I’ve been wondering for a while now about the different court speeds and the above table pretty much sums it up. In the table the court speed is determined by the percentage of points won on serve, which I think is pretty accurate. As expected Paris is number one and is probably the only event on the list which is still conducive to serve-and-volley play. Interestingly Paris has probably been Roger’s worst Masters Series event. Last year was his best result yet where he made semis and lost to Monfils after having match points. I think it shows that he hasn’t really worked that hard on his attacking game over the years. Last year when he joined up with Annacone he started to work more on coming to the net which could be why he had his best result yet in Paris. I wish Roger gave more attention to his net game over the years.
When Wimbledon was still fast he was right up there with the best serve-and-volley players. Then as the surfaces became slower he became a base liner and his net game basically died. I think that hurt him especially against Nadal. He was too stubborn and wanted to dominate Nadal from the base line. I don’t think it was as much the slowing down of the courts that hurt him against Nadal as his stubbornness to go to the net. Now that Annacone is helping him to be more attacking it is at a pretty late stage and a lot of the damage has already been done. To get back to the table, I’m a bit surprised that Wimbledon is still in second spot. Wimbledon has been slowed down some, but I think it is mostly the height and consistency of the bounce that has changed, which have helped someone like Nadal. The surface itself still seems to be pretty fast.
Cincinnati is high up as expected. Cincy has been one of Roger’s best Masters Series events especially of late, having won it the last two years. This to me shows that he does enjoy the faster surfaces, coupled with the fact that he has done so well at Wimbledon over the years. Canada is also pretty high up, although I’m not sure if the stat is conclusive since they alternate between Toronto and Montreal. Anyway Roger has won it twice and made two finals. It’s also quite interesting to see the US Open having about average speed, but I suppose that’s more or less expected. The US Open have been slowed down along with all the other courts, but is still a surface which Roger loves to play on. Then it’s quite surprising to see a clay court event ahead of Miami, Indian Wells, and the Oz Open.
The altitude in Madrid obviously has a lot to do with it but it also shows how slow some of the hard courts have become. Indian Wells, Miami, and the Oz Open are classified as slow hard court. In Indian Wells and Miami Roger was doing really well earlier in his career, while the results have dropped off a little of late. And this year at the Oz Open he lost in straight sets to Djokovic. In that match it looked like the slower courts really got to him because he was unable to penetrate Djokovic’s defenses. Finally at the bottom of the list we have Roland Garros and Rome, which is to be expected. It is worth noting that Roger beat Djokovic on a slower court than the Oz Open when he beat him at Roland Garros this year. How could he not get through Djokovic’s defenses at the Oz Open but was able to do it at the French?
It’s a hard question to answer. Maybe the clay helped him to vary his game more with drop shots and slices. The crowd also played a role as they were really behind Roger. Roger looked inspired on the day, like he was out to prove something. Finally he played a really good tournament throughout, not dropping a set until that match. At the Oz Open he lost two sets to Simon earlier on and wasn’t exactly full of confidence. It looks like from here on if Roger is going to win a slam he is going to have look really confident from the start. Coming back to the surface speeds, Roger have done well on all surface speeds throughout his career. But as he gets older he seems to favor faster courts. That could have to do with the fact that he is trying to play more attacking these days and the fact that he doesn’t move as well as he used to.
Therefor he needs to play first strike tennis and keep the points short. With guys like Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray around who all have amazing defenses, faster courts will obviously help him. It means he gets involved in less long rallies where there is a better chance of him making unforced errors. So it doesn’t work in his favor that things have been slowed down so much these days, but at the same time he left it pretty late to start working on a more attacking game. If he did so earlier it may have been easier to deal with the rise of the defensive base liners and for him to make up for his lack of foot speed as he grew older. My overall conclusions are that Roger started neglecting his net game as surface speeds slowed down and it cost him, in his prime as well as now.