Following American Pro Tennis

Following American Pro Tennis

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fitness is what is holding back Jack Sock

A couple things were clear in the past week with Jack Sock's stints in Stockholm and Basel:

1. He's ridiculously loaded with talent
2. Fitness is still holding him back

The young American phenom that possesses a nice serve and a huge ground game with a heavy forehand and a decent ability to grind for his big size. He has all the tools to be successful in this modern game, even with slower balls and slower courts. It's funny, I look at a guy like Steve Johnson who has a huge serve and a big flat forehand and I feel like he's got no shot to progress because he has no backhand and no grinding ability. The courts are too slow for him these days. Johnson would have been a good ATP player in the 90s. Even though his forehand is huge, it's flat and the margins are small. Not Sock. Sock has tons of action and a lot more margin on his shots, and when he's not playing well he can play a little defense and grind. His assets can get him to the top of the game.

So what's holding Jack Sock back? You'll notice he put on a ton of weight when working out with Agassi and Gil Reyes in Vegas last year. The idea was to load up on calories and gain a bunch of weight that he could then turn into power. As he's trimmed down a good bit since then it seems the Agassi camp gave him a good baseline of strength. Endurance and cardio remain a question mark, though.

In Stockholm, Sock took out a listless Bernand Tomic 6-4, 6-2 before losing to David Ferrer 6-4, 3-6, 1-6. Now one 6-4 set with Ferrer will take a more significant physical toll on one's body than a lot of two long sets against other opponents. But there is no denying Sock faded down in the stretch.

In Basel this week Sock wasn't playing nearly as well but still managed to grind out an impressive 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 win over Stephane Bohli in quallies. He then collapsed in the qualifying round against Tobias Kamke, 0-6, 4-6.

So Sock has the game and ability to compete. He beat Tomic and took it to Ferrer for over a set. Even the win over Bohli, a much weaker opponent, was impressive as he showed the ability to stay the course when not playing as well. What was disappointing was how quickly he faded fitness wise against Ferrer, and in the match after the Bohli win. Ultimately the ATP tour isn't about potential, it's about recovery. Winning one round is great and all, but how quickly can you get yourself ready to show the same physical effort for the next one? That's why Smyczek is climbing up the rankings - he's adopted the Mike Russell school of giving the same exact effort each time out. We're not seeing that from Sock yet.

This offseason will be critical for Sock. He needs to have the endurance and fitness to string several matches together. That is the last remaining hurdle to him getting in the top 40 rather quickly.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Smyczek is America's #3

I never thought in a million years I'd be writing this, but the third best ranked American is Tim Smyczek. He's up four spots to 87 this week which is a career high for him. He's had a nice run at challengers the last few weeks (semis, finals, semis) which has given his ranking a good shot in the arm. Most notable this past week is that he took out Donald Young, ending his compatriot's 12 match winning streak on the challenger circuit with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory.

I guess it wasn't an accident when we were watching the US Open earlier this fall and he was the last American man standing in the singles draw, just a couple games away from 4th round. So is Smyczek peaking right now, or can he go higher?

At 25, you'd think he's just entering his prime with the way men's tennis is these days. No longer are we seeing teens burst on the scene. Instead, it takes years of grinding, learning the ropes, and tightening up your body to make it able to withstand the wear and tear each week. And "Smee" is definitely a grinder. But at 5'9" 160lbs he's a bit of a talent maximizer. Can he get hot and continue to excel on his way to the top 50? Of course. Steve Darcis got up to 44 (5'10" 161lbs) and the ~5'7" Rochus brothers topped out at 24 and 38. Of course I had to pick on Belgium.

But one thing playing to Smyczek's strengths is the direction of the game. The guys with big shots aren't the ones consistently doing well each week. It's the ones that can physically withstand the beating and keep showing up. The ball are too heavy, the strings are too advantageous and the courts are too slow. Most of the guys in the top 20 just happen to have both big games and endurance, but below that it's a hodgepodge mixture of big games without durability, grinders, and other.  That plays into Smee's game. So while I think he's close to playing as well as his physical limitations will allow, he can keep plugging away and get into the top 50 without a doubt. Ultimately, though, he just doesn't have the game to be a perennial top 20 guy like Querrey or Isner, or even Harrison. But for right now the USA's tennis game is in a bad place and it's guys like Smyczek that will force the more talented but undeveloped youth to rise to the occasion. He has tremendous value to our country in today's game. I look at him like a younger version of Mike Russell in some ways. Russell has been a pain in the ass to young Americans for over a decade, but it's forced Russell's opponents to diversify their game.

Kudos to Smee on the ascension and his continued rise. Based on how hard he competes it is very well deserved.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Player of the Week: Sam Querrey

So Sam Querrey earned 90 points this week while Donald Young earned 100 on his way to another challenger title and a 10 match challenger win streak. But for Querrey it was more about who he beat to get to the quarterfinals that makes him the week's best performer.

Querrey lost badly to the eventual champion, Novak Djokovic, who oh by the way became the first man in 2013 to beat Rafael Nadal on a hardcourt. So no shame in that. Before that loss by Querrey, though, he took out the following:

d. Mikhail Youhzny 7-6 (3), 6-3
d. Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 7-6 (2)

That's a couple big time wins for Querrey in desperate need of some confidence. In fact, I'd argue those are his two most impressive wins of the year, back to back. And make no mistake it's all between the ears for Querrey, although he seems to be dealing with arm issues of somekind as well as stamina problems.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Player of the Week: Donald Young

I'm a little late on this but I wanted to start this blog with a post about last week and the run Donald Young had last week. He's rocketed up to 125, up 17 spots, thanks to a title run in the 50k Napa Challenger. How did he do it? This was the run he went on:

d. Greg Ouellete 6-3, 6-2
d. Samuel Groth 6-3, 6-1
d. Rhyne Williams 6-2, 7-5
d. Tim Smyczek 6-3, 6-2
d. Matthew Ebden 4-6, 6-4, 6-2

He mowed through the field in his first four matches, most notably with quality wins over Williams and Smyczek in straights. In the finals, I was impressed to see him overcome a set deficit and keep it together. Maybe DY is headed back to the ATP tour on the regular?

Also a quick shout out is in order for Eric Butorac, who along with his South African partner Raven Klaasen, won the ATP 250 doubles title in Kuala Lumper. "Booty" is up 4 spots to 48 in the world in doubles after that title.