Monthly Archives: June 2011

Henman: Federer’s serve is the best in the business

This reminds me of the most unreturnable serve I’ve ever seen, Ivanisevic, where the returner used to crouch & wiggle and then just stand up and walk to the opposite service box without even having twitched as the ball whistled past. The point is that he served fast, but wasn’t the absolute fastest, so it must have been the disguise.

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Henman: Roger Federer’s serve is the best in the business
Mark Hodgkinson
22 Jun 2011

Judging someone’s serve simply by looking at the speed-gun is too simplistic, Tim Henman has said, with the Englishman arguing that Roger Federer’s placement and variation makes his delivery the trickiest to return in the men’s draw.

Henman, who appeared in four Wimbledon semi-finals, contended that Federer’s serve was the most underrated part of his game. “The foundation of Federer’s game, and the first strike, is his serve, and at times people don’t quite give Federer’s serve the credit it deserves,” Henman said.

“Someone like Andy Roddick, who’s serving at 10mph or 15mph faster than Federer, is probably easier to return. I’m not saying that someone like Roddick should look for variation. Speed is one of the biggest assets for him, but with Federer, his variation and placement are second to none. People look at the speed-gun, and they don’t see 135mph or 140mph, but it’s his variation and his placement which is important. I watched a lot of his matches at the French Open, and so many times on big points he was cleaning the lines,” said Henman.

Federer’s unpredictability is hugely important. “There isn’t one serve he always goes for on big points, and that’s the best thing about it. There are no patterns. He hits so many different serves with so many different ball tosses.

“Maybe on the deuce box, if the ball toss is a little bit further to the right, you might think he’s going to go out wide. But it doesn’t work like that. He might throw it out to the left, and you might think he’s going to hit it down the middle, then he hits it wide. He might not serve the most aces, but the reply that he gets often sets up his forehand, and his forehand would be the one I would have,” Henman said of Federer, who plays Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the second round today.

When Federer is serving well, the rest of his game tends to work. “It opens up a lot of opportunities. When he is hitting his spots, it’s very difficult for his opponent to be aggressive on the return, and if you can’t get the ball away from the middle of the court, Federer is going to be dominating with his forehand on the second shot. That is his classic one-two punch,” Henman said.

“With his serve, the motion and the technique are so sound. He’s got amazing elevation, he uses his legs so well. I would like to see him incorporate serve-and-volley a bit more. Maybe once a game, just to put some more doubt into a returner’s head. He has so many options. He’s looking pretty good.”

Henman said that the conditions under a closed Centre Court roof would help Federer. “Roger plays well in the wind, but when the roof is closed and the conditions are still that favours him more. It helps all parts of his game. He’s able to play more aggressively and closer to the lines. When you’re playing in the wind, you have to give yourself more margin for error, and that’s not his game. He likes to take the ball on and go for it,” said Henman.

“The one thing that really helped Federer in Paris was the ball. The Babolat ball there definitely seemed as though it was quicker through the air, and the Slazenger ball used here is heavier, so he might not get the same penetration with the serve. But the surface helps him a bit. I don’t see Federer having any real problems against Mannarino. The Frenchman is a solid baseline player, but he hasn’t got the weapons to hurt Federer.”

In Henman’s opinion, the best approach when returning Federer’s serve is to be aggressive. “If you get into the mindset of chipping and blocking it back, you’re being too defensive and you’re going to let him dominate.

“You have to try to attack any second serves. When you get that second serve, you have to take advantage. You won’t get many of them, as his first-serve percentage is high, but you have to look to put the pressure on.”

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Most boring of all time – Murray vs Mansell

This is a tough call. Who gets your vote?


How good are Barcelona?

So are Barcelona the greatest ever club side? Hansen votes yes, Winter no:

Barcelona are the greatest – but my Liverpool would have tested them more
Alan Hansen
Telegraph
30 May 2011

I played in a Liverpool team which dominated Europe and have witnessed the likes of Ajax, Bayern Munich and AC Milan enjoy similar periods of success, but the current Barcelona team are simply the greatest club side I have seen.

I say that without hesitation. For all of the dominance we enjoyed at Liverpool or the sustained excellence of Milan, neither of those teams encapsulated the style and sensational football that Barcelona are now producing to such a devastating effect.

Their football is so easy on the eye and, after the football cynics having had a field day for so long, Barcelona are such a good advert for the game because they are producing football that has taken the sport to another level.

Even if you are not interested in football, it would be impossible to watch Barcelona’s performance against Manchester United at Wembley and not marvel at just how good they are.

If you had to produce three robots to deliver 10 out of 10 performances in a football match, they could not perform any better than Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta did against United.

You simply cannot defend against the three of them when they are in such form. Their quick feet, technique and artistry is phenomenal and it renders their passing and movement impossible to deal with.

Very little surprises me in football. Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick for United against Manchester City earlier this was a special moment, but we have seen overhead kicks before.

There were moments in the game at Wembley on Saturday, however, when I saw things that I have never seen before. Barcelona’s inter-passing, Messi’s movement and ability to find space and the attacking brilliance of their forward players left me wondering how on Earth you could stop it.

Inter Milan showed last season, when they eliminated Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, that they can be stopped, but to do that, you have to be negative and not allow Barcelona to play.

You have to make sure that you play really well and that they don’t, but Barcelona are so good that it is always going to be extremely difficult to beat them.

The Liverpool team that I played in during the late 1970s and early 1980s won four European Cups in eight seasons and I’m certain that we would have given Barcelona a better game than United did at Wembley.

Barcelona decimated an average United team who had no answer to their opponents ability. Our Liverpool team were a much stronger team than the present United outfit, but we would still have had to find a way of nullifying Messi, Xavi and Iniesta.

You can’t really blame United’s players for the manner of their defeat. Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are two of the best defenders the Premier League has seen, they are clearly no duds, but Barcelona cut through them like a hot knife through butter.

And in Messi, they have a player who is on a different planet to anybody else. At one point, he dropped his shoulder and sent three United defenders and half the crowd behind the goal the wrong way.

He was absolutely amazing at Wembley. The hallmark of any player is the ease of which he finds time and space, but Messi somehow finds that space in an area as congested at that between the six and 18 yard box. He almost dances with the ball and I have never seen a player with such quick feet and the ability to finish that Messi possesses.

The debate now will be whether he is the best player the world has seen and, at just 23, that is something that can only be answered once he has replicated his club success on the international stage. But there can surely be no debate over Barcelona’s standing as the best club side of all-time.

I still think that the best team in the history of the game is Brazil’s World Cup-winning side of 1970, because they had something like nine sensational players in the same side.

But this Barcelona side do remind me of the Brazilians I faced in 1982, the best team never to win the World Cup, because on top of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta they also have a great goalscorer in David Villa.

The challenge facing Pep Guardiola and his players now is to dominate the Champions League by winning it again and again for a period of years, like the great dynasties of Real Madrid, Ajax, Bayern, Liverpool and Milan.

It is extremely difficult for any team to do that, but Barcelona are so good that they really could go on to win the European Cup four or five times on the trot.

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Barcelona should just be celebrated as the team of the era without ranking them in history
Henry Winter
Telegraph
30 May 2011
Barcelona should just be celebrated as the team of the era without ranking them in history

Greatness is bestowed on teams like Real Madrid in the Fifties and Sixties, Ajax and Bayern Munich in the Seventies, Liverpool in the Seventies and Eighties and AC Milan in the Eighties and Nineties. To these fabled few can now be added Barcelona for conquering Europe a third time in six seasons. We live in the Age of Barca.

For many people, inside and outside a partying Catalonia, the temptation now burns strong to hail the glee club from the Nou Camp as the best ever. Such a pastime strays into fantasy football; how can generations be compared? The Madrid of Alfredo di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskas and Gento versus the Barcelona of Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta can be judged only in a computer game.

Football was more physical in the past but the gutsy Messi could have handled it. Football is faster now but Di Stefano’s touch and spatial awareness would have allowed him to prosper.

Talent shines in any epoch. So let us pay homage to this current Barcelona and continue to revere those sides graced by Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Kenny Dalglish and Marco van Basten.

Very few observers, let alone supporters, have been privileged to witness all of these celebrated sides, so allowing them to make a considered comparison. In polls of the supreme teams, voting is inevitably skewed towards those who inhabit the current, television-driven era. Historical perspective is often lacking in a nation that produces surveys where many respondents believe Churchill is a dog on a lead not a dogged leader.

For all of Barcelona’s glittering achievements, they cannot eclipse the deeds of the past. Straying into international waters, Brazil 1970 would certainly have given Barcelona a good game: Rivelino versus Dani Alves, Jairzinho against Eric Abidal and Pele taking on Gerard Pique for starters. Let’s appreciate them all, not rank one above the other.

An Arsenal fan has a lot to answer for. Characters in Nick Hornby’s terrific novels have an obsession with creating lists, meaning there has to be a No 1 of all time. Fortunately a man of the humility of Pep Guardiola introduced some sanity into the frenzied debate of whether Barcelona are the greatest.

“It’s impossible to say,’’ he observed. “I didn’t see the Madrid of Di Stefano, the Santos of Pele, the Ajax of Cruyff. A lot of teams have been awesome and created huge feelings for the fans. We would like that in the next 10 or 15 years people will remember this team as one of the best.’’

Like Barcelona, Messi is clearly knocking on the door of the Pantheon Club, applying for membership to join Pele and Diego Maradona.

Those predicting that Wembley on Saturday would become known as the Messi Final were not disappointed. After Wayne Rooney levelled Pedro’s opener, Messi really stole the show, scoring one and assisting in the creation of David Villa’s third. Messi was constantly in possession, constantly steering the ball away from Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic and the rest of Sir Alex Ferguson’s dumbfounded crew.

But let’s not be too coy about this. One of the reasons why Barcelona have leapt into bed with the Qatar Foundation is to help fund Messi’s wages and keep him at the Nou Camp, although it is hard to see him playing elsewhere anyway. Why leave such a gifted, decorated, united, friendly dressing room?

Barcelona’s brilliance and United’s defeat immediately intensifies the debate about the quality of English teams. No shame can be attached to a side finishing second to one of the finest ever. Saturday did confirm the pecking order of European leagues: 1 La Liga; 2 Premier League.

No heavy criticism should be aimed at Sir Alex Ferguson, whose philosophy is to build bold teams, using home-grown where he can. United’s manager will hope the exciting but troubled Ravel Morrison can mature. For now, the Scot’s plan is to buy three players, with David de Gea and Ashley Young targeted. There must also be a temptation to dangle Dimitar Berbatov and a colossal cheque in front of Tottenham Hotspur in exchange for Luka Modric. Wesley Sneijder is also an obvious option. United need some creative X-factor, particularly as Paul Scholes’ days look numbered. Only Rooney really delivered against Barcelona.

The real lesson that can be learned from Barcelona, fittingly in front of the offices of the Football Association, is the importance of instilling technique in young players, teaching them to take responsibility for the ball and for their careers. The English need to nurture artists more than athletes.

Building the National Football Centre at St George’s Park will eventually provide a supply of English youth coaches to develop skills early. Spanish coaches are the current stars of the dug-out world, Guardiola adding to the achievements of Vicente del Bosque and Luis Aragonés, but Barcelona’s manager modestly acknowledges a debt to his dressing room.

“It’s impossible to win without these kind of players. I can only imagine that Del Bosque and Aragones think the same. We try to make the lives of the players comfortable and invite them to show the huge talent they have. I will be, one day, at another club and I will ask ‘where are the players?’ and have problems to find them.” That day will not be soon. Guardiola reiterated his “intention to continue one more year” at Barcelona.

On a special, truly sporting occasion at Wembley, respect defined relationships between rival fans, players and managers. Uefa needs to show similar respect to supporters. Organisers cannot tolerate again such obscene profiteering as tainted the 2011 Champions League final.

It is one thing merchandising being ludicrously over-priced as much of the revenue stream flows back into Uefa’s coffers, staying in the game. Where Uefa must launch an investigation is into the scandalous “secondary market” for tickets for the final.

Once again, the police failed to intervene in the touting ongoing around Wembley Way. Match-day queues for cashpoints are always long but Saturday’s snaked around blocks. Touts lurked in the background, eagerly awaiting the crisp notes. Even at £2,000+, there was demand. People wanted to see United, the best team in England. They wanted to see Barcelona, one of the greatest teams in footballing history.

French Open 2011: Men’s Final Preview

Very interesting analysis of tomorrow’s French Open final between Federer and Nadal. Here’s a snippet.

Note: The question I always ask myself is – what has Murray done to transform his game over the same period, while two contenders for GOAT improve theirs? (And that’s not even counting Djokovic’s recent spurt).

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French Open 2011: Men’s Final Preview
The Sports Campus
04/06/11

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have clashed on 24 occasions since 2004. They’ve met in the slams on 8 occasions including 7 times in finals. The two are familiar with what to expect from the other. We’ve become used to what to expect from their clashes, yet we remain hooked on to this rivalry. While this is partly due to the excitement of the rivalry, the clash of styles and personality, for the tennis enthusiast what is also fascinating is the way that the pair’s games have evolved and how this has influenced their matchup. Initially Rafa’s one weapon against Federer was the high bouncing cross court forehand into Federer’s backhand that worked so well on clay. Federer struggled to deal with this but was able to neutralise this on the quicker courts. Rafa responded by working on the inside out forehand and the down the line which increased the potency of the standard cross court by making it less predictable as the attacking option. Federer on the other hand just as a result of the constant pounding has improved that high backhand so much that against almost anyone else the backhand has become almost a weapon. We saw that against Djokovic in the semifinal as well when the down the line backhand was a potent point opener for Roger. Nadal’s improvement though wasn’t restricted to the forehand – the Spaniard has worked on the serve and the backhand and now is among the best in the world at holding serve. Federer on the other hand has worked on countering that Nadal forehand and at the World Tour Finals last year put on his best display of dominance against the Nadal forehand juggernaut. What new wrinkle the final will bring will be fascinating to watch

Federer’s been working on an attacking approach to the game for a while now as he is firmly in the third phase of his career. Nadal too following his knee troubles in 2009, has worked on a game style that isn’t quite as physically demanding. On Sunday, expect Nadal toregress to his old style, just a touch, to impose his physical style on Federer as he uses the forehand into Roger’s backhand to create the short ball to put away. His US open serve may have disappeared but he still is an intelligent server knowing where to place the ball to set up the point in his favour. Roger will have to hope that he serves as well as he did against Djokovic. He has developed an excellent slider on the deuce side to counter Nadal’s natural wide one on the ad, and will need to use that to set up his own service points. The forehand has been struck well so far this tourney and he’s been running around his backhand giving a menacing air to his game. However against the lefty, that movement will have to be even more precise to counter the natural curve that will be imparted to the ball.

Perhaps though the line at the start of the article is what will define this match. Federer’s backhands ability to stand up to the Nadal forehand barrage will remain the match breaker. Roger’s been hitting the down the line backhand with authority all year, and that shot will be telling in breaking the pattern that Rafa will so love to get the match into.