Battling the Elements – the dreaded Wind

It was a cold , cloudy and windy weekend in March 2014 with the rain threatening any moment. An extreme weather event caused by the southward shifts of the North Polar Vortex was upon us.

But the ‘Irving Tennis Classic’ tournament was in town and this was no time to be huddled up under the blankets. Irving Classic is a ATP Challenger 125K tournament with wild cards for players who lose in the first week of the BNP Paribas, Indian Wells and are enroute to the Sony Ericsson, Miami.
http://www.irvingtennisclassic.com/

So, confident in the power of Starbucks and optimism that the rain Gods will be on our side, 3 of my friends, the father-in-law of one of my friends and myself reached the Four Seasons resort.Just stepping out of the car, we could feel a shiver from the chilly, unrelenting wind. On the court, the guys whose claim to fame is beating Rafa and Roger, in the early rounds of a Grand Slam respectively were just getting warmed up for one of the semifinals. But Rosol and Stakhovsky went about their rituals like just another day. I have seen some games on TV where  the analyst goes – “Ohh, it’s a very windy day out here..”. The significance of it fully struck me right now and I realized the opportunity presented to me to study how the pros battle the ‘Wind’ in addition to their opponent.

As it turned out, the match got stretched over 2 days due to rain. Stakhovsky had the upper hand on Saturday with his serve and volley game, but on Sunday (more windier day), the tables were reversed and Rosol prevailed, aided by a spate of unforced errors by Stakhovsky, who obviously hadn’t slept well Saturday night! Rosol won 5-7,6-1,6-0. The scoreline says it all…
http://www.atpworldtour.com/posting/2014/6486/mds.pdfdraw & results 

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But here’s what I learnt that day on what tactics work well when battling the dreaded wind, on top of your opponent ….

First things first,

  1. Before the match starts (during warmup), observe the direction and angle of the wind and gauge the speed. (Make a lookup of weather.com on your smartphone , a part of your pre-arrival  ritual)
  2. The mental aspect of playing in the wind is very crucial. Look at it as another tool in your tool-box of shots & tactics. Use it, don’t fear it !

When the wind is with you,

  1. When serving with wind, often use more spin on the first serve to get the point started. I observed that Stakhovsky was opting for second serves on the first a lot, whereas Rosol had more appetite for risk by maintaining his stock first serve. As the game went,  Rosol seemed to increase his first serve % slightly. I found that the player on the side with the wind  found it more tougher to hold the serve.
  2. Get to the net as often as possible with a good approach shot. From my personal experience, I enjoy playing with the wind more, since the power of your shots gets magnified by the wind much more. This advantage, helps to keep the opponent well behind the baseline. Targeting the opponent’s weaker side will help you to setup and finish the point at the net.
  3. Be wary of the lob, since the wind can take it out. This is  a no-brainer if you have played in windy conditions.
  4. Hitting topspin groundstrokes or even better, hitting  high looping topspin groundstrokes with the wind will make your opponent’s life a  hell!  But personally, I have found this to be quite challenging to execute when the wind is with you, due to the risk of hitting long (though science says that with topspin, the ball will land in with higher probability, it is easier said than done from my experience as an intermediate amateur player, but if you can do it, “Hey, More Power to You”).  I have found that hitting flatter shots, closer to net, with lower swing speed than usual helps with the control and reducing the unforced errors of hitting long.

When the wind is against you,

  1. Drop shots against wind is good for 2 reasons, 
    • you can make the ball stop easily
    • you can bring the opponent to the net and then lob him
  2. Serve and Volley more than usual. Put your opponent on the defensive, before he can get to the net first by putting you behind the baseline, using the advantage of the wind behind him.

Irrespective of the side,

  1. Slice a lot on both sides
  2. Use more block returns when returning in the wind.

When you have a crosscourt wind  or in some weird angle,

  1. Don’t go for the line on the side where the wind will blow it out ! This is  a no-brainer if you have played in windy conditions.
  2. On the side closer to the wind, go for the line. Or if you want to see some magic, go outside the line and the wind will take care of the rest !

In general, 

  1. Clearance over the net of the groundstrokes(forehand and backhand) of both players was very low (a foot or lesser). What struck me though was the consistency and reliability of the shots ! As my coach pointed out later to me, the player’s style would most closely associate with the shape of their groundstrokes. Aggressive baseliners and all court players would in general play lower over net. Counterpunchers would play higher.

Look out for some videos, that I will post from the Rosol/Stakhovsky match…

Here’s a parting picture of my mementos from the match,

Rosol Sign Stakh Sign

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