Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Five Good Questions with . . . Rick Vach of about the French Open

Today’s Five Good Questions is with Rick Vach, the senior writer at

  • Tennis-X
  • ...he has appeared on The Tennis Channel’s 'Tennis Insiders: Super Insiders', and won 'Best Hard News' story for 2005 by the United States Tennis Writers he writes about the upcoming French Open.....

    Q1. The red clay at Roland Garros favors baseline players as it neutralizes a player's power game. What does Roger Federer have to change in his game in order to finally win the French Open?
    It certainly hasn't neutralized Rafael Nadal's power game. Roger Federer was in a tailspin this year after back-to-back losses to Guillermo Canas at hardcourt Masters Series events in the U.S., then mentally melting against Nadal in the Monte Carlo final. After an early-round loss at the Masters Series-Rome, Federer canned his long-time part-time coach Tony Roche, and seemed to have mentally shed some baggage in beating a mentally and physically tired Nadal in the Hamburg final, finally. It has been hypothesized that Roche was trying to make technical changes to Federer's game that were causing more problems, and tactical changes that weren't taking root. Roche seemed to be changing Federer's strokes on clay to add more topspin, and while Roche wanted him to be more aggressive, Federer displayed a stubborn need to try and show opponents he could beat them from the baseline rather than ending points at the net. Hopefully both Federer and Nadal can reach the French final so we can really gauge the progress Federer is making on clay without Roche.

    Q2. Up until Sunday, Rafael Nadal had a 70 plus winning streak on clay. What will it take for someone to beat him in Paris?
    A baseball bat to the knee. Nadal is so strong right now, the only thing that will keep him from winning a third consecutive Roland Garros title is fatigue, like you saw in the Hamburg final when he lost the final set 6-0 to Federer. Consecutive wins at the Masters Series events in Monte Carlo, the final in Hamburg, and the Barcelona win thrown in there was too much.

    Q3. Except for a few breakthroughs, such as Chang, Agassi, and Courier, why is it that American men have a such a difficult time winning on clay?
    I'm going to say "American men have difficulty on clay" is a misnomer. The current crop of American stars such as Andy Roddick, James Blake, Mardy Fish and Robby Ginepri do have difficulty winning the big European claycourt events, or making an impact at the French, but Roddick has won a handful of smaller clay titles. Name me another country that has had "a few breakthroughs" such as Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, both who won the French and reached No. 1 in the world, and Chang who won the French and reached No. 2.

    Pete Sampras also didn't receive the props he deserved on clay during his career. Sampras never won the French, but reached the semis and won the Masters Series-Rome. Many people only remember the Sampras of his latter years where his backhand pretty much broke down and he really struggled on clay. American men have done fine on clay, only recently experiencing what might be called a "drought." Unfortunately the current generation doesn't look like they are particularly interested in getting better on clay as they annually skip many of the large European events leading to the French. Everything is cyclical though, and an American with claycourt skills to pay the bills will surface soon enough.

    Q4.Do you think Serena Williams is really back or was that just a one tournament surprise when she won the Australian Open? How do you rate her game on red clay?
    Whether Serena is "back" does not depend on her skill-set as people think, but simply on her fitness. Her knee and ankle problems are no doubt aggravated by the fact she is lugging around an extra 30 pounds out there. Serena will dominate if she stays healthy, but if she stubbornly for whatever reason refuses to get in top shape, the injuries will continue to sideline her until she retires.

    Q5. Final question, who do you predict to win the men's and women's titles this year and why?
    And who are the darkhorses who we should keep an eye on? Nadal will win the French Open men's title and Justine Henin the women's (really going out on a limb, eh?) Richard Gasquet could give the French something to cheer about if he can get his head together, while Novak Djokovic is an exciting player who is not afraid of anyone. Serena has shown she doesn't need to be fit to win Slams, but injury is her biggest obstacle. Amelie Mauresmo will perform her annual choke and Maria Sharapova is injured. Svetlana Kuznetsova is playing good ball but she doesn't know how to close out finals. Always keep an eye on the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus are hard to bet against....

    I want to thank Rick for his time and we will hear back from him mid-way through the French Open to get his thoughts as that tournament winds down....

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