The Excitement Machine.
Roger Federer def. Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-4
I just had the absolute pleasure of watching Roger & Juan Martin from three rows back on the baseline in Miami this afternoon.
What was it like? Here are five things that really stood out to me.
When you sit on the side of the court, you look far less at the back and forth of the rally. Your eyes tend to lock on the player right in front of you, evaluating their court position and shot selection with a lot more scrutiny. Here’s what I saw…
Roger felt the magnetism of the baseline more. If Juan Martin pushed him back with depth or power, Roger would respect that depth by either moving back or staying put and abbreviating his backswing to keep contact out in front. But if he did go back, it was only temporary. He would spring back to the baseline in the blink of an eye. From there, he would be back prowling with his groundstrokes, hunting the short ball. The baseline is his home base, where he looks to launch as many forays possible to the net. Juan Martin preferred to stay a little further back and use his longer levers to continually crush the ball. He did not have the same urgency to move forward an inch or two when it was available as Roger did.
It “feels” like Roger spends a massive amount of time hovering above the court than actually touching it. When he does make contact, it is only briefly. The purple concrete is simply a launching pad for another assault forward. Another opportunity to allow his body weight to drive through the ball. He is Peter Pan. He rides a magic carpet. I don’t know how he does it… but he does it. Gravity has not yet caught up to this man from Switzerland.
When Roger is lining up to hit a forehand, the backswing starts slowly. His left-hand guides the racket back, turning his shoulders and hips automatically – triggering the kinetic chain of energy. Everything looks smooth and in control. And then the violence erupts. As the racket drops down behind him, it rapidly accelerates. The wrist lays back, and he snaps hard on the ball. The arm and the wrist become a whip, transforming the fluffy ball into a cannonball. Then the racket wraps itself around his body, and he slowly uncoils and starts getting ready for the next shot. Calm. Violence. Calm. Again. And. Again.
Neither of these two guys dwells on an error. They know it’s a critical part of the game. They know that good errors lead to good shots that lead to trophies. When they miss a shot, they go to their strings, contemplate the error, mentally fix it in their mind, and move on as soon as possible. There is no-nonsense on the court. No self abuse. No self destruction. No looking at the coaches’ box and losing their mind.
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky famously said he does not skate to where the puck is – he skates to where it is going to be. That’s what you get with these two. Federer seemed to be a little bit better at it today. He would hit a shot and recover to a part of the court that would affect the decision-making of Del Potro. He would identify the probability and the percentages and position his body to win the point without even having to hit another ball. What do I mean by that? Well, he would stand where Juan Martin wanted to hit it, which forced the Argentine to go for a little more – play closer to the lines to be effective. It also opened up another part of the court that was lower percentage. Federer baited Juan Martin with the low percentage options and visually took away the high percentage areas. Genius. But we never see that genius if we track the ball. We miss the art of court position. Not today. Not from three rows back on the baseline.
It was an absolute pleasure to watch the match from such close range. I hope you get a little bit of a feel for what it was like.
p.s. here are some pics from the match.