang, ended with a bang, and had a lot of banging in between. Young upstart Marin Cilic, looking for a second consecutive signature win (after taking out Sam Querrey in 5 sets in the 2nd round), ran into a cool and calculated Tommy Haas, and the two outlasted the daylight. This set the stage for a fast and furious series of games the following day that eventually saw Haas move through to the 4th round.

Before he knew it, the Croat had squandered a 3-0 lead in the first set and found himself in the unenviable position of being down two sets to Haas. But Cilic, ever the battler, set himself straight and started to seize the momentum with his trademark power game that can leave an opponent dumbstruck when it is in full effect.

After fighting off two match points in the fourth set, the two were even, and the tension would only heighten as the light started to fade.

Cilic took a 3-0 lead in the final set, but Haas fought back to level. Then Cilic broke again — this time he would serve for the match only to find that Haas was not going to die. The match was called due to darkness just as it began — with neither player holding the advantage.

Play resumed the following day, and Haas, the savvy veteran, found a way to get through by breaking Cilic and holding on for the win.

Classic Match # 4: Nadal Squeezes Past Djokovic in the Madrid Semis

Once upon a time, when Nadal was still invincible on clay, there was a man named Djokovic who used to give him a run for his money.

This Classic from The Magic Box in Madrid had a little bit of everything, and in the end it had a lot of what we all expected — Nadal's 33rd consecutive win on clay, and 14th career win over the Serb. But before Rafa could raise his arms in victory, Djokovic scored several big body blows that would open the door for Federer to take out the Spaniard in the final — a win that had huge implications for the rest of the 2009 season.

Nadal fought off two Djokovic break points at 4-4 in the second set, then faced three match points in the third set tiebreaker before he finally closed out this epic struggle — while Djokovic was ultimately unable to score the knock out, his body blows left Nadal vulnerable for what was soon to come.

Classic Match# 3: Verdasco Pushes Nadal to The Brink in Australia

Add Fernando Verdasco to the list of players who spend time with Gil Reyes over Xmas and get results. Verdasco, unfazed by the oppressive Melbourne heat, found himself cruising easily to victory over Andy Murray in just over three hours in the quarters. Next up would be a monumental 5-hour and 14-minute struggle with Nadal that would end up becoming the longest match in Australian Open history.

The tone of the match was set during a 75-minute first set that featured awe inspiring baseline play from both players, and as the match wore on, both players stayed in the zone. The awesome tennis had fans on their feet between points, and as Verdasco took the fourth set tiebreak, 5th set drama brought the atmosphere to a fever pitch.

Finally, while serving at 4-5 to stay in the match, Nadal had his window to crawl through. Down 0-40, Verdasco fought off two match points but then double faulted at 30-40, as both players fell to the ground in exhaustion.

"In the last game, at 0-40, I started to cry," said Nadal. "It was too much tension."

Classic Match #2. Nadal Over Federer in Crazy 5-Set Australian Final

It is the rivalry that defined the decade. Their matches will be forever remembered in tennis lore, and the 2009 Australian Open final was no exception.

While many remember the teary post-match celebration, this match also contained a great deal of improbably good tennis, played by the two premier players of the era. The indomitable Rafa Nadal, seeking to expand his tennis empire to the hardcourt, and Federer, the genius who was seeking to find a way around the one player that seemed to have his game figured out.

The shot making was absolutely brilliant, and the rallies were just as mind-blowing as the ones that we witnessed at the 2008 Wimbledon final. Although Federer actually won one more point than Nadal, it was the decisive 5th set that said so much about each players psychological well-being.

Federer was apprehensive in that deciding set, while Rafa played with enough fire to burn down Constantinople. When Rafa had sealed the deal, what would be perhaps the most memorable part of this match took place in earnest. An emotionally jaded Federer burst into tears the likes of which we've never seen. It was a rare and raw glimpse into the emotional mindsets of these two great champions — one that was haunting, and surely will never be forgotten.

Classic Match # 1: Del Potro Breaks Through Against Federer in U.S.
Open Final

This match came in like a lamb but went out like a lion. And so did Juan Martin Del Potro. After looking like anything but a Grand-Slam contender for the better part of the first two sets, the lanky Argentine with the blistering ground strokes pulled a houdini act that would have made even Roger Federer proud.

With Federer serving for the 2nd set, and up 30-0, Del Potro summoned some kind of otherworldly shot making prowess which enabled him to take four consecutive points to tie the set at 5. Del Potro's magic didn't stop there, he found his range again in the 2nd set tiebreaker, and when it was over, the crowd was stunned, Federer was stunned, and Del Potro was on his way.

Subtle strategical changes by each player made this match intruiging in more ways than one. Federer seemed to abandon what worked for him in the first set — feeding Del Potro a steady diet of slice — and soon found himself in an arms race that gave Del Potro an advantage. Meanwhile, the big serving Del Potro abandoned his ballistic first serve, instead choosing to sacrifice power for putting a higher percentage of first serves in the box.

For two more sets these heavyweights traded blows in the crisp September air.

Federer took the third and as they headed to a 4th set tiebreak it appeared that Roger was close to clinching a record sixth straight U.S. Open title.

But Del Potro, just 20-years-young, continued to display grace under pressure that was way beyond his years. He took the 4th set tiebreaker and quickly jumped out to a lead in the 5th set. It was a lead he would never relinquish. In the first 5-set final since Andre Agassi defeated Todd Martin in 1999, Juan Martin Del Potro had vanquished the mighty Federer.

"Good feeling with my forehand I think was the key to the match," Del Potro would later say.

It was the understatement of the day. The Argentine hit the forehand with such power and precision in the latter stages of the match that there may never have been a Grand-Slam final in which a single stroke played such a prominent and pivotal role. The words that kept coming to mind as we watched were: FREAK OF NATURE.

In additon to what fans witnessed on the court, there may be more implications from this match if one reads between the lines. This match may have marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. The improbably powerful strokes of this devilishly tall kid from Tandil may be a sign of what is to come on the ATP tour. Del Potro possesses a rare form of power and speed and raw athleticism that may take the game to new heights.

Federer, who Andre Agassi referred to as having "the most regal game of any player he's ever seen," ran into a buzzsaw of fire and ice in Del Potro.

He'll have to come out fighting in 2010 if he wants to take the power back.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Top 9 Tennis Surprises of 2009

“The moments of happiness that we enjoy take us by surprise. It’s not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” – Ashley Montagu

While 2009 ended with Roger Federer and Serena Williams ranked No. 1 in singles, there was a whole lot of jockeying for position over the course of the year. If you can remember all the way back to the first quarter of the year, it wasn’t clear if Federer was going to finish in the top ten, let alone solidify his status as perhaps the best player in the history of the game.

In March, you would have been hard pressed to find anybody who didn’t think that Nadal was going to be half way to the calendar year Grand-Slam by early june. By July, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t think Nadal was past his prime at the tender age of 23.

When the dust settled, we were left somewhere in between, fearing the worst, but expecting the best.

Surprise # 9: Senior moment for Haas at 2009 Wimbledon

Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and Tommy Haas all found themselves, after much hard work and a few smatterings of good fortune, in the 2009 Wimbledon Quarters. The top-10 seems to be getting younger and younger, but Hewitt (28), Ferrero (29), and Haas (31), used their considerable experience to score upsets over the likes of Del Potro (Hewitt stung him in the 2nd round), Djokovic (Haas took him out with surprising ease), and Simon (Ferrero executed him in straights).

Could this be a theme for Wimbledon going forward? Is experience on grass good enough against the amped-up games of the young guns?

Either way, the surprising performances of these 3 cagy veterans was a welcome surprise at this year's Wimbledon .

Surpise # 8: Djokovic Imitates McEnroe at the U.S. Open

Just when we thought his illustrious slew of imitations at the 2007 U.S. Open was a thing of the past, the wild Serb was cajoled by Darren Cahill into an encore after his absolute domination of Radek Stepanek in the 4th round at Arthur Ashe.

This was a hilarious moment, and it was nice to see Novak two years wiser, but just as funny.

When McEnroe appeared at the service line in dress clothes moment later, I was floored. How cool is that?

Surprise # 7: The Comebacks

If you told me that Kim Clijsters was going to win the U.S. Open at the beginning of 2009, I would have tried to sell you a million shares of Lehman Brothers stock. Well, Clisters did win it, and now Justine Henin is on her way back to the tour. Meanwhile, I'm still trying to unload some barrels of oil that I bought at $150.

Surprise # 6: Sam Querrey falls through a glass Table in Thailand

Sam, as a true fan who loves your game and your limitless potential, I’m begging you to please be more careful where you sit that massive rump of yours.

I guess stranger things have happened, I'm just not sure when.

Luckily the injuries weren't as bad as they could have been, and Sam should be back for Australia. Hopefully he’ll hire someone to carry around a nice bean bag for him with all that prize money he earned in 2009.

Surprise # 5: The Magical Misery Tour

I’m not surprised that Marat Safin was burnt out. We all knew that was the case. But I am surprised that Safin couldn’t manage one more run in a Slam – especially after his improbable run to the 2008 Wimbledon Semis (where he lost to Federer). Was I stupid? Why did I think he was going to at least make the quarters in New York?

I was dead wrong about Safin's last season. I thought he would pull something off in a Slam. I was sad to be wrong.

Either way, we still unconditionally love him, and he will still be unconditionally missed - along with Fabrice Santoro - not just for his tennis, but for his style, candor, and wit.

Surprise # 4: Roger Federer smashing a racquet in Miami

Tiger Woods could have slept with 20 million women, and it still would not have been as surprising as Roger Federer losing it in Miami.

To his credit, it was perhaps the most beautiful racquet smash of all-time. Federer’s technique was effortless, regal in fact, and the poor racquet was out of its misery before it ever knew what hit it.

Extra points for the way Fed coolly tossed the racquet over to his chair. This was the smash heard round the world, and it blew our collective minds when it happened.

Surprise # 3: Ana Ivanovic

When you check the WTA rankings before you sit down for Xmas dinner, please do not be shocked when you see that Ana Ivanovic is ranked No. 21. Yes, she was ranked No. 1 going into the 2008 U.S. Open, but that was then and this is now.

Still, it is hard not to be shocked when one looks at Ana's serve – that toss is just remarkably bad. Perhaps even worse is her confidence.

We are talking about a player who has all the tools – massive ground strokes, supreme fitness, and a positively alluring personality – and yet she finds herself mired in a severe slump.

Her fall is proof that confidence is everything in tennis. You can have the tools, but if you let your mind sabotage your strokes, trouble awaits.

Surprise # 2: The Israeli Davis Cup Team

I don’t know what was more surprising, the fact that the Israel-Sweden Davis Cup tie was played before zero spectators, or the fact that Israel won.

But forget about that surprise, how about Israel trouncing Russia 4-1 in the Davis Cup quarters to secure a date in the semis with Spain?

This amazing Israeli team, led by spunky Dudi Sela and the tough doubles team of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, overcame the tremendous set of distractions that followed the team around this season and scored ground breaking wins while doing so.

Even though they fell short in the semis, the Isreali team showed impressive fight in achieving its best ever Davis Cup performance.

Surprise # 1: Nadal Dethroned

This match was the ultimate surprise. I still can't believe it. No way.

What Soderling did to Nadal wasn’t just surprising: It was SHOCKING! Here we were, expecting Rafa to be the first man since Jim Courier to win the first two Slams of the calender year, and there he was getting blasted off the court by Soderling.

I still can’t believe it. No way.

The muted cheers of the French fans, ravenous for the upset. The chest thumping of Soderling as he mercilessly ran Rafa ragged. Did it really happen? Is this really how the empire crumbles? Without warning, without applause?

This was an upset as LARGE as any I can remember. After 31 super-human matches (the longest streak in the history of Roland Garros) Rafa was finally taken off his pedestal and forced to see things from the other side.

It is the law of the land in life, as it is in tennis: Anything can happen, and sometimes it will.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Top 9 Tennis What-ifs of 2009

It has been a strange and beautiful tennis year. What started as a nightmare ended as a dream for Federer, and what started as a dream became a nightmare then finally ended as a hybrid of both for Serena Williams.

Now that the moments have all been recorded, rehashed, and remembered, I thought it might be nice to take a look at some of the things that didn't happen. For the sake of humor more than anything else, here are the top 9 tennis what-ifs of 2009.

9. What if Jimmy Jump attacked Federer?

I hate to even be bringing this up, but remember when Jimmy Jump paid a visit to Federer during his French Open final match with Robin Soderling?

In the end it was just another strange occurrence that may have made Federer’s first French Open title even more special. Thankfully for everyone, Jimmy Jump is just a goofball, not a knife-wielding psycho.

But the fact remains, everyone knows that knife-wielding psychos exist. Roland Garros, and all other tennis tournaments for that matter, ought to take a good hard look at what they are doing (or not doing) to prevent future psychos from taking center stage.

8. What if Ivo Karlovic was even taller?

If Karlovic was any taller, he may have already become the first player to ever score 100 aces in a match – Sadly, I don’t think it would have any effect on his won-lost record.

7. What if Zelko Krajan was a positive coach?

Dinara and Zelko are birds of a feather: They feed off negativity; They enjoy self-loathing.

But it's not helping. What could have been a great season took a turn for the worse for the ultra-talented Safina. Wouldn’t it have been nice if coach Zelko Krajan could have eased up on the poor girl for a spell? Everybody could see Dinara was a wreck from Roland Garros on, but Krajan kept feeding Safina bitter medicine – even when she clearly wasn’t responding.

Perhaps next year, Krajan will try and become a kinder, gentler version of himself. It’s worth a shot – things can’t get much worse than they did at the end of 2009.

6. What if Mirka had the twins on the day of the Wimbledon Final?

This is a question that many have pondered. But in the fairy tale that is Roger Federer’s tennis career, such inconveniences simply do not and can not occur. Have I made myself understood?

5. What if Andy Roddick made that backhand volley in the Wimbledon Final?

This is the what-if to end all what-ifs.

If Roddick makes that volley – no easy task, mind you – then he takes an almost insurmountable 2-set lead against his nemesis Roger Federer. He proceeds to miss an easy overhead in the 3rd set tiebreaker (looking into the sun, perhaps?) and goes on to lose in 5 grueling sets.

Sound familiar?

4. What if Maria Sharapova rediscovered her serve?

She hasn’t yet, but man, if she ever does, it’ll make things a lot more interesting at the top of the WTA.

3. What if Serena didn’t lose her mind in the U.S. Open semifinal?

Could Serena have managed to win her second consecutive slam after being match-point down in the semis against Clijsters?

Unfortunately, we will never know. But, damn, wouldn’t it have been nice if those two great competitors could have finished the match with some brilliant tennis instead of some brilliant profanities?

2. What if Rafa Nadal stayed with the sleeveless look?

Is there anyone else out there who believes that Rafa simply doesn’t belong in sleeves? And if so, do you also blame that god forsaken pink Nike shirt for ruining his chances at a 5th consecutive French Open? Rafa, how could you let this happen? Straighten those Nike people out and get back to that muscle shirt before it’s too late!

1. What if Richard Gasquet kissed Andre Agassi?

This one is too easy. Neither one of them would get suspended, because there is nothing in the rule books that says they can’t kiss.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The View From Above

Originally Published @ on 10/20/09

The View From Above: A new breed of tall players are moving up the ATP rankings, and fitness gurus like Jason Riley of The Athlete’s Compound are helping them reach new heights.
Juan Martin Del Potro’s stunning U.S. Open title run was so monumental it may have sparked a revolution. For anyone to vanquish the indomitable Roger Federer in a Grand-Slam final is certainly monumental, but the fact that at 6’6”, Del Potro became the tallest player ever to win a Grand Slam singles title suggests that his victory might be the beginning of something even bigger.

Or should I say taller. Look around the locker room at any ATP event and it becomes obvious. Painfully obvious if you’re less than 6’ tall in stature: A new age is upon us. There is an emerging breed of super-sized athlete climbing up the ATP rankings, and the emphasis is on the vertical. With 6'6” plus players such as Juan Martin Del Potro, Marin Cilic, Sam Querrey, and John Isner exceeding everyone’s expectations this summer, there is as undeniable shift in tennis’ status quo from large to ginormous.

Haven’t you heard? The two youngest players in the ATP’s top-20 (Del Potro is No. 5 and Cilic is No. 15) look like they could play power forward for the Miami Heat. They are both listed at 6’6” (though many claim that Del Potro is actually taller), and both display surprisingly deft footwork for their size. With the ever-increasing physicality of top-level tennis, one has to wonder, how is it possible that these giants can flourish?

Jason Riley, Isner’s strength and conditioning coach and also Director of Performance at The Athletes Compound at Saddlebrook, believes that exceptionally tall athletes like Isner are benefiting from groundbreaking developments in performance training and nutrition to a higher degree than the other players on tour.

Why? Because they’re bigger, of course. With a 6’9” 245-lb. frame like ex-Georgia Bulldog John Isner’s, you expect a lot of heavy hitting but not a lot of quickness or stamina. But Isner laid that stereotype to waste when he outlasted Andy Roddick in a grueling five-set battle in the third round of the U.S. Open this year. Roddick’s fitness has been praised by many a pundit in 2009, but when it came to crunch time at the Open, Isner was the one raising his long arms over his head after match point.

Del Potro, whose fitness has been called into question before, did some stereotype smashing of his own at the 2009 U.S. Open. He went the distance in a 5-set final that made even the larger-than-life Roger Federer look small. The Argentine’s ballistic forehand took center stage, but the story within the story was that Del Potro seemed to have more in the tank than Federer when it mattered most. Experts expected Del Potro to outhit Federer, but they didn’t expect a man of his gaudy stature to outrun him as well.

In the past, the tallest tennis players were in the dark when it came to understanding the needs of their bodies and the unique challenge that their lankiness presented. The sport used to favor the mid-sized athlete most of all, but that may not be so anymore.

“We spend a lot of time developing stability through John’s body. Shoulders, hips, and core,” says Riley. “Due to his long levers, stability is key to not only making John’s movements more powerful, but also conserving energy as the match progresses.” The Nebraska-born strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist is John’s right-hand man when it comes to not just surviving but thriving on the ATP tour. After spending 8 years with IMG, Riley now hones his skills at Saddlebrook, which has been home to Jim Courier, James Blake, and Mardy Fish among others in the past.

“The core of our training is John’s core,” says Riley. “It’s providing stability through the midsection of john’s body that allows for everything else to work more efficiently. Whether it be medicine ball training, pillar work (hips, abdominals, and lower back), or general strengthening exercises on the lower back or hamstrings, that is what we really try to hit home with John. He’s bought into it because he’s seen his on-court movement improve, and he feels more balanced as he strokes the ball.”

Today, tall players are reaping the benefits of playing in an age where specialists are employing serious scientific methodology in their practices. And the knowledge that they’ve accumulated is helping to make the futuristic fantasy of the bionic tennis player a real and existing possibility.

“John is eating between 5,000-7,000 Kcals per day, depending on his training schedule,” says Riley. “About one quarter of his calories are consumed in the form of supplements. These supplements, especially in the form of liquids, allow for him to immediately re-fuel his energy stores, delay fatigue, and start the recovery process.”

Luckily for Isner, who used to lose up to 9-lbs. over the course of a 5-set match (thanks to the implementation of a better rehydration plan, he only loses 3-lbs now), Riley has given the subject quite a lot of deep consideration: He’s the co-founder of Elementz Nutrition, an all-natural sports supplement company, based in Sarasota, Florida, and he’s been working in the field for over 10 years.

In addition to whipping Isner into shape in the gym and on the court, Jason also makes sure that the big man has enough fuel to get through a Grand-Slam fortnight, where having to play multiple 5-setters can really be a drain a players batteries.

“We never use supplements as a replacement for quality ‘real’ food, but it is nearly impossible for an athlete of John’s size to consume enough calories from food to replenish his caloric needs during the course of a day.”

While Isner and the others aren’t the first tall players to ever grace the court, they are another giant step in a process that seems to be constantly evolving. Think about it: Tennis could have four 6’6” plus players in the top-ten within a year. If that happens, there may be no turning back.

With albatross-like wingspans and lanky yet surprisingly fit frames, skyscrapers are not just dotting the landscape of the ATP’s world - they are taking it over. Now that the public has witnessed Del Potro’s historic Grand-Slam triumph in New York, parents across the globe might be rethinking their decision to guide their tall kids to the basketball court.

Using exceptionally long arms, players like Del Potro, Cilic, Isner, and Querrey are able to generate massive groundstrokes from the baseline. These guys hit cross-court forehands harder than some other players hit serves. And their imposing height makes opponents feel that their 130-140 mph serves are coming from the center of the sun.

But it isn't all fun and games when your head is in the clouds. While the big men benefit in terms of power from their height, they also tend to be handicapped in terms of durability, quickness, and consistency.

But that gap appears to be closing. With progressions in sports performance training and nutrition, these gigantic players have a better shot at maintaining the competitive advantages that their height provides them. They may never run the baseline like 6’1” Rafael Nadal, but today’s tall players are the quickest big men that the sport has ever seen.

The revolution is about evolution, and it's more about the evolution of performance training than the evolution of man. The new breed of tall players, thanks to the dedication and expertise of their performance teams, are maintaining a level of fitness that enables them to hit bigger while running smaller. Of course it is always going to be challenging to lug around a massive frame (proof of massiveness: Isner wears size-15 shoes) on a cement hard-court in the blistering heat for three to five hours. But by knowing their enemy, and heeding the advice of experts like Riley, players like Isner are better positioned to capitalize on their strengths without having to suffer their weaknesses like a species that is on the verge of extinction.

Riley believes that training smarter is more important than training harder when it comes to the No. 39-ranked Isner.

“I believe that the biggest challenge to John’s fitness is the prevention of over-training. By developing a long-term periodization program, we can eliminate excessive training habits. The communication between Craig Boynton (John’s coach) and myself is the most critical aspect of the equation. I am aware of everything that occurs during the course of a match or an on-court practice, therefore I can make adjustments daily.”

Developments in the field of performance training help protect the muscle groups that are vulnerable in the super-sized player, and they help strengthen others to increase explosiveness and make them resistant to injury. Bottom Line: Isolation of key muscle groups, proper nutrition, and cutting-edge flexibility drills are helping tall players look less like giraffes and more like cheetahs when they take the court.

“I believe that in the past 10-20 years, there has been a paradigm shift in the old adage that you are born with speed,” says Riley. “We now know that by increasing the neuromuscular efficiency (the communication between the brain, nerves, and the muscles which they innervate) speed and agility can be improved. Speed is a skill. Therefore, speed can be taught, no matter what your size or body type.”

Of the 24 No. 1-ranked players over the ATP’s history, none has ever been taller than 6'4" (Marat Safin held the top spot for 8 weeks). Roger Federer, at 6’1”, has always been thought to possess the archetypal tennis body of our era. He’s tall enough to serve big, has long enough limbs to provide him with extra reach, and yet he is light enough to run the baseline for four hours without breaking down.
With Juan Martin Del Potro’s victory over Federer, the tennis world may have witnessed the birth of the new archetype. Add Marin Cilic, Sam Querrey, and John Isner to the equation and it is plain to see why the Empire State Building was not the only skyscraper having success in New York over Labor Day weekend.

Cilic, buoyed by his 4th round upset of Andy Murray at the U.S. Open, is only 20-years-old, and he's perhaps the quickest big man ever to play the game. The limber Croatian’s 180-lb. frame is flexible, and his core is supremely fit (note the washboard abs). He may not have the versatility or consistency to become a top-10 player yet, but it isn't his height or his fitness that's the problem.

Querrey, at 6'6" 200 lbs, has embarked on a steady climb up the rankings this summer. After a huge win over Andy Roddick in August in Cincinnati, the lanky American once again reminded people why he might really be the next great American tennis player. While he doesn't possess the quickness of Cilic (he’s close), or the firepower from the baseline of Del Potro (again, he’s close), Querrey totes one of the nastiest serves in the game. Thanks to an increased commitment to fitness over the last year, Querrey is moving much better on the court, and remaining injury free.

At 6’10”, 30-year-old Ivo Karlovic is the original giant of tennis. But at 6'9", John Isner is perhaps a harbinger of things to come on the ATP tour. He’s very similar in stature to the Croatian born karlovic, but thanks to the individualized strength and conditioning training that Isner is receiving at Saddlebrook, Isner’s ceiling is higher than his taller rival. While Karlovic’s physical limitations have forced him into a one-dimensional brand of tennis, Isner hopes that his improving fitness will give him more versatility on the court. With his overpowering serving (Isner has won 89% of his service games this year) already in place, the idea of more mobility and better baseline patrolling is a daunting proposition for his ATP foes. Perhaps the long days that Isner is putting in at The Athletes compound will enable him to evolve into a more agile, and therefore even more lethal tennis player.

The 24-year-old has just broken into the ATP top-40 for the first time in his career, and for a man his size, he's remarkably agile. Still, Isner is 245 lbs — it's not going to be easy for a gargantuan like him to get fit and stay fit on the ATP tour.

While his sparkling run at the U.S. Open was a surprise to many, those who’ve watched him rapidly improve his fitness over the last year knew that a breakthrough was a possibility.

With the success of Del Potro, the road is now paved for tall players like Isner to get in the fast lane to success. Riley wants to keep his client in 5th gear for many years to come.

“Tall tennis players used to rely mainly on their big serves to win matches,” said Riley, who in addition to working with Isner, has worked with Bob and Mike Bryan, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Tommy Haas. “But now they are also becoming more agile on the court.”

Riley isn’t surprised that a 6’6” player has now won a slam. In fact he predicted it in his first e-mail to me. And he believes it is only the beginning.

“By teaching a low center of gravity, providing a foundation of stability, improving flexibility, and improving speed mechanics, we are leveling the playing field for the ‘giants’ of tennis.”

Tall players are ushering in a new era for the ATP. Aided by breakthroughs in performance training and nutrition on tour, the talent pool is indeed going vertical. If the current trend holds, Juan Martin Del Potro’s Grand-Slam victory-winning body might serve as the blueprint for top-tier tennis players for years to come.

Parents might be wise to start registering their tall kids for tennis lessons - Hopefully they'll sign them up with a trainer and a nutritionist as well.

Jason Riley joined Saddlebrook after an 8-year stint at IMG Academies International Performance Institute. During his tenure as Associate Director of Performance, Jason worked with world-class athletes in all sports. Some of his most notable clients include Maria Sharapova, Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard, Derrick Brooks, Carlos Quentin, Tommy Haas, and many others. His comprehensive background and coaching experience have earned him recognition as a leader in the field of performance and nutrition coaching among professional, amateur, and junior athletes.

The Jason Riley Interview

Originally Published @ on 10/20/09

Jason Riley has been blazing a trail in the world of Sports Performance enhancement since 1999. With an 8-year stint as the Associate Director of Performance at the International Performance Institute at IMG Academies under his belt, Jason became the Director of Performance at The Athletes Compound in Tampa, Florida in 2007. He has worked with world-class athletes in all sports. Some of them include Derek Jeter, Maria Sharapova, Tommy Haas, Ryan Howard, Carlos Quentin, and John Isner. He has also spent time as the strength and conditioning coordinator for an MLS soccer team, and developed a successful NFL Combine Training Program, as well as an MLB Spring Training Prep program. If I’m leaving anything out (I certainly am) it’s only because he’s done too much to fit on one page.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time interviewing Jason, and while doing so was pleasantly surprised to see how passionate he is about his work. He’s driven to exact as much promise from the athletes he works with as they themselves are, and his open-minded approach to not only helping them, but also teaching them how and why he is helping them is a breath of fresh air in a world that can sometimes become bogged down in it’s own stubborn interpretation of what it believes to be true.

As an underdeveloped and athletically limited writer who is rapidly approaching the other side of the the hill, I’ve never had the pleasure of spending time in the trenches with Jason, but having spoken with him at length, I am confident that those who do are very lucky athletes indeed.

Here is some of the text from our recent interview.

The Fan Child: What does a typical Jason Riley day consist of? What is your day-in day-out?

Jason Riley: It varies from season to season, depending on who is training here at the time. I’ll give you of a breakdown….Individual training with some of our high-end elite clientele starting at about 6:30 in the morning…that usually lasts for about two hours. Then we move into some larger group training for another three hours until lunch (There are 80 academy kids on site that we have here playing tennis in addition to other large groups representing many other sports). In the afternoon we do more of the same with the group training, but the emphasis is more on the weights and strength training rather than on-court footwork or agility. I typically spend the next hour on the phone during my car ride home trying to catch up on all the loose ends that I may not of had time to get to during the day

The Fan Child: I know you keep yourself very busy, and there probably aren’t enough hours in the day for you to do what you want to do. What’s making you crazy right now?

Jason Riley: We’re in the process of interviewing about 30 intern applicants for January. I put a lot of stock in the people that we bring into our facility. Not only from our professional staff but also our intern staff. Everyone that comes to work at The Athletes Compound has to meet certain criteria in terms of character and personality, because every one of them is a reflection of what we’re doing as a company.

The Fan Child: I understand that your all-natural supplement company is getting off the ground. What are your plans for that?

Jason Riley: We’re looking forward to a launch of our product (Elementz Nutrition - Probably the end of December is what we’re looking at now. We’re starting out with just a whey protein. We’ve taste tested it with a lot of the athletes at our facility, and in blind taste tests it has done very well. I would say 90% of the time it has won for best taste, but more importantly, the quality of the ingredients is something that we’re really excited about. And the fact that we can give it to any pro athlete without them having to have any worry at all about testing positive because it’s all going to be NSF certified.

The Fan Child: Tell me a little bit about what Saddlebrook and The Athletes Compound are about. Is The Athletes Compound your baby?

Jason Riley: Saddlebrook brought me into the mix to really generate the elite performance side. They have allowed me to realize and develop The Athletes Compound at a world-class state of the art facility, and I’m really thankful for that. There are so many great things about being at the resort. We are a destination resort so we can have athletes that are from out of state coming here to stay. We have chefs making all the food for them here, we have every training apparatus in terms of field space and court space, and we have all four grand-slam surfaces here…it’s incredible for us to have these resources at our availability.

I developed this plan of what I want to have happen with each and every athlete or group of athletes that we come into contact with, and it takes that process of educating the people that are underneath you until I trust that they can run the program just as effectively as I can. I’m finally to the point where I have help that I have 100% confidence in that not only can they perform the program that I have written up for an athlete, but they will also be free to improvise within the realms of our preexisting philosophy to suit the needs of the unique situation that they find themselves in.

The Fan Child: So you have a philosophy that you’ve built, but you are still into letting it evolve?

Jason Riley: Exactly.

The Fan Child: It’s an ever-changing world of sports, and when you’re always looking for an edge you have to stay real open-minded, right?

Jason Riley: Yeah, and I think the challenge as a strength and conditioning coach is that you have to know when and why you are doing something. There are hundreds of different of training philosophies and modalities out there. You have to be able to evaluate each athlete that you train, and identify what that individuals unique needs are. You have to ask: Where are we trying to go with this athlete? And you have to be open-minded enough to be able to see other people’s points of view and be able to add something that you’ve never done before because a certain athlete might have some type of compensation pattern of deficiency that you haven’t seen before.

The way I look at it is that every athlete is a blank canvas. We’re not paint by numbers here. We like to have this blank canvas that we can create and mold and develop in a way that is best for every individual athlete.

The Fan Child: So you spent 8 years over at IMG? That must have been huge for you in terms of tennis with so much going on over at Bollettieri.

Jason Riley: It was a great experience. I can’t say enough positive things about it. I met some phenomenal coaches there, both in the performance side of things as well as the tennis side of things.

The Fan Child: When you first started getting really active in the tennis world, did you kind of act on cue from other tennis coaches or were you just taking the reigns?

Jason Riley: Again, it’s a molding process. I had my views of what each athlete should do. If you just take a general example, if you’re testing 200 kids at a tennis academy, you see patterns of deficiency – 80 % of the kids could be deficient in rotator cuff stability – so you can test the right things to be able to develop a program that is going to be able to hit the majority of the players, but I always try to remain open-minded so I can learn from other people’s view points.

I think that that’s how the spirit of sports performance enhancement is developing. I’ve always been taught to respect the ideas of the people who have been there before you. I try to be open minded and learn from their angles and their view points. We may have some different ways of reaching that end point, but it’s very important to not let your ego get in the way of the athletes success. I’ve been just trying to be a sponge and gather as much information as I possibly can to give back to the athletes.

The Fan Child: Can you name some names for me? Who would you say influenced you?

Jason Riley: Loren Seagrave would have to be one at the top of the list (here is a link to Seagrave’s blog In terms of speed development he’s been the one who has been the most influential in my life. I met him at IMG. He was the director for a couple of years when I was down there.

Another one would be Pete Bommarito. He was more of a “get down, get dirty” personality, and he really pushed me to strive to be better every day. He was so intuitive, asking questions and challenging my thought processes, and he really helped me develop my philosophy across all spectrums of performance training because I really had to understand why I was doing the things I was doing, and it’s so good to have that type of person around you who not only encourage you but challenge you in terms of how you are developing your programs. (

The Fan Child: What would you say is the one common denominator, the one thing that is universal that you give all athletes who come through your doors?

Jason Riley: I think it would definitely be education. I believe my role is primarily one of an educator. Getting people to embrace my philosophy and my programming because I am educating them on why they need to be doing it. Anybody can go out there and tell somebody to run a 300 yard shuttle, but if you can relate it back to the sport, and how does it apply to them being on the court during a match, that particular athlete is going to have the extra incentive if they can see and comprehend the reason. That’s the challenge of what we do.

Carlos Quentin (Chicago White Sox) for instance, challenges me every year that he comes in on something new that he’s heard from another source, and I have to be able to be on top of my game to understand that perspective and to either agree or disagree with him on it. It’s a good atmosphere because it fosters communication and it encourages respect of one another’s beliefs.
The Fan Child: So it’s education as the common denominator in the sense that the knowledge provides insight for the athlete as to how they can reach their potential.

Jason Riley: Exactly, to reach their genetic potential. They want to be the best that they can possibly be, and it’s my job to educate them and to push them to where they are doing everything in their power to get there.

The Fan Child: With Regard to John Isner, at 6’9” it must present a whole set of new challenges for you. Has it been crazy with him?

Jason Riley: It has. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of NBA players, so the big athlete was not new to me, but John is different in the sense that he’s lanky, so our whole goal was to get him in and provide a little more muscle mass and a little more strength so that we could build a base for him.

The Fan Child: You mentioned that you are doing a lot of shoulders, hips, and core work on John. Can you tell me what exactly you’ve been doing?

Jason Riley: The core of the John’s program is really his core. It’s providing the stability through that midsection of his body to allow for everything else to work more efficiently. Every day, whether he’s on the road, or whether he’s here, we’re doing some type of core training, whether it’s medicine ball training (working on explosive movements through the core), pillar training (focus on hips, abs, and lower back), or just general strengthening movements for the lower back. That’s where we really try to hit home with John. He’s bought into that because he’s seen his movements improve, and because he feels more in balance now. His center of mass is more stable and he’s not leaning as much through his strokes.

The other thing that we really looked at with John is posterior chain. By posterior chain I mean the backside of his body. Our goal was to help with his body posture and to strengthen up the backside of his body. But we weren’t making the progress as fast as we wanted to until we started to initiate the hamstring strengthening exercises. From landing on the serve and decelerating to hit balls, he was putting so much stress on his quads and his patella tendon, it was taking a pounding. So when we started focusing on the hamstrings and the glutes, getting them to accept a lot of that stress we started seeing less knee pain and we started seeing John’s movement on the court be more efficient.

The Fan Child: Much running, or not much running?

Jason Riley: We did quite a bit of on-court movement-based running. It wasn’t really conditioning so-to-speak. More technique. Working on him getting a lower center of gravity, and keeping his knees inside his hips as he moved so he could be quick in either direction.

The Fan Child: Sounds like more technique of running rather than just running.

Jason Riley: It’s so much technique. Whether it was a shuffle movement or even a split step, it allowed for John to keep his center of mass low and it allowed for him to be quick on the first step in any direction.

The Fan Child: After Isner’s career-changing victory over Roddick at this years U.S. Open did you run into any surprises?

Jason Riley: So much of being at the Grand-Slams is about not overdoing it. It’s about maintaining what you have and playing within yourself. The nervous system is drained after a match like that, and everything to me is about recovery. Massage. Hot-cold compress baths. Stretching. We’ve created templates that we give to Craig (John’s coach, Craig Boynton). As soon as he gets off the court, he’s doing his nutritional shake in the first ten minutes. We’re doing some type of cool-down, usually on the bike, then we go through and do some pre-hab exercises. We’ll tighten the rotator cuff back up, and tighten the core a little – real easy stuff, we’re not doing anything that’s taxing – just trying to reinitiate the firing patterns that are going to now hold over into the next match.

The Fan Child: It sounds like you’ve come to the conclusion that pre-hab is the most important thing for John, because of his size and the fact that injuries and fatigue are more of a possibility with such a big frame.

Jason Riley: I look at it from a couple different perspectives. Obviously, with John being as big as he is, we try and conserve energy whenever possible. But everybody needs strength in some component. We have to find that balance where we are working for that but not risking injury. The times that we have where we can really build the strength, we take full advantage of them. But with a lot of these tournaments, they don’t have the facilities available. So with limited facilities that John will be exposed to on tour, it typically defaults to pre-hab and core exercises. When they’re leaving for 4-6 weeks at a time, if we know that he at least is doing those exercises, when he comes back, we’re able to push him much faster, and get more out of him faster than if he did nothing.

The Fan Child: So players will come back beat up and you’ll have unproductive time if they’re not doing the pre-habbing and the core stuff on the road.

Jason Riley: Very much so.

The Fan Child: With you and John having the Australian Open on the horizon now, is there a pre-Slam routine that you will start to implement?

Jason Riley: We do. Come November, we start seeing a lot of the pros start coming back to our facility, and that’s the one time a year, that we really try to get after it pretty hard. Not only from a weight room standpoint but also from a conditioning standpoint.
I’m a big believer that if we can put in six weeks minimum during that time, we’re able to hold on to those results for a much longer time than if they’ve only given me, say, three weeks. What we want to do is provide that foundation. And a lot of the research will show that the fall-off at six weeks is so much slower than it was even if they went really hard for two and three weeks. So my goal is to try to get these guys to commit for six weeks of time for that period before they head over to Australia.

The Fan Child: Have you ever made John puke?

Jason Riley: I can’t remember…I think John has…

The Fan Child: So you have seen John puke then?

Jason Riley: Yes…yes.

The Fan Child: Do you have a nickname for him?

Jason Riley: (laughing) Let me just say he’s probably one of the must fun athletes I’ve been around. He’s such a good guy. We’re constantly bantering back and forth between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. We put wagers on football games and we’ll try to embarrass one another with the bets that we come up with. But my typical name for him, one that I can probably say is “Iz.”

The Fan Child: That’s one you can repeat? And the other ones you’ll just leave to our imagination?

Jason Riley: (laughing)Yeah. It’s a lot of fun. John’s one of those guys you just look forward to him coming back to work with you.

The Fan Child: What’s the mood in the camp after his great summer? Is he like “I can win a Slam?”

Jason Riley: All his success is just giving him more confidence that he is deserving of being up there, and even though he doesn’t necessarily say it, you can see more and more confidence in him. Even though you’d never know it if you saw him on the street, because he is such a personable guy and he treats other people so well. But he has something in him, that drive and determination, that allows him to be successful – I think it’s gonna be fun to watch him in the years to come.

The Fan Child: Can he dunk a basketball?

Jason Riley: He can. But I’ll tell you no and you can publish that (laughing).

The Fan Child: Can he dunk over you, that’s the question really, right?

Jason Riley: Definitely, yeah. (not sure if Jason meant that it was definitely the question or if John could really dunk over him).

The Fan Child: Isner has this way of moving on court between points, it’s really mellow and slow. Del Potro, another big man on the ATP tour, seems to do the same thing. Is that something you’re coaching him to do?

Jason Riley: I think that’s actually something that Craig works with him on quite a bit. Allowing those times for him to catch his breath, and think about what his strategy is, I won’t get too much into it, because it’s more about John and Craig, but it is definitely apparent that he does take his time out there, and it’s something that has been advantageous for him.

The Fan Child: With all these great results in clutch situations, especially in the third and fifth set tie-breakers, is Isner some sort of Zen master or something?

Jason Riley: That’s just the way he is. I don’t think he ever gets too high and I don’t think he ever gets too low. I think that that displays itself on the court as well. He’s calm. He’s collected. He’s going to take his time. He’s very much a routine guy. Not only from what we do on the performance side of things but even with his nutrition. He doesn’t miss a beat with any of our pre-match or pre-practice supplementation, and I think that the routine helps him keep calm.

The Fan Child: Sounds like he’s an ideal client for you.

Jason Riley: He is. He asks a lot of great questions. I earned his trust early in the relationship and it’s made our relationship productive from the start. I think he enjoys spending a lot of time in the gym. He loves to be in there and he loves to shoot the breeze with the guys and talk some trash about his Georgia Bulldogs. He’s a lot of fun to have in there.

The Fan Child: One of my concerns about John is the return of serve. As his strength and conditioning coach is that something you look at, the fact that he’s one of the lowest in the top 50 at it?

Jason Riley: I’m not a stat guy at all. I believe in patterns of efficiency. Craig will tell me a lot of these things. My job is not to be a statistician or a tennis coach. One of the things that separate what I do and what Craig does and why we have such a great relationship between the three of us is that everyone is able to give in a completely different way. When I look at movement, like when I’m in his box, I’m not necessarily watching the point – I’m watching movement in general. How is he moving? Is he too high? What was his crossover step looking like? Is he taking negative steps when he approaches the ball? It’s Craig’s job for him to be able to return better, it’s my job to be able to put him into a position to make the returns that Craig needs him to make. That’s why our relationship is such a great one. My role is to do all the intangibles. Improve flexibility. Improve mobility. Improve strength and power, because all that is going to relate into a better first step, a better center of gravity so that he can put his body into position to make the best possible shots, whether it’s a return, a baseline shot, or a volley.

I need to study John’s movements and watch him on the court and to develop those patterns for him because with his height those patterns do change a little bit. Within the framework of speed and agility training, maybe 75% is the same across all athletes - maybe 80% - but it’s that 20% that you can really individualize a program with that really hits home with the athlete. Some of it’s trial and error and some of it is listening to great coaches who know the athlete well.

The Fan Child: So in John’s case, he gets custom training, based on his unique height and reach.

Jason Riley: Exactly.

The Fan Child: What are your goals for the off-season with John.

Jason Riley: I’m looking forward to John coming back and really getting started with the off-season. I set up a program for him before he left for Asia so he can maintain the success that he’s had for the rest of the season. When he returns we’re not really concerned about him putting on any more weight, but we’d like to make his movements and his core and posterior strength a little bit better so we can give him some more power on the court. That’s going to be our biggest focus.

We’re still refining some nutritional specifics to help with cramping issues for very extreme situations. We’ve made some huge gains in terms of where we were and where we’re at now, but there is still some room for improvement in that area. So I’d like to get that ironed out and continue to help John get stronger as he prepares for another Grand-Slam season.