Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For God & Country: The Davis Cup - USA v. Colombia 2010

Photo: Fernando Vergara, AP

In tennis, playing for God and Country means The Davis Cup, which carries a very special history of pride and passion.

I had the unique opportunity to watch live the Davis Cup tie (match series) between USA and Colombia while traveling through Colombia in September 2010. The tie was a Play-off for entry into the World Group next year.

Team USA was represented by Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey, John Isner, Ryan Harrison and Captain Patrick McEnroe. Several top American players chose not to play this year's Davis Cup, among them Andy Roddick, James Blake and the Bryan Brother Twins.

Team Colombia offered their best player Santiago Giraldo, ranked No. 61 in the world, and other stars such as Alejandro Falla, who took Roger Federer to 5 sets at Wimbledon in July, and doubles players Robert Farah and Carlos Salamanca.

Team Colombia had the home court advantage, and proved to be a determined opponent electrified by a wildly-supportive crowd. Team USA had the advantage of experience and history, having won the Davis Cup a record 32 times, the most ever for any team.

The event was staged on the red clay at the Plaza de Toros La Santamaria in Bogota, Colombia. The city of Bogota sits at an altitude of 2650 meters or 8700 feet above sea level. Thus, the locale posed a special challenge for both sides, especially the Americans. The tie was scheduled for best of 5 matches called "rubbers", and it proved to be a thrilling and closely-contested battle.

The Davis Cup format is 2 singles matches, a doubles match, then 2 so-called "reverse" singles matches. Each match was best of 5 sets. The winner of 3 of 5 matches would move on to the World Group.

The USA won over Colombia 3-1. (September 17 - 19, 2010)

First Singles rubber: Mardy Fish (USA) defeated Alejandro Falla (Colombia) 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Second Singles rubber: Santiago Girlado (Colombia) defeated Sam Querrey (USA) 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
Doubles rubber: Mardy Fish/John Isner (USA) defeated Robert Farah/Carlos Salamanca (Colombia) 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3.
First Reverse Singles rubber: Mardy Fish (USA) defeated Santiago Giraldo (Colombia) 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 8-6.
Last Reverse Singles rubber canceled due to rain.

Mardy Fish played some of his best tennis to win 3 "rubbers" or matches, the first American "triple" since Pete Sampras accomplished that feat in 1995 playing in Moscow. "To win three points in one Davis Cup match under these circumstances in such an important tie is one of the biggest - if not the biggest - accomplishment of my career," remarked Fish.

Patrick McEnroe, who retired from his 10-year Captaincy of the USA Davis Cup team immediately after the tie series, said of Fish: "What a Herculean effort . . . Mardy's was one of the greatest efforts in Davis Cup history - forget my 10 years as captain. To win three points under these conditions - with the altitude, the crowd and everything. He is in illustrious company."

My takeaways:
*Tennis is big in Latin America and Colombia. The enthusiasm and support of the wildly-cheering and banner-waving crowds was impressive.

*The Americans arrived in Bogota a week early to practice and acclimate to the high altitude, the highest ever for any Davis Cup tie - and they responded admirably. And they were said to enjoy their off-court time in Colombia as well!

*The Davis Cup is a premier forum for showcasing national patriotism and pride of tennis fans in countries around the world.

Well done to all the players and coaches on both teams!

For more on the Davis Cup, visit:
The Davis Cup

Best, Gary

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2010 U.S. Open: The Rafael Nadal Story and the Lessons of Rod Laver

Congratulations to all the winners and players at the 2010 U.S. Open!

The story of this U.S. Open is the career Grand Slam win by Spain's best player of this or perhaps any generation - the indominitable Rafael Nadal.

. . . and behind that win is may lie an interesting parallel with the game of the great Rod Laver - the all-time tennis champion.

Nadal is only the seventh player in history to win the "career Grand Slam": the men's singles title in each of the four Grand Slam tournaments - the Australian Open, the French Open (Roland Garros), Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

At age 24, Nadal won his 9th career Grand Slam men's singles title. This pace is ahead of that set by Roger Federer who had won 6 Grand Slams singles titles at the same age.

Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic of Serbia in four sets, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in a rain-delayed match completed on Monday, September 13, 2010 at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was Nadal's first ever U.S. Open title, and further cements his World No. 1 rank this year.

Nadal's U.S. Open victory this year completes that rarest of consecutive Grand Slam men's singles title wins - the French Open (Roland Garros), Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, all in order in the same calendar year.

And who was the last player to accomplish this feat? Answer: Rod Laver. . .

What lessons can be learned from Rod Laver's game that might be relevant at this point? What parts of Nadal's game bear focusing on here? And what might players at all levels take away from this U.S. Open championship win by Nadal?

1. A ferocious intensity of play - Laver was widely-known as a supremely humble and gentlemanly player. Less well-known to most except his opponents was Laver's ruthless desire to eviscerate the opponent, in his case with the sheer magnificence of his seering all-court game.

Similarly, Nadal is known for his all-out intensity on each point as if it was his last, in his case with the sheer power of his topspin drives. Nadal, say his opponents and most observers, "gives you nothing." Yet, like Laver, it is all bound up in Nadal's humble and gentlemanly exterior.

Lesson: Develop an intensity as part of your point play while maintaining humility.

2. The use of topspin at a higher level - Laver was credited in his time for taking topspin drives on his forehand and especially on his backhand to a whole new level, the first to take professional tennis to the modern "Big Game". Nadal likewise has taken the power and intimidation of the topspin drive to an entirely new dimension. Nadal's heavy deep topspin groundstrokes not only push his opponents back and often force a weak reply, but also intimidate many lesser opponents to "going for more" on their shots, thus missing altogether.

Lesson: Develop more and stronger topspin on all your groundstrokes.

3. Enjoying the battle and the thrill of competition - Laver in his time, and Nadal now, simply conduct themselves as glorious competitors, taking pleasure in the game itself - win, lose or draw. By doing so, they seem to play even better tennis - almost behaving and conducting themselves as if the outcome is foregone - and it often is.

Lesson: Savor the thrill of the moment and the pride of competition, regardless of outcome.

Lessons from history - past and present.

Best, Gary

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Day at the 2010 U.S. Open

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the 2010 U.S. Open in Flushing, NY on Day 5, Friday, September 3, 2010!

It was a day of thrills and excitement.

In a word: "amazing".

I toured the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center grounds, including the 3 stadium courts - Arthur Ashe, Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand - as well the other match courts and practice courts.

Highlights: Spaniard Feliciano Lopez won in 5 sets, and 18-year-old American Ryan Harrison lost in 5. John Isner and Sam Querrey both won. I also saw the women's doubles win by Alexandra Dulgheru & Magdalena Rybarikov.

I even watched some of the Junior Boys Qualifiers, rising star Gonzales Austin and Japanese upstart Daiki Kondo. (I witnessed some awesome serves from even the juniors!)

And I saw Maria Sharapova and her coach Michael Joyce, as well as Venus Williams and her father-coach Richard, all working on serves on the practice courts.

Bottom line, these world-class players can truly "hit" a tennis ball - powerfully hard and fast and with magnificent spin.

Off court, I ran into French player Paul-Henri Mathieu who was working his Blackberry and preparing for his match with Roger Federer in the next round. And I said hi to American fan favorite Melanie Oudin at the USTA Smash Zone exhibit for kids. I even briefly chatted tennis with the famous coach Nick Bollettieri who was outside of Louis Armstrong stadium watching matches on the Big Screen. . .

All in all: An exhausting but fun and educational time.

What were my observations for tennis playing fanatics?
What I noticed about players at this top-level of play, compared with players at less advanced levels -

*The commitment and intentionality of each stroke: the incredible preparation each of them makes before each shot (this seems like most of their effort)
*The fluidity of their movement and footwork on the court
*How cleanly and consistently they keep hitting the ball
*The length of their swing and the completeness of their follow-through on each stroke
*How low they can get to the ground on their shots
*How loose and relaxed the players play, and just how comfortable they look on court
*How smoothly they unleash their kinetic chain of power at the ball

For more information on the USA's Grand Slam tournament, visit:
U.S. Open: "It Must Be Love"

Best, Gary