Michael Emmett: “What About Wood?”

Written by: Michael Emmett

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***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***

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The title of this article would suggest I’m going to talk about bringing back wood racquets to the great game we all love. Well, to be blunt – not even close. I will explain shortly.

All of a Sudden, Canada has become a world group regular on the Davis Cup scene after their convincing win over a short-handed South African team in a playoff match that kept the Canadians from sliding out of the main event. Canada destroyed the South Africans in Montreal 4-1 with an impressive display of power tennis.

The 16-country tournament will begin for Canada on Super-Bowl weekend in 2013. The bad news is who the opposition will be. The good news is they may be without their 11-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal who is recovering slowly from a serious knee problem. Obviously, by now, most of you know Canada will play powerhouse Spain in the first round in a Canadian city still to be determined. Spain is a five-time champion but will be slightly handcuffed due to the fact the tie will be played one week after the Australian Open. Canada and Spain last met in a Davis Cup encounter in 1991.

The fact that the match is on our soil makes for the most compelling decision that will likely determine the winner of this tie – what surface will the matches be played on? Home court advantage is huge in these types of matches – not only for the screaming fans, but for the opportunity to choose the surface and the tennis ball. The suits at Tennis Canada are lucky to be empowered with this key decision. A decision that will greatly influence who ultimately wins this first round match.

If this duel was played in Spain on the slow red clay courts of Barcelona or Madrid – I bet Canada would be skunked 5-0. Maybe, with Daniel Nestor, who has 3 French Opens on his resume, Canada would sneak out a win. But nevertheless, Canada would lose this match on any surface chosen by the Spaniards. And I don’t think anybody with knowledge of the game would debate this fact. The Spanish contingent are unbeatable at home – in fact, they are almost unbeatable anywhere.

Now let’s say we (Canada) could pick ANY surface – with no interference from the ITF – I believe Canada can win this match with ease. The trick is picking a surface that falls within the parameters set out by the ITF that is fast enough so our boys can manhandle the groundstrokers from Spain. We need short points and many, many service winners to have a chance for the monumental upset.

The slickest, fastest surface I’ve ever played on is wood. It was in Austin, Texas, and I was on my recruiting trip in the late 80s, playing a guy who was ranked in the top 10 in US college tennis. The ball just skips through the court like no surface I’ve ever played on. It’s even faster than grass. First serves were unreturnable. It’s all about power tennis, the kind of tennis that got me excited. At the time, I was a relentless serve and volleyer with a big serve – I won that match rather easily that day and have been dying to play on a wood court ever since.

Forget the big Indoor complexes that can house 5,000 spectators. Let’s look for a gymnasium that is so slick even Tom Cruise or George Clooney would be impressed.

Can you imagine Milos Raonic serving bombs on a wood surface? As crazy as it sounds this is the thinking Tennis Canada needs to employ to win this tie. Okay, maybe the ITF won’t allow a match of this magnitude to be played on a wood surface, but they need to find something similar if they want to advance to the second round. The rules are complicated, but as long as they stay within the guidelines we should see a surface that is incredibly firm and fast. I hope the Tennis Canada decision makers think outside the box and put the Spanish team at real disadvantage with their verdict. We want our big serving team (Raonic, Pospisil and Nestor) to have every opportunity to win free points with their monster serves. Baseline rallies will be a disaster for Canada and we must avoid this possibility by picking a surface that won’t allow for such tactics.

If team Canada is serious about winning this all-important clash, then they should be taking the next few months experimenting with different balls and surfaces so that they can maximize the speed of the court to their advantage. If this match is played back on the same courts in Vancouver – where Canada lost 4-1 to France – I will be disappointed. The surface is everything in this match – and this decision should not be made over a morning cup of coffee. The more work and effort put in now could pay massive dividends on the first weekend of February and possibly pave the way for Canada’s biggest moment in tennis history.

A deeper dive into second serve statistics

The two most widely reported second serve statistics in professional tennis are the number of double faults a player hit, and their second serve winning percentage. If we’re trying to understand the effectiveness of a particular player’s second serve, relying only on those statistics has significant drawbacks. Article by Michal Kokta.

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