Monthly Archives: July 2016

Federer and Me, by William Skidelsky

So I’ve just ordered the book “Federer and Me” by William Skidelsky. Here’s an extract from a Guardian article:

In the summer of 2006, at a family gathering of my girlfriend’s, I remember meeting an aspiring tennis pro, a young British player on the fringes of the tour. I asked him who, of today’s top players, he particularly admired. He told me he’d recently been on some practice courts near Federer and he couldn’t believe how good he was. As he spoke, awe entered his voice and his eyes acquired a faraway look. Increasingly, I realised, this was how Federer was being viewed. He was becoming a figure of legend, almost a god.

Not long after this, I happened to stumble across an essay on Federer by David Foster Wallace. I was already a fan of Wallace’s writing – his fiction in particular – and the piece made a big impression on me. Here was a palpably clever writer – something of a genius himself – talking in candidly reverential terms about the wonder, the beauty, of Federer’s tennis. I was struck not only by Wallace’s concept of the “Federer moment” – the instances when his play appears to defy the laws of physics – but also by the way he sought to locate his subject within the game’s overall trajectory. And his sense of the sport’s development very much chimed with my own.

Wallace’s basic contention was that men’s tennis had, for the previous few decades, been moving in a linear direction. Thanks to a combination of composite rackets, related changes in technique and advances in athleticism, a single style had come to dominate the sport. This style – the “power baseline” game – was, as its name suggested, based on hitting the ball with tremendous power (and copious topspin) from the back of the court. According to Wallace, it was Lendl who had pioneered the style in the 80s, in the 90s players like Agassi and Courier had raised it to new heights and, more recently, Rafa Nadal had taken it “just as far as it goes”. The problem with the power baseline style, Wallace suggested, wasn’t that it was inherently boring but it was “somewhat static and limited” and, if it were to prove the “evolutionary end-point of tennis”, that would be a problem for the game.

Federer, however, had shown another way forward. He had introduced – or rather, reintroduced – elements such as subtlety and variety, an “ability to read and manipulate opponents, to mix spins and speeds, to misdirect and surprise, to use tactical foresight and peripheral vision”. Yet the point about Federer – and here was Wallace’s kicker – was that he could do all those things while also being a “first-rate, kickass power-baseliner”. He had demonstrated a new way of playing tennis that was as attractive as it was effective, and had done so from within the modern game. “He is Mozart and Metallica and the combination is somehow wonderful.”

Wallace ended his essay on a note of optimism. At that year’s Wimbledon, which he’d attended, the junior event had been a “variegated ballet”, with players deploying “drop volleys and mixed spins, off-speed serves, gambits planned three shots ahead – all as well as the standard-issue grunts and booming balls”. The clear implication was that Federer’s approach was starting to influence tennis more widely, expanding the sport’s very possibilities.

Garry Sobers – the man who could do everything

Some lovely Garry Sobers anecdotes at this Cricket Monthly article, written for his upcoming 80th birthday. I put just a few of them below.

Ian Chappell, former Australia captain
A lot of people thought of Sobers as a natural who just played the game and did not think a hell of a lot about what he did. But he was very thoughtful. In fact, once, Mosman, the club in Sydney, was looking for a coach and the president had dinner with him and said, “Garry, we would love to have you as a coach, but you haven’t got the qualifications.” Garry said to him: “What did you think I got my knighthood for?”

Geoff Boycott, England batsman
There is another great story. They were playing in England and Geoff Boycott came to him one day and said, “Garry, you seem to get me out lbw a lot. I don’t understand it.” Garry was quite good psychologically as well. He said to Boycott, “Unlike a lot of people, Geoffrey, I don’t think your technique is that good.” That would have cut Boycott to the quick because he prided himself on his technique. “Your front foot is too far across. You can’t get your bat around your pad and my inswinger gets you lbw. That’s what is happening.”

They go out on the field next day. Boycott is batting. Sobers runs up, bowls the first ball, angles it across, Boycott edges, gets caught at slip. As he is walking off, Sobey says to him, “Geoffrey, you didn’t ask me about the other one.”

Alan Davidson, former Australia allrounder
The bloke could do just about anything on a cricket field except umpire. He was a complete cricketer, magnificent fielder, bowled all types of bowling, and when in form, he absolutely decimated great bowling attacks. You could not set a field to him because he just had that innate ability to be able to score runs whenever he wanted to.

In the tied Test in Brisbane he scored a century where he just bisected the field and it was absolutely one of the greatest innings I have ever seen in my life. He didn’t just beat the field. He split the field. His placement was just incredible. In the second dig I just thought I would try something a little bit different. I eventually got him with a yorker. In the previous overs I’d bowled slow at him, varying my pace before I delivered the fast yorker, and it got through him. My emotions got the better of me; I was over-elated, because he was such a dominant batsman. When he was in form, a lot of bowlers used to give up on him. If he is hitting your best ball for a four then you know he is going to massacre you.

Mark Nicholas, commentator and former Hampshire captain
He turned up at Nottingham for the first time – 1968. The players hardly saw him till practice the day before the first Gillette Cup match [against Lancashire]. He was captain. It was cold and he came down the steps of the pavilion, wandered over to the nets wrapped tight in a sheepskin coat. He shook hands with everyone, watched for ten minutes, then left. Next morning he arrived an hour before the game. Changed, put on a couple of jumpers, stretched and went out to toss. “We’re bowling, fellas,” he said. He took three for not many. Then they got into trouble chasing a low score, about 50 for 3 chasing 170-odd. He strolled out against the best seam attack in the country – Higgs, Statham, Shuttleworth, Lever and Wood – and made 75 not out. Notts won with ten overs to spare. After he received the Man-of-the-Match award, he came into the dressing room and said, “Well played all you fellas, now who we got in de next round?” Mike Taylor says they all just gawped at him in awe.

The Percentages That Separate Djokovic And The Top 10

Fascinating tennis stats article from Craig O’Shannessy. Turns out the second-best returner amongst the top players is not Murray, as I always thought (he is third), but Nadal:

The Percentages That Separate Djokovic And The Top 10

Novak Djokovic has won 92 per cent (46-4) of his matches this season, but when broken down to the simplest level of points won, his winning percentage is just 56 per cent. It’s amazing that someone as dominant as Djokovic is taking a 50-50 battle and shifting it just six percentage points in his favour to create the superiority that we have grown accustomed to.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis shows that the current players in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings have won, on average, just 53.2 per cent of their points this season.

Tennis point win-loss percentages