TOPSPIN OR NOT TOPSPIN? (on hard courts)

I had just some discussion about this and decided to try to analyze the problem. Of course thinking about Dominic.


Main points

  1. Dominic is primarily a clay court player and his game is “made for clay”. This means, we must take a closer look on Rafa to answer the main question.
  2. Being “made for clay” too  Nadal was able to beat regularly Federer also on hard, including grass.
  3. Topspin and flat – is this a contradiction on particular surfaces?
  4. Topspin on the single-handed backhand just made a difference in Federer&Nadal rivalry in the season 2017.
  5. What’s the real difference between playing styles compatible with fast or slow surfaces? What about the difference between fast clay and slow  hard courts?
  6. Federer’s fans are lamenting all the time about courts getting slower every year, including Wimbledon, US Open and many US Masters tournaments. Don’t believe? Look on any Fed-related forum.
  7. Who can play the same style and win on every surface?
  8. Can one player mix clay- and hard-styles in a single match on any surface?
  9. How good is topspin on a hard court, depending on the way you play it? From well behind the baseline, like Rafa (extreme case) or from the baseline or inside the baseline, a kind of half-volley-topspin like Federer (opposite extreme).
  10. Federer is a synonyme for early taking balls (half-volleying) but don’t he play topspin? Of course he does. Forehand topspin (and lately also backhand) reaches about 4000 rpm for Federer – quite the same as for Rafa. Well, Rafa did play with 4500 and more, when he was about 20.

Now let’s try to apply all these aspects to Dominic. There is no doubt about the top level of his clay game. Big titles, including Roland Garros semifinals, are the proof.  But since years he cannot reach comparable level on hard courts. Still – 2016 a title in Stuttgart, including defeating Federer (well, not fully fit). Best ever Wimbledon performance in 2017. Very good play in Laver Cup. Outstanding playing in London. Somehow Dominic plays better in bigger tournaments, no matter the surface.

Surfaces are distributed over the season so,  there are not many hard court tournaments until Roland Garros. After RG there are very many and only low rank tournaments on clay.

Dominic’s performance is so far every season worse after Roland Garros. Is this really a matter of surface? Or maybe his tank never that full after first half of the season, when he plays most clay tournaments with deep run in every one he plays?

Let’s imagine, Dominic skips clay part of the season (like Federer did in 2017) and plays only grass+hard. Would he perform better or maybe conclude, there is no real difference between surfaces, but the tiredness after any intense part of the season decides?

Of course all this is individual. Some can play both styles, according to the momentary need, some cannot.

My main conclusion is, that what decides, are the “features” (general speed, variety of shots, movement – some can slide not worse on hard than on clay, others cannot slide even on clay,  overall fitness), experience allowing to mix everything (one of best aspects of Federer’s game) in a single rally.

And it’s more about where the ball is placed, at what an angle, than about it to be topspin or flat shot. Dominic needs to learn to take the ball earlier, but not to forget about topspin.  High rate topspin played from inside the baseline and with sharp angle is not returnable or if you are Djokovic or Murray in the defense , you return the ball but the opponent waits just at the net to hit a volley or smash winner.

It’s always good to have more tools in the bag. Every top player should be able to hit topspin, flat or slice with all possible nuances, to have “soft hand” at the net.

Dominic’s game was based on heavy topspin since very beginning and it will stay like this.  And he is still adding new tools and skills to his game. At the end (?) he will be able to play anything on any court, against any player, no matter the weather, balls and other variable conditions. But when will this “end” come? Probably never. Look for Federer. With 36+ still learning, changing, adapting, mixing, surprising opponents. Of course cannot be that fast on feet as he was 10-15 years ago.  Look Nadal – playing and winning big titles on every court over his long career. Yes, more on clay than other surfaces.  Well – only mean players can have similar achievements on every surface. Top players always have one surface, where they are the best. This will look like this for Dominic too.

Bresnik told recently, that Dominic is still “deep in development”. May he be “in development” all his career 🙂

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