A 2014 ATP shot guide: Part 2 (Return of Serve, Backhand and Slice Backhand) - UBITENNIS
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A 2014 ATP shot guide: Part 2 (Return of Serve, Backhand and Slice Backhand)

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TENNIS ATP SHOT GUIDE – With Novak Djokovic winning the ATP Finals and Switzerland clinching their first Davis Cup the men’s season is over for 2014. Before the new season starts, at Ubitennis.com we decided to look back and select the best shots and other fundamentals of the 2014 season.

 

With Novak Djokovic winning the ATP Finals and Switzerland clinching their first Davis Cup the men’s season is over for 2014. For the start of the 2015 season tennis fans will have to wait a bit more than a month as the players first rest and then they train for the new year.

Before the new season starts, at Ubitennis.com we decided to look back and select the best shots and other fundamentals of the 2014 season. We will look at the serve, forehand, backhand, slice, volleys, passing shots, footwork, mental toughness, overall aggressiveness, overall defence and all good but no excellence. This week we will examine the backhand, the slice backhand and the return of serve

Click here for Part 1: (Serve and Forehand)

Return of Serve

1) Novak Djokovic: the world number one has cat like reflexes and he also seems to be able to read the opponents serve. Combine those qualities with his shot making qualities and you get the best returner on tour. In 2014 he has won 33% of 1st serve returns, 58% of 2nd serve returns and in the entire season he has won 33% of return games (287 out of 862).

2) Rafael Nadal: the Majorcan has an excellent return. Unlike Djokovic, most of his returns are not winners, but they enable Nadal to take control of the following rally. Stats wise he has performed even better than Djokovic, 35% of 1st serve points won, 56% of 2nd serve points won and 35% of return games won, but the Spaniard missed the entire summer swing on hard courts and most of the indoor season, which are favourable to servers unlike clay.

3) Andy Murray: this has not been an easy season for the British player, but one aspect of Murray’s game that hasn’t suffered too much from the back operation is the return of serve. The 2013 Wimbledon Champion has struggled with his serve, but he has been able to recover thanks to his excellent returning skills. In the year Murray has won 33% of 1st serve return points, 55% of 2nd serve return points and he has won 32% of return games played (303 out of 951 games).

Kei Nishikori by Art Seitz

Kei Nishikori by Art Seitz

4) Kei Nishikori: the US Open finalist is one of the best returners on tour and he has to be to compensate for his weakness on serve. Nishikori is capable of producing winners on return even with his feet close or on to the base line. He continuously tries to anticipate the shot, a tactic that pays off especially when returning the second serve. On 1st serve returns he 15th on the ATP Match Facts list with 30% of points won whilst on the 2nd serve returns he is 6th with 53%. Nishikori has won 28% of return games played in 2014 (232 out of 842).

5) David Ferrer: hard working David is in this list in 5th place because of the stats more than technique or overall quality of his return. Ferrer does not have a deadly return of serve and he does not get too many winners when facing a serve, but he gets breaks. In 2014 he is 2nd in the ATP Match Fact list of 1st serve returns (34%), 3rd with his 2nd serve return (56%) and he has broken serve 309 times out of 941 return games (33%) placing him third on the list behind Nadal and Djokovic.

Backhand

1) Novak Djokovic: the World Number One has the best backhand around. As an offensive weapon it isn’t as deadly as Wawrinka’s backhand, but unlike the Swiss, Djokovic can also defend effectively on his left side. The Serb can play any type of backhand, including a one-handed slice, and he can defend and attack equally with this shot. He is also more consistent on his left side than his right.

WAWRINKA_GREAT_BACKHAND_SCOREBOARD_WIMB2014_ART_SEITZ2) Stan Wawrinka: as an offensive weapon and as far as style goes, the Swiss has the best backhand on tour. The angles and the speed that he is able to find with his backhand have been unmatched this year on tour. The only reason why I can’t consider his backhand the best around is that Wawrinka struggles when defending with his backhand and he lacks the variety of shots that Djokovic can produce.

3) Kei Nishikori: this season the Japanese player had a fantastic year reaching his first finals in a Slam and a Master 1000 as well as qualifying for the ATP Finals. A large part of his success comes down to his backhand, particularly when played down-the-line. Playing with his feet firmly on the baseline, Nishikori is able to take control or end rallies with his backhand and he can pass effectively as well when attacked.

4) Andy Murray: even if the Scot has struggled to find his best form this year, we have seen glimpses of his formidable backhand, particularly after the US Open. It remains his most solid shot that he rarely makes mistakes with. He can play it top spin, slice, whilst defending or attacking, even when he reverts to playing a couple of meters behind the base line.

5) Ernests Gulbis: there were many candidates for this fifth spot, from Kohlschreiber to Federer, but I opted for the Latvian who had an excellent season. Gulbis has found a way to improve his forehand with the “unlikely” left arm movement, but his shot of choice remains the backhand. With his double-handed left side shot the Latvian has won many of his points, only his serve has been more prolific.

Slice backhand

1) Roger Federer: the Swiss’ backhand can be considered his weakness, but when he is able, and willing, to play the slice it is a different story. When he is defending this shot allows Federer to gain some time and and when attacking he can surprise his opponents with drop-shots or with long gliding shots that give him the time to get to the net comfortably. As he is able to mask this shot, his opponents are always unsure whether to sprint forwards for the short ball or hang back for the “chip & charge” movement.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

2) Andy Murray: the 2013 Wimbledon Champion has an excellent two-handed backhand and an amazing one-handed slice. Murray uses this shot to defend and to vary the rhythm of the rallies to good effect. Probably only Federer uses the slice more productively on tour.

3) Novak Djokovic: like all two-handed backhand players, also the world number one does not hit this shot very often, but when he does it is to great effect. Djokovic is, probably, the best defender on tour and when he is chasing down the ball on his left side he often uses the back-spin to gain some time and keep the ball in play. He uses this shot also to make some drop-shots that are difficult to read for the opponent and often hardly bounce.

Grigor Dimitrov by Fabrizio Maccani

Grigor Dimitrov by Fabrizio Maccani

4) Grigor Dimitrov: not to insist on the misplaced nickname of “baby Fed”, but it is true that the one-handed backhand of the Bulgarian has a lot of similarities with Federer’s backhand. It isn’t as effective as the Swiss’ shot, but the slice has been a saviour for him to get out trouble on several occasions this year.

5) Alexandr Dolgopolov: the Ukrainian is easily the most unpredictable player on tour to the point the often he does not even know what he is going to do next. A lot of his “madness” is enabled by the ease with which he spins the ball with his backhand. What makes this shot so difficult to handle for his opponents is the amount of side-spin that Dolgopolov is able to give the ball.

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Gael Monfils Targets Spot At Home Olympics Before Retirement 

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Image via ATP Twitter

Gael Monfils may be starting his 2023 season later than usual but he isn’t contemplating stepping away from the sport anytime soon. 

 

The former top 10 star has been absent from the Tour since August due to a foot problem during what has been an injury-stricken year for the Frenchman. Monfils also missed the French Open and Wimbledon due to a heel injury which required surgery. Overall, he has won 14 out of 21 matches played on the Tour in 2022. 

Providing an update on his current fitness during an interview with Canal+, Monfils confirmed that he will not be playing at the Australian Open in January which will be the fourth major tournament in a row he has missed. Whilst his recovery is progressing well, he is targeting a return during the clay season which concludes at the French Open. He is also unable to access his protected ranking at Melbourne Park because the rulebook states that a player must be absent for at least six months to be eligible. 

“I know that there is a protected ranking, when you don’t play for a certain amount of months. I know that if I take it, I have to not play the Australian Open to reach the six months needed and that will be my decision,” Tennis Head quotes Monfils as saying.

However, the 36-year-old isn’t planning to stop playing just yet with aspirations to play at his home Olympic Games, which will be held in Paris in 2024. Monfils is already a three-time Olympian and has reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice before. 

Despite some speculation over his retirement, Monfils hopes to continue playing until the age of 40. Although he admits this depends on his family after he and his wife Elina Svitolina welcomed their first child earlier this year.

“2023 is an important year for me, a year of transition, transition between my injuries and the fact to be competitive to try to qualify for Paris 2024. I would not like to miss the Olympics, it would be my last one,” he added.
“I hope that 2024 would not be my last year but maybe the one after that. Before, I said that I wanted to play until I’m 40 but the more time I spend with my daughter, the more time I’m thinking maybe I’ll play a bit less.”

Monfils has won 11 Tour titles so far in his career, including this year’s Adelaide International. He has reached at least one final every year since 2005. 

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The Year-End Rankings: The Rise Of Alcaraz And The Eternals, Djokovic and Nadal

Image via ATP Twitter

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By Roberto Ferri

Let’s start our last article on the ATP rankings by quoting the words which are said to be the last of emperor Augustus: “The play is over, applaud”.

 

We cannot but applaud Novak Djokovic, six-time ATP Finals winner just like Roger Federer. And we applaud the season, which, for good or ill, has been unique. Just consider the most striking events: Carlos Alcaraz rising to No. 1, Roger Federer’s retirement, all the issues involving Djokovic and the Wimbledon affair.  

The top positions of the ranking have been significantly impacted by Djokovic’s absence from two Majors (Australian Open and US Open), four Masters 1000 (Indian Wells, Miami Open, Canadian Open, Cincinnati) and by ATP’s decision to not award points for Wimbledon.

If we compare the ATP rankings published after the ATP Finals in 2021 and 2022, this fact is clearly noticeable. 

22 NOVEMBER 2021

PositionPlayerCountryPts 
1DjokovicSerbia11540
2MedvedevRussia8640
3ZverevGermany7840
4TsitsipasGreece6540
5RublevRussia5150
6NadalSpain4875
7BerrettiniItaly4568
8RuudNorway4160
9HurkaczPoland3706
10SinnerItaly3350
11Auger-AliassimeCanada3308
12NorrieGB2945
13SchwartzmanArgentina2625
14ShapovalovCanada2475
15ThiemAustria2425
16FedererSwitzerland2385
17GarinChile2353
18KaratsevRussia2351
19Bautista AgutSpain2260
20Carreno BustaSpain2230

14 NOVEMBER 2022:

PositionPlayerCountryPts
1AlcarazSpain6820
2NadalSpain6020
3RuudNorway5820
4TsitsipasGreece5550
5DjokovicSerbia4820
6Auger-AliassimeCanada4195
7MedvedevRussia4065
8RublevRussia3930
9FritzUSA3355
10HurkaczPoland2905
11RuneDenmark2888
12ZverevGermany2700
13Carreno BustaSpain2495
14NorrieGB2445
15SinnerItaly2410
16BerrettiniItaly2375
17ShapovalovCanada2105
18CilicCroatia2075
19TiafoeUSA2000
20KhachanovRussia1990

Novak Djokovic ended 2021 with 4720 points more than Carlos Alcaraz; also Medvedev and Tsitsipas earned more points than the Spaniard, who would not have reached 7000 points even counting the 135 points he wasn’t awarded at Wimbledon.

A few comments on the 2022 rankings:

  • Casper Ruud, the ATP Finals finalist, concludes his excellent year in third place, overtaking Stefanos Tsitsipas with an impressive final rush.
  • Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal are the only top 10 players born in the 80s; the other 8 were born in the second half of the 90s.
  • Cameron Norrie and Pablo Carreno Busta are the survivors of the lost generation, born between 1990 and 1995 and that was most overpowered by the Big Four dominance. 
  • Only North America, beyond Europe, is represented at the very highest: Auger Aliassime, Fritz, Shapovalov and Tiafoe.
  • Holger Rune has gained 92 positions since the start of the year. Carlos Alcaraz “just” 31.
  • A final note: Kei Nishikori ends 2022 without a ranking. Does this suggest he’s going to retire?

BEST RANKING

Owing to earned and dropped points, as well as results in the Challenger events, five players in the top 100 have achieved their career highest this week:

Emil Ruusuvuori – 40

Quentin Halys – 64

Christopher O’Connell – 79

Roman Safiullin – 89

Nuno Borges – 91

A special applause for the 20-year old Ben Shelton, a bright prospect for USA tennis, who has made his debut in the top 100. Thanks to his victory in the Champaign-Urbana Challenger he’s now ranked 97.

Is that all? Not yet! Just a quiz for everybody: which was the last year which saw the first two places in the rankings occupied at the end of the season by two players of the same nationality?

That’s really all for now. We’ll be back in 2023.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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ATP Finals Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Faces Casper Ruud in the Championship Match

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Novak Djokovic on Saturday in Turin (twitter.com/atptour)

The biggest ATP non-Major final of 2022 takes place on Sunday in Turin, Italy.

 

2022 has been a bizarre year in the career of Novak Djokovic.  It started with his deportation from Australia, forcing the unvaccinated Djokovic to miss the first Major of the year.  That would be one of six prominent events that Novak would miss this season due to COVID-19 entry rules (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal, Cincinnati, US Open).  Yet Djokovic was still able to accumulate a record of 41-7, and win his 21st Slam at Wimbledon.  He is now 17-1 at indoor ATP events this fall, and will end the year as the World No.5  With a win on Sunday, he would tie Roger Federer for most all-time ATP Finals titles.

2022 has been a groundbreaking year in the career of Casper Ruud.  He had already established himself as a top 10 player, but prior to this season, was predominantly thought of as a clay court specialist, with five of his six ATP titles coming on that surface.  Yet that all changed this season, starting in Miami when he reached his first Masters 1000 finals.  Casper would go on to also reach his first two Major finals, in Paris in New York.  He is now 51-21, and into his fourth big final of the year.


Sunday’s action in Turin starts at 4:00pm local time with the doubles championship match, featuring Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (4) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (2).  Both teams are an undefeated 4-0 this past week.  This is Ram and Salisbury’s second consecutive year in the final, having lost a year ago to Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.  Mektic won this title two years ago alongside Wesley Koolhof, while this is Pavic’s first appearance in the final of this event.  These teams have not met since the semifinals of this tournament last year, when Ram and Salisbury prevailed.


Casper Ruud (3) Novak Djokovic (7) – Not Before 7:00pm

Ruud is 3-1 this past week, with his only loss coming in a dead rubber against Rafael Nadal.  Prior to his three top 10 victories across the last seven days, Casper only had two all season (Zverev, Auger-Aliassime).  And he is yet to win a title above 250-level in his career, with the aforementioned three losses this year in big finals.  Ruud was a semifinalist here a year ago in his ATP Finals debut.

Djokovic is an undefeated 4-0 this week, which includes an arduous effort to defeat Daniil Medvedev on Friday in a dead rubber.  Novak is now 10-3 against top 10 opposition in 2022, having taken nine of his last 10 against the top 10.  He is 4-2 in finals this year, though he lost his most recent one, two weeks in Bercy, to Holger Rune.  Djokovic is an eight-time finalist here, though he hasn’t won this title since 2015.

Djokovic has played a lot more tennis across the last two days than Ruud.  On Friday, Novak spent over three hours on court, while Ruud had the day off.  But Djokovic still looked plenty fresh for his semifinal on Saturday against Taylor Fritz, and was able to prevent the American from extending that tight contest to a third set.  Novak is 3-0 against Casper, which includes a straight-set victory at this same event a year ago.  And considering Ruud’s poor record in significant finals, Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his sixth title at the ATP Finals on Sunday.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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