Re: The "Yay, False Hope Once Again!" Clay Season Thread
Revisit Todd Martin's hypocrisy. 2006 article when no one BELIEVED
that Andy had major problems at home and with tennis passion.Reasons why American men lose on clay
Matthew Cronin / tennisreporters.net
Back in the heyday of American tennis, U.S. players used to win major European clay court tournaments.
Two days before Rafael Nadal equaled Guillermo Vilas's 53 consecutive clay court victories record when he out-gutted Roger Federer 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 in the final of the Rome Masters, top American Andy
Amazingly, reaching the quarterfinals of a Tennis Masters Series tournament on red clay is now considered somewhat of an achievement by U.S. men, a sorry state of affairs given that in the 1990s, American men were a fair-sized force on the dirt.
The United States' greatest generation of players — Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Todd Martin — all took major clay court titles.
Agassi, Chang and Courier (twice) all won the French Open, the crown jewel of European clay court titles. As lousy as he was late in his career in Paris, Sampras did reach the semifinals there in 1996 and actually won Rome.
Even Martin, who grew on Michigan hardcourts, has a big clay feather in his cap, winning Barcelona in 1998 (a tournament now firmly in Nadal's hands).
Younger stars have struggled on clay
But former world No. 1 Roddick has never won anything but minor clay court titles and fellow top 10er James Blake hasn't even gotten close.
Blake lost early in Rome, as did compatriot Robby Ginepri. Taylor Dent is injured once again and Mardy Fish, who won a small clay court in Houston in April, won't even bother to try to qualify for the French Open.
U.S. men are having a crisis of confidence on clay and there no sign that it's going to get any better any time soon.
Reasons for Americans' shortcomings
"The generation of players in the 90s was simply a better group of players," Martin told FOXSports.com. "It's hard to get past that. But from there, you have to look what affects outcome more than anything else and that's confidence. The guys are not going over there with the belief that they are going to contend. They might say they have the belief. They might act like they have the belief, but if they did, they would more often than not have greater success than they had."
There's a mountain of reasons why this crop of mid-20-something Americans aren't competing well against the Europeans or South Americans on dirt — poor footing, the wrong go-to-shots, suspect conditioning and lousy attitudes among them.
You cannot hope to be successful at marquee tournaments like Rome, Hamburg and the French Open if you are not going to commit to playing a few warm-up tournaments in countries such as Spain, Portugal or France.
Players need to get used to kicking the red brick off their shoes after sliding three feet into shots.
Defeating secondary players in Houston and then taking a one-month hiatus is not going to cut it.
That's what Roddick and Blake did after losing in Texas: rested, trained and then a month later, showed up in Rome rusty.
As Martin says, few U.S. players — especially after a long winter and spring hardcourt seasons — want to take off for Europe in mid-April and not return until after Wimbledon, a three-month journey.
But one trip back and forth across the Atlantic could pay serious dividends, if anyone would be willing to pay the price.
"In order for some of the results to change there needs to be a greater dedication to the clay in order to learn better how to play on it," said Martin, who coaches Fish.
Players must adjust to the surface
Perhaps the primary reason that U.S. men slip on clay is because they refuse to adapt their games to the surface. Martin doesn't believe that wholesale transitions are necessary, but minor adjustments are.
"Clay dictates how patient you have to be, but it doesn't have to dictate how aggressive you have to be," he said.
As evidenced by the five plus-hours that Federer, the game's greatest shot maker, had to play against Nadal on Sunday, clay demands that you have to be committed to the 20-stroke rally, even when you are whaling on the ball. Winners rarely come quickly, so you have to keep whacking the ball corner to corner until you wear your opponent down, or get a golden opportunity to strike.
With the exception of U.S. veteran Vince Spadea, who loves the four plus hour grind and Agassi, who is skipping this year's French Open but could deliver body blows with the best of them, none of the young guys have shown that kind of wherewithal.
They seem confused about how they should be playing and that indecision usually buries them.
"Each American has learned a certain style and have been taught to be aggressive shot makers, and once they get on clay and they watch the way Nadal plays, or [Spain's] Tommy Robredo, they either try to play like them or they don't respect the surface enough to gain patience," Martin said. "They are just as aggressive, which I think is great, but they can also be just as impatient as they would be on a faster surface. They are used to taking a swing at the third ball like they would be on a hard court, and when they are on that's effective, but on clay, they need to be better than on to do something with the third ball repetitively. If it takes 22 balls to be as aggressive at the end of the point as you were in the beginning, than so be it. "
Don't bet on A-Rod or Blake in France
Even though Roddick and Blake will be top 10 seeds at the French, it would take a near miracle (meaning very sweet draws) for either man to go deep. Roddick has never played a great match there and Blake has never won a five-set match anywhere. If you can't win a marathon on dirt, you can forget about your chances.
Both seem to be strong enough off the ground to contend for at least the first week, but if they end up playing the likes of Nadal come the second week, it's hard to imagine them having the confidence to think they can run sideline to sideline until the sun goes down against the muscular lefty.
The 2006 French Open will likely be another wash for the younger U.S. males, who like Agassi, probably already have the green grass of Wimbledon in their sights.
"They have to take the initiative because our games were not designed to play with as a great of a margin and as much force as the Spaniards and Argentines do," Martin said. "The fact that the competition in Paris is three out of five adds a lot to it and the fact that the other guys primarily train on clay, I think they are in better tennis shape than most Americans are. They can last and recover and although the weather in Paris isn't extreme, the physical load there is much tougher to haul than anywhere else."