Vlad1980 – I have to disagree with you on a few of these points.
Firstly, I want to make it clear that Richard wasn’t complaining about being tired or using that as an excuse. He was asked by French journalists about the number of withdrawals and injuries at Wimbledon. He replied that a lot of the players were really hurt physically and mentally after the French Open and the whole of the season, and that there’s not much time in between the French Open and Wimbledon to recover. He used himself as an additional example by saying that the Argentina Davis Cup trip really exhausted him even though he didn’t play. But he was very clear that he felt Tomic played better on the day at Wimbledon, and was not using tiredness or his lengthy season as an excuse for his loss.
The Davis Cup and Olympics have obvious appeal, but I think most players would cherish GS QF's and SF's just as much, if not more. Look at Janowicz’s post match interview yesterday. He couldn’t even speak, he was so overwhelmed at making the SF. I can’t talk for Richard, but I’d be very surprised if the Wimbledon QF against Roddick wasn’t still one of (if not the) greatest achievements of his career. He always describes it as his best match when he’s asked. I’m pretty sure he’ll remember that his whole life as well as the Olympic doubles medal and anything he goes on to achieve in Davis Cup.
If Richard does play UMAG there’s obviously a good reason for that – like a contractual tie-in or verbal obligation, as others have suggested.
As for the specific areas of his game you’ve criticised:
1. Movement – I have to disagree. I think this is an area that he’s really improved over the last 12-18 months. He’s covering the court much better, is noticeably quicker, and is really chasing down most shots with a lot of determination now. I see a big improvement in this part of his game.
2. Flexibility – I hadn’t noticed this being an issue, but I’m going to look out for it now in his coming matches. He was wrong-footed by Tomic several times, but that’s because Tomic mixes up his shots more than most, and is very hard to second guess. Tomic did the same thing to Djokovic earlier this year, so I didn’t see that as being an issue with Richard’s flexibility.
3. Forehand – there are definitely still bad days (like SF Halle v Youzhny) but against Granollers and especially Tomic at Wimbledon, I thought his forehand was working well. He hit 73 winners against Tomic and a good number of those were forehands. The way he beat Berdych in Miami and then how he played during a good chunk of the SF match against Murray. Absolutely nothing wrong with that forehand. Obviously, it’s a confidence shot though and if things aren’t going well, it can suffer. So he needs to keep working on depth and consistency, which I’m sure he and his team are very aware of.
4. Second Serve Return – you haven’t checked the stats. Richard is lying 3rd highest in the ATP matchfacts-stats table (http://www.atpworldtour.com/Rankings/MatchFacts.aspx
) for the percentage of second serve return points won (55%) – only Ferrer and Federer are ranked higher.
Also, in the 2013 Wimbledon table of the number of second serve return points won (http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/score...et_won_ms.html
) Richard is lying 13th. The only reason he’s this low is because the table is based on the overall number of return points won in the tournament and is not shown as a percentage. Richard only played 3 matches, whereas 4 players ranked above him played 4 matches, and everyone else played 5. When you divide Richard’s second serve return points won (78) by his matches(3) he actually ends up with a better ratio than the current top ranked player, Andy Murray (125 points in 5 matches.)
So Richard’s actually pretty damn good at winning points on 2nd serve return. The problem against Tomic was that there were hardly any second serves to go after. Bear in mind that Tomic took Berdych to 4 sets, when averaging a low 70’s first serve percentage - and he was a good 10 percent higher against Richard.
5. Strength & Durability – I don’t know enough about Richard’s fitness training to really be able to answer this. He looks fitter to me than in previous years, but I can’t deny there seems to be an issue with 5 set matches. The question I’m wondering though is – is he really just not physically fit enough, or is it the way the stress and tension manifests itself in him that saps his strength and energy in the later stages of matches? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I’m starting to wonder if it might be the latter.
6. Taking the ball early – well he can obviously do this. We know that. But he also likes to shape up to the ball properly too, and that inevitably takes more prep time. I really believe he is gradually creeping forward towards that baseline with his groundstrokes though. And I liked how often he was prepared to come in and volley against Tomic.
7. Mental toughness on big points and towards the end of matches. This definitely still needs more work and is no doubt an ongoing goal, but I think it’s really important to credit Richard with the good work he’s already done in this regard. He is a much tougher player these days. And a much more solid and consistent player all round. Even the past year I see such a difference in him. He has more work to do on keeping his focus and not getting distracted by bad challenge calls, injury time outs etc, but he doesn’t seem to have the natural confidence/ arrogance that a lot of top players instinctively have, so I think the improvements he’s made are already really positive and should be applauded rather than criticised.
In terms of his mental toughness overall, no one ever gives him credit for coming back after the '09 saga. He could have easily sunk without trace after that. But he didn't. He fought back, and has steadily improved his game and his ranking - in spite of injuries - to a point where he's now back in the top 10.
It’s unfortunate he’s been labelled with a reputation that is going to be hard to shake off now no matter what he does. A few weeks back Djokovic lost a 5 setter against Berdych after being two sets and a break up. Even against Haas he struggled to serve out the match. But when Verdasco loses to Murray after being 2 sets up, everyone says he’s doing a “Gasquet” – despite that match with Murray happening 5 YEARS ago.
Richard’s not perfect – he’s a human being - and as a tennis player, he’s a constant work in progress (as they all are.) But I actually think he’s made a lot of improvements over the last couple of years and is heading in the right direction. Grosjean and Piatti seem a good fit for him. I’ve been really impressed with the improvement in his movement, how well he’s served overall (including a ridiculous number of aces for a guy who’s only about 6 feet tall.) and how well he’s been handling and fending off a lot of break points and soaking up pressure. His 4-5 service game hold (from 0-40 down) at the end of the 2nd set v Tomic, then winning that set, was immense. As was his early monster hold against Stan in Paris. There’s a lot more steel and determination about him now. Does he sometimes need to focus more and attack more on the big points – yes. But he’s learning and transitioning, and tennis isn’t as simple as being told by a coach what to do and then just doing it. If it was, every player would be challenging.
Richard only got back into the top 10 in November 2012 and moved to 9 in April this year. He’s 32-11 for the season and he’s won two titles, which is really impressive.
A lot of guys are starting to close in on the Top 10 – Stan, Tommy Haas, now Janowicz is having a bit of a charge. For me, the rest of Richard’s year is about consolidation – making sure that he stays firmly in the top 10, and ideally no lower than number 9. Challenging for the top 8 year end will be tough, but who know what might happen if he can recharge his batteries now and then have a good run of results.