Hey guys sorry it took me awhile to reply on this excellent thread Silverpersian had created. So here is my entry - warning, its very long....too much time on my hands at work:
1) What was Sam's best win of the year?
Although Sammy has not really had a title to cap off year, I will look back at 2012 as a year of progression in terms on her competitiveness against the players she usually struggles against i.e. Vika, Maria, Venus, Julia. In years to come, I think 2012 will really stand out to me because Sam played several really high quality and memorable matches – some of which she won and some she lost ( USO QF v Vika, Stuttgatt vs Maria, Cincy vs Venus). My choice:
Her win against Maria @ the quarterfinals in Tokyo.
It was great to see her notch up a win against Maria under “normal” circumstances. People will always say her win against Maria last year was “tainted” because Maria was not “fully fit” so it does not really count. The win was made even more memorable because it kind of mirrored the Stuttgatt match in that Sam was one set and a break up and lost her serve. For her to brush that off and stay on serve with Maria till the tiebreak was impressive. After Sammy missed her 4 match points and Maria had a set point, I was like, there we go again, but our girl hung tough and finally prevailed in the thrilling tie break on her 5th match point. Also who can forget her peach of a stretch volley at 5-4 in the tie break!
a) Her win against Venus @ Charleston
A real challenging match for Sam due to the lopsided head to head record and the fact that Sam had already played a long 3 setter on the same day. Some great shot making by both players. I still remember the 2 forehand droppers by Sam (so not her type of shots!) that completely fooled Venus towards the end of the 3rd set. More of the same in 2013 Sam!
b) Def Schiavone @ Tokyo and Def Ivanovic @ Moscow
Two recent matches where Sam was looking likely the loser after surrendering the first set but came back to win in three sets. Her win against Schiavone was more significant due to the fact that she was down a break in the final set and won in 7-5 in the end. These are the types of matches that Sam usually losses. Hopefully it is a sign of good things to come in 2013.
2) What was Sam's worst loss of the year
Her RG SF defeat by Sara.
The way Sam turned the match around in the second set just made it even more disappointing / heartbreaking - to see it all evaporate when the pressure was back on the 3rd set. It was a match that again exposed Sam’s propensity to let nerves consume her when she has “something to lose” – something I don’t really get. It would have been remarkable had she been able to pull off the win. It would have been such a confidence booster that would probably have prevented her loss against Rus @ R2 of Wimbledon as that match followed pretty much the exact pattern of the semis match in RG. Instead, coaches of other players will have a permanent note in their note pad to remind their charges that if you take care of Sam in the first set, the match is pretty much yours.
3) What was Sam's best outfit of the year? (see next post for some help with this)
To be honest, I don’t really like any of her Asics clothing thus far although I really like her training gear and of course her shoes. I really miss her in classy Lacoste gear especially circa 2010 – now that is what I call great clothing! The only one I kind of like is probably the one dress everyone on this forum hates:
Not a big fan of the frills in the middle of the dress but I much prefer the cut of the dress compared to the cross bare back / singlet type dresses Asics has given her this year as its more feminine. The lbd was nice but I am not a big fan of the narrow "spaghetti" straps. Could do with a wider strap, just feels a little ill fitting to me. Well, most of you like it so maybe it’s just me....
I will take Lacoste any day! Sam did say she has more say on her dresses / colours next year, so I cant wait for that.
4) What was Sam's most under-rated win of the year?
I am choosing her win against Cirstea in Doha. I was impressed at how well she bounced back from the disaster of an Aussie summer, playing solid tennis throughout her week in Doha. Playing badly and bombing out to Cirstea early in Doha would have been a final nail in Sam's coffin for a solid 2012.
5) Which of Sam's losses were you most impressed with?
USO QF vs Vika
This one shades it over the Stuttgatt QF for me because it was just good all round tennis by both players and not just about the serves. Several factors made this match a lot trickier that the Stuttgatt QF:
a)It was centre stage on Ashe against a player Sammy had a terrible record against
b)The tough conditions out there on the day of the match – I was very impressed at how well Sam handled the windy conditions that day and how well Sam’s return of serves were, particularly off the backhand.
c)Sam had to overcome 0-1 deficit and come back from a break down twice(serving second!) in the third set!
Her loss against Maria @ Stuttgatt
What more can we say about this match – Sam’s serve was in GOAT mode throughout. Unfortunately so was Maria’s
Her loss against Venus @ Cincy
Great fight back by Sam after being blown off court by Venus in the first set. Pity about the lapse at the start of the third set. Could have gotten very interesting in the third set had Sam manage to keep the breaks of serve to 1 rather than 2. Great quality match though with lots of pure ball striking by both ladies. Also, who can forget the the 14ish shots rally that had Sam scrambling from side to side and up and down the court, finally winning the point in the end. It’s always sweet when Sam wins these points! Too bad it had to be off a Venus error. I'll take it
6) What part of Sam's game has improved most throughout the year?
– her squash shots especially when stretched wide on the forehand wing is a great addition to her game. Who knew a defensive shot can be so offensive? The number of times her opponents misses the next shot after her shot “lasers” over the net is just pure gold.
– her backhand down the line is fast becoming part of her artillery now. The only silver lining at the YEC was seeing her hit winner after winner off her back hand wing!
– definitely more variety in her placements of serves, particularly liked the use of the body serve especially against Maria in the Tokyo QF. The quality of her first serves dropped drastically after the her loss to Nadia in Tokyo. Can’t help but think its related to her injury.
7) What would you like to see Sam work on in the future?
As the old adage goes, sport is 90% mental and 10% physical. Sam’s Achilles’ heel remains her nerves. I am hoping she spends her off season working on this. Part of me wonders if this aspect was placed somewhat on the back burner at the end of last year due to her mental break through at the USO? She needs a technique that helps her block off anxiety on court and relax. We all know she can play her lights out when she is loose but the challenge remains, how to get her to stay loose when the stakes are high? There just has been too many occasions this year where playing a tennis match feels like a burden for Sam on court. She does not look like she is having “fun” on court. I find that she generally tries to appear calm on court but she has quite a bit of fire in her belly. I know Sam isn’t religious or anything but I think she should definitely consider meditation/Yoga? Just throwing it out there
I know she is not one for change but I seriously hope she tries to work with different sports psychologists, as I don’t think Ruth has really helped her get to the bottom of her “I am the favorite/expected to win” phobia. Read an interesting article on the success of Andy Murray this year being partly due to his great relationship with a new sports psychologist based in Florida (yes Florida! where Sam also resides!). Maybe Sam should check in with her?
Sam could certainly use an additional hitting partner. Think most top pros have a coach and a hitting partner, like Maria and now Serena. Sam needs to address her issues with balls coming to her flat and at pace. Otherwise this will remain a problem the rest of her career. It certainly won’t go away and there are more and more players in this mould on the tour.
Seeing how much Serena’s serve has helped her in her matches this year – I am hoping Sam continues to work on her serve during the off season. Commentators have mentioned quite a few times how much emphasis Serena has put on practicing her serves this year. It certainly has paid off big time this year.
Sam could certainly do with a few more aces. From what I have seen her serve down the tee could do with a bit more consistency. She has been missing quite a few first serves down the tee recently – how much of it is due to her injury we will never know.
It is too late to develop a more consistent slice serve? It would certainly take off a lot pressure when she plays on grass. Also makes Sam’s service direction less predictable.
We all know that when her serves are doing the damage, the rest of her games just comes to together. So improved serve = improved game.
Also she should be position to respond when her serves are returned to her at pace, something she has certainly improved on but sometimes she is still gets caught off guard and flat footed. I.e. expect a return to come back with interest and deal with it. Neutralise her opponent's first strike and she is in the point.
Serve and volley: Lately we have seen Sam s&v a bit to no great success, but mainly it’s her execution of her volley that has let her down. The few times she tried this approach, she was comfortably in position to finish the volley but just tightened up the arm and missed the volley into the net. I was watching some of her old matches and was pleasantly surprised at how much she used this play back in c. 2010. It’s so refreshing and she has had good success with this play before so it’s a question of believe and confidence. I think it’s a great play just to shorten some points and adds some unpredictability to Sam’s game.
Return of serve
This is an area of weakness for Sam. Too often, Sam gives away cheap free points by missing returns of serve by smacking it into the net. Instead of trying for an outright winner all the time, no harm just placing her returns back deep as a first shot. At least make her opponent play the point.
She did say she was trying to improve on her ROS recently by being more aggressive. I saw this aggression during her match with Maria at the YEC – some of her returns were really fierce! Unfortunately she also missed 3 returns in a row when she was up 40-30 on Maria’s serve. As she isn’t close to being in competitive mood for the YEC, I will cut her some slack
We’ll see how it goes next year I suppose.
Note: I was looking back at her overall stats for the USO 11 - I was really surprised to find Sam placed third in the 1st serve return points won http://2011.usopen.org/en_US/scores/...et_won_ws.html
and 1st in 2nd serve return points won http://2011.usopen.org/en_US/scores/...et_won_ws.html
. Just unreal to me! So Sam does have it in her. She just needs it to show up consistently.
I definitely think she should try to finish more points on at the net as the longer the rallies the less it favours Sam. Also it is just more efficient than bashing 20 balls from the baseline especially when you have the shots to do it. There has been many times where I feel Sam should have closed the net after she gets her opponent is off balance but she chooses to stay back and sometimes loses the rally. Other times, its approach and hope – her approach shot lacks bite and she gets passed easily. Also you can't help but feel with Sammy that as she approaches the net, she is hoping she doesn’t have to hit a volley – when the ball does come over, she tightens up, her arm stiffens and she misses the volley – i.e. lack of “soft hands”. Drive volleys and smashes no problem – suppose you don’t really need soft hands for these shots? Again, the point goes back to getting Sam to relax on court. I am pretty sure she can execute these volleys 90% of the time on the practice court. Maybe B can enlighten us on this
While her backhand down the line has really improved to a point you can call it a weapon now most of the time, her cross court back hand sometimes lack pop. Her arms still seem quite stiff on this shot, one of the exceptions being the USO QF where it was really smooth and flowing. If she can work on this shot during the off season, add a bit more pop on it and get it back deep, she would be able to hopefully draw a weak reply to land the final blow to finish the point. I have also seen her on rare occasions go for acute angled cross court backhands, I think its great play to create width and open up the court - hope she does this more regularly.
The only lob I remember seeing Sam execute recently was during the 2nd set tie break vs Kirilenko at the USO last year - yes that long ago. I have seen her use the lob many times in her doubles matches so she does have the shot – hope she can use this more just to add another element of unpredictability in her game.
Margin of safety in her shots
The recurring theme / post match comments this season centres on Sam’s shots missing by inches. I don’t know, sometimes when I see Sam hit her forehands winners, I have often wondered, did it have to be so perfect /close to the line? Most of the time, she has plenty of court to hit into as her opponent is what she calls “jacked” off the court. Can she tweak her shots to be “less” perfect and thus have a higher likelihood on being in than out most of the time?
Being the aggressor and not be passive.
With the weapons at her disposal, she should be calling the shots. Again, boils down to neutralizing the first big shot (the return of her serve) - if she can get the ball back to the other side of the court with depth and maintain a position close to the baseline, good chance she wins the point. Easier said than done of course
All I can say is drills drills and more drills. Also more aces definitely help. Exhibit A: Serena Williams.
Putting her foot down
Sam has been guilty many times of going a break up at the start of a set and then surrendering too easily and letting all her momentum go. She has to learn to put her foot down, take advantage of her good start and power on. That's what the top players do really well. The last thing you want to do is to give your opponents any hope they still have a chance in the match. Be ruthless and go for the early kill.
8) What's the one match you wish Sam had won, that she didn't?
RG vs Errani for reasons mentioned above – the lift she would have gotten from that win cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately, it was not too be. Damn it Sam! I had tickets for the final....I was going to fly over to watch you!
Yes I am still bitter!
9) What was your favourite off-court Sam-related event of the year (e.g. press conference, picture, media piece, video, facebook message, dance routine)
Sam had a prolific year off the court. Loved her facebook posts and pictures but the Gangnam Style dance was just soooo left field and unexpected I just had to vote for that! Btw, if you guys haven't noticed....there are ABs(!!)on display in her latest post on FB. Just when you think you have seen it all with Sam
10) Imagine that Sam is in a tennis class at school and that you are her teacher. Write a brief report card assessing her performance this year
Sam has been a very good student in class, does all her homework never misses her classes. Probably tries too hard. I want her enjoy her time in school rather that fret too much about results. Because when you are relaxed and enjoying yourself, good results are usually just around the corner.
Also, I know Sam’s favorite subject is PE but it’s all about finding balance. I suggest Sam signs up for yoga/medication to find her inner zen
. Instead of her getting code violations next year, I want her opponents to get them instead. 2013 will be a success if more than 10 of her opponents destroys their racket Vera style while playing against Sam!
11) What do you predict in 2013 for Sam (ranking, tournaments, H2Hs with particular players etc.)?
Don't know how 2013 will pan out for Sam. The last few months has taken a toll of Sam both physically and mentally. Not sure if the 3 week break will be enough for Sam to pick up the pieces. On a side note, great to see her let her hair down and enjoying beach life @ Sydney. Poor kid needs it. A few weeks was all it took for Sam to bounce back after the mess of the Australian summer(that was the single most heartbreaking thing that could have happened to Sam after the success of the USO – so if she can bounce back from that, I am pretty certain she will be ok).
On the plus side, she has made quite a few improvements in her game so hopefully she can play herself back into form quickly with hopefully a decent draw and with a little bit more luck, who knows? I was looking at some stats of the top 10 players for 2012; one stat that Sam desperately needs to address is her 3 set win % when she losses the first set. Sam is at 5-8 (38.5%). All the other top 10 players are above the 70% mark, even Marion! The simplest way to address this, don’t let it go to three sets in the first place! If she can improve of this, the world is her oyster.
Since I am a glass half full kind of gal, here are my optimistic predictions for 2013:
- After her terrible run of luck with draws, she will get kinder draws in 2013! Starting with the Australian summer.
- Now simply a former US Champ rather than the reigning USO champ, she will be more relaxed going into the Aussie summer. She will
reach QF at Brisbane, get 2 rounds at Sydney and R4/QF of the Australian Open.
- She will lead Australia to Fed Cup victory against the Czech Republic beating Petra for the first time with some help from an in
form Jarka (who will lose against Petra and beat Lucie)
- She will do pretty well at Doha since she does seem to like the courts there and will finally beat Queen JJ at her Kingdom in Dubai.
- She will reach the QF at least in IW/and Miami.
- She will finally win her 4th title in Stuttgatt defeating Vika for the first time en route.
- She will avenge her loss against Sara at the QF of RG in a tight 3 setter, coming from one set behind to beat Sara 7-5 in the third,
defeat Maria in the SF and win Roland Garros defeating Serena (!!!) - because I will be there to see witness this!
- She will win more than one match at S-HERTOGENBOSCH.
- She will make it to at least R3 at Wimbledon
- She will have a decent USO series. Making one final possibly Toronto.
- She will make SF at the USO.
- She will finally make it past R32 @ Beijing defeating pushers along the way (I did say she will get kinder draws right?)
- She will qualify for YEC at position 7. Please qualify Sammy! I am planning to make a trip there before they leave Istanbul.
- She will team up with the Shredder for doubles sometime during the year and finally add the Wimbledon doubles title to her cabinet
after being the bride maids 3 times....
Will be interesting to revisit this thread @ end of next year to see how off the mark I was with my crazy predictions!