2014 has been a long year. 2014 has also been a short year. Ultimately, by the measurements of time, 2014 has been, well, a year. In tennis, 2014 had its ups and downs on both the women’s and the men’s tour, and both tours had their exciting share of unpredictability.
The big events on the ATP in particular featured an interesting share of player breakthroughs and breakthrough champions. This is probably best underscored by the lineup of 2014’s final tour-level event, the ATP World Tour Finals in London. There are three debutants in at these season-ending championships this year – the most since 2008 – and each of them brings to the table a mix of shots that make the landscape of the event even more compelling.
As done with the WTA Finals in Singapore, this week’s #SaturdayNightShots will be taking eight micro-looks at the shots of eight different players – each of which can be expected to make a difference in London this upcoming week.
Marin Cilic – Serve
Cilic’s impressive serving has been a feature of his noteworthy results this year, particularly in his February winning streak and, of course, in his out-of-the-blue run to the US Open title. With the help of Goran Ivanisevic, Cilic’s serve has lost its hitch and in turn has seen improved placement and pace. If he’s to replicate the incredible form that saw him dismiss three WTF finalists in New York, the serve will have to be just as deadly.
Milos Raonic – Volleys
Much talk of Raonic’s game is centered on his world-class serve – so it goes without saying that his success in London shall be anchored on that shot. However, as he noted in a recent fan Q&A, his ability to move forward intelligently and cover the net with his gangly reach has been the hallmark of his consistent and most successful year to date. His “net points won” stats have been impressive in 2014 and need to remain impressive if he wants to have a shot at making it through his difficult round robin group.
Tomas Berdych – Cross-court Forehand
Few would have guessed in 2010, when Berdych first qualified for the year-end championships in London, that he’d qualify for four more. Nevertheless, he has once again made the cut, and brings his fierce display of powerful, consistent baseline strokes to the table. In particular, Berdych’s cross-court forehand can be expected to do damage this week. The power he is able to generate when moving his forehand across his body is predicated by incredible leg strength, making this shot huge on power and difficult for any player he might face this week to handle.
Andy Murray – Inside-out Forehand
After an inexplicably average first half of 2014, Murray’s late-season revival has been a refreshing display of the balanced yet aggressive tennis that has won him (and, as we know, Great Britain) Slam titles in the past. Not unlike Wozniacki in her late-season revival, Murray has found his greatest success in aggressive forehanda play, particularly on the inside-out edition of the shot. In London, Murray’s defense and backhand will allow him to stay in points longer than maybe he should, but his forehand will look to seal the deal if he wants a shot at what would be another amazing win for him… and his country.
Kei Nishikori – Backhand
With a groundstrokes similar to Djokovic’s and a grace similar to Federer’s, one can only imagine that Nishikori’s failure to win every match he plays boils down to his body’s brittleness. Joking hyperbole aside, Nishikori possesses the weapons to make an impact this week in London, particularly off the backhand wing. It’s difficult to read and its placement is versatile. Look for it to hold up under pressure where his forehand may not.
Stan Wawrinka – Backhand Down-the-line
In early 2014, when Wawrinka broke the Big Four hegemony at the majors, the debate as to who had the best and most dangerous one-handed backhand became seriously one-sided. #Stanimal’s backhand, for most of the year, has been devastating and beautiful: a huge wind-up precedes a pure strike of the ball, fittingly punctuated with another huge follow-through at the crest of the stroke. When hit down/up the line, little compares in aesthetic or effect. If in London Wawrinka can find the form – and confidence – from Down Under, look for them in his backhand.
Roger Federer – Forehand
It really is difficult to isolate one shot in Federer’s game and say how it will be a game changer this week, as practically any shot in his wide arsenal can change the landscape of a match. Thus, one can’t help but look to the shot that has elevated him to legendary status: the forehand. In 2013, he seemed to lack conviction of this usually convictive wing, but 2014 has seen a revival in the power and placement of his forehand. If he wants to go into his important Davis Cup final with a major tournament win under his belt, his forehand will have to be at its vintage best.
Djokovic – Cross-court backhand
The best backhand in the game is quite a broad category in a game ripe with a wide variety of styles and aesthetics for that wing; yet, if there was ever a player to objectively don that moniker, a strong argument could be made for Djokovic. The shot can do almost anything on court (from slices, to volleys, to drives down-the-line) and thus, his tactics off that wing can be adjusted according to his opponent; against his one-handed backhanded rivals, the loopy cross-court patterns of play are particularly effective. Like Federer’s forehand, it’s one of the few shots in the game that one can say that when it’s on it’s very difficult for him to lose a match. Djokovic has been the champion in each of the last two WTFs, and if his backhand is firing, he could be a favorite to three-peat.