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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 03:23 AM   #1
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Serve or Return

I'm surprisingly over this loss already. This hurts the least for me out of all the losses in majors this year (Olympics was the worst).

So watching this match, I realised how important the serve and return are to Maria's game. Let's face it, Maria is a first strike tennis player, regardless of how much she's evolved into clay-pova. And to effectively execute her natural game, there's nothing more important than the serve and the return. Pieter was right when he said that Vika is a more superior returner than Maria, consistently sending difficult balls back to the opponent's feet, and Maria was just helplessly slow in reacting.

But that got me thinking again, should Maria have served better, she'd have saved herself so much trouble.

If anyone can recall, before the shoulder thing, Maria was widely considered the 2nd best server after Serverena (And even best in 2006 when Serverena wasn't around). She used to ride on her incredibly reliable serve to impose her game on others. While her maximum 1st serve speed was about the same as now, she had such superior placement and variety then, especially the second delivery. That I feel is the glaring weakness with Maria's service now: too predictable. Doesn't help that Vika and Serena read her serve like a book.

Post-surgery, if there's anything that carried her forward, it was the return. Maria committed herself in honing a lethal return game to compensate for her serving deficiency, but even during much of 2009 and 2010 it was so hit-or-miss. Somehow it regressed even further in 2011 and 2012 matches, including this one and especially against Radwanska in Miami, where she returned so poorly, lousy timing and footwork, going for brainless low margin returns off weak second serves

So my question is, if you're Thomas, which shot do you think you'd focus on working with Maria? (Since we all know Maria is so stingy with giving us the best of both worlds )

I believe that she needs to further improve her serve. It's still the one shot that makes or breaks her confidence (And game). I mean look at Serena, she wasn't even such a formidable server during her Cat-suit days, but she put in the effort to perfect that stroke in the latter stage of her career because she recognised how important it is not only to her, but to anyone's game really. No reason why Maria can't do the same. I recall fondly the combination that won Masha the US Open in 2006: accurate serve, weak reply, and put-away swing volley. I can watch that beauty all day long.

To end off this long essay, I must say I feel more positive than ever, especially given how much more Maria can actually improve (Which she usually does). I fully expect her to work her ass off, and give a really decent showing at the coming YEC.
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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 04:24 AM   #2
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Re: Serve or Return

Serve. Always. Because that's the one shot she can TRULY control.

She's a great returner generally, just not against Azarenka for some fucking reason.
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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 04:27 AM   #3
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Re: Serve or Return





She used to be so good! I agree, it's not just the speed! She has never been a fast pace server, although her serves are huge. It's more about a placement. Nowadays, her placement is all over the place.

And the difference between pre-surgery pova and post pova is that the former usually doesn't throw in random DFs at crucial points. She doesn't have that 'oh no, i am down a bp, I have to go for more for the 2nd serves' mentality and her serves rarely crumble under pressure. Although 2012 Pova is actually an improvement from 2009/11 pova serving wise. Still, she can keep improving and I am pretty sure she will.

So serve, obviously! As long as you can cruise through your service game, your opponent is already under the pressure of her own service game. Just look at Serena matches with pova, vika in particular.

Even when your return game is off (in the case of pova, 2012 Miami, IW Finals, today's match), you could still cling on to your own service game as long as you have a reliable serve, which is more important than throwing your service game away and trying rather to break opponent's serves by some great returns
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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 04:29 AM   #4
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Re: Serve or Return

Her second serve was such a reliable shot back then. I remember many commentators calling it the best second serve in tennis in 2006. It wasn't short and attackable but it wasn't just another first serve either.

Tbh, seeing the year Maria has had makes me even more happy considering she's at about 60-70% of her peak (off clay).
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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 05:45 AM   #5
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Re: Serve or Return

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Serve. Always. Because that's the one shot she can TRULY control.

She's a great returner generally, just not against Azarenka for some fucking reason.
Not really true. I remember Maria not having any break point against Radwanska in Miami final, the problem is not really Azarenka. Maria was rushing her returns in the last two sets because she was visibly tired, she was gooing for way too much even though Vika was just placing her serve quite well, Maria should have done a better job at returning those serves, especially the 90mph ones right into the middle
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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 10:47 AM   #6
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Re: Serve or Return

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Not really true. I remember Maria not having any break point against Radwanska in Miami final, the problem is not really Azarenka. Maria was rushing her returns in the last two sets because she was visibly tired, she was gooing for way too much even though Vika was just placing her serve quite well, Maria should have done a better job at returning those serves, especially the 90mph ones right into the middle
While I agree that the Bartoli match could have taken a lot out of her, but like what you said, it still doesn't explain her atrocious returning against Vika in other matches (And also Aga in that match).

Yep Craig, I remember she had a great kick 2nd serve back then too, her spins and placement on the serve was fantastic.

I have no idea why she somehow developed this mentality that if she doesn't hit a 2nd serve almost as hard as the 1st, she's not playing her game. She needs to look at her 2006 service and learn! Going for broke can produce some magical, jaw-dropping gutsy 2nd serves, but that's just not reliable enough in the big matches! I really thought she got this 2nd serve thing figured out in Stuttgart, that was beautiful serving on all counts

Edit: Welcome back doomsday, I thought it feels like long time seeing you post again.
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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 11:38 AM   #7
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Re: Serve or Return

I'll say serve. It's the shot that really makes or breaks her confidence, showed by multiple occasions when she would serve 2 DFs in a row I think, like most of you previously wrote, that she has a wrong attitude towards her second serve. She thinks that if she doesn't slam it as hard as the first serve, she hasn't done her job right. IMO she needs to add some variety to her serve, especially her second serve. For God's sake, have you heard for kick-serve Maria? Her slice serve, especially from the deuce side is very good, but she is too predictable with it. Generally speaking, her serve altogether has become pretty predictable, she should go down the T-line on the deuce side and wide on the ad side more, because those are easier serves to hit (for a right-handed player). So, she needs to work on the variety and placement of her serves.

As far as her return game goes, I only mind that she tends to always shoot for the lines when returning her opponent's second serves. She needs to realize that usually it's enough to hit a deep ball and set up the stage for another easy shot that will close out the point. I agree that her returns against Azarenka and Radwanska this year were disastrous
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Old Sep 8th, 2012, 12:12 PM   #8
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Re: Serve or Return

I would say serve too. Serve is really the confidence maker or breaker in her game. If she is serving well, she is confident with the other shots, if not she starts flopping on others shots as well.
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Old Sep 9th, 2012, 12:27 AM   #9
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Re: Serve or Return

Her first serve has improved a massive amount over the course of this year though, and especially if you compare it to last year.
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Old Sep 10th, 2012, 04:09 PM   #10
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Re: Serve or Return

pre surgery second serve

but well nowadays she could train return much more easily in my opinion
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Old Sep 11th, 2012, 02:47 PM   #11
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Re: Serve or Return

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pre surgery second serve

but well nowadays she could train return much more easily in my opinion
But her return is flopping hard nowadays against good returners. It's as though she feels so much pressure to defend her serve, that she sort of gives up on it and presses too much on the return instead.

I actually thought if she can mix up her first serve as well as she did pre-surgery, she'd be a lot less breakable.
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Old Sep 11th, 2012, 06:16 PM   #12
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Re: Serve or Return

Because she goes for broke so often on returns there are going to be days when she returns like a crock of shit (exhibit A: the Azarenka match). But the serve has been increasingly steady throughout the second half of this season. I like what I'm seeing. IMO it's the forehand that still needs work. She had so many opportunities to go down the line in the USO semi and instead she would go back cross court and 9 times out of 10 lost the point. Also she needs to work on not hitting every single short ball RIGHT BACK TO HER OPPONENT. It's maddening
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Old Sep 11th, 2012, 06:21 PM   #13
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Re: Serve or Return

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But her return is flopping hard nowadays against good returners. It's as though she feels so much pressure to defend her serve, that she sort of gives up on it and presses too much on the return instead.

I actually thought if she can mix up her first serve as well as she did pre-surgery, she'd be a lot less breakable.
she used to hit an amazing kick serve but those days seem gone since the kick serve requires lot of energies
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Old Sep 12th, 2012, 12:05 PM   #14
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Re: Serve or Return

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Because she goes for broke so often on returns there are going to be days when she returns like a crock of shit (exhibit A: the Azarenka match). But the serve has been increasingly steady throughout the second half of this season. I like what I'm seeing. IMO it's the forehand that still needs work. She had so many opportunities to go down the line in the USO semi and instead she would go back cross court and 9 times out of 10 lost the point. Also she needs to work on not hitting every single short ball RIGHT BACK TO HER OPPONENT. It's maddening
The return is problematic precisely because she always goes for broke. And I think it's a hugely confidence issue too, stemming from the urgency she feels in defending her serve. So in a way it's a chicken or egg situation for me, hence this thread. Although the improvement has been evident in her serve, it's still prone to breakdown often and then the return goes even more haywire in my opinion.

Her forehand has always been the less steady wing though, I think the slower clay courts really bring out her best ground game, giving her ample time to set up and blast away.

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she used to hit an amazing kick serve but those days seem gone since the kick serve requires lot of energies
And that's why I can't fault her, the darn shoulder I think she just has her on and off days now, in terms of feeling the spins and everything.
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 10:29 AM   #15
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Re: Serve or Return

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Originally Posted by domon17th View Post
So my question is, if you're Thomas, which shot do you think you'd focus on working with Maria? (Since we all know Maria is so stingy with giving us the best of both worlds )
Pretty sure he already has full 6-8 week training schedule in his notebook, with day-by-day details. He is that type of guy.

I dont think her serve was biggest problem this year. I mean at USO 37 aces/ 39 DF is not really good... but improvement compared to post surgery years. There is no point to think it'll stop getting better now. But its hard to ask really more.
Also most players master their serve at later stages of their career.

OTOH returning was terrible so many times, lost count. Obviously she has strengths and some deficiency in her technique (power & big reach vs smooth hands), still many times felt her game was too mental driven. And a little bit drop in concentration can mess with her too much.

Also she often stops moving her legs and looks really slow, starts pointless bashing left and right. That has nothing to do with her actual fitness, but again, the concentration.
Not to blame her, such a long and succesful year, especially the 2 month clay season isnt asy as it looks.
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