I strongly believe that Angelique Kerber’s time like a tennis queen is at its very beginning. Everybody knows her perfect record of 2016: two Grand Slams titles, silver medal of Olympic Games 2016, Singapore WTA Tour Championships final & some more… In my opinion, Queen Angelique’s biggest secret is that she stopped to rely on clear power only (like Serena & Maria Sharapova did) and implemented her own way of playing – based on consistency, fast ball return and full court geometry usage. We are trying to input the same style into Sashka as it allows a female player to constantly win vs. equal or even moderately higher-class opponents.
There is a story about two hunters – Japanese and Russian – which spent all bullets during an African hunting and were chased by a hungry lion. They run with all their efforts & speed, but a distance between them & lion decreased every second. Suddenly Japanese hunter stopped, sat down, opened his backpack, took away a pair of snickers and started to wear them.
– What are you doing? – second hunter shouted. – Do you really think that your snickers will help you run faster than a lion?
– Telling the truth, I do not need to run faster than lion – Japanese answered. – I just have to run faster THAN YOU.
It is commonly known that men tennis is speeder, more energetic and physically demanding than women one. This gap is as natural as a physical difference between men and women. Boys react faster, run faster, hit the ball harder, preparing for return faster… An average moving quality & ball speed of male player with ATP rank #1000 is close or higher than of the best female player of the same era.
So it is very easy to understand why coaches throughout the world constantly try to prepare successful female players simply applying male standards & requirements to them. “Make a high-speed & agressive pressure, see the chance, hit the ball” – they say to junior girls. Williams sisters, Sharapova, Kvitova, Cibulkova, Azarenka – they all are products of this approach. It looks reasonable but…
Girls aren`t boys!!!
Except several succesful examples (Justine Henin, Sam Stosur, partly Francesca Schiavone), a “man-ification” of woman tennis only generated more hard hitting girls in WTA tour. “But it works!” – you can answer, meaning Williams, Sharapova & Ko achievements. Sure, it works… till Kerber & Radwanska enter the room :).
If you see match stats of a any top-ranked hard hitting girl, and compare it with the corresponding stats of the ATP players, you will see a huge difference in a winners/unforced errors rate. It is an obvious that someone is paying by errors for gaining a preference in active play. But the price paid by best WTA hitting girls for their powerful winners is too high… when you have somebody who can buy that stuff cheaper :).
This is exactly Angelique Kerber case. Instead of trying to burn out each & every ball, she asked herself a right question: WHY? If we count points won at the end of the match, not an absolute speed or any single winner shot beauty, can I improve winners/unforced errors rate by losing less points and winning more predictably?
Kerber game is actually very algorythmic. She tries to obtain maximum preference at the beginning of the point (serve/return). She avoids much risk on complex balls. Instead of “burning out” a ball, she prefers to meet it earlier so an opponent has less time to position herself for return. She seeks to build tactical preference and then attack not “to hit everything” like Serena or Maria. At last, she uses full geometry of court with a beautiful simplicity: if you see a free spot on the opponent court side – put the ball there and, if effective, go into the court to finish the point.
Kerber success is actually based on… mathematics & statictics. She does not care much about one point, one game or even one set – but knows that her approach will bring her a significant advantage during the whole match, tournament or season.
There are two key measurements which build this advantage. The first is common and simple: “winners/unforced errors” rate. The second is a little more complicated, I would call it “effective simplicity”: how many balls you can put in a free spot of the opponent court side related to all non-defensive balls.
This is exactly what we would like to see in Sashka’s game. Whether we will succeed or not – lets wait and see.