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.

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