Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tuesday Tirade: Roland Garros Edition

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most
by Craig Hickman

Yes. It. Can. Especially if you're a tennis player who hails from the United States. Especially if you're male.

There really isn't a whole lot else to say. No need to post all the losing snapshots. No need to even name names. About the only sentence necessary is the oft heard and/or read, "Americans suck on clay. They can't win on it."

And that, my friends, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. An omen so deeply rooted in the mind, it doesn't matter what happens on the court. Even if winning. "I'm not supposed to beat this guy" echoes like hypnosis, and... well....

A handful of American men won their first sets today. People were surprised. Shocked even. At least one of them (the only match I watched from beginning to end, save a few interruptions for other matches and the stuff of life) managed to put himself up 4-2 in the second set before taking a mental walkabout and never returning.

He thought he played well. Said so after the match. Didn't seem too upset about the way he lost. Even declared that up 4-3 and serving in the second set, he didn't miss a ball. He didn't. But he did so little with the balls he made, his Russian opponent could impose his game against little resistance.

It's easy to play well against little resistance.

If the American men are going to board planes with "I'm going to Europe in the spring and I can't win" on their minds, they may as well remain stateside. Spare themselves the humiliation. The state of being so... well... hung up.

After all, their minds appear to have taken enough beatings.


brooklyn1006 said...

Roddick is brainless and Blake has no heart. I didn't watch either match as I'm just a workingstiff, but once I saw the results I just couldn't understand how two players in the top 10 could just sort of write off a Slam.

Craig Hickman said...

Blake and Roddick have different issues which go beyond brainless and no heart. But if either written off Roland Garros, this entry wouldn't exist.

Thanks for stopping by, brooklyn.

oddman said...

There isn't a whole lot to add here. Other than can you imagine the uproar if US men DID say 'No, I'm not going to this slam next year cos what's the point'?
How does one turn around his thinking, or shut out the constant yammering of the media that one 'sucks on clay'? Especially when there are episodes of excellent claycourt play here and there shown by some American men? No answers here.

Craig Hickman said...

Oddman, the mindset is contagious. The men talk amongst each other to reinforce their failures even before they head to Europe.

After firing Tarik, Andy led the way, and the American men play follow the leader.

Wimbledon is Andy's focus and while he hasn't written of Roland Garros (he played it last year with an ankle injury because it's a Slam, after all), he's not going to kill his confidence even more by losing early in Monte Carlo, Rome, Hamburg, and Paris, before heading to London for grass. Would you? It's something that only John McEnroe alluded to during the match yesterday, and it's understandable.

But I still think that all our top players have the talent to do better on the clay than they do, and it's more mental than anything.

Here's a thought: Imagine if Roland Garros was held on red clay in Houston. I'd bet the farm Andy would advance past the third round no matter what his draw looked like.

It isn't just the surface. It's also the venue. Not doing well at certain tournaments becomes cycle that's hard to break out of, I don't care what the surface is. Look at Roddick's results in Madrid. It's a hard court. It's indoors, and he's never been past the third round.

In Safin's entire career, even when he played well, he's never been past the 2nd round in Rome. And he can (could) play on clay.

It's mental, people.

Craig Hickman said...

Not to belabor the issue (why not, we are talking about clay, afterall) I found this official English press release issued by info desk in Paris (thanks, Bonnie DeSimone) quite telling:

"Suzanne-Lenglen Court has proven in no way supportive of Andy Roddick!" the press release began, seeming perhaps a bit gleeful for an official statement. "In seven attempts at the French Open, Jimmy Connors' protégé has never been able to get past the third round."

A bit gleeful? I'll say. Now lemme ask, you think it's a coincidence that Roddick's matches are always scheduled on Lenglen?

Craig Hickman said...

And then there's this, courtesy of Greg Garber:

"I talked about it with Jimmy," Roddick said later. "I'm like, 'Is there anything I'm missing here?' He said, 'No. I can't think of anything.'

"Trying to penetrate deep and to the corners, trying to promote a short ball and get in, that's how I play. And it's tough to switch it up and all of a sudden change your stroke production, change everything."

And that is the problem, Andy. Too bad you legendary coach doesn't know this. I don't even play tennis, but I know enough to know that you can't win if you are trying to change everything. Play your game. Take the surface (minus the movement) out of it. Martin Verkerk made a Roland Garros final serving big, hit huge off the ground and smothering the net. He defeated at least won former Roland Garros champion along the way.

Roddick has bought into the notion that his A-game won't produce results on clay, so he tries to grind. He's not a grinder.

Hey Andy, weapons work on any surface. But you have to use them for them to work. Just look at Ivo Karlovic. Agassi refused to step away from the baseline, rarely did he slide, and he won the damn title. Jim Courier said it best, in so many words: If you overadjust your game just because it's clay, you're toast.

Roddick won't ever win Roland Garros without the concurrence of a series of miracles, but if he actually plays his game, you know the one where he serves big and cracks forehands from well inside the baseline (see his performance at Roland Garros 2001) he can get past the third round.

oddman said...

Hiring a sports psychologist would help. It's like there's some big bad taboo about doing that sort of thing. But, this should be considered.

Craig Hickman said...

Those two words have been floating around on the forums regarding Roddick for quite some time now.

If I had to guess, I'd say he hasn't even considered it. I doubt he realizes that he has slowly morphed into a player some might call a choker.

oddman said...

Bit of a late comment here, Craig, but was thinking (the gears grind slowly here) I have a lot of faith in Jimmy. Perhaps knowing that his charge is passionate and heart-on-sleeve wearing, he's not gonna get after him right after a loss. He probably did see some things Andy could have done better, etc, but isn't going to start picking open the wound. I think these two are alot alike, and Jimmy really understands how Andy works. Just my opinion.

Craig Hickman said...

You make a good point, oddman. Hope you're right.