“I’ve been thinking about the women’s final at Roland Garros today and how Serena Williams has been so dominating on the WTA tour. I do not know these women personally, in fact have never met either one of them. I do consider myself fairly knowledgeable and a student/ambassador/lover of this wonderful game called tennis!
The real story to me is how Serena has been dominating Maria Sharapova in majors, and I would like to shed some light on this issue. This is just how I think about “competition”. It is my “everything” vs. their ” everything”. This piece has zero to do with whether I like or dislike any of these players. They have been incredible athletes and regardless of what I think of either one of them, they are winning a lot. Just number one is dominating number two! That is what interests me and here is my thinking… Sharapova can take this free advice from me… won’t cost her…
Serena Williams is by far the strongest, most vicious competitor in the women’s game — maybe ever — with a serve that rivals some top men players in speed. Period. Her serve is her biggest weapon and when it clicks, it elevates everything else in her game.
What does one do when this dominance seems so complete? Does one shrug, accept that they are just better, bigger, faster. and move on to the next tournament in hopes of not running into the domineering player? Or do we stop, take stock of what has been happening, look at all the strengths and weaknesses of both of us, and “adjust”? By adjust I mean really change some stuff. If I were Sharapova’s coach I would be doing the following:
I would stop at NOTHING to figure out how to beat Serena. Get as many matches on video where Serena had beaten her, analyze all of it in depth, and make notes of how she beat her, scores, etc., on what surface, and if there were many variations in the tactics. What was her percentages of serves in each game? Where did she serve on break points against her? Where did she land her second serves under stress points? What was her average first serve speeds in each game, each set, each match? Second most important thing is returns of serves — of both first and second serves. How can she improve on that?Look at pattern play when the chips are not down, vs. when the chips are down, and it is a must win for Serena. We all play a certain way when we are under pressure, and many times we can see patterns emerge. This analysis will take time, but a lot can be learned if one knows what to look for. There is a company in Melbourne, Australia, that has this capability of analyzing top men’s and women’s matches, and everything and has been doing it for many years. Get it! Study every point, every game, every set, and begin to formulate a plan.
This plan will include some serious stuff. Gym work to increase strength. Sharapova is not a great mover. She reads the ball very well, but she needs to increase her sprint ability. Leave no stone unturned when it comes to physical prowess. Navratilova did it and when she dominated Chris Evert, Chris went to the gym and became much better. It absolutely can be done.
Here comes the controversial part:
Sharapova needs to learn to play fearless, aggressive tennis. Not just pounding groundstrokes from the baseline; she needs to get her nose to the net! NOBODY likes to be pushed into a corner and then see the attitude of “I dare you to pass me”. Serena doesn’t like to be pushed. She likes to be a front runner and it shows. I will have Sharapova serve and volley until she likes it! She can match Serena off the ground, but if Sharapova can learn the “transition game” and be as comfortable with that as she is with her groundstrokes — watch out!
Sharapova has a pretty good serve with good power! But when she “over-thinks” it, the toss goes sky high, the knees bend even more, and with the combination of a fast dropping ball and slightly out-of-sync legs, she double faults suddenly. It doesn’t take much for that to happen … Saw it again today! I will cure her double faults!
Here is why I like Nadal: he tinkers, he changes, he tries different things all in the name of making himself “better” and he does it all the time! But what is so astonishing about him, is that he goes into these “changes” with 100% conviction that that is going to work for him! Nobody in tennis does what Nadal does. Look what he has done the last 8 to 10 years! Not Roger, not Djokovic, not Murray — none does what Nadal does. Maria needs to take a page out of Nadal’s book and do the following:
Work on the stuff I mentioned. That is a must. But over the next few years, if she is doing these changes with a passion and 100% conviction, she will for sure have more success! If not, I cannot see her EVER winning majors against Serena at this point, unless something goes wrong physically or mentally with Serena.
On Tuesday I wrote a piece about being “process driven” vs. ”result driven”. Here is a classic example and what happened to me. In 1978 and 1979 I reached the quarterfinals at the US Open and in both years I lost to Vitas Gerulaitis. He spanked me in straights in ’78, and in four sets in 1979. He was incredibly quick, served and volleyed, and was a pretty good all -around player but his fitness, his quickness, and his ability to read the play was fantastic. I was beginning to think, maybe I will never be able to beat him; after all he was training with Borg and was number 4 in the world at the time. A year or so later I played Vitas Gerulaitis again in Milan, Italy, on a fast indoor carpet. I liked the surface — and so did he. I agonized the night before of how I was going to play against him. I went through every possible scenario I could think of, and decided on the following which became my “process”:
1. Serve and volley every single point on my own serve. Regardless of score. Absolutely be fearless, no matter how bad things may turn out for me, but I WILL get to the net before he does, and if he doesn’t come to the net on his serve, I will. Execute, execute, execute — FEARLESSLY!
2. Never show ANY emotion! I made myself that promise, and I went over these points over and over until the wee hours of the morning.
3. Every second serve I get would be looked at as an opportunity for me to “pounce”! I would slice and come in. I would rip a backhand and come in. Let him try and pass me. I would drop-shot him sometimes, no matter how fast he was, I would be at the net, too, and see if he could pass or lob me.
4. I made a pact with myself: No matter how hard it may be, I will not WAIVER in this approach at all.
I didn’t! And I beat him badly!
That match meant more to my inner confidence/my self-belief/my strength of thought in my career and I ran into many, many tough guys and tough matches and I won most of them. WHY? I became “PROCESS ” driven. The “result” would come ONLY after I had done the process right.
I never lost to Gerulaitis after that Milan match ever again…..
I love this stuff……”