How Does Tennis Magazine Stack Up?

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     This is not a good time for print tennis magazines. World Tennis died in 1991 and for all intents and purposes, Tennis Week died when illustrious founder-publisher Gene Scott died in 2005, though a vastly inferior TW lingered on a bit longer. Tennis magazine never equaled those two giants in terms of authoritative articles, but its current two-month (November-December) edition reflects its quantitative decline. It contains a shockingly skeletal 48 pages. And for several decades a monthly, Tennis magazine now has only eight issues a year. While online tennis publications have proliferated and a few are excellent, a shortage of advertising has forced many national and sectional print publications out of business.

     “Fond Farewell,” a compact retrospective about Andy Roddick in the current Tennis magazine, was fair, balanced and empathetic, but surprisingly incomplete. It contained only nine words about Roddick’s distinguished Davis Cup career both as a highly successful singles player and as an inspirational leader. The piece, written by Stephen Tignor, also lacked any analysis of his game, from his famous rocket serve to the assorted stroke, positional and tactical weaknesses that kept him from reaching his potential.

     Tennis magazine’s cover story, “The Trivalry: Who Beats The Rest When At His Best,” features columns by Peter Bodo (picking Roger Federer), Tom Perrotta (Rafael Nadal) and Tignor (Novak Djokovic). The timing is curious if not dubious because Andy Murray has recently eclipsed the trio. Murray ruled the second half of 2012 by reaching the Wimbledon final, capturing the Olympics gold medal by whipping Federer and Djokovic in straight sets, and then beating Djokovic again to win the US Open. Tignor’s column was the most compelling because he skillfully analyzed Djoker’s terrific assets—his complete game, ideal physique and athleticism—as well as his spectacular 2011 results.

     The Perrotta column focused narrowly on one match, the 2008 Wimbledon final between Nadal and Federer, which is widely considered the greatest match ever played. Whether one extremely close match, albeit a classic, provides conclusive proof one player, in this case Nadal, is best at his best, is debatable. Perrotta also overstates his case when he writes: “Since that day, I’ve compared everything to it—and I haven’t found anything close.” For starters, I would select the brilliantly played, 5-hour and 53-minute 2012 Australian Open final between Djokovic and Nadal.

      Bodo makes a strong case for Federer, though the majority of Fed’s 17 Grand Slam titles came before their primes of Nadal (except on clay) and Djokovic. He rightly extols Fed’s sublime, versatile game, but overstates it when he writes: “The rare times when Federer is vulnerable, it’s on the backhand side in long rallies, but the price he pays is onerous only on clay, and only against Nadal.” In truth, the Swiss legend’s backhand also has been overpowered by aggressive serves, volleys and groundstrokes.

     Since Li Na’s backhand stroke and footwork are nearly perfect, it’s odd that Tennis magazine chose to have an instruction piece about her forehand, which is clearly inferior to her backhand and sometimes quite erratic. Her forehand is certainly not a “Great Shot,” as the magazine asserts. In any event, outstanding teaching pro and coach Rick Macci analyzes six stages of Li’s forehand clearly and accurately.

    The best and most important segment is the follow-through. Macci writes: “This is a major-league extension. Look how far her right shoulder and arm go into the court, toward her target (italics added). When people watch forehands on television the speed of the shot deceives them. Though it looks like the players don’t extend into the court and just whip across the ball, they don’t. It’s impossible to hit a great forehand that way.”

     In effect, Macci debunks the “angular” theory that some observers contend modern players use, rather than the old-fashioned “linear” method. Yes, in terms of the major rotation of the hips and shoulders, the “angular” theory holds true. However, the swing—hitting “through the ball” and following through straight ahead—is still “linear,” except for the very end.

     Finally, Cindy Shmerler’s interesting interview with Jack Sock shows the 20-year-old Nebraskan to be thoughtful and appreciative of the advice current coach Joakim Nystrom, Andre Agassi, Gil Reyes and Roddick have given him. Sock also said the singles final of his high school district league championship between his brother [Eric] and him was decided by a super tiebreaker in lieu of a traditional and legitimate full third set. How wrongheaded and sad that such an unfair scoring method is used in high school tennis, particularly for such an important match.

THE END

Paul Fein has received more than 30 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies; You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers; and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating, former director of the Springfield (Mass.) Satellite Tournament, a former top 10-ranked men’s open New England tournament player and No. 1-ranked Super Senior player in New England.

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