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#SNS: Twelve Must-Improve Shots for 2015

#SaturdayNightShots is back, with an in-depth look at the shots that have the power to make (or break) a player’s 2015 season, before it even begins.

Every year we are dazzled by a wide array of signature shots on both the men’s and the women’s tour.

Some are classics, shots that have forged their way deep into the trenches of the tennisverse – Rafa Nadal’s irreplaceable forehand or Maria Sharapova’s devastating backhand, for example. As some shots leave us (RIP Li Na’s backhand), some emerge to take their place (oh hey, Belinda Bencic’s).

Yes, some shots – for better – stay with us and keep us excited for the next season to begin. Other shots – for worse – perhaps leave our palates sour, yet nevertheless intrigue, and keep us wondering if they’ll ever improve to ultimately elevate their player to greater heights in the coming year.

This week on #SNS, TTI will be looking at shots of established and up-and-coming players that could use some improvement in 2015. From vulnerable backhands in the men’s game to dodgy serves in the women’s, there’s plenty that professional tennis players could have resolved to fix for a season that is right around the corner.

Here’s what we’re hoping for:

BACKHANDS

Milos Raonic

The steadily improving Canadian has epitomized the “serve-and-forehand” brand of tennis since his emergence in 2011. His improved volleys saw him earn a spot in the Top 10. If he wants to make it even higher up the ranks, a more solid backhand – one that he is willing to play as opposed to avoiding – would be a major aid to his cause. Thought it has already improved mightily since its earlier days on Tour, it can – and should – get even better.

Grigor Dimitrov

Where the comparisons to Roger Federer may never end, Dimitrov has ironically shown a simply Djokovician flexibility and movement throughout his rise in 2014. However, Federer has been his most vulnerable off the backhand wing, and Baby Fed is no different there. If he could add some spice to his topspin drives in the New Year, he’d see greater success in the kind of longer rallies he has heretofore been more comfortable slicing.

Agniezska Radwanska

The Pole has made a living off of her uncanny movement and racquet work around all corners of the court, even employing Martina Navratilova to improve her already impressive net game. Yet, in the long baseline rallies that she was losing last season, it was her backhand – particularly down the line – that failed her. The Czech legend might add a new dynamic to Aga’s tennis, but improving an old one would benefit as well.

FOREHANDS

Maria Sharapova

Tennis fans who consistently watched Sharapova through last season could tell you that, in general, it wasn’t her top tennis that won her as many matches as it was her competitive fire (see: her final four matches at the French Open last year). When she regained the No. 1 ranking in 2012, it was on the back of mercilessly powerful forehand play – on all surfaces. If she can regain the confidence to go for more off that wing, it could spark another successful season.

Andy Murray

Murray has demonstrated that his forehand has the goods to lift major titles; an exceptional run from mid-2012 to mid-2013 saw him capture two majors – more than anyone at the period – and it was largely thanks to consistently aggressive forehands. Former coach Ivan Lendl may not be in his corner anymore, but perhaps an old dog can (re)learn old tricks and, for 2015, yielding another major will demand an impeccable forehand.

Caroline Wozniacki 

This is less of a recommendating that she start improving her forehand, more that she continues to do so. In the second half of 2014, Wozniacki’s once infamous “forehanda” developed beyond the wall-like defensive shot of the past, and into an aggressive, point-dominating shot, one that perhaps shone brightest in Singapore, where it took the World No. 1 to stop her. If the Dane maintains her forehand form, she should be a major contender in the coming season.

SERVES

Sara Errani

In the beginning, it was just OK (2008). Then it went bad (2012). Then it got worse (2014). Errani’s serve has arguably been the most scrutinized (read: mocked) shot on the WTA – serving much more as an uncerimonious point-starter than an actual, functional, and useful serve. Having been as high as No. 5, and a staple of the Top 10 for nearly two years with a point-starter serve, one can only imagine what an even slightly more aggressive or – dare to dream – flatter serve might do for Errani’s already well-establish career.

Rafael Nadal

In spite of a ninth(!!) French Open title, 2014 wasn’t exactly a marquee year for GOAT-contender Rafael Nadal. Marred by injury at nearly every corner of a long season, his grinding, physical style of play didn’t serve him as well off clay as it did upon it – particularly when beset by ailment after ailment. Adding more zing to his serve (as he did in 2010 at the US Open) would set him up for shorter points, shorter matches and, potentially, a longer career.

Angelique Kerber

Much like Nadal, Kerber is a natural right-hander playing lefty tennis – therefore it’s difficult for her to rewire her technique than on a less nuanced stroke such as the forehand. Without the muscle Nadal employs to make his serve work, Kerber’s has always been her most vulnerable and technically dubious shot – separating her from the higher elite of women’s tennis. If she can somehow take advantage of her lefty game and program a more slicey second serve, it might spur her to wins over the game’s more punishing returners.

 

VOLLEYS

Marin Cilic

One of 2014’s most surprising major winners won with the same baseline and serving bravado as Australian Open champion, Stan Wawrinka. While he faded after his exceptional US Open run, he had posted other strong results on faster hard courts earlier in the year. Improved volleying could help him defend those points, and even could see him make progress on clay, where ventures into the net have helped less natural clay courters (see: Raonic) make their mark on the surface.

Eugenie Bouchard

The Canadian’s all-out aggressive game is the nightmare of counterpunchers on the WTA. Unlike huge hitters like Sharapova or Petra Kvitova, each of whom are occasionally undermined by the consistency of the game’s retrievers, Bouchard can rally for long enough and construct winners with deep baseline strokes and sharp angles. Her quirky technique always leaves her in a notable lunge forward, which lends itself to ventures forward into the net. With such intense focus on baseline rallies, she doesn’t quite yet have the volleys to make use of her court positioning. She lost quite a few points at the net in 2014, so if she can develop a sound and potent volley, her already forward-moving game could take a great leap.

Stan Wawrinka

Wawrinka’s successes in 2014 may have come in waves, but they were hardly flukes. Defeating a handful of top tier players en route to his Australian Open and Monte Carlo titles, #Stanimal’s serving and baseline game were at their powerful and elegant best – yet he often stuttered at the net. Were he to improve his transition game and improve his volleys, he may have a chance at cementing himself at the top of the game once 2015 tests his ranking.

 

What shots would you see improve in 2015? Sound off in the comments!

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About Jeff Donaldson (35 Articles)
Queen's University '15. Canada, eh. @jddtennis/@donaldsonjd

2 Comments on #SNS: Twelve Must-Improve Shots for 2015

  1. I agree with most of these, although I have two differing opinions.
    1) Stan is no slouch at the net. He and Fed won the 2008 Olympic Gold as a doubles pair. Also worth checking out is their recent work at the Davis Cup as a team. What got Stan on this list, I think, is his shot selection. I think his approach shots leave something to be desired. Since his normal groundstrokes are so heavy, he pushes his opponent quite far back in the court. Then, when Stan hits a heavy spin approach shot, the opponent (still deep in the court) has time to reach the ball. I think Stan would benefit from adding some drop-shot finesse or sharper angles on his approaches to his game.
    2) I think Ivanovic should be on the serve list. Her mechanics are “eh…” even at the top level of tennis and her toss is really lacking. When her serves are doing what she wants, it’s because she can disguise the toss like Federer (the man has 5 or more styles of serve with one toss!). But, her overall motion and her recovery steps afterwards keep her from having a competitive serve.

    Like

    • Jeff Donaldson // January 3, 2015 at 12:13 pm // Reply

      I too had considered Stan’s previous successes in doubles when thinking about his volleying. However, netplay in doubles is a drastically different world than in singles and I find he’s tentative to come forward even if his actual volley skills are generally alright. It feels like if he could employ it more often he’d have even better singles success.

      As for Ana, I agree completely. The serve is disastrous technically, first and foremost in the ball toss department. The reason I omitted it was because it had actually been quite effective in 2014. She hit lots of aces and service winners – although probably because she doesn’t know where it’s going any more than her opponents do ahaha. Good call though.

      Like

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