Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 4 Behind the Scenes: Del Potro Hits a Ruthian Cloud

Greetings tennis junkies,

A long and wonderful day at the Billie Jean USTA National Tennis Center, and once again there were more amazing moments than there are balls in a Wilson tennis ball hopper (mine holds 80, fyi).

I will start with something that I witnessed while scanning the practice courts in the early afternoon. It was about midway through the session and Alize Cornet and Zheng Jie were battling it out in the third set as I sat at the top of the bleachers at court 4. I could have been court side, counting the beads of sweat on the back of Cornet's neck (and there were a lot, but more on Cornet later) but I elected to move to the top of the bleachers to get a smidgen of shade from the trees that line the west side of the grounds, and also to take a birds-eye view of the practice courts.

As good as the Cornet - Jie match was, I couldn't help craning my neck a bit to look over at another Andy Murray footie session. The more I watch these footie sessions that feature Andy and his entourage, the more I become aware of just how good these guys are with their feet. And their heads. They have a surprising amount of control of that little tennis ball, and it's a great way for the No. 2 player in the world to keep his mind relaxed and get loose for a hitting session.

After Murray worked with the flexibility bands he headed to the baseline to wallop some groundies.

Meanwhile Cornet was screaming after a 20-stroke rally. Then she was leaning on her racquet, looking completely exhausted, and I couldn't help remember the time she blew match points against Dinara Safina in the 4th round of this years Australian Open and then got down on her hands and knees and let out cries of frustration. And the match was tied! Young tennis players, if you ever want to give your opponent a competitive edge, lay down on the court and cry before the match is over. It did wonders for Cornet in Australia, and it worked yet again yesterday out on court 4. Not only was Cornet clearly low on oxygen, but the fact that she was outwardly letting it show had to be the equivalent to putting oxygen in Jie's lungs.

Sure enough after a gutty hold, Cornet lost the final three games of the match.

As Murray started his practice, Juan Martin Del Potro was rallying on the baseline one court down. It was pretty incredible to see these two phenoms juxtaposed, and to observe how different their individual strokes are. Murray, so compact and efficient, and Del Potro, like a swordsmen yielding his weapon high in the air than looping it around to contact.

As compelling as all the matches were around the grounds, watching Murray and Del Potro whack balls about 50 feet apart from each other was one of the highlights of the day. Glancing one court east of Del Potro and seeing the Bryan brothers warming up for their doubles affair by hitting singles together made it even better.

Then it happened. Del Potro's coach, Franco Davin, and another member of his staff, were blasting balls up at the imposing facade of Arthur Ashe Stadium. There were fans hanging over the top rows and surveying the grounds. Davin hit a few balls and neither of them got much more than half way up the red brick wall of the mammoth tennis stadium. Then it was Del Potro's turn. After a short swing, he blasted the first ball off the top row of the stadium. The ball was still on his way up and I had to laugh. He hit another one and this one climbed high over the walls of the stadium and into the giant bowl.

So, if you were sitting in Ashe yesterday after the Oudin upset of Dementieva, and a tennis ball came from out of nowhere and hit you in the head, you have the No. 6 seed in the tournament, Juan Martin Del Potro to thank.

While it was just a little goofing around after a practice session, the Ruthian clout that Del Potro hit reinforces the belief that Del Potro might be the strongest male player on tour. And while Murray may be a better footie player, I'd give Del Potro the edge in a home run derby.

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