More than any tournament that I can remember, Roland Garros 2010 seems to be characterized by the number of big-name players who have been felled, cut down to size by lower-ranking opponents. It’s been a season of giant-slaying. The carnage has been devastating.
Samantha Stosur showed her promise at the start of this year, and yet few predicted that she would dispatch both Justine Henin and Serena Williams on clay. Robin Soderling has lost to Roger Federer so many times that his losses became their own story-line - until Paris. Tomas Berdych stepped up the plate, destroying Andy Murray on his way to his first Slam semi-final. And the Bryan brothers found themselves summarily dismissed in the second round by the unknown Brazilian duo, Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares.
No giant has felt safe in Paris, not even ones who have previously dominated the terre battue. Observing the detritus has inspired me to write a guide to giant-slaying. The following is my ten-step guide on how to slay a tennis giant. My goal is to make giant-slaying within the reach of anyone.
Step 10: Study your giant closely
You can’t slay a giant whom you don’t know. But how do you get to know a giant when you’re just one of the also-rans? I mean it’s not as if you can just knock on the giant’s hotel door and ask her out for dinner.
And yet, getting to know a giant can take many forms. Some of the paths to acquiring knowledge about your giant are obvious: watch videos of the giant’s game; consult with scouts-for-hire like Brad Gilbert who are gifted at deconstructing a player’s strengths and weaknesses; hire the giant’s former coach if you can afford to do so. After all, giant-slaying is not cheap. It’s a serious investment with massive pay-offs.
Other approaches to giant-studying may be more subtle. For example, you may find out what kind of food your giant likes to eat, what he likes to do for fun, whom she confides in, and what are some of her interests outside of tennis. Some of the information you will gather may seem useless. But if you were at Davis Cup and had found out that a Bryan brother was vomiting after stuffing himself with curry, that little tidbit of information would have inspired you to confidence, and possible victory.
Information is power. Information about your giant’s possible Achilles heels may be even more so. Did Dementieva come into the match against Schiavone with an injured calf or did she acquire that injury during the match? It would have been important for Schiavone to know this. Information about the giant’s weaknesses can help you to exploit them.
Step 9: Learn from each encounter
This is related to Step 10 but it is not identical to it. But some of the most valuable information you can acquire about a giant will come from match-play against him. Probably no one knows Roger Federer’s game better than Robin Soderling. After all, they have played each other time and time again. And about a year or two ago, Soderling started closing the gap. As a Federer expert, Soderling anticipated every Federer move seemingly before Federer himself even thought of how to execute it. That is knowledge in action. A string of losses to a giant must be re-framed as a series of opportunities to gather information directly, as opposed to the indirect methods I advocated in Step 10. So keep learning, and keep growing. Which naturally brings me to Step # 8.
Step 8: Be persistent. Don’t give up
You have to decide ahead of time how serious you are about wanting to slay your giant. Don’t waste your time and your fans’ energies if you’re just wanting to make a lame-assed effort and then go home. This guide is not for the timid. It is for the determined. But Rome was not built in a day. You have to lay the foundations first and then build on them. You need to decide on your end-goal and then work persistently towards it. There’s nothing more disheartening than watching a player (like Nicolas Almagro) who seemed at first to be interested in trying to beat Nadal, but who appeared to change his mind at some point and decided to go for not shaming himself by getting a low score. Almagro seemed to give up on winning and went for ego-protection. And for that single decision I concluded that he does not have what it takes to be a giant-slayer.
(to be continued)