Thursday, April 28, 2005

How Henman Can Win A Major

In my humble opinion Tim Henman is a great tennis technician and competitor who is really fun to watch if you are a hardcore tennis fan and are a proponent of the serve and volley strategy. I also like the way he still a proponent of the straight up sportsman in the vein of Stefan Edberg, Rafter etc who takes his lumps, doesn't bs about his shortcomings and doesn't need to belittle his opponents and still speak confidently about his ability to win. There is much talk about the demise of the serve and volley or net rushing strategy in the pro game and the causes of this trend but I won't get into that here. I would say that the current dominant strategy in the game (power basliners) works to his advantage because most of his opponents don't face net rushers too often and he brings a surprise element to each match. The point I'd like to make is that I believe that at this latter stage of his career I think that Tim should consider a change in racquet technology in an attempt to get some extra confidence on serve and breakthrough to win his first major (be it the Big W or not, god save the queen blah blah).

My rationale for this is as follows:

1. When watching his matches my analysis of Henman's main strategic struggle is that he is not always able to ply his A game at the net on as many service points as he would like. He can get into dogfights against players with good returns that force him to stay on the baseline too much on his serve games (strong examples of his nemesis game style are Hewitt and Nalbandian, but he can have troubles with more journeymen players like Canas (no offense just looking at historical ranking here). When the going gets tight late in a set Henman is stuck playing his B game as he can't get to the net quite often enough off his serve and needs to invent something off the ground to get in there. If Henman had a more consistent "approach shot" like serve like Rafter or Edberg he would not be necessarily hitting service winners when it was tight but at least he could use his serve to get to net on somewhat even terms. When he needs a point I think he would agree he's better off dealing with a tough first volley than creating a forcing approach shot off the ground should he even get the chance in a baseline rally.

2. I don't believe it is a coincidence that currently some of the biggest servers on tour use slightly longer racquets of the 27.5 inch variety (Roddick, Ljubicic, Arthurs). Unless you are of above average height and limb length like Rusedski or Joachim Johanssen physics dictates that a higher impact point is easier to achieve consistently with a longer racquet. Players like Roddick who have great mechanics are not necessarily aided in the speed dept but I believe the slightly longer racquet allows them to hit that big bomb more often. So for Henman the longer racquet would allow him to hit that decent serve to get him into net on "even" terms more often under stress at 4 all in the 3rd or 5th. Knowing that he's going to be getting to net consistently in the big moments is going to boost his confidence because I think he feels he can beat anyone currently walking this planet if he is standing at net and they are attempting to pass.

3. Many would argue that while extra .5 inch length may help him on serve his all around game may suffer on other shots such as his volleys and ground game. While that may be true Henman is a very very high quality volleyer, I would put him up there with Edberg in terms of ability to cover the net and really stick volleys. Basically I think the guy could volley with a frying pan and he can make the adjustment. If the longer racquet improves his serve by say 5% and his ground game falls by the same % then it would actually improve his game because it's all about his volleying ability and I argue improving his serve gets him further in that direction than a great forehand would.

4. I want to make it clear I'm not suggesting Henman just boost his percentage and go for kick serves all the time. I believe this was the Stefanki strategy and it didn't work because he can't generate the pace on serve to bother guys with his current racquet. He still needs to be aggressive on serve and mix it up, the longer racquet will hopefully make it easier and thus more consistent so more of these aggressive serves land in and he can volley to the open court.

5. Their are no gaurantees in this life and my proposal for the use of a longer racquet is by no means a sure shot. However, what I'm saying is that now is the time for Henman to make such a move and get Slazenger to put a longer racquet in his hands. As far as I can see right now its just a brave commitment to more of the same from Henman in terms of getting over the hump to win a major before he retires from the pro game. Basically he'll keep fighting, hanging tough and hoping for a patch of good form and confidence to coincide with a major event. Perhaps one could argue that if he hasn't won a major with his current frame yet then its time for a change as he's a consistent top 5, has a good record against the top players. This could have a psychological as well as physical benefit if nothing else.

So in closing if I had the bolts to offer him such an opinion I would basically say that he's got nothing to lose and much to gain by trying a longer racquet, he'll know in the first 4 or 5 tournaments with the new racquet if he's on to something. Besides a volleyer knows what a calculated risk is every time he rushes the net!

The Reason for This Blog

The reason I have created this blog is to provide my take on the wonderful sport of tennis (should anyone be interested), its personalities, techniques and otherwise inconsequential drivel