Written by: Pierre Lamarche
***Pierre Lamarche has been an outspoken proponent of Canadian tennis and how the sport should have a major place in the Canadian sport landscape. He believes this lofty ambition can only be achieved through the combination of success on the international professional competitive scene, with the required domestic infrastructure and a true partnership between Tennis Canada and the tennis private sector.
His comments are often taken as critical by those who feel targeted by his questions. His background as a player, coach, and leader [see background] in the sport and coaching industry warrants that his views, which are shared by many others, be given due process by anyone [or organization] who really wants to help Canadian Tennis achieve the proper national status it deserves in the sport community.***
We are all very fortunate to have Milos representing our country. The KID is a star, not a Canadian one but an international one. Good looking, intelligent, well spoken, affable, good sense of humour and a great smile. This summer when I talked to him in the Players’ lounge at the Rogers, I congratulated him on what he had done up to date and his answer which I can’t remember exactly was, thanks but there is a lot more to come. I believe him, the top 10 is a definite, a top 5 on the horizon and after that, it’s another game, whose result will be determined by the decisions he and his team make over the next few years. I remember seeing him for the first time at Cedar Springs when he was 12. I walked over to the table where he was sitting with his father and his coach, Casey Curtis and congratulated him on his potential. Having been somewhat relevant on the Canadian tennis scene as Davis Cup Captain, I thought words of encouragement was the right thing to do, because you had to be blind [and maybe deaf] not to see the potential in that arm of his. His apprenticeship under the guidance of Casey and his father was well structured given their financial constraints a super star was born. His transition to the National center in Montreal followed by his move to Spain developed a game style which has propelled him where no Canadian has ever been. But hold it, fans and media people forget that he is only 21 and wonder when he is going to win the big one or beat the top players in the big events. The most recent encounter with Andy Murray at the US Open provided a clear image of the weaknesses in Milos’ game [everybody has them]. Now the real work will begin because Milos has been exposed and the good players will continue to prey on his weaknesses until he finds solutions to them.
What Lendl Showed Us About Milos’ Game
Milos did not play poorly against Murray, he even said so in his press conference, and he kept on trying to find solutions till the end. What was evident was that Lendl had developed a game plan with Murray which was failure proof if implemented. That simple game plan was based on the following assumptions:
- Milos is not the same player when controlling the point and when countering [simple enough and true in many instances]
- Milos’ great serve could have great variation, but it really does not at this time, maybe because there has been no need. What that does is that it becomes pretty predictable as far as location.
- Milos has been developed in the Spanish clay court mind set, which emphasizes footwork and control of the point with the forehand, even in extreme situations on the backhand side.
- Milos’ bread and butter pattern is a big serve followed by a big forehand inside out, then controlling the point with his forehand.
- Milos’ confidence is greatly enhanced by the free points he wins on his serves.
- Regardless of how many hours he spends working on his footwork, it will always be a liability due to his size. He is no ballerina.
What Murray did with the information
Lendl and Murray came up with a plan which frustrated Milos by exploiting the above information.
- Murray who has a great return of serve, actually backed up and was very defensive in his returns, by having one objective only, not to give Milos any free points. What happened was that Murray’s returns were not that efficient but always forced Milos to hit a second shot [a forehand].
- Milos always attacked that average return by hitting a big forehand into Murray’s backhand [a lethal shot when he is set]. Surprise Murray was there waiting and took control of the point either cross court in Milos’ backhand or forehand [if he ran around]. Eventually Murray would get the chance to hit his backhand up the line and Milos was on the run [not good].
- The possible answers of serving and volley to stop Murray from floating the returns, of forehand down the line, or short slice backhand from the transition area were rarely used. So Roanic became predictable and very beatable.
- The other interesting aspect of the match was the serve selections of Murray which kept Milos off balance during the whole match. Murray did not use power as much as precision in his serve selection. As a result he was in control of his serving points from the start of the point and had Milos on a string. The result was that Milos barely got passed 30 on any of Murray’s service game..
What Milos and his team must do
Information such as this is like wildfire in the locker room. It gives everybody hope and as a result anyone capable of implementing the above plan will create problems for Milos until he and his coach Galo Blanco find solutions. What are they?
- First Milos has been well served by his Spanish apprenticeship, but “he ain’t Spanish and he ain’t fast”. The retreating into the backhand corner deep behind the baseline to hit his forehand inside out will create ongoing problems [by the way Casey has been saying that for the last two years] with people attacking him down the line with their countering backhand. He just cannot afford to give up so much real estate. As a result its 18 months of learning to hit a good countering backhand down the line, while standing close to the baseline. No more hanging out in left field which leads to a slow death.
- Milos must really develop a philosophy of serving which includes a greater arsenal of serves, locations, variations and spins which will negate players being able to predict and anticipate his serve. This of course will counteract this strategy by opponents. More importantly is the opportunities it will give him on his second shot. The serve and second shot is often seen as a unit instead of two different shots. This is especially true from players in the past that use to serve and volley much more.
- Obviously Milos has to develop alternative tactics when faced with the “Murray problem”. The occasional serve and volley takes away the floating, bunting and just getting back of the serve. Milos then must work on transition patterns which will be made much easier from him not having to start his approach to the net from deep left field. He already has a good slice. The use of the slice in transition makes the surface to defend that much more difficult for the opponent.
- His net game [position, anticipation, movement and intensity] must be impeccable. This is not difficult to learn with the skills he has. The first item on the agenda is to make the overhead as reliable as the serve.
- Finally, his return philosophy has to be revised. Remember “he ain’t Spanish and he ain’t fast”. Running around his backhand to hit his forehand leaves him vulnerable to the wide serve on the deuce side and the t-serve on the ad one. Also backing up on the second serve puts him in left field which results in nice longer points, but certain death. He must learn to use the same type of counter backhand on the return as he will use in countering down the line on his backhand side. A chip and come in off the backhand on the second serve is worth two points a match. Why not if you want to be #1.
Good luck Milos, we are all pulling for you. Let’s support him, he is young and it’s a long road.