I was at Max Mirnyi's five-set win over James Blake yesterday and it was the most intriguing singles match I've seen here so far this year in terms of ebb and flow, strategic changes, attack and response, counter-attack, and ultimately, mental strength and a killer instinct.
I believe the essence of Mirnyi's 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory could be found at two specific points where Max came out on top because of what I'll call the "Mac Attack" strategy.
The first was on the opening point of Blake's first service game in the fourth set, with the American leading two sets to one and Max 1-0 in the fourth having served. Blake double-faulted. Why? For my money, because Max had started charging in on Blake's serve, and even though Blake was ahead, somewhere in his mind, this 6ft 5in giant opponent was running at him from then on, even when he was standing still!
Blake feared Mirnyi coming in, and the physical manifestation was uncertainty, and a double fault. Max then chipped and charged, twice, for 0-40 then mixed it up by staying back hitting a winner from there. He had broken the serve, and he was back in it. The tide turned.
The second specific point was how he started the fifth and deciding set: brutally well, never letting Blake, whose shoulders were starting to slump, back in.
We have a saying: "When you have an opponent down, kick him." By all means help him up when the business is done, never before. On top? Make the most of it: go for the killer blows. Max did.
In that last set, Max was coming in on everything, looming up in Blake's face, and to such good effect on Blake's second serve, that Blake actually took a bit of power off his first to increase his chances of getting THAT one in. But the inevitable consequence of this was that Max took that apart more easily. The big guy had his nose right on the frickin' net, inviting passes that Blake could only forlornly attempt because "Mr Wingspan" would cut them off at the pass and dump a winner. Early on, both played well, Max making big serves (138mph) and volleys to edge the first set.
Blake was returning well enough but the effort took something off his own serve. By the second set, Blake had tuned into Max's serve, and his passing shots started to work. At one set each, Max's serve wobbled, and in a string of games, he gifted the first one or two points to leave him with an uphill task. That's how he was broken. So to the strategy change of coming in ever more determinedly, using his physical force to unsettle Blake. I was sitting next to Max's father throughout. I thought the match was getting away from Max at 2-1 down but Mr Mirnyi was totally calm. I know why now. Max was confident he'd eventually rattle Blake, and at the start of fourth, we saw he had.
E-mail me and win a scholarship
I'm offering a one-month scholarship at my academy in America to the sender of what I judge to be the best e-mail sent to me during the tournament. Just tell me: how can I help you, and why? Thank you to everyone who has e-mailed me already. I'm sorry I'm not able to reply to each one individually, but I'm reading my way through all your stories, and will give each one consideration. I want the scholarship to go to the person who will put the most into it - and therefore stand the best chance of getting the most out, in their own terms. It isn't always about sprinkling gold dust and making world-beaters. Explain to me why you (or your son or daughter) would benefit from a month's tuition in Florida. The scholarship is only available to under-18s. Children can e-mail me themselves, or parents on their behalf. Each e-mail can also ask a question on any tennis-related subject that you'd like me to answer in these pages. I have quite a backlog now but keep them coming.
Sampras versus Federer: Verdict
Staying on our theme of fantasy matches, today I'm pitting Roger Federer against "Pistol" Pete Sampras, the record-holding 14-time Grand Slam winner who shot from the hip, never the lip. Quiet and unassuming, on and off the court, he let his tennis make the noise for him. For long periods in his career, on grass above all, the mere sight of his name in the far distance of the draw would have opponents mentally packing their bags even before he got on court. Yet one key to his success was he never under-estimated any opponent, giving each the same respect before sending them home. His game in a few words? He could do it all. Federer v Sampras, at their peak, would have the cable channel subscription lines going into meltdown. The "Duel of All-Time". The record Slam winner versus history's greatest natural talent. So who would win? I really think it could come down to the smallest detail, to the fact that if Sampras had any hint of weakness, it was on his backhand return of serve. And on that, in this wonderful match, I give Federer the slight edge.Reuse content