Taylor Made News of the Day

Tuesday, November 09, 2010 /by

Dent by Pete Bodo

How could we not lead our nominal News of the Day with anything but Taylor Dent's decision to retire? It seems like just yesterday that I was down at the IMG Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and Taylor was enthusiastically telling me that he fully expected to surpass his career-high ranking of No. 21 in 2010 (our conversation took place last December). Well, that didn't really work out. When he quit the other day, at age 29, Dent was ranked No. 85 and failing to get traction on the uphill grade from there.

Dent was one of the last full-bore attackers whose game plan was built on a big serve and and excellent volley game. He tried, this year, to play wiser tennis (given the times), to pick his opportunity to attack the net a little more carefully, perhaps after a little more set-up work. But I think he learned that a career's worth of instincts is hard to overcome. Dent lived and died by the increasingly passe serve-and-volley game; he was too old a leopard to change spots.

The other factor here may be Dent's lifelong "struggle" with fitness, although I'm not sure how much time Taylor himself spent worrying about it. The guy liked to eat and people often said, "Man, if he dropped some weight it would really help him get around the court." Dent's reflexes were good, but his big frame and weight impaired his mobility. Dent was famous, early on, for pretty much eating anything that didn't eat him first, and you can see in the photo here (taken at the US Open) that we're not exactly talking about abs worthy of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino.

Never mind all that. We all have our issues. Dent is a complex, articulate, somewhat iconoclastic guy (he's also a person of firmly held convictions), and it was always fun watching him play. Best of luck to Taylor, and I'm sure we'll see him as a coach in the years to come; the guy is a deep thinker and he loves the game.

***

Nicolas Mahut, another member of the same endangered species as Dent, was in action yesterday at the tournament in Bercy (for a report, click here). I don't know if Mahut was inspired by the pale green playing area of the court, but for a bit it looked like Wimbledon all over again when he and Richard Gasquet began to load up and fire. But there was no danger of another 70-68 Wimbledon moment in this one, thanks to the tiebreaker. Mahut went down swinging—serving and volleying on first and second serves—and acquitted himself well, but lost 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7). Don't retire Nic, someone needs to keep the flame alive for any young genius out there.

One thing I noticed in that match was the threat a serve-and-volleyer poses to a returner—any returner—which in turn affects the returner's game. It underscored my belief that one of the reasons we have so many "great returners" today is because they feel no pressure to hit a target. They can wind up and hit out, knowing that even a topspin return traveling three feet above the center strap (in other words, a poor return that would be right in the wheelhouse of a good volleyer) is perfectly adequate against today's typical players.

Although Mahut has a big serve, he lacks the genius a John McEnroe or Stefan Edberg at the net. It's a special talent, which suggests that today's focus on baseline tennis isn't entirely a matter of stylistic choice, training, or the reality of drastically slowed surfaces. Superb serve and volley players always have been a minority, even though the conditions of the past enabled many players with no special talent for the attacking game to survive and even flourish. The ante has been upped to the point where it's simply out of reach for just about everyone to pony up. For now.

***

Caroline Wozniacki, No. 1 on the WTA Tour, has been elected to sit on the Player Council alongside Venus and Serena Williams, Francesca Schiavone, Akgul Amanmuradova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. I wonder if the junior members on the council defer to their elders, based on number of majors won, or career-high rankings. I'm looking into rumor that Serena is introducing a motion to reduce the WTA calendar to four events (can you guess which four?).

***

Did you see that Roger Federer has come out for a longer "off-season" for tennis? He believes a four-week hiatus just isn't enough, but it seems he's willing to live with just a six-week break. That seems reasonable, given the dimensions of the debate on this subject, but I still believe tennis is not a "seasonal" but an "interval" sport, and when you add up all the weeks most players—especially top players—spend resting, training, or recuperating, the work load doesn't seem onerous.

***

In the "not bad work if you can get it" department, Ernests Gulbis has advanced to the third round at the BNP Paribas Open (Bercy) by virtue of two consecutive retirements, the most recent by Mikhail Youzhny, who also retired his final chance of to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in London. Too bad about that; it would have been nice to see Youzhny go down—or up—swinging.

Fernando Verdasco and Jurgen Melzer are still in with a shot, but Tomas Berdych, Andy Roddick and David Ferrer will be difficult to bump out. Melzer has to win the event outright, and he's never bagged a Masters 1000 tournament; Verdasco needs to make the semis, but he was a set away from elimination today, before he mounted a comeback to prevail over Arnaud Clement in three sets.

***

And as I write this, Martina Navratilova is allegedly "climbing" the Bank of America building as part of her preparation for a December assault on the highest peak in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro—known to most Alpinists (such as our old pal, Marat Safin) as the easiest—by far—of the big peaks (no offense to our Kenyan readers and friends). In fact, you don't climb Kilimanjaro as much as hike it, although it's as grueling a hike as exists. About a dozen people perish on the flanks of Kilimanjaro every year, and even experienced mountaineers are prone to be afflicted with altitude sickness (the mountain is just under 20,000 feet tall). You certainly need to be in tip-top condition to undertake that trek.

By contrast, the BofA building is a mere 1200 feet tall, and I'm not exactly sure what "climbing" it means, or just what unique properties make it an ideal training site for a Kilimanjaro campaign. If it were, the sight of climbers wearing crampons, goggles and puffy jackets would be a regular feature of life in downtown Manhattan, right? Maybe Martina is just going to climb a few flights of stairs and go ask for a loan. They have—or had—plenty of money thanks to the recent bailout, although they're apparently in trouble again. Imagine having to take your multi-million dollar bonus in stocks rather than cash. The horror!

***

That's it for today. See y'all tomorrow.

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