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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Serena and Roger Start Fast, Finish Strong

The clouds were rolling in and light rain was beginning to fall. It was 11:45 pm on Labor Day in New York City and Roger Federer and Juan Monaco had yet to take the court for their best of five set match. It was going to be a late night. The rain stopped and Federer and Monaco took the court. And, 19 minutes later it was one set to none Federer. Roger came out of the gate ripping forehands and hitting aces. It was clear he wanted to make quick work of Monaco and get off the court. For most players this could be a distraction and negatively affect their play. Not Roger. Even in windy conditions he hit the ball clean easily putting the ball away against a normally tough Monaco.

Serena has steamrolled through the competition at the 2011 US Open. She is definitely the more prepared player as she has started matches very quickly. Serena jumped all over Azarenka and Ivanovic, two top players. It seems Serena has intimidated her opponents coming out of the locker room with her supreme confidence and outstanding play. While Ivanovic was able to break back and almost take the lead in the first set against Serena, no one has matched Williams' intensity in the first set.

Serena and Roger also do what many players struggle with; when they have a lead they put their opponent away. Finishing off an opponent might actually be more difficult than starting fast. At the start it is 0-0 and you have not earned anything. But, when you are up in a set and serving it out suddenly it can feel like you have something to lose, something you dearly want to hold on to. This causes players to play not to lose, hesitate, slow down their footwork and swing, and have their ball land short in the court allowing their opponent to seize control. Serena and Roger do a great job of staying aggressive and stepping on the accelerator when they have an opponent down. They don't back off. They go and take the win. They sprint through the finish.

I think the wet forecast for NYC gives Serena and Roger an advantage. They both are excellent at being ready to play and not allowing the conditions to influence their focus. I remember watching Agassi and Federer play at the 2004 US Open in the aftermath of a hurricane and thinking how anyone could hit the ball in those wind gusts. Fed won the match in terrible conditions against Agassi who was known as a great wind player. If the conditions become bad as they are today give Federer and Serena an edge. They will be prepared to play and will finish strong.

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